Yesterday Alex Salmond gave a speech outlining the benefits independence would bring to Scotland. As Salmond put it, “The case for independence is fundamentally a democratic one. A vote for independence next year will address the democratic deficit which sees policies like the punitive Bedroom Tax, the renewal of Trident or Royal Mail privatisation imposed on Scotland against the wishes of Scotland’s democratically elected representatives.” Independence will bring about the end of the political union that is the UK, but as Salmond went on to point out, “Scotland will continue to participate fully in five unions – the European Union, a defence union through NATO, a currency union, the Union of the Crowns and the social union between the people of these isles.” A fairly straightforward statement of what will change with independence and what will not change.
Not according to Willie Rennie, leader of the LibDems in Scotland. He was almost immediately on the airwaves criticising the speech. Which he has every right to do. However his criticism seems to betray a serious lack of clarity on the part of Mr Rennie. What he said, which was repeated on his Facebook page, was, “Today Alex Salmond’s so-called positive case was mostly negative. He attacked the UK and labelled those who support it a “parcel of rogues”. He will say and do anything to break up the UK even if it means advocating the continuation of several unions with the UK from the currency union to the social union. Yet he can’t guarantee all of it as if we slam the door in the face of the United Kingdom they may just lock it from the other side. They might not agree to Scotland’s every demand.” It is fascinating to note how Rennie starts by accusing Salmond of negativity, yet ends up by claiming that the UK might simply reject all of Scotland’s demands. If you are going to accuse the other side of negativity, it is probably better not to be negative yourself. Yet again, I guess the Unionists cannot help themselves – negativity is all they have. This is presumably the reason why Rennie makes no attempt to argue against any of the five unions proposed by Salmond. Yet Rennie is forever calling for clarity about independence. This might be a good place for Rennie to start – how about commenting on the specifics of these five unions? Is Rennie in favour of them or not? He seems to be most unwilling to share his own views with us the voters.
For it is interesting to note that Rennie says that it is the United Kingdom that will do the rejecting. By this presumably he means the UK government. Yet the current UK government is a coalition which includes Rennie’s party, the LibDems. So Rennie should have some idea of what the UK government plans to do in the event of Scottish independence. Yet all we get are scare stories based on nothing more than assertion after assertion. It is worth pointing out here that governments tend to act in the perceived interests of their people. So if the UK government were to oppose any of the five unions it would only do so because it was in the interests of the rest of the UK to stop all contacts and trade with Scotland. Which seems a tad unlikely. Or is Rennie suggesting that the UK government, of which his party is a member, would just ignore its own interests and seek to punish Scotland? We should be told – all in the interest of clarity.
Let us look in brief at each of these five unions and see if we can tease out where there might be a difference of opinion between the UK and Scotland. The social union for example does not seem to involve governments in any way whatsoever. As Salmond stated in his speech, “The final union does not rely on the choices made by politicians and parliaments – the social union unites all the peoples of these islands.” So it is not at all clear how the UK could oppose this union. It of course begs the question as to why it would want to oppose a social union. Could Willie please enlighten us on this one. Is he opposed to a continuing social union? On what grounds does he think the UK government might oppose such a union?
The Union of the Crowns was another of the five unions proposed by Salmond. Again I am a bit confused as to where the UK government stands on this one. It is theoretically possible for the Queen to refuse the offer of becoming Queen of Scotland, but unlikely I would have thought. As to the UK government, could David Cameron order the Queen to refuse the crown of Scotland? In the interests of clarity I hope that Willie Rennie enlightens us on this matter. Does he support the Union of the Crowns? On what grounds does he think the UK government might oppose this union?
I would suggest that these two unions have nothing really to do with the UK government and will come to pass in the event of Scottish independence. The other three unions are of a different nature and explicitly political. Alex Salmond re-iterated the Scottish government’s long standing commitment to remaining in both the EU and NATO, but as full members with the same rights as other members. Now in both cases membership will have to be agreed by the existing members. Note though that it will not be a case of starting from scratch or starting from outwith these two bodies. The simple question that has to be answered is why would any of the existing members want to exclude Scotland from full membership. In both cases it cannot possibly in the interests of the existing members to exclude Scotland. In which case the only reason for excluding Scotland would be to punish us for voting for independence. Which seems most unlikely. As the UK is a member of both these unions, the UK government would clearly have a voice and an important one on Scotland’s membership. So again, in the interests of clarity, I hope that Willie Rennie can enlighten us all. Is he in favour of Scotland’s continuing membership of the EU and of NATO? On what grounds does he think that the UK government might want to oppose Scottish membership?
The final union proposed by Alex Salmond is a currency union between Scotland and the rest of the UK. Now this is the one union that doesn’t currently exist and the one where the UK government could say no. It could simply reject the notion out of hand. Clearly many on the Unionist side are trying to do just that. George Osborne, Chancellor of the Exchequer is doing his best to knock the whole idea down. But of course this tells us nothing about what the position of the UK government would be in the light of a YES vote. This is where a hard headed analysis of what would be in the long term interests of the UK will be the decisive factor in how the UK government responds to this proposed union. This is clearly the most controversial of the five unions. It is also the only one in which the UK government on it own can reject the proposal. But will it? Once more we are at the mercy of Willie Rennie, in seeking some clarity. Does Rennie think that a currency union would be the best option for an independent Scotland and the rest of the UK? On what grounds does he think the UK government might want to reject such a currency union?
The referendum next year is a decisive moment for all of us who live and work in Scotland Independence will change many things and offer us the opportunity for further changes. Changes that we in Scotland have voted for. However, much will remain more or less the same. Alex Salmond was simply pointing out the obvious. Yet Willie Rennie in an attempt to preserve the UK, seeks to deny this. In the interests of clarity I think Willie Rennie owes it to us to explain fully just where he stands on these five unions and where he thinks his government stands on them. Over to you Mr Rennie.