One of the most curious and least reported aspects of the Scottish Independence campaign is the lack of interest shown by most people in England. This is reflected in how Scottish Independence is covered in the media. In Scotland there is an almost daily news item or comment in the media on independence. Usually in the form of a scare story about how bad things will be if we dared to vote for independence. The Scottish editions of English newspapers in particular are very partial to this kind of daily scare story. However these stories rarely appear in their English editions. BBC Scotland’s version of Any Questions – Brian’s Big Debate – nearly always has one or two questions about independence. While the UK equivalents whether on radio or TV hardly ever feature Scotland, let alone Scottish Independence as a question. It is only on the rare occasions when the programme ventures up north into Scotland do you get questions about Scotland. In addition the UK wide TV and radio news programmes rarely mention Scotland.
What is going on here? For what is really surprising is that for the political class in England – not just politicians, but the leading media commentators – Scottish Independence is something to be vehemently opposed. Which they do, at least they do when in Scotland. Up here their uniform line is that Scotland needs the UK. Without the resources of the UK, Scotland would be too poor and too wee to survive as a successful country. Now there is a slight difficulty with this assertion. It does not go down too well in England. For in effect the Unionists are saying that England subsidises Scotland. And why would the good people of England want to subsidise Scotland? If this message were put forward in England as forcefully as it is in Scotland the likelihood is that a majority of English people would vote for English independence.
On the other hand, Unionists in England can hardly tell the truth, which is that England needs Scotland. Not just for its economic contribution, but for the UK to maintain its global pretensions, including that prized seat on the UN Security Council. Every so often this uncomfortable truth will break out, as in this answer from Jack Straw from 2006, h/t to Minguin’s Republic. But it is not an argument that Unionists care to make in England. After all it just confirms that Scotland is a very resource rich country and the UK needs Scotland more than we need the UK.
So we find ourselves in the most curious position where the Unionists mount an almost daily media assault based on lies and scaremongering in Scotland, but keep stumm in England for fear of upsetting the natives. Alas, sooner or later the truth will out
What this also shows is the enormous gulf between the political class and the majority of the population. For the few surveys that have been conducted seem to show that most people in England are quite relaxed about the prospect of Scottish Independence. Which is good news for the establishment of good, friendly relations between the two countries once independence comes.
This week is the time when Palestinians commemorate the events of 1948 which resulted in the expulsion of the majority of the Palestinians then living in Palestine. This massive and deliberate ethnic cleansing carried out by the Jewish armed forces of the newly declared state of Israel remains the single most important event in the recent history of Palestine. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were uprooted from their ancestral homes and forced to live as refugees in camps throughout the Middle East. They have ever since been refused the right of return. It is this refusal on the part of the Israelis which turned them into refugees. As a result of this ethnic cleansing Palestinians lost 78% of their country to the new Zionist state of Israel. This is the “Catastrophe” that Palestinians refer to as Al Nakba. Though this Catastrophe took place in 1948 and 1949, the seeds were sown many decades earlier. And sad to say, the British government played an important and dishonourable role in the development of this tragedy. After the First World War the victorious powers were keen to promote self-determination amount the peoples of the defeated Empires in Europe, they were adamantly opposed to extending such democratic values to the peoples of the equally defeated Ottoman Empire. Instead the British and French, under the fig leaf of Mandates from the newly formed League of Nations, were allowed to effective run the remnants of the Ottoman Empire as their own colonies. Palestine fell to British rule and the Mandate included the well known clause in favour of “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.” What is less well known is that this same clause included the further qualification, “it being clearly understood that nothing should be done which might prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine.” The British of course failed miserably in exercising their Mandate responsibilities, though they did their best to favour the Jewish settlers in Palestine. Unwilling to grant democracy to the people of Palestine and unable to militarily control the area, the British did what they are famous for, they walked away and left the problems to the newly formed United Nations. This august body, which was hardly representative of the peoples of the world, decided in its wisdom to partition Palestine and to the surprise and consternation of many, awarded 55% of the land to the Jewish state and only 45% to a Palestinian state. This at the time when Jews only made up less than ⅓ of the population and Jews only owned 7% of the land. Then again it was maybe not so surprising. The UN at the time of the partition only had 56 members. It was also very much a white man’s club. Only four African countries were members and these included Liberia, almost a US dependency and white ruled South Africa. Asia had just 11 members. The majority of the member states came from Latin America, the Caribbean and the victorious European states from the Second World War. Plus of course the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. It is fascinating to reflect that the part of the world in which Palestine lay – Asia, was the least represented in the then UN. It was also the region that most strongly opposed the partition, with nine of the 11 countries voting against. The votes in favour came almost wholly from Latin America, Europe and the Old White former British Empire. This vote probably reflected a mixture of anti-Arab racism and guilt at the sufferings of Jews in Europe, before and during the Second World War. What is beyond doubt is that the current more representative UN would never have passed such a partition plan.
The Catastrophe of 1948/49 was not alas the end of suffering for Palestinians. Contrary to the image presented in the media of a peace loving nation, Israel seems to be in a constant state of aggressive war. And not just with Palestinians as Egyptians, Lebanese and Syrians can attest. It is though the Palestinians who continue to bear the brunt of Israeli aggression. Not content with the 78% of Palestine which they conquered in 1948/49, Israel in 1967 effective conquered all of Palestine. Though it claims not to an occupation the facts on the ground belie this. East Jerusalem, the Golan and other areas have been illegally incorporated into Israel. While the rest of the West Bank and Gaza remain under tight Israeli military control. Every year more and more Palestinian land is confiscated by the Israelis for Jewish only settlements – illegally it goes without saying. Every year more and more Palestinian homes are destroyed. Palestinians would like nothing better than to commemorate Al Nakba as history. But while Israeli aggression continues and continues with the active support or connivance of the US and alas the UK among others, Al Nakba remains an occasion to raise awareness and campaign for Justice for Palestine. Join in any of the many events being held this week in support of Palestine and in particular the demand from refugees for their Right to Return. There is unlikely to be a long term peace in Israel/Palestine until Israel recognizes its particular culpability in the Catastrophe. Thankfully more and more Israelis are beginning to come to terms with what this means. Though still a small minority, their voices are beginning to be heard. For more on Israeli responses to this year’s Al Nakba events please visit +972 a wonderful web magazine opposed to the occupation.
The NO campaign and their tame allies in the media continue to try and assert that independence for Scotland is a risky business. It’s an uncertain world out there and it is far better to stay with the UK. Think of all the financial strength and security that comes with the UK. Well, indeed, let us do just that. For one thing that is certain is that no matter how far back one goes, the UK is pretty much synonymous with economic mismanagement. To avoid a lesson in ancient history, let us just focus on the post war period. The 1940s were of course years of austerity, though the effort to win the war was a major contributory factor in this. However it is also the case that despite some impressive social achievements, the Labour government did little if anything to improve the British economy. By the late 1950s, now under Tory rule, government unwillingness to undertake effective reforms in the economy led to continuing balance of trade problems and the rise of our old friend, boom and bust. The Labour governments of the 1960s, though aware of the need for change proved equally incapable of fundamentally changing the economic performance of the UK. This of course led to the infamous devaluation in 1967. Things did not improve in the 1970s, whether under Tory or Labour rule and culminated in the humiliation of asking for help from the IMF. Labour’s failures then ushered back in the Tories, but this time a more vengeful kind of Tory – the disastrous Thatcher years of the 1980s, with the almost final destruction of British industry and the ever upwards rise of the financiers in the City of London. The 1990s saw more Tory rule under John Major and even greater economic mismanagement with soaring interest rates and the humiliating expulsion of sterling from the ERM. The first decade of this century gave us the dubious benefits of New Labour with Tony Blair and Gordon Brown at the helm. They too proved unable to provide long term stability and competence to the UK economy. Instead they presided over the biggest financial collapse in our recent history. Pandering to the financiers in the City of London did nothing for the rest of us. Now we have a Tory led coalition with the LibDems and for this privilege we have to suffer through a seemingly unending period of austerity, with drastic cuts to our public services. At the same time as the rich continue to get richer. This in a nutshell is the Union dividend. The next time the NO campaign assert that independence is a bit of risk, remind them that staying with the UK carries the greater risk – we have the certainty of economic failure every decade or more. What could be more riskier than that! Time for Scotland to break free from the dead and incompetent hand of London rule.
The politicking within the UK around our continuing membership of the EU continues to gain momentum. The latest contribution from Lord Lawson – let’s get out – has merely confirmed a growing trend. More and more people it seems want the UK to leave the EU. A referendum on this issue seems just a matter of time. Now, as someone who is strongly in favour of Scottish independence, I hope not to be able to participate in any such UK referendum. However this issue, that of the UK’s membership of the EU is relevant to the debate on Scottish independence. Will the recent developments have any effect on voting intentions in Scotland?
A first point is that all this talk of the UK leaving the EU merely shows up yet again how little influence Scotland currently has on UK policy. For all the talk of a partnership of equals, if a majority of the good people of England vote to leave the EU, then there is nothing that Scotland can do about it. For the UK is a most unequal construct. England dominates with over 85% of the population of the UK. Another related point is that this is not really a UK debate. All or nearly all the voices leading the charge to leave the EU come from England. UKIP, despite its name, is an almost wholly English party, as is pretty much the case with the Conservatives. So the first real lesson from the continuing rise of the anti-EU brigade is to bring out ever more starkly just how little power Scotland has in the UK.
The second lesson relates to the issue of the EU itself. A constant refrain from the NO camp is that Scotland will not automatically remain a member of the EU if we vote for independence. We will face very hard and difficult negotiations and might have to accept humiliating conditions. Why we might not even get to stay in the EU. And of course not being in the EU would be very, very damaging for Scotland. But, hey, wait a minute, aren’t some of the top Unionists advocating for the UK to leave the EU? And are they not saying that leaving the EU would be just wonderful? So according to some in the NO camp, leaving the EU would be terribly bad for Scotland, while according to others leaving the EU would be great for the UK. A tad confused? I await with interest how the Better Together team answer this one.
Related to the above is the whole issue of negotiations with the EU. The standard NO camp assertion is that negotiations between an independent Scotland and the EU will be difficult, onerous and lengthy, with an uncertain outcome. But what about the negotiations between the UK and the EU? If the UK did vote to leave, there would need to be some kind of arrangement with the EU to allow for continuing trade and co-operation. Both Norway and Switzerland for example have quite detailed and complex agreements with the EU so that their citizens and companies can get the benefits from the single market. Yet the anti-EU brigade assure us these negotiations will be easy peasy. Once again we have some Unionists asserting different things for Scotland and for the UK. Negotiations will be really hard for Scotland but easy for the UK.
What all of the above does show is that in the balance of risks and uncertainties about the future, there is much greater risk and much greater uncertainty regarding the position of the UK in relation to the EU than that of Scotland. Negotiations for Scotland to simply change its institutional status within the EU is much less problematic and much less difficult than negotiations for the UK to leave and create a whole new set of arrangements. Just how long would that take and just how uncertain will the outcome be? Over to the Better Together team to enlighten us with some concrete answers.
This current rise to prominence in the London and UK media of the issue of the UK’s place in the EU does raise important questions about the NO campaign’s assertions regarding Scotland and the EU. However one wonders if our totally biased Scottish media will pick up on any of this and subject the likes of Alastair Darling to some serious questioning. I am not holding my breath.