Category Archives: Independence

Scottish independence – a pragmatic choice?

The possibility that there might be another indy referendum sometime in the not too distant future has brought out again some of the arguments for independence.  In particular the prospect that to secure victory in the next referendum we will need to broaden our support to include more of the middle class has upset a few folk. That some financial industry types are beginning to talk up the prospect of Scottish independence seems to have really frightened a few more.

The reason for this is that for many, particularly on the left of the political spectrum, independence is seen as primarily, or often, solely as a pragmatic choice. At this moment in time independence offers the real prospect of advancing the interests of the working class and/or making Scotland a fairer and more equal society. But what if this were to change and these new middle class converts to independence were to dominate politics in an independent Scotland?

It is an interesting question, though I fail to see what it has to do with independence. No matter where you live if you want to build a fairer, more progressive economy and society you have to campaign for it and to persuade a majority of your fellow citizens to vote for parties committed to these policies.

Independence doesn’t change this. What it does change is the people you have to persuade and convince. With independence this becomes the people who live in Scotland. This is the whole point of independence, for any country. It is not and can never be about particular policies.

It does seem to me to be a bit strange to argue that the people of Scotland should be given the power to decide policies, but only for the next few years. If after, say ten/fifteen years the people of Scotland have failed to live up to my expectations I will – what? Campaign for Scotland to rejoin the UK? Campaign for Scotland to join Denmark or whatever other country is deemed to be at that particular moment suitably left wing/progressive?

The choice of voting for independence should never be a thing of the moment, a purely pragmatic decision. Independence is a choice for the long term, if not for ever. I wrote about this way back in 2012, which you can read here, and my conclusion then still stands today.

Scotland the country, Scotland the land has existed for centuries with its own distinctive customs and laws. It is on the basis of its continuing existence as a distinct entity – a state – that I support Scottish Independence. Let it be us – the people of Scotland, wherever we come from – who decide our future.

 

 

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Trident and Labour

The recent decision by the Labour party in Scotland to reject the renewal of Trident is to be welcomed. The size of the majority of delegates who voted against renewal – 70%-30% – is pretty conclusive, and should rule out any change for at least a couple of generations. Welcome though this conversion is, it is doubtful if it will have much or any impact either at Westminster or here in Scotland.

Trident will still be renewed

As Trident is a reserved matter, the only votes that count are those at Westminster. There, a large majority of MPs will vote to renew our nuclear weapons. The Tories of course, but also the overwhelming majority of Labour MPs. As Maria Eagles pointed out, the Labour party’s official position is to support the renewal of Trident. Irrespective of what Scottish Labour thinks or does.

As things stand in Scotland, three of our main political parties – SNP, Greens and now Scottish Labour (assuming SLAB is a party and not just a branch office) are against the renewal of Trident. At least 57 of Scottish MPs (not sure how Alistair Carmichael will vote) will vote against the renewal. Hard to find a clearer example of consensus in Scottish politics.

Yet all this will be brushed aside when the vote takes place in Westminster. The massed ranks of Tory and Labour MPs from England will ensure that Trident is replaced. Pretty much sums up the irrelevance of Scotland within the UK. Even if all these 57 MPs from Scotland were Labour and against Trident, it would make no difference.

Impact in Scotland

As the preceding section demonstrates this decision by Scottish Labour will only highlight yet again how Westminster can always overrule decisions by Scots. This is true for all reserved matters and the forthcoming vote in Westminster will only emphasise that if you want to get rid of Trident then the most effective and realistic way of achieving this is through Scottish independence. Perhaps not the message Scottish Labour were intending to send out.

Impact on Scottish Labour

The biggest impact of this vote may be on the Labour party itself.  For the dilemma for Labour in Scotland is that if it wants to convince a majority of Scots that their future is best served by continuing to remain in the UK, then they need to demonstrate that the views of Scots have some kind of influence at Westminster. This has to be in relation to reserved matters, not just Trident, but defence and foreign policy and above all, on macro-economic policy. Otherwise Labour runs the risk of a slow, but steady move of more and more Scots in favour of independence. After all if the UK is a union of equals, how come Scotland is always outvoted at Westminster?

If Labour seriously wants to preserve Scotland in the Union, then it needs to quickly come up with some practical ways of increasing Scotland’s say in reserved matters. I can think of two that would have some, though limited effect. The first is to campaign for PR for Westminster and to succeed in persuading the UK Labour party to do the same. With a PR system on the Scottish or German lines, it becomes difficult for a single party to achieve an overall majority on its own. PR would certainly prevent a party with only 37% of votes winning complete power. As the Tories did last May. With more parties represented in Westminster, Scottish MPs could expect to have greater influence on decisive votes.

The other practical step for Labour in Scotland is for the party to become a completely separate party from the UK party. A party with similar or the same values if you like, but accountable to a different electorate – the people of Scotland. Such a move would give Scottish Labour MPs a greater mandate at Westminster, when it comes to negotiating votes at Westminster. If the UK Labour wanted the support of Scottish Labour there would have to be some give and take. The views of Scottish Labour, if different from UK Labour would have to be recognised and taken into account in any negotiations.

If both steps were taken and the UK did move to PR, then, in a more plural Westminster, not just Scottish Labour but all Scottish MPs could expect to wield more power and influence than at present.  Together this might be enough to persuade enough Scots that Scottish Labour has something different and interesting to say.

While these steps might well increase the power and influence of Scottish MPs at Westminster, it would still only be a slight increase. Welcome enough , but perhaps not decisive enough. As with Trident, if you really want the decisions that affect Scotland and its future to be taken by the people who live in Scotland, then the only way to ensure that is in an independent Scotland.

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A Year On – Still Yes

With the first anniversary of the referendum upon us, it is as a good a time as any for a bit of reflection. Like just about everyone who participated in the Yes campaign I found it an exhilarating, exciting and rewarding experience. We failed to convince a majority of our fellow citizens, but we did convert hundreds of thousands and the momentum was clearly with Yes. This momentum has continued and it is the pro independence side that remains the more buoyant, determined and optimistic.

I share in this determination and optimism. I remain convinced that independence is the right way forward for Scotland. My reasons remain the same. Basically that the key decisions about the future of Scotland should  be taken by the people who live here. It’s all about democracy and taking responsibility for our future.

I reckon that a majority of Scots also share this position. Alas, we did not convince enough of them that Scotland was economically viable as an independent country. Worries about our long term economic viability were expressed in many ways. Fears that an independent Scotland would not be able to afford the pensions for older people. The fear that many businesses would leave the country. Allied to this the fear that if Scotland was out of the EU this would damage our economy. The worry that Scotland was too dependent on (declining) revenues from the North Sea. Finally, fears about the currency of an independent Scotland – what if Westminster said no to us using the pound?

All of the above factors were influential in creating a climate of fear about the economic prospects of an independent Scotland. They were together the main weapon of the No campaign. In this they were ably abetted by our very biased media, who kept up a constant barrage of scare stories and fears throughout the referendum campaign. So I agree with those who believe that it was the failure to convince more people about the long term economic viability of an independent Scotland that lost us the referendum. It is many ways a wonder that we managed to convince so many, given the hostility to our campaign.

Where I part company with many on the economy factor is that I do not believe that the currency was in itself the crucial factor. A factor yes, but for me, no more important than the others mentioned above. From my perspective, currencies are just not that important. Just about all the independent countries in the world have their own currency. Yet the economic performance of these countries ranges from the abysmal to very good. Equally there is no clear pattern to discern from among the few countries that either share a currency or just use someone else’s currency. Greece, Ireland and Portugal have all had economic woes, but so have lots of other countries with their own currency, including our very own UK.

What was damaging in relation to the currency question was the uncertainty that surrounded it. Would Westminster agree? How strong or weak would an independent currency be? But this was the same with all the factors around the economy.  There was uncertainty about the EU, about just how rich and viable Scotland was. Uncertainty is the name of the game.  Uncertainty applied as much to the UK and staying in the UK. But nobody in the media was prepared to pose these questions or rigorously challenge the Unionists on the long term viability of the UK in either economic or social well being terms.

My central point is that we still have much work to do to convince No voters that Scotland has the resources to be a stable and successful country. I am disappointed that we did not do better on this score. I still feel that we should have done more about international comparisons. No two countries are the same, but Denmark and Scotland do have a lot in common in terms of geographic location, size and population. I am no economist and no expert on Denmark, but I find it impossible to work out just what natural advantages Denmark has over Scotland. Yet nobody, not even in the No campaign would suggest that Denmark is not one of the most successful countries in the world. Nobody ever suggests that Denmark should not be an independent country on the grounds that it is too small and too poor. So why did we not challenge Unionists to demonstrate with evidence why Scotland, unlike Denmark would not be similarly successful?

The economy has to be the key issue for winning a second referendum. Independence will only come when a clear majority of Scots have confidence in the wealth and resources of their country. The perilous state of the UK economy and its uncertain future should offer us fertile ground for building the general case that Scotland has all the resources needed to be a stable and successful country. This will not be about specific policies, but about the basics of the economy – the rich range of natural and human resources at our disposal.

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