How the SNP have failed at basic statecraft (originally in LabourList 19th February – with thanks)

It is hard to credit that the SNP has been preparing for independence for 80 years, or even for the seven years that they have been in power. This is shown by the intellectual poverty and the ineptitude of their approach to the essential issues of statecraft. Both have been laid bare by the debacle surrounding its policy on currency.

When the White Paper “Scotland’s Future” was published as a would-be game changer by the Scottish Government, many of us were comprehensively underwhelmed, for two reasons. The first was the lack of costings for the entire project of inventing a new state. The other was the lack of any consideration of the possibility that any aspect might be mistaken and might require an alternative approach.

Scotland’s future and its eponymous blueprint had no prices attached, and had no Plan B.

It is therefore no wonder that the use of the Pound was seized upon by all of the UK parties. Moreover, as the Chancellor of Exchequer has ultimate responsibility for the integrity of the currency, it would have been an act of abject negligence for Osborne, Balls and Alexander not to have acted on the advice of the Permanent Secretary at the Treasury.

It was in the interest of all users of the Pound to reassure the markets that it would not be compromised by even considering a single currency zone. This was especially the case when this would be founded on the determination of Scotland to pursue an uncosted economic destiny markedly divergent from that of the (much larger) UK. To declare that if Scotland walks away for the UK, it walks away from the Pound was a plain declaration in the best interests of the Pound and therefore of the UK.

It was also made clear by the Treasury that although doing so will incur costs to the UK economy, these would be the lesser evil than entering into a common currency union. In other words, there are no conceivable circumstances under which such a union can be considered.

It could not be further from “bluff, bluster and bullying” as Alex Salmond declared. And this is where the lack of basic statecraft comes in: amazingly, it seems that Salmond, Sturgeon, Swinney et all have never read Palmerston’s observation that “nations have no permanent friends or allies, they only have permanent interests.”

In this case, the UK is protecting its interests, which are not the same as those of the Scottish secessionist movement. So the SNP needs a Plan B on currency. That it has none is wholly due its own arrogance in the belief that the interests of the world are identical to its own.

And as the currency issue threatens to overwhelm Salmond, Sturgeon and Swinney, the next storm surge has started to gather: EU membership.

Jose Manuel Borroso has told us that it would be “extremely difficult, if not impossible” for Scotland to join the EU. In this case, the SNP has not taken into account the damage which its position would threaten to the interests of Spain (regarding Catalonia) and Belgium (regarding its existence as a single state).

In response, a rather forlorn John Swinney tells the President of the EU Commission that the latter’s position is “preposterous.” Again, these are cases where the interests of a putative independent Scotland are already in conflict with the interests of other states: and in each case, those states hold the whip hand and the SNP has no Plan B.

It is possible to see that others will emerge soon: for instance NATO, where displacement of Trident from the Clyde is unlikely to be straightforward. If it happens at all in Trident’s lifetime, it may need to be paid for by an independent Scotland in ways which suit the interests of the rest of the alliance, for example, in a commitment to troop deployments in future conflicts.

As in the case of the currency question, the outcome will be some kind of enforced Plan B, whether the Scottish Government likes it or not. Almost certainly this will be an outcome neither foreseen nor expected by those who voted Yes in the referendum.

It is clear that the SNP is willing to take such risks. However, the people of Scotland need not be so foolhardy – they can simply vote No.


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