Tag Archives: Scottish Independence

No campaign in denial over NHS

Do I detect a slight whiff of panic in the air from Alistair Darling and the No campaign? This as a result of polling that suggests that the threat of further privatisation of the NHS in England is swaying undecided voters into voting Yes. The rush with which spokespeople for the No campaign have bombarded the media to try and counter these claims has all the hallmarks of panic to me.

Kate Higgins at Burdzeyeview has a very good summary, here, of the facts behind the story. As usual the No side tries to steer the discussion away from the key issue, which is how the NHS is funded. So we have the unedifying spectacle of Alistair Darling and other Labour party members publicly stating that the NHS is safe in the hands of the Tories! Which must come as news to Andy Burnham, the Shadow Health Secretary at Westminster. Not to mention Mark Drakeford from the Welsh Labour party. Mr Drakeford who is the Health Minister at Cardiff is on record as saying that the NHS could become unsustainable in Wales if there is a Conservative victory at the next general election.

So we have Labour in England and Wales saying the NHS is at risk from the Tories, while Labour in Scotland is saying everything is hunky dory with the Tories. Panic stations anyone!

What is at stake here is not the degree of privatisation of the NHS in England, but the overall funding of the block grant that comes to Scotland. For this is the key issue – who and how is the Scottish block grant funded? The who part is very simple – the government of the day at Westminster. Scotland has no say whatsoever in how much of our money the UK government deigns to send back to us. The how is a bit more complicated. But basically the total sum goes up or down according to what the UK government decides to spend in England. As a matter of principle this seems to me to be a very unsatisfactory and demeaning way to go about such an important matter.

At the moment this total is going down as a result of the Tory/LibDem coalition’s austerity measures. This trend will definitely continue if there is a No vote in the referendum. All of the three main UK parties are committed to further austerity and cuts to public spending. Remember it is the total spending that matters. So spending on the NHS may be protected in England, but cuts elsewhere means that overall public spending has declined, which in turn leads to a reduction in the money available for us in Scotland. A reduction in which we have had no say whatsoever!

This is the long term threat to our NHS in Scotland from a No vote, irrespective of who wins the 2015 UK election. Even a Labour victory will not prevent further cuts to the Scottish block grant. These cuts will continue for at least a further five years and almost certainly longer, especially if the Tories win in 2015. This in turn will put considerable pressure on our NHS budget, pressure which could lead to our NHS in Scotland becoming unsustainable, as predicted by the Labour party in Wales.
The only way to sustain and improve the NHS in Scotland is to ensure that we are in control of its funding. And the only way to ensure that is to vote Yes for independence. Only independence will give us full control over all of our rich resources.

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Who are We?

Radio Scotland’s Crossfire this morning provided an interesting and in many ways revelatory intervention from the Unionist of the day on the programme. Didn’t catch her name, but her interjection came when Andrew Wilson was discussing how independence would mean that in Scotland we would be able to take political action on our own behalf. At this point the Unionist interrupted to make clear that for her when she talks about “we”, she means the people across the whole of the UK and not Scotland.

I congratulate her for this intervention and the clarity she has brought to the independence debate. For despite the best or worst attempts by Unionists to divert media attention to other issues, e.g. currency, EU etc, this is what the referendum is all about. Who gets to vote and thus decide on the political issues that will determine, for better or worse, the future of Scotland?

I remember many, many years ago studying for a course on Politics with the Open University. Part of the course covered the conditions for the emergence of democracy. One of the more memorable quotes from this section was something like: Before the “people” can decide, there has to be agreement on who are the “people”. This it seems to me to get to the heart of the referendum. It is not about oil, currency or any of the other faux issues that Unionists would have us talk about. It is instead all about who are “We“?

For Unionists “We” are the people who live across the UK. On the other hand for those of us in favour of independence, “We” are the people who live in Scotland. It is after all the future of Scotland that is at stake. Why should people who do not live in Scotland have a vote in our future? The only reason one could vote no, is if you felt that the UK was more important to you than Scotland. Which is what the guest on Crossfire openly admitted this morning.

If only the rest of the Unionist campaign was so open and honest! The trouble for Unionists is that for the overwhelming majority of people living in Scotland, it is Scotland and its future which matters most. The UK comes a far second. This again is not surprising. For most of us living in Scotland it is the areas of differences that most affect our daily lives. Whether it is education, health, the law, local government, police, social work, transport or whatever, just about everything that matters most to us is already different in Scotland. In most cases it has always been different and since the inception of the Scottish Parliament the differences with the rest of the UK have become even more pronounced. Added to this the fact that in many other important areas of life, religion and sports or example, Scotland again has and always has had its own independent identity.

So for most of us living in Scotland, our natural allegiance is to Scotland, irrespective of where we originally came from. Allegiance to the UK has been on a steep decline over decades. Which is why Unionists try to avoid the democracy question – Who runs Scotland? We need to keep focussing on this simple question – who do you want to decide the future of Scotland? The people who live in Scotland or the people who live in the whole of the UK? If this is what voters have in their mind when they vote, then we will win with a very big Yes majority.

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UK – Not OK!

The recent announcement that the UK economy has grown by 0.8% and has now reached its pre-recession level of output has been greeted with wild enthusiasm by the government and its supporters in the media. But this achievement, welcome though it is, simply confirms the incompetence of Westminster governments. Remember it was Labour under the dismal leadership of Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling which got us into this financial and economic mess in the first place. A crisis which George Osborne and Danny Alexander have mysteriously contrived to make even worse. Hailing 0.8% growth and six wasted years of lost output as some kind of economic master plan is to indulge in the Alice in Wonderland school of economics.

A brief look at the figures shows how poor this so-called achievement really is. First of all, this recovery is two years later than the Chancellor had originally expected. So on this measure this recovery is a failure. A failure by a whopping two years! Secondly, in previous recessions the economy did manage to recover after only two, three or four years. This is the longest period for a recovery since records began. Yet another Westminster failure! Thirdly most of the other large economies managed to come out of this recession earlier than the UK. Only Italy of our major competitors is still lagging behind. Coming second last is not much of a success. Sounds more like another failure to me.

The headline figure that the UK economy is finally back to where it was in 2008 is also very misleading. After all the population of the UK has grown substantially in this period. So, while overall GDP is slightly up on what it was when the recession hit, GDP per capita is not. GDP per capita is still in fact lower than its pre-recession peak. All this population growth has not translated into better economic performance. Another failure?

The per-capita measure of economic output and growth is of course the crucial one for understanding why even this watered down recovery has not meant much for living standards for most of the workforce. In short productivity growth in the UK is conspicuous by its absence. This has been another of the mysteries of this particular long running recession. Employment has recovered and more and more people of working age are gaining employment. But without a corresponding growth in productivity, there is no scope for a boost in earnings. Producing the same level of output with more people can only result in a decline in real wages. During the recession this can be a, relatively, good thing. The costs of the recession are more widely spread. However if this lack of productivity growth continues post-recession, we are in deep trouble. The average UK citizen will be 15-20% poorer forever. And this seems to be the case. Even the Office for Budget Responsibility, which is much lauded by the No campaign, is forecasting this permanent drop in living standards. For a fuller analysis of this problem of lost productivity growth, see this article by Simon Wren-Lewis on his blog, mainly macro. He sums up the issue thus;- “The absence of labour productivity growth is good in the short term, but is potentially disastrous in the long term. The problem is that the absence of growth in labour productivity since the recession is unprecedented: nothing like this has happened in living memory. The reason to be concerned is that the rapid growth in productivity required to catch up the ground already lost is also unprecedented for the UK, which is why most economists assume it will not happen. Which brings me to another puzzle.”

The other puzzle to which Wren-Lewis refers is the apparent lack of interest by the UK government in trying to find out why there has been such a long term absence of productivity growth in the economy. If the UK government has no idea of what has caused this absence, it equally has no idea of how to remedy it. The most disturbing aspect to all this is that it would appear that the UK government has no real interest in the long term prosperity of the UK economy. It is not as if Labour has any alternative vision. Low wages and insecurity for working people while at the same time allow the super rich to get even richer. This is the future that awaits us if we vote to stay in the UK. The UK is not OK and only a Yes vote in September will allow us in Scotland to work towards an alternative – a People’s Scotland.

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A glimpse of normalcy

Back to the world of blogging after a short break which included a lovely holiday in England, the Cotswolds to be precise.  And what a lovely place to be! Apart from the sights to see and the friendly people, one of the great surprises was the complete silence about Scottish independence. This is something I have written about before, here, and it was good to have it confirmed in person. Throughout our week in England I found absolutely nothing in the newspapers or on the TV news about our referendum. What a refreshing experience. There were no scare stories, no disasters awaiting. Perhaps surprisingly there wasn’t even any lovebombing. The reality seems to be that the vast majority of people in England are just not interested in or bothered about Scottish independence. The reshuffle, the heatwave and sport took up just about all the coverage.

It was in a way, a glimpse of what life will be like in an independent Scotland. We will once again become a “normal” country. Just like all the other 50 or so countries in Europe. The constitutional question will have been settled and our focus will return to the key political issues – the economy, taxes, welfare, the health service etc. And of course in all these areas the choices and decisions will be ours. We will no longer be dependent on what the good people of England decide.

There is now just under two months to go till Referendum Day. In Scotland we can expect that the independence question will continue to dominate the media and the airwaves. Most of the facts, to the extent that there are facts, are now out in the public domain. Not that our pro Unionist media has ever made any attempt to inform people of these “facts”. No doubt we will continue to get more unbalanced reporting on these “facts”. What I wonder does the No campaign still have up its sleeve for the last two months? More scare stories? More lovebombing? I cannot imagine it will get any nicer or better. We just have to continue to get out there and carry on with the leafletting and canvassing.

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They love us, they love us not?

I keep getting confused by the messages from the No campaign. At times their spokespeople emphasise how much they love us. The UK is apparently one great big happy family! A family of nations in which we all happily pool and share resources. Then we must not forget the love bombing in which the great and the good of the rest of the UK tell us how wonderful we are.  Scotland on this account is the best thing since sliced cheese! Why even the Pope and the Americans all want us to stay in the UK.

Alas for the No campaign this love and kindness seems to be just skin deep. Otherwise how can we explain why Unionists spend so much time threatening us with doom and gloom if we dared to vote for independence? We are in fact, according to these Unionists who profess to love us so much, threatened with outright hostility if we become independent. We will lose the pound, border posts will be erected, access to medical research will be lost, we will be unceremoniously ejected from the EU, and to cap it all we will no longer be able to watch our favourite BBC TV programmes!  Ouch!

It is all a bit confusing. One moment Westminster offers us security and protection, a caring elder brother who has our best interests at heart. Yet, almost in the same breath we are told that Westminster will play hardball with us, that they will do us no favours if we dared to leave their clutches.  In short the message seems to be that if we vote Yes, Westminster will be out to punish us.

Not exactly the behaviour one would expect from a caring family member. You support members of your family when they seek to start out on their own. Whatever they do, short of committing crimes, they remain part of your family and are never rejected.

It would be a service to all of us voting in the referendum if the No campaign were to come clean about where they really stand. Do they truly love and care for us? In which case we can confidently vote Yes, knowing that we will work together in the spirit of friendship and respect that characterises all good families. On the other hand if the rest of the UK really despises us and wants to hurt and punish us, then the sooner we vote Yes to get away from this hateful relationship the better.

So come on guys, tell us the truth. It can’t be that hard.

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Ireland and UK – Better Together?

It is one of the key and surprising features of the No campaign that their claim of Better Together only applies to Scotland. I have written about this previously, here, when I looked at how well Germany and Austria appeared to met all the criteria for Better Together. Of course the No campaign never make the case that other small countries would benefit from becoming part of a larger and stronger neighbour. The most obvious example for Better Together to cite would be Ireland. A close neighbour, sharing the same language, customs and history, surely Ireland needs the support of the UK just as much as Scotland apparently does. Especially when Ireland was an integral part of the UK before it became independent.  Why is there no Better Together with Ireland campaign from our Unionist friends?

This attempt to erase Ireland from the UK’s history is particularly strange on the part of the Tories. This after all is the party that is still officially called the Conservative and Unionist party. The Unionist bit, by the way, refers to the Union with Ireland, not Scotland. This is a useful reminder that the Tories have consistently opposed any and every proposal to devolve power within the UK. We should remember this when considering their latest offer for Scotland. The old saying beware Greeks baring gifts springs to mind. The present Tory party was created to stop devolution to Ireland way back in 1912. Though the other parties supported Irish devolution, none of them supported independence for Ireland. Not even a majority of Irish people were campaigning for independence in 1912. However the failure of Westminster to deliver any kind of Irish devolution is what tragically led to the events of 1916 and war with the UK. This is not an essay in Irish history, but even a brief recollection of the recent past is enough to confirm just how important Ireland was to the UK.

So why does nobody at Westminster, not even the Conservative and Unionist party, seek to bring Ireland back into the strength, security and warmth of the UK? Perhaps the Irish no longer count. Now they have gone, the great British public can safely ignore them. Calls for solidarity among working people no longer extend to Dublin, Cork or anywhere else in the Republic. What kind of solidarity is that? On the other hand the relations between Ireland and the UK have never been warmer or closer. Witness the recent official visits of the Queen to Dublin and the Irish President to London. Joint ministerial statements confirm this commitment to strengthened co-operation between the UK and Ireland.

Clearly Ireland, as an independent country is doing very well. So, if Ireland can successfully thrive as an independent country without the benefits of union with her larger neighbour, why can Scotland not do so?  Why is it that Scotland and apparently Scotland alone, needs to be in a political union with its larger neighbour? Back to the beginning and the question of why is there no Better Together with Ireland campaign?  Is it because Ireland has access to a greater reserve of natural resources? Clearly not so. Perhaps the Irish are just so much brighter, more intelligent and more capable than Scots? This would seem unlikely and if it were true to any extent, then surely we should not be allowed to vote or stand in UK elections? If we are so incompetent that we could not run our own country, why are we allowed a share in running the UK?  Not much mileage in this line of argument.

There is no Better Together with Ireland campaign for the simple reason that no-one either in Ireland or the UK is interested in one. Nor does anyone think that Ireland rejoining the UK would be of benefit to anyone. Which once again brings us back to why does Scotland need to remain in the UK?  All the disasters that apparently await Scotland if we vote for independence, have somehow not happened to Ireland. It is truly amazing that with all the scare stories we get from the No campaign, no-one in our media seems to have the wit or the gumption to ask why did these disasters not befall Ireland? But then challenging Unionists and Britnats does not seem to be part of the job remit of our media just now. Ireland is a reminder that a relatively small part of the UK can break free and prosper as an independent country. Ireland is a success story and it is no wonder that the No campaign do not want to be reminded of it.

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A couple of Questions for Unionists

Could someone explain to me just why the No campaign is so unrelentingly negative about Scotland? And why do they get away with this pretty much unchallenged?  Most of the focus of the No campaign has been on the economy. While they call themselves Better Together, the reality is that there is little positive about their campaign, when it comes to the Scottish economy and its prospects with independence. A few poor souls occasionally remember to say that of course an independent Scotland could be successful. However most of the No speakers just hammer on and on about how worse off we will all be if we vote for independence. We get a lot about the uncertainties and the risks that independence will bring. I should rewrite that last sentence, for in truth there is little room for uncertainty with the publications from the UK government. They are all about the certainty of impoverishment that independence will unleash on all of us. We will not be able to afford our pensions, public services will have to be cut, taxes will have to go up, mortgages will rise, as will the price of everything. The message is abundantly clear – without the largesse and strength of the rest of the UK, Scotland will become an impoverished basket case. An independent Scotland will be too wee and too poor to survive.

There is though a couple of problems with all these wild assertions, for wild assertions they are. None of the claims from the No camp are backed up by evidence, historical precedent or reason. Not that any of these concepts has every bothered the minds of our BritNat and Unionist friends. But in the spirit of goodwill, let us assume for a moment that the No camp is right and that Scotland is indeed too poor to be a successful independent country. What should then be the big, big problem for Better Together is to explain precisely why this is the case? It is almost impossible to argue that Scotland does not have a rich vein of resources – in and under the sea, on the land. in addition to the talents of the people who live here. So why is it after 300 hundred years of Union are we in such a poor economic state? The benefits of these 300 years of Union are not obvious to most Scots. The levels of poverty, deprivation and inequality should be regarded as a disgrace and an affront to all of us.  The Union has not led to any kind of better present for most Scots. Yet Unionist politicians and their friends in the media seem to glory in their assertions of how poor our country is. They seem to relish the prospect of Scotland remaining forever in thrall to the largesse and goodwill of England. For not only do Unionists rejoice in claiming that we are too poor, they propose to do nothing about it. Where are the Unionist plans to turn Scotland into one of the richest and most successful of countries in the world? Surely a campaign that was based on Better Together would at the very least be outlining how Scotland could become rich enough to be independent in 20 or 30 years time? Or are we so incompetent that we can never aspire to achieve what the likes of Denmark, Slovenia, Slovakia and countless other relatively small countries have managed to do – become successful independent countries?

Given the resources available to us, if we are indeed still too poor to be an economically successful independent country, then surely this can only be the fault of the Union. I would like to see the Yes campaign challenge Unionists on this contradiction. Why after 300 years of what is supposed to have been the most successful union in history do Unionists persist in claiming that Scotland is too poor to succeed as an independent country? It would also be good, if somewhat miraculous if the media in Scotland were to just occasionally ask this question?

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Scottish Independence Day – 7th May 2015?

While we await with bated breath the outcome of the European Parliament elections, time for a little indulgence into the realm of speculation. In this case the date of Scottish independence if we vote Yes this year. The common assumption is that this will be in May 2016. This is what the Scottish government are proposing in their White Paper and most people seem to just go along with this timetable. But Alan Trench, an academic who specialises in devolution matters, begs to differ, and he has written an interesting article on this subject for the Guardian’s Comment is Free site. You can read his piece here.

As Mr Trench points out the May 2016 date is very convenient for Scotland as it fits in perfectly with our electoral timetable. It also has the advantage of allowing around 18 months to complete most, if not all, the negotiations around independence. However, this date is not at all convenient for the rest of the UK. Primarily because a UK general election is due in May 2015. This will throw up all sorts of complications and distractions for the UK side of the negotiations. There is also the not inconsiderable matter of what to do with MPs from Scottish constituencies during the period between May 2015 and Scottish independence in May 2016.  Mr Trench’s proposal very nicely cuts away all these complications and distractions.

While Mr Trench’s proposal is primarily aimed at making this easier for the UK government, it also has in my view much merit from a Scottish perspective. Independence in May 2015 doesn’t affect the Scottish elections planned for 2016. The only argument against a May 2015 date for independence is that this is far too short a period for completing the negotiations. But is this either true or more important, relevant?

I suggest that whatever date is chosen for independence, it is primarily an arbitrary one. If the idea is to wait until all the negotiations are completed and signed off, we could be waiting a very long time for independence. Certainly May 2016 is no guarantee that everything will be signed off. Since any date for independence will be an arbitrary choice, why not go for the earliest date possible?

For a bit of perspective on this, let us look at the experience of Montenegro, the most recent country in Europe to become independent. The independence referendum in Montenegro took place on 21st May, 2006. On 3rd June, 2006 the parliament of Montenegro declared the country independent. Now I cannot imagine that any negotiations between Montenegro and Serbia took place in that short period, let alone were completed. Yet Montenegro became independent within a fortnight of its referendum. This early declaration of independence does not seem to have caused Montenegro any particular difficulty or damaging consequences. The EU recognised Montenegro as an independent country on 12th June, 2006, the UK did so on 13th June, 2006 and even Spain did so on 16th June, 2006. Montenegro was admitted to the UN as an independent country on 28th June, 2006. By the end of that same year, Montenegro had been accepted as a full member by most of the international and regional organizations.

So the case of Montenegro shows that independence can be declared almost immediately after a successful referendum. However I would caution against such a very early declaration for Scotland. The greater integration of Scotland in the global economy and its membership of the EU for example all point to the need for some kind of agreement with the rest of the UKK in order to make the transition to independence as smooth and seamless as possible. However, there is no need for most of these issues to be completely resolved before independence. The key will be to establish a framework and to carry out any negotiations with goodwill. Agreement will need to be reached on a few matters prior to independence, but not many. Surprisingly, currency is not likely to be one of them. If the UK government agrees in principle to a currency union, then the details can be worked out over time and a transitional package can be put in place to cover the early months of independence. If on the other hand, George Osborne sticks to his guns and absolutely rules out a currency union, then there is little if anything, to negotiate about. Scotland can make whatever arrangements it wants to continue using sterling, while we can decide in the long run what currency option to go for. Much the same will apply to the EU. Since it is inconceivable that the EU would or even could expel us, they will reach some kind of arrangement with us, more or less on the current terms, pending a full agreement in due course.

Perhaps the one issue that will need to be sorted out prior to independence will be over taxation. The Scottish government will need to be assured that all taxes due from individuals and companies based in Scotland do in fact got to Edinburgh and not to Westminster. Revenues from the North Sea for example. As the UK operates an integrated and rather complex, not to say inefficient taxation system, this could prove a bit of a hassle to resolve by May 2015. Again it may not be necessary to have everything sorted out by then. They key will be that both sides are satisfied that they can trust each other. Some kind of transitional mechanisms will need to be in place whenever independence comes.

The bottom line is that it can be done in time for a 7th May declaration of independence. As Mr Tench points out all that is needed is “a very rough-and-ready negotiation of independence”. This may or not be “horrendously difficult to accomplish”, but it will concentrate the minds of the negotiators wonderfully and most of all removes from the equation the uncertainties that holding a UK general election in May 2015 will throw up. Let’s go for 7th May 2015 as Scottish Independence Day!

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More Danish-Norwegian lessons for Scotland

David Cameron has just made another of his fleeting visits to Scotland to lecture us on the benefits of staying in the UK. Benefits which are so vague as to be almost invisible. He is however rather good on extolling the past. He tries to wax lyrical about how the UK is the greatest and most successful union in history. Clearly Mr Cameron did not learn much history at school or at university. For there has been at least one other long lasting and successful union. The union between Denmark and Norway. This particular union lasted for 434 years. A pretty long time by anyone’s standards. It was on the whole a peaceful and stable union. At least compared to the bloody imperial aggression of the UK. The Danish-Norwegian union ended in 1814.

The Norwegians wanted the end of the union with Denmark to lead to independence, and to this end they developed their own constituion. Today, 17th May is Constitution Day in Norway. Not just any constitution day, but the 200th anniversary of the proclamation of Norway’s constitution. What is most interesting from our perspective in Scotland and the rest of the UK is that to celebrate this historic 200th anniversary, the Norwegians invited Mogens Lykketoft, the current speaker of the Danish parliament, to come to Oslo and give a speech in the Norwegian Parliament. Only the second non Norwegian to be so invited. The other was Winston Churchill.

Mr Lykketoft’s speech is a wonderful expression of how the relations between two countries that were once united can improve and blossom with the independence of both. Moridura has kindly provided a translation of the speech, which you can read in full here.  I just want to pick out a couple of points from this speech which I think are most relevant to us, not just in Scotland, but to our friends in the rest of the UK.

  • Today – 200 years after our divorce – Danes and Norwegians have at least just as much in common as we did back then when we were a common realm. Our mutual relationship is far more equal. (Note that Mr Lykketoft does not shy away from using the divorce word)
  • We hold no mutual mistrust and we make it a premise that the people of the sister country think, believe and act as we do ourselves. This immediate understanding, a stronger case of which is unlikely to be found between other nations in the world….
  • (this immediate understanding) is based on
  1. that we so easily understand each other’s speech,
  2. that we are deeply shaped by the common history and  culture,
  3. that we socially, economically and politically has so much in common and
  4. that we trade a lot more between ourselves than with the rest of the world.

Mr Lykketoft in his speech on behalf of the Danish people to the people of Norway shows all of us the way forward. There is little, if anything, that unites the people of Denmark and Norway that does not also apply to the people of Scotland and the rest of the UK. Yet as Mr Lykketoft makes abundantly clear, this relationship has prospered with independence and is now a more equal one. Let us hope that when Scotland does become independent, we do not have to wait 200 years for the speaker of the Westminster parliament to come to Edinburgh and say to all of us: Congratulations Scotland!

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Norwegian Lessons for Scotland?

20014 is quite a year for anniversaries. One that is likely to pass more or less unnoticed in the UK is the 200th anniversary of Norway’s constitution. Not of course in Norway itself, where there are various exhibitions on this momentous event. The anniversary is later this month – 17th May to be precise. What is of particular significance about this constitution of 1814 is that it was meant to be the constitution for an independent Norway. Independence alas, only came briefly for Norway in 1814. The country’s desire for independence was swiftly crushed by the Great Powers of the day. Any lessons for Scotland in 2014?

The Great Powers tend to oppose independence movements

This is one of the main lessons for Scotland today. The hostility shown by the larger powers to the possibility of Scottish independence is par for the course. In 1814 it was Norway which faced the force of this hostility. At the time Norway was part of the Kingdom of Denmark. Unluckily for Norway, Denmark had ended up on the losing side of the bitter Napoleonic wars. The future of the Kingdom was decided by the victorious sides in that war in a deal known as the Treaty of Kiel. As part of this deal, Norway was to be given to Sweden, in part to punish Denmark, and in part to compensate Sweden, which had lost Finland to Russia during the wars. See how principled the great powers were! The ownership of whole nations could be exchanged at the drop of a hat, without as much as a by your leave. Has much changed?

The Norwegians were not much impressed by the way their country was being treated and decided to go it alone and create their own, independent Kingdom. A constituent assembly was elected which drew up the famous constitution. All, alas to no avail. The right to self determination was not much in vogue in those days. The great powers acted in concert to thwart Noway’s independence. Sweden invaded, winning a short war and Norway became effectively part of Sweden. Our own UK was unsurprisingly one of the strongest opponents of Norwegian independence. Which may partly explain why there will be little if any coverage in the UK of this particular 200th anniversary.

The constitution survived

Another important lesson from Norway was that though it was denied independence it was able to secure self government. The Union with Sweden was a personal union with the King of Sweden and the new Norwegian constitution became the basis for government in Norway. This was of crucial importance in the years to come. Norway developed its own national institutions and by the end of the century the country was ready to take the next step.  The years of running their own government gave Norwegians the confidence to campaign for full independence. This came in 1905 after a bitter dispute with Sweden over international representation.

This is of course of particular relevance for Scotland. We now have our own parliament and our own government which is responsible for most of the decisions which determine our lives. What we need is not just our own international voice, but control over our economy. With our own government, the next step to full independence is not such a large step as it would have been 20, 30 or more years ago.

The international consensus can change

When Norway did finally become an independent country in 1905, it did so with the support of the UK. The same UK which opposed Norwegian independence in 1814 had by 1905 become one of the most vociferous supporters of Norway. The UK had not suddenly become converted to the right of self determination, but the international situation had changed. Germany was now the rising European power and Germany had very good relations with Sweden. By 1905 the UK, fearful that in any war Germany might use Norway’s ports, as did happen in the 2nd World War, was predisposed to welcome Norwegian independence as a counterpoise to German influence over Sweden.

By 1905 of course the demand for independence came from not just from the elites, but from most Norwegians. The Norwegian government proposed independence and this was massively supported by the people in a referendum. It will be similar for Scotland in 2014.  Independence has been proposed by the Scottish government and the final decision will be up to us, the people who live in Scotland. In September’s referendum we get the opportunity to peacefully vote for independence.

Scottish independence will come about through a negotiated and legal referendum. As such a Yes vote will significantly change the international situation. Countries that currently oppose Scottish independence will be faced with a new reality, one they can do little about. While those countries that at present remain neutral, for fear of intervening in the internal affairs of the UK, will be free to express their support for our independence. Norway has shown that independence can come, that it can come peacefully and without any difficulties. Norway also shows that independence can lead to a more prosperous and fairer future. Happy Constitution Day to all Norwegians on 17th May. May Scotland soon join you as another independent country!

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