Saturday, 14 January 2012

What is wrong with SNP policy?

That may be a strange question to come from someone who left the SNP in 1990 - in the huff according to my critics - and has seen the party win an overall majority in the Scottish Parliament; but the reason I left is why I think the party's policies are wrong. When I left the SNP the party had just committed itself to "Independence in Europe" an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms, a misnomer and even a lie. I had battled throughout the 1980's to convince the party that commitment to membership of the EU was a big mistake as we were just beginning to witness the development of the Euroepan Union as it was envisaged by the founding fathers in the Treaty of Rome. But I lost the argument and despite strenuous efforts by friends and even some critics, to persuade me to remain inside the SNP, I felt too strongly that the ever increasing march of centralisation in the EU, would be damaging to Scotland and, that the arguments and the debate deserved a wider audience. Party discipline would have ensured I could not take that debate to the Scottish people therefore it was better - both for the SNP and me, that I leave.

Once upon a time when the SNP actually stood for Scottish independence, the membership card carried the legend that the party stood for the "restoration of Scottish sovereignty". I believe that is no longer the case but its disappearance has gone largely unnoticed even by the membership and certainly by the chatteratii in Scotland. Having failed to notice its disappearance, the significance of that disappearance has gone equally unremarked upon. The fact that the resoration of sovereignty is no longer one of the stated aims of the party is good because, in that at least, they are being honest, although they never cease to talk the language of nationalism and freedom. I have argued for as long as the debate has gone on that Scotland can either be independent or it can be a member of the EU, but it cannot be both and, much to my initial surprise, even the architect of the slogan, Jim Sillars, now agrees with me and has come round to my way of thinking.

What is Sovereignty?

Sovereignty is not simply an abstract concept, it has practical applications. A claim to sovereignty is a claim by some representative authority in the name of "the people" to exercise a monopoly of law-making and law-enforcement in a designated territory. In an increasingly interdependent world, soverign states have accepted specific treaty obligations and limitations to their law-making rights. But the EU goes further by requiring member states to cede a general right of law-making on a permanent basis, to EU institutions. It is now accepted that EU law is superior to Scots law and in any conflict between the two, EU law will always be supreme.

Sovereignty is a legal as well as a philisophical way of describing the right of a people to govern itself, to determine its own priorities within the constraints imposed by its external environment. Increased interdependence may change the balance of advantage and disadvantage in any "self-determined" act, but it cannot make the principle of self-determination or self-government superfluous. At any level of integration or interdependence, a community of people must ask itself how important it is to retain the right to make its own choices between the options with which they are faced.

The membership of the SNP decided in the 1980s that the best way to combat the word "separatism" was to join the Euroepan Economic Community, as it was then, an act which they believed would immediately take the sting our of the charge that the SNP wanted to isolate Scotland. In the event, it didn't and each and every new centralisation of powers in the EU has been welcomed by the New SNP. Of course, the other side of that coin was the currency and nowhere has the policy of the SNP been as wooly or dishonest as in its choice of currency for the new Scotland.

Choice of Scotland's Currency?

When I left the party, I was interviewed by every TV and radio station in the country and explained my reasons, emphasising that I believed the introduction of a single currency would be another dilution of state control and, that the EU would use the imposition of the single currency - an economic measure - in order to further its political aims, one of which is the creation of a United States of Europe. I still have a tape of an interview about my departure, in which Alex Salmond, who had just been elected as leader of the SNP and who was one of the strongest supporters of both the EU and the single currency, states, "No serious politician in Europe is even thinking about introducing a single currency." Unbelieveably, the interviewer let him away with it. That blatant dishonesty has been a hallmark of SNP policy on the currency since then.

What is just as  unbelievable is that the political journalists in Scotland have allowed Salmond to get away with this type of nonsense - until now. Fiscal autonomy became the new holy grail, as the party attempted to persuade the Scottish people that control of their taxes, would amount to independence. That little gem was prior to the announcement that the SNP, or at least its leadership, had decided that the currency in the new "independent" Scotland would be sterling, but only until such times as a referendum could be held in which the Scottish people would choose the Euro. There was no question that that would be the choice of "the people". No where and at no time, has there been any mention of Scotland having its own currency, despite stalwart attempts by the "cybernats" to argue the policy is that sterling would be only an interim measure. Equally, no where and at no time, has there ever been any mention of what would happen if the Scottish people suddenly had an attack of self-awareness and decided to vote against joining the Euro.

Needless to say, all of this pre-dated the crisis in the euro zone. Now entry to the euro will only be "when the economic conditions are right" and after a referendum. It is not so long ago that Salmond decided of his own volition, that the Scottsih people would no longer be given a referendum on membership of the EU itself, something which had been party policy for years, therefore a promise of a referendum on the Euro has to be viewed in that light. The first condition is a nonsense because the economic conditions will never be "right" because any policy that undermines Scottish control of its own economy means that Scotland will not be independent. Any country which gives control of its currency to any body outwith its own borders is effectively giving away its independence, which is something the SNP continues to deny, even in the face of the current debacle in the Euro Zone and the total lack of independence of its member states.

Despite years of predicting that the Euro could not work without centralised control of taxation, so-called Euro sceptics like me were ignored or even pillioried as "narrow nationalists" or even on occasion, "racists". The Euro fantasists have been forced to finally admit it and the talk in the EU is all about how the Euro can be made to "work" and how soon the member states can get control of not only the taxation but the budgets, of the weakest member states. For the SNP to even contemplate joining such an organisation, under such conditions, merely emphasises just how little the word "independence" means to the current leadership. and how far the leadership has taken the party from its raison d'etre.

For seventy years it was argued, with complete justification, that London's control of interest rates was detrimental to the economic interests of Scotland. Rates were inevitably set with the inflationary pressure generated by the economy of the bloated South East of England in mind. As soon as inflation became a problem in South East England, rates were raised, rates which frequently strangled at birth, any hope of an economic revival in Scotland. Nothing about the economic structure of the UK has changed, therefore the use of sterling by an "independent" Scotland is a nonsense. The latest announcement by Osbourne, that Scotland would "not be allowed to print bank notes" is absolutley breathtaking in its arrogance but what is equally breathtaking is the response from a spokesman for John Swinney, Finance Minister in the Scottish Parliament, who said the Chancellor was being "churlish". If that doesn't frighten the London establishment to death, nothing will.

Even now, there is still no indication the SNP is thinking in terms of a separate Scottish currency (I am pretty sure I know why but more of that below). The party is still talking in terms of keeping sterling until we can join the euro. There is no need to have a currency union with England and it should be perfectly clear, both from our already chequered experience of 300 years of  Union with England, to say nothing of the total debacle of the Euro Zone, that a currency union can only be detrimental to Scotland's long term interests. If Scotland is to flourish as an independent country then we must be just that - INDEPENDENT. The scare stories will abound, our credit rating will drop, we won't be able to service our debt, the oil cannot sustain us, despite having sustained the entire UK since it was first discovered and so on.

To allay fears of the international financial world, a Scottish government could stabilise a new currency by pegging it to sterling, the euro, the US dollar, in short it could be pegged to any currency that would suit best. Yes, it is true, we would have no control over the economic policies of the country to whose currency we are pegged but we would have control over our own and or if, the "peg" ceases to be appropriate, we change the peg. That is a freedom we will be denied in any currency uniuon. It is inconceivable that a country with the oil and natural resources an independent Scotland would have, would not enjoy a credit rating at least the equal of the current rating of the UK and, as the economy developed, the ability to service whatever debt we had would become easier.

The SNP have yet to be asked and the party leadership has made no attempt to explain why, the SNP has given no consideration to a separate Scottish currency or, if it has, it has failed to publish its reasons. This means the party has allowed itself to be cornered into the position where the Chancellor can be seen to tell Scotland it will not be allowed to print bank notes and the only response the SNP can muster is one that emphasises our perceived weakness.  What independent country would allow itself to be told it could not print its own bank notes? What putative Chancellor of an independent country would allow himself to be dictated to in that manner?

The answer is one who does not believe his country will be independent. The SNP leadership's special assistants are currently canvassing well known "celebrity" supporters, asking them to put their name to a paper calling for Devo/Max. The only political party which is pushing to have a third question included on the ballot paper for the referendum, is the SNP. There is nothing in it for the Unionists to have a third question added, particularly since they claim to believe the majority of people in Scotland will vote against independence. It is only in the context of increased powers being granted by Westminster to the Scottish Parliament that the timidity of the SNP leadership makes sense. Does the current leadership of the SNP actually want independence? I believe the answer is "No". By his own admission Alex Salmond is an economic nationalist, which broadly speaking means that he sees the reason for Scotland to be independent is an economic one, the economic betterment of Scotland. When he came before the Election Committee of the SNP, which interviewed those who wished to stand as Parliamentary candidates, I asked him, "If you could be certain that Scotland would be worse off with independence, would you still be a Nationalist?" He answered honestly and said, "I would have to think about that. I don't know that I could be as committed as you". That explains a lot.

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