“Don’t waste your time looking back; you are not going that way”—Ragar Lothbrok
Though the heat of debate about Scottish independence has cooled somewhat over the last two years because of an understandable priority in dealing with Covid, what debate there has been has centred entirely on if/whether/when a referendum can be held. This is rather like debating what shoes to wear to go out in, without first deciding you’re going gardening, shopping, running or to the opera.
The vision of a future Scotland rarely gets beyond “a normal small country that is a member of the European community.” Not only does this lack clarity but it is woefully short on inspiration. Why would swithering business and the middle class—let alone the great and the good—risk status and wealth for something as vague. Why let go of nurse when uncertainty breeds a fear of something worse?
Two hundred and fifty years ago, 1 million people in 13 colonies had carved a society out of wilderness (pace native Americans who had lived in harmony with it prior). They had a sense of fierce pride and egalitarianism in all they had achieved. This made them question why their future rewards should be in the hands of stuffy autocracy three thousand miles away. Their pride, self-belief and energy gave us what is (for all its flaws) the greatest democracy the world has seen.
An independent Scotland would not become another America in either revolution or scale. But what set Americans—or Australians or Singaporeans—on the road to success that colonists never had was a clear sense of common purpose in exploiting what their resources, skills and geographic position offered. They saw priorities from their perspective, were better positioned and motivated than any distant colonial bureaucracy to grasp there future. London has always struggled to understand this.
Here, after 23 years of devolution there has been debate and legislation on social matters. Free prescriptions, free personal care, free tuition, free bus passes are all good and popular. But no heather, let alone revolutionary fervour like the Americans, has be set alight by such legislation. Debates on smoking or transgender issues may correct shortcoming, but they neither electrify ambition, nor boost revenues to fund more social policies.
These 23 years of material improvements: hospitals have been built; rail lines opened; bridges completed; major road improved. But advancement has been modest, given £1 trillion has passed through government hands in that time. And in that time, major companies like RBS, BoS, Aggreko, SSE, Scottish Nuclear, Aberdeen Asset Management and a slew of companies in the oil & gas business have shifted headquarters elsewhere, with few companies of significance grown to take their place. The £600 million funding of Scottish Enterprise each year has not catalysed much enterprise od a scale to replace losses. They have yet to replace their “third-world manufacturing” strategy of two decades ago.
It is not that Scotland no longer makes things of which we can be proud—Weir Pumps; Edinburgh biotech; whisky—but a century ago, we were world leaders in heavy engineering, especially ships and locomotives. Without a captive empire as a market, achieving that level of dominance is history. But if the Swiss can corner the market in quality watches, if the Dutch can corner the ocean tug business, if the Danes can lead the world in wind turbine technology, finding a niche and making it ours should not be rocket science.
This will require focus on a plan that will take decades to achieve success. It will require a culture shift away from the current social-dependency culture to reignite the cocky pride that once made “Glasgow” and “gallus” interchangeable terms. Looking at what we have and where we are in this 21st century world suggests that laying down plans to become significant in three areas of international excellence are:
- Tourism, which includes food and drink
- Renewable energy, including wind, tidal, wave, heat sink and hydrogen
- Trans-shipment entrepot for Europe <—> Asia trade
Projects and infrastructure that clearly supports these main threads should be laid out in the plans and scheduled/costed on a basis that presumes a timetable for independence and of re-joining the EU, with a view to maintaining optimal links with England/rUK, while establishing Scotland as a worthwhile international trading partner.
While much work would need to be done to produce a viable, long-term plan that should include social engineering to inspire people to believe it’s their plan before any referendum takes place. This will require some short-term “low-hanging fruit” to start with that makes the longer-term seem feasible. The current passivity in both government and people must be overcome. The dynamism that created America did not come from complaining about the British. Here are some ideas, to be used as a smorgasbord to compile the real, inspirational plan.
(launch during this parliament, and before any referendum)
- Develop the plan by setting up a “wartime cabinet” along the lines of Churchill’s in 1940, making it cross-party, with non-political figures who can contribute.
- Develop public transport use by introducing a unified “Oyster”-style travel card for all modes of transport. Introduce it by city-region “travel webs” common in Europe.
- Restore services on existing rail lines: 1) Dunfermline-Culross-Kincardine-Alloa; 2) Thornton Junction-Leven; 3) Grangemouth-Falkirk
- Empower councils by reversing the current 20%/80% split of their income between council tax and Revenue Support Grant.
- Fully integrate NHS and Adult Care properly and abandon the ineffectual Joint Boards that are no more than talking shops.
- Accelerate research into tidal, wave and hydrogen energy generation. Establish links with leading wind generator manufacturers in Europe.
(during Independence preparations and the period after the event)
- Revamp the Glasgow-Stirling-Perth-Aberdeen as a high-speed rail line to ECML standards and electrified, offering 30-minute frequency, taking no more than 2 hours for the journey end-to-end. This involves re-laying the Caledonian track bed between Kinclaven and Brechin, with stations and Coupar Angus, Forfar and Brechin. (for details, see blog at https://northneuk.com/2013/04/22/brechins-revenge-on-beeching/
- Develop former Cockenzie power station site as a cruise liner and ferry port, using the existing branch off the ECML for passenger & freight access to a Europe ferry and cruise line passengers easy access to Edinburgh. (fpr details, see blog at: https://northneuk.com/2015/05/27/more-than-a-dormitory/
- Re-lay ad re-open the Fraserburgh-Peterhead-Aberdeen rail line.
- Reopen stations at Newburgh and Bridge of Earn on the Ladybanl-Perth line.
- Complete two tidal energy projects: one generating 240NWH in the Kylesku narrows and another generating 500 MWH in the Pentland Firth.
(once stability achieved post-indy, with currency issues ad EU membership resolved)
- Expand the Cockenzie ferry/cruise port by adding a marina, coastal boardwalk including shops and restaurants linking Musselburgh lagoons with Seton Sands and revitalising Prestonpans with a waterfront.
- Redraw local government boundaries into six regions (Highland; Grampian; Tayside; Lothian; Strathclyde and Borders) Each will be responsible for Education, Health & Social Work, Transport. Waste, Water, Police, Fire. Culture. Resurrect approx. 200 burghs, responsible for Planning, Commerce & contracting services required (~5 councillors; ~25 staff?)
- Complete a tidal energy project generating at least 1GWH at the Firth of Forth entrance
- Develop Scapa Flow as a transhipment and container port to take advantage of melting Arctic ice cap that would permit polar trade routes halving the time between Europe and the Far East. (for details, see blog https://northneuk.com/2016/04/02/trans-arctic-convoys/