Tug for a Clapped-Out Gunboat

The ‘discussion’ on Scottish independence is theoretically well underway but the SNP’s Angus Robertson gets himself into hot water on Audioboo’s new Hear Hear and reported in today’s Hootsmon by asserting that all the Better Together campaign do is repeat scaremongering tactics that claim Scotland is too poor/stupid/wee to be a proper country.

Not a bit of it, retorts Better Together:

“The only people who peddle this line are the Nationalists. No-one from Better Together thinks that Scotland couldn’t go it alone – we think that it is better for our economy, our jobs and our future if we stay together with the rest of the UK.

“The Nationalists are only interested in dividing people. We think that we are stronger when we work together.”

Oh, aye? Let’s think about that for a bit. Yesterday Erikka Askeland and Tom Peterkin gave us both barrels in separate pieces that said:

“A study by the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland (Icas) questioned the affordability of private pensions, suggesting businesses could be faced with a multi-billion-pound pension bill to finance private retirement schemes in an independent Scotland. It also highlighted the cost of paying for Scotland’s share of the United Kingdom’s £893 billion public-sector pension schemes and £82bn state pension.”

No mention that England would face the same problem as this  would work both ways, still less any prospect that the two countries might work positively to solve this problem—if it is indeed a problem. Then consider Mr Osborne, who came North earlier this week to deliver his Sermon on the Mint to us in Glasgow. The Grauniad‘s headline pretty much sums it up but more importantly, the entire speech revolved around dismissing the practicality of any future currency union out of hand:

“Would the rest of the UK family agree to take that risk? Could a situation where an independent Scotland and the rest of the UK share the pound and the Bank of Englandbe made to work? Frankly, it’s unlikely because there is real doubt about the answers to these questions”.

Let’s leave aside the Chancellor’s dubious track record on getting financials right, where is the willingness to consider options; where are the positive proposals how currency issues might be resolved among friends and equals in the event that the Yes campaign wins? His disdain is echoed by the Leader of the Better Together campaign himself, who ought to know as much about finance since he used to have Osbo’s job:

“Would the rest of the UK agree to creating Eurozone-style complexity given that they would already have the pound and the Bank of England? Would it be in their interests? We wouldn’t know the answer to this until we separated from the rest of the UK. But today the UK’s Chancellor said that he thought it was unlikely that the rest of the UK would agree to create a Sterlingzone if Scotland left the pound.

“If the rest of the UK won’t enter into a currency union, or if the terms of a currency union are unacceptable to Scotland then the likelihood is that we end up with a separate currency from the rest of the UK.”

Ach, weel, that’s us then—scunnered. Top names pooh-poohing the very concept. But Angus may have a point: if this is Better Together’s top team “thinks that Scotland could go it alone”, it’s a funny way of expressing it. And don’t you find it funny that those very proponents of how well Scotland does remaining in this Union won’t even give the time of day to any idea or request for it to assert its own priorities.

Starting with the very name “Bank of England” itself,  through CofE bishops (but no CofS ministers) sitting in the House of Lords down to the tawdry assertion of superiority by MPs such as Ian Davidson over the affairs of Scots, there is a tasteless bias here that rankles: it veers between the condescending and the insulting.

Forget the idea that a Scots king once took over the English throne—the last coronation in Scotland was for Charles II in 1651. Although the Parliament of Scotland proclaimed Charles II King of Great Britain and Ireland in Edinburgh on 6 February 1649, Cromwell’s English Parliament instead passed a statute that made any such proclamation unlawful. Such attitudes set the precedent of which country wore the trousers for the next 350 years.

The Union of the Parliaments itself was an attempt to disarm Jacobite dissent and—other than preserving Kirk and laws, that tawdry document was more concerned with filling the right pockets (on both sides of the Border) than the stature of any rump existence for the Scottish nation. English hostility to the Scots Darien venture set the tone. Both the Enlightement and the irrepressible innovation of Glasgow merchants were outwellings that benefitted both countries, Hielan laddies marched off to conquer in large numbers and it appeared that the North British were brought nicely to heel at last.

Except, no-one south of Carter Bar ever spoke of the ‘South British’. And when some district agent sat on his verandah with a pink gin after a long day, he thought of ‘England’ with its cool shires; how else could every other country on this planet talk of ‘England’ when they mean ‘Britain’? By the early 20th century, our march to cultural unity was on track so the prospect of Scotland being no different to Yorkshire was indeed plausible.

It is more than a symbolic point. Perhaps the BBC has stopped talking about ‘the regions’ in which it included Scotland. There is no question that the Scots were enthusiastic partners in empire-building—and saw great benefit from it. But, more importantly, our joint colonial cause that spilled so much blood while making so much money rather fell off a cliff in the last 50 years so that the question is less “what is Britain for” north of the border than “why am I still a part of this?”

Because that same colonial effort drove mighty industries that were even more at home in industrial Scotland than the Home Counties. This bred socialism and questioning of the forelock-tugging hierarchy at the heart of Merry Old England but was alien to the tight iconoclasm of Scottish clans and Glasgow humour. So, no more than it could with Ireland, England has failed to imprint its culture beyond its border.

To the Scots, this debate is not about what Better Together would make it—nostalgia for the the great days of Great Britain when we stood alone/together in the world against fascism and dictatorship. Only people well into retirement have any memory of that. The rest of us have learned that international trade with friends—not gunboat-enforced third world sweat shops—is what makes modern prosperity and that the Scots have little taste for those trappings of empire that seem to mean so much to our English cousins.

So, let them squabble about historical appendages like Gibraltar or Falklands or Akrotiri; a seat at the UN top table should be for monster countries and not declining has-beens struggling to stay relevant; nukes are for the delusional; global reach is now quite unaffordable to Britain together, let alone England alone.

Just as England has done for centuries, it’s time for Scots to define the priorities that suit them and pursue them. If that involves keeping the Queen, the Pound and our share of the British Army/RN/RAF—and ditching Trident and the global policeman ego that goes with it—we should negotiate that.

For now we need positive debates on how we could work together to mutual benefit and not this hand-wringing caterwauling about disasters on pound or pension if Scots had the temerity to decline to abandon the fiscal mess that UK governments have led us into. It is not helpful for them to make two-faced arguments, such as the SNP point out this week:

“Liberal Democrats remain in favour of joining the euro and Labour have never ruled it out—a fact that they seem to want the people of Scotland to forget. Meanwhile, the Tories have consistently ruled out joining the euro, meaning that there are three different positions on currency within the No campaign – something which they have described as an ‘incredible situation’ when applied to the Yes campaign.”

A little less hypocrisy and a lot more humility would allow a reasonable outcome for a currency union post-independence. The Scots would benefit from using a stable world currency and Scotland’s oil & gas would shore up both global status and its stability. And, if Edinburgh’s financial hub got back to playing the role it does best—demonstrating our famous Scots canniness to the world—they can let their Essex wide boys of Canary Wharf have their head if they want: Scots could have it own FSA with teeth that would avoid future repetition of 2007.

So, rather than the shock troops of naysaying unionists like Ms Askeland and Mr Petersen getting relentless press that gives everyone a headache and probably contributes to continued recession with their pitifully uncreative moaning, let’s get the jaikets off and see what the practicalities are of sharing the pound or the Queen or a positive joint attitude. Because if those congenital teeth-suckers succeed in bludgeoning Scots into keeping hold of nurse for fear of something worse, the remedy to dig the UK out of the Brown/Osborne fiscal shambles will be much longer and much harder than it need be.

A resurgent, independent Scotland cannot fix the present broke-but-doesn’t-know-it England by ourselves. But as we strike out in a more modest, affordable and less imperial direction, we’ll make better friends and common cause with Ireland and gain a more modern stature by joining the Nordic Union. All of this would be a pleasant surprise to other countries, especially European friends, who are used to seeing Britain as curmudgeonly, clumsy and globally still hankering for lost hegemony.

Scotland could provide a tow, could embarrass our English cousins out of their grumpy gunboat mentality, leaving their 19th century lost glories behind and, standing up with better purpose, join the 21st century.

About davidsberry

Local councillor, tour guide and database designer. Keen on wildlife, history, boats and music. Stood for the Scottish Parliament 2011; lost by 151 votes.
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