I had every good intention of sitting out the balance of 2012 full of pud and good will and sticking my oar back in the political water once the Hogmanay bubbly was undrinkably flat and more than a few well intentioned resolutions had paved the road to hell for another year. But, thanks to Alastair Darling’s New Year Message for Better Together, my gast is flabbered that someone as senior and with his depth of experience should associate himself with material like that.
Allow me to be clear: I neither discount his right to formulate a case for the unionist campaign—in fact, I welcome that someone is trying to—nor do I expect any case he puts not to outrage me in some form or another, so differing are our viewpoints. But within his 3 1/2 minutes are so many venomous misrepresentations that I question whether he was the author, so far from the integrity I would expect from him do many formulations stray.
The language of “breaking apart”, “splitting up”, “turning against our closest ally” seems prejudiced. But open debate is not genuine if either side dictates how the other must express itself. And it would be unfair not to acknowledge areas of agreement—that the debate demands respect on both sides; that it needs to start now with serious questions that demand considered answers; that it is too important for anyone not to stand up and be counted as part of it.
It would be tedious to contradict each part in turn so two examples should suffice.
- Several alternatives given between which he believes we must choose includes: “getting our economy back on track or facing years of instability”. Now, not only is his party and their union colleagues relentless in their condemnation of the present UK government’s financial policy but they believe it to be ruinous to our economic prospects. With the UK’s debt passing £1 trillion with no recovery in sight and Scotland in a better position to pay off its £65 billion share, the first half of his alternative seems shaky at best. And what instability is there beyond the UK’s plight? Scots would keep the pound, stay in Europe, minimise any disruption and continue trading under close relations with England (much as Ireland has done for 90 years) because it’s in nobody’s interest to rock the boat any more than necessary.
- In making what he describes as a ‘positive case’ he leads off with: “On our small island, we have more in common than divides us; more to gain from working together than turning against each other.” Let’s leave aside that our end of the island’s actually quite big in proportion to our population (it’s the English who are crowded) and that we’ve tholed 300 years of English priorities (not least because we got rich on empire-building too). Yet in this—and every other ‘positive statement’ from anyone in Better Together—no pragmatic case is made for Scots remaining in the union. Why would we be richer/happier/safer? Because if you look at Norway/Denmark or even pressures exerted on Catalonia/Flanders, the case for staying is anything but obvious and we’ve yet to see much sign of it being articulated.
Where he does pose a series of questions, most are indeed deserving of an answer. And while this blog cannot claim to speak for the Scottish Government or, indeed, anyone else signed up for the Yes campaign, the degree to which unionists pose a flurry of questions and then proceed to ignore cogent answers is doing their pose of positive messages serious damage. So, allow me to recap the more serious ones.
- What would the currency be? The UK Pound until/if the Scottish people chose an alternative, such as joining the Euro. There are plenty of examples already and the argument about not controlling bank rates is facile—we don’t now.
- How do we keep jobs dependent on trade with the UK? The same way we got them in the first place—by being competitive and by trading on a world-wide reputation for reliability, engineering savvy and financial canniness
- How would we be represented? As every other normal country is: our own embassies (share with England?); our own MEPs (14?) & EU commissioner; our own UN seat; our membership of NATO; membership of the Nordic Union? Our most important embassy would be in London.
- Would we keep the BBC as is? At first, why not. And if it proves able to break its SE England bias, that could be extended indefinitely as a joint facility, much as the RNLI currently happily includes Eire as well as the UK. The same could apply to the Post Office, MCA, etc.
- (Alasdair never mentioned but should have) How would we divvy up the various UK-level institutions and government departments? Actually many are already split (e.g. Law, Church, SNH, water, NTS, all SG departments). Tax, Benefits, Defence, Foreign Office, etc would need to be set up or negotiate continued use of English facilities for a price.
- (Alasdair also never mentioned but should have) How will we restructure the armed forces? Subject of a separate blog, this should not prove insurmountable. The RRS, RSDG and proportionate support units could be expected to transfer to the Scots but with the proviso that no serving soldiers/sailors/airmen be forced either to become part of the SDF nor to be left behind. The more modest SDF would not require nuclear weapons, tanks, global deployment ability nor aircraft carriers—but it would need new long-range maritime patrol craft and fast missile boats to defend the rigs (both neglected by the UK). In this context, “A’the Blue Bonnets: Defending an Independent Scotland”, by Stuart Crawford and Richard Marsh, claims a Scottish Defence Force would be necessary, feasible and affordable.
It would please me no end if Alasdair or (being realistic) someone else at Better Together would put their head above the parapet with details of how post-2014 Scotland would clearly be better staying in the Union. Comparison to the rather bright future for small, developed European countries with a world-class reputation would be a plus.
Actually, that description of Scotland probably puts us ahead of England in the eyes of the world, especially now that troglodyte Tory backwoodsmen drive much of the UK’s foreign policy. With independence, Scotland is likely to find it has a lot more friends in the world—especially in Europe—than the nostalgia-prone, monolingual, cold-fish, endlessly stroppy English seem to manage.
So—while they’re at it—Better Together might explain how Iceland has dragged itself out of a bigger fiscal hole than us and is now powering past our recession-ridden UK economy; or why Scottish membership of the Nordic Union might not transform both our international relations as well as our economy?
Because, unless they start putting their arguments up for debate, it’s not just Darling who is going to look like a right Charlie when the ‘undecideds’ give up on them.