Scotland didn’t sign the act of union Scottish members of its Parliament did without the sovereign consent of the people.
The English people did not give their consent to the union in any way that we would understand in modern terms, either. It was culmination of a deal which started at the Restoration (of a Scottish dynasty) and continued in the ‘Glorious Revolution.’
This was a sweetheart deal whereby the old aristocratic rich and the new merchant rich said “let’s not have another Civil War, but instead unite against roundhead radicals, Levellers and the like.” So they did, and Anglo-Saxon capitalism was born.
The Scottish aristos and merchants were dead keen to join them in this enterprise of robbing the people (a move which was accelerated by gambling on Darien and losing) and did so in 1707.
Since then the radical cause (or the left) has shared a common enemy north and south of the border.
Which is why nationalism is a defeatist distraction.
Many were struck by the low key nature of the SNP spring conference and indeed Alex Salmond’s performance was notably poor: lifeless, read from a (lame) script. Overall, it was in no way the celebration for which the gathered faithful had prepared themselves.
It was then left to Nicola Sturgeon to salvage the weekend, in which she was partly successful, although her peroration relied heavily on quoting the case of Norway. That this was popular with the SNP audience was about as unpredictable as a Stones encore of Brown Sugar going down a storm, and further suggests that the independence debate has reached a watershed.
If so, however, this applies on both sides of the argument.
On the nationalist side, a great deal of the anti-climax was due to the build-up before event. No-one can doubt that for some of the SNP, the achievement of a referendum in itself is the culmination of a lifetime’s work. For most of us it would not be “the greatest day of our lives” – my own choice would rather be my wedding day, Portsmouth winning the FA Cup in my lifetime and New Labour’s victories in 1997, 2001 and 2005.
Anyone who watches bad films knows that point in the script where the hero (or more likely, heroine) says “this is this best day of my life” and it is – from then on, it is downhill all the way. It is now the job of the No campaign to make sure that this process accelerates.
A good start will be to demand that every time the SNP cites Norway as an example of what they wish Scotland to be like, they are challenged to set out exactly how high tax levels will be to support a comparable level of services. (Likewise, if Sweden is the case they quote, they need to be made to acknowledge that the Swedish model has now embraced privatisation of their NHS and of former state-owned enterprises, or the fact that closed labour markets mean that immigrants take on average 6 years to enter employment.)
There was also a further and more dishonest strand as the SNP sought to raise their spirits in Inverness, and one which has its roots in their residual contempt for devolution. This was the deliberate downplaying of the powers available to the Scottish government in key policy areas, namely the Bedroom Tax and childcare provision.
In the case of the Bedroom Tax, the conference was rightly very heavy on its iniquity but notably light on any intent on the part of the Scottish Government and Parliament to do something about it. Above all, a pledge to even consider an amendment to Section 16 of the Housing (Scotland) Act 2001 would have been of more use to forthcoming victims of the Tax. The fact that the amendment is known to the SNP indicates that the Scottish Government is deliberately avoiding using the powers vested in it since 1999.
Further confirmation of the SNP’s underuse of Holyrood’s powers comes from its position on childcare. Alex Salmond was eager to offer a continental standard of childcare and less keen to do so before independence. But his government has the powers to introduce these services before the Referendum date – again, there is a planned unwillingness to use devolution to its maximum.
Instead, any currently unsatisfactory situation is presented as the fault of the continuing union with England.
Following the publication of the Independence Referendum Act, and the announcement of its date, it will be interesting to see how the two sides rise to the challenge of the next stage of the debate.
The SNP’s leadership of the Yes campaign – as shown at Inverness – is not promising, relying on the hackneyed trope of “Norway does better because it left Sweden in 1905” and talking down the devolution settlement. It is quite straightforward for the No campaign to see off these arguments.
First, we can continue to point out that Scandinavian services need Scandinavian taxation levels, which there is no evidence that the people of Scotland wish to pay (unfortunately).
Indeed, a long memory will recall that the Thatcher government introduced the Poll Tax in Scotland early at the behest of Tory MPs running scared at the prospect of a ratepayers’ revolt, i.e., people outraged at the prospect of paying more tax.
The economic perils of a small country relying on a small number of sectors are also shown by the “arc of insolvency” countries plus the more topical example of Cyprus. The argument regarding national wealth will continue (and will depend on fluctuating oil prices), but the people of Scotland also deserve to know how much independence will cost them personally.
A further element of this debate is the exposure of the SNP’s position as the fools’ paradise that it is: “free” elderly care and “free” university tuition are simply not sustainable. In the first case, it is probably inevitable that it will mean more taxation somewhere along the line; and in the second, we already see that it is maintained at the cost of FE places and students, and indeed of more progressive early years provision.
Secondly, the No campaign must continue to demonstrate the benefits of devolution – and the SNP’s deliberate strategy of under-using and under-valuing Holyrood and its powers.
These examples of the Bedroom Tax and childcare possible are particularly clear, but there is a need for the No campaign to point to the negative campaign of the SNP and its costs in lost opportunities. Above all, we must continue to confirm the values of devolution as the best of both worlds, and point out that independence would sacrifice devolution’s benefits for a future which is uncertain in everything except its cost.
In short, the referendum argument is there for the No campaign to lose, and it may be that history shows that it was March 2013 when the Yes campaign began to run out of steam. However, it will be a sore disservice to the people of Scotland and the UK if the No campaign does not lead this process by turning the heat up at this critical moment.
I supported the invasion to rid Iraq of an increasingly unstable fascist dictator, whose regime had been responsible for repression and genocide, the use of WMDs against its own people and in its war against Iran, invading that country and Kuwait, and was in breach of numerous UN resolutions. I expected a liberation like Vietnam’s invasion of Pol Pot’s Cambodia or Tanzania’s overthrow of Idi Amin in Uganda. More recent pertinent examples were the welcome interventions of UK forces in Sierra Leone and Kosovo, to which many thousands of people today owe their lives and their limbs.
The SNP has seized on the insurgent performance of UKIP in the Eastleigh by-election to peddle its case of Scottish exceptionalism, which fits its narrative of the inherent social and political superiority of the Salmonellans over the denizens of Poundland.
SNP Deputy Leader tells us that “Eastleigh shows how far the politics of Westminster has diverged from Scotland…”- or in other words, ‘we do not have their sort up here.’
Ms Sturgeon has considerable form as a rather poor political commentator, famously having tweeted to the whole world on Council election day 2012 that Labour in Glasgow were “in meltdown”, while in fact Labour was on course to a stunning overall majority in the city.
However, let us take her seriously for a minute, and examine the idea that there are no UKIP types north of border.
That means no-one in Scotland is opposed to EU membership; no-one is opposed to immigration; no-one has been spooked by exaggerated scare stories about Bulgarians and Romanians; no-one wants to bring back grammar schools; and no-one would increase prison places by 40% (presumably to lock up Bulgarians and Romanians).
As a proxy for political research, it might be useful to look at newspaper readership. For example, if the above were the case, there would be no-one to read and buy the Daily Mail at all. As the current circulation figures of that paper are over 100,000 on each weekday and 140,000 for the Sunday edition, this is obviously tosh.
The people who support UKIP and its ideas are indeed alive and well in Scotland and in very considerable numbers, and the only question is why they do not vote for that party in Scottish elections. The SNP needs to look no further than its own electorate to find where they are.
After all, would they vote for Scottish Labour? Certainly not. For the LibDems? Unlikely. The Tories? Irrelevant. Which leaves only one option: the Scottish party which looks to harden borders, look after number one, wave flags and talk about national sovereignty and ‘taking control of [their] own affairs.’ Can you tell what is yet? Yep, the SNP is the party in Scotland that would be most attractive to UKIP supporters.
Which also adds a further twist when it comes to the 2014 independence referendum, which could unravel the SNP’s support for a Yes vote. This includes not just the UKIP types of the Scottish suburbs, but also many others who lend the SNP their votes: the Tories who support them in rural Scotland, the LibDems who defected in horror at the coalition in 2011, and the Labour lefties for whom class analysis trumps bourgeois nationalism.
In other words, the more the SNP and the Yes campaign paint their picture of Scotland’s difference from (in their eyes superiority to) England, the more they will alienate that majority of Scots who feel as much British as they do Scottish. And this is not surprising, as the Scots and the English are not so different after all.