I am encouraged by rumours of an imminent ‘No’ campaign launch. It is high time that those who claim the present Union is the best of all possible worlds for the Scottish people extended their campaign beyond procedural quibbles and throwing mud at those, like myself, who argue for independence.
Given the putative lineup of SSUK leaders, we’ll have our work cut out. Alasdair Darling, Charles Kennedy and Annabelle Goldie are no lightweights and, while independistas have differed with them on many points, they construct cogent arguments from their interpretation of the facts and fairly represent the thinking person’s (i.e. not the Daily Mail) wing of unionism.
And it’s not before time. This blog has been running a series of items on advantages to be had from Scottish Independence. To date counter-arguments on the advantages of Union have been thin on the ground and largely devoted to unsubstantiated scaremongering (“can’t keep the pound”…”can’t stay in Europe”…”shunned if not in NATO”…”oil running out”… etc, etc).
Typical of the ham-fisted staging of the Union argument to date has been the utterly hilarious Luff & Harvey Show before Westminster’s indelicately titled “Separation Committee” chaired by Iain Davidson MP, a man whose mind has been compared to a black hole. Nick Harvey MP (Minister of State for the Armed Forces) and henchperson Peter Luff (Parliamentary Secretary of State for Defence) appeared before the committee this week. Ably aided by Lindsay Roy and David Mowat (and noticeably less ably by Jim McGovern and Pamela Nash), Iain performed what could only be described as a stylised but intimate tango with the MoD reps. It was like the Glasgow Warriors’ pack discussing ‘women’s problems’ after a night on the batter.
Seldom can Sir Humphrey have been as comfortable in front of a parliamentary committee as here. Knowing they were among friends, Luff and Harvey waxed lyrical on how inseparable British forces were, how lacking in detail the MoD was regarding Scottish Government intentions, how impossible it would be to build as much as a portable sentry hut in Scotland, were this debilitating plague of independence befall Scotland. Imagine a football match while one team was still in its bus on the way to the game and you get the picture.
To date, whether it’s Brian Wilson sounding off again in the Hootsmon or the latest naysayer comment in SoS, the drum-roll of dismissive pooh-poohing of what Scotland can achieve can be seen as no more than the logical continuation of assertions in the ’90s that there was no debate to be had about Scottish independence, that “we couldnae dae it wursels”. Looking back those twenty years, it is impressive how far this debate has come, despite surly Unionist foot-dragging at conceding each step.
Leave aside the entire argument about process—we have a Scottish Government both capable and clear about the major question to be asked about our future; that question will be posed in two years’ time, once we’ve had a chance to discuss it; a free choice of all people registered to vote here will decide and, unlike most other countries, we got here democratically, without anyone getting hurt—let alone killed—in the process. That alone is something of which we can be proud.
But let’s examine this new ‘stronger together’ slogan. Leave aside our joint history; do the Scots feel that a permanent UK right-wing government is what they want? Are we prepared to send our soldiers on dubious wars while the UK deludes itself it’s still a world power “punching above its weight”? Are we happy having another budget-busting generation of cold-war-era, global-macho nukes we’ll never use based on our soil? Do Scots feel the same jingoistic hostility towards Europe as most English seem to? Are Scots as mercenary predatory as London City traders whose 1988 ‘Big Bang’ deregulation fueled the greed that created the present recession (for which punters are paying)?
I was struck while watching the BBC’s obsequious Trooping the Colour ceremony not just how spectacular but how foreign it looked. Apart from tunic buttons, all the Guards look identical. While, from a military awe perspective, this makes sense, that particular visual homogenisation looks so English; when the Queen opened the Scottish Parliament in 1999, the Household Cavalry looked magnificent but totally out of place in Edinburgh. When the BBC4 re-broadcast Tumbledown for the 30th anniversary of the Falklands conflict, it was as part of their “Very British Institution” series. But apart from Colin Firth’s excellent performance as a wounded Scots Guards officer and a couple of token Jock accents, this was as English a production as Radio 4 at its plummy best.
A recent debate about whether Scots can be British misses the point entirely. The Scots ARE British—whether they like it or not. But most are pretty clear about the differences. But that is exactly where our English cousins get muddled because, for 300 years, they have used the terms interchangeably. Most English—especially those in the Home Counties—would have seen either BBC programme as magnificently British; most Scots would see them as quintessentially English. TheEnglish get hurt, insulted or even angry that the Scots would want to leave the Union because they are English and after three centuries of its glory, to them, the Union is simply England writ large. Unless they belong to the 5% who have spent appreciable time in Scotland, they just can’t get their heads around what we’re on about.
What we’re on about is our ability to do better than be the adjunct of a fading world power with delusions of grandeur. The most recent expenditure and revenue figures for 2010/11 show that Scotland accounted for 9.3 per cent of UK public spending, but 9.6 per cent of UK tax revenue, and that our 9.6 per cent of UK tax was generated with just 8.4 per cent of the population—the equivalent of £1,300 extra for every man, woman and child in Scotland.
Though we will shoulder our share of the UK debt, the resources available to Scotland (90% of UK’s oil, similar amount of renewables, strong export market in whisky and engineering, major tourist destination, world reputation already) mean we are well placed to prosper and to pay that debt down much faster. It will be England, burdened by acres of social problems in its cities, unaffordable ‘prestige’ expenditures like Trident, by bases in Gibraltar and Cyprus to support its carrier-less and therefore delusional ‘global reach’ that in two decades will still be struggling to repay the present debt while Scotland has moved on to start accumulating its Norwegian-style oil fund.
Scotland now has its vision—not to hark back to some Victorian heyday, glorious as yet another BBC costume drama and relevant as your great grandad’s campaign medals—to look to a 21st century future for our children: to build a stronger, sustainable, prosperous economy; to create a fairer, more equal society; to shape a Scotland of which we can all be proud and from which our presently benighted English cousins might learn.