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Monday, 5 March 2012

Oh What a Tangled Web We Weave

For Nationalists and other referendum watchers, it has been some weekend. It can't be often that Scotland has had the setting up of two seperate Commissions to examine our relationship with the rest of the UK plus, a TV interview with Scotland's First Minister, to allegedly discuss the same topic. It meant watching a fair bit of TV, for those not directly involved, and there was always the welcome diversion of the fitba. For all the wind and other stuff that has been generated by the Unonist parties over the question of the independence referendum, with increasingly hysterical demands for more detail from the SNP, the party conferences highlighted the significant fact, that none of them has a clue what they have to offer as an alternative. There have been plenty of threats - the usual answer to independence - of all the ills that will befall the Scottish people, if ever they dare to dip even a toe in the turbulent waters of, what other nations see as a natural state of affairs - freedom and independence.

There have been mixed reviews of the performance by Johann Lamont, leader of the Labour Party in Scotland but, her interview with Isobel Fraser on Sunday will have done little to enhance her reputation for being able to think on her feet. She found it difficult to argue why Scotland should not have control of corporation tax, other than to contend that London, because of its size and financial clout, would provide too much competition and it would not be in Scotland's interests to become involved in such a competition, to see which part of the UK could have the lowest taxes. Her answer to any question which delved into the alternatives to independence the Labour Party might offer, was "a Commission" chaired by herself. This would look at the relationships between Scotland and the rest of the UK and report - some time. The same solution, it might even end up as the same Commission, is offered by the Lib/Dems, although in the original, this version is to be chaired by Ming Campbell. All of a sudden, parties that have been calling for a resolution to the referendum question, which have been very quick to say "the SNP can't tell us what it means by independence" can offer no answer to the question, "what are you offering as an alternative?" other than the favourite of all parties and governments which want to get rid of a bothersome item, a Commission and some very, very long grass.

I was looking forward to Andrew Neil's interview with Alex Salmond because I thought that if there is anyone who would pin Salmond down on the important issues, such as currency, it would be Neil. Unfortunately, the modern media obviously has no time to wait for answers to one question, before it is demanding an answer to the next and the next and the next, so that we never get an answer to any question. I have no idea what producers think is achieved, other than the frustration of the listeners and viewers, at least some of whom actually want to know the answers. Is it better to have a Paxman ask the same question fourteen times, and know the politician on the receiving end is evasive, or have him ask six questions, get an answer to none of them and be left with the impression the politician is evasive? There were several questions I would have liked to see Neil develop with Salmond, not least the one about legal advice, more of which below, but the First Minister was let off the hook - again, on both the currency and the legal advice the SNP has been given.

If Scotland is to be independent, I hope it will be a particular type of independent country, as will everyone else, not all of whom with the same aspirations. I also believe that there will be one thing that very few Nationalists want to see - and that is that the government of an independent Scotland is a smaller version of Westminster, with many of the same faults. I firmly believe that the Scottish people should not be "conned" into independence, that they are allowed to embark on that journey with their eyes wide open, prepared to face whatever is in front of them. Alex Salmond is now being asked some of the questions on Scotland's currency that he and the SNP, should have been asked a long time ago, but his answers still contain a great deal of evasion and "non-answers". Andrew Neil put it to Alex that the SNP had argued for years that London's setting of Scottish interest rates, was not to Scotland's advantage. Salmond's response that times had changed and the levels of interest being charged were not as onerous, was completely devoid of the principles involved or what would happen if interest rates increased. His comparison of the currency union between Luxembourg and Belgium, as some form of validation for having a currency union between Scotland and London begged so many questions, it was a classic non-answer. When it was pointed out to him that the euro was found to have failed because it lacked the fiscal control necessary, his response was to assert, "I disagree, the euro tried to mould the Rhur with the southern tip of Greece, where productivity levels are so different." Does he think the productivity levels in London are the same as those in Caithness? Both that question and Salmond's response had little to do with the failure of the eurozone, but this type of flippant throw-away respnse is what has passed for serious discussion and unless the SNP comes up with some better answers to topics such as the currency question, they are going to come a cropper. More importantly, so will the campaign for independence.

 I was suprised that several tweeters, who are supporters of independence, took issue with my assertion that the SNP should come clean about the legal advice they have received anent an independent Scotland's right to automatic membership of the EU, if Scots decide they want to be independent. I have a number of reasons for taking this view, not least my opposition to the secrecy with which governments in this country have conducted their business, frequently to the detriment of the rest of us and, my opposition to the government of an independent Scotland acting in the same way. I find it quite astonishing that Nationalists should argue that governments should not be asked/forced to divulge their legal advice and its source because "lawyers would not give advice in the future". The source of government advice is generally the government's own lawyers and as such, are government employees and, will do as the government tells them. Before looking at the more detailed reasons for my opposition, a general overview of the current situation might help.

The SNP strategy is to sell the idea of independence as something which will change almost nothing, thereby making it sound not just easy to attain but, in the eyes of some, hardly worth attaining. Thus, an "independent" Scotland _ SNP style - would retain the Queen, the currency, share army bases, be a member of the Commonwealth, be a member of the EU and generally, keep as much of the existing arrangements as it is possible to keep. The Unionists want to make independence sound as difficult as possible, hence every day brings another scare story from the ludicrous "we might not get Eastenders" to the threatening "the rUK will not build navy ships in a foreign country". One of the threatening variety is that an independent Scotland would not be given automatic membership of the EU therefore, according to Unionists "thousands of jobs will be lost, no one will speak to us, we will need to show passports at Berwick" and so on. The SNP's rejoinder is that Scotland would be given automatic membership AND - they have the legal advice to prove it BUT not only will they not give its source, they won't say what it is. Westminster has said what the advice is, but won't give its source, beyond saying it came from its own lawyers. Both positions are equally ludicrous and should be totally unacceptable.

For a start, there is no precedent in the EU for the legal situation that would be faced, if Scotland decides to become independent. The UK government advice, published in October 2011, states, "Scotland is only part of the EU by virtue of the UK's membership. If Scotland were to leave, it would not automatically assume membership of the EU. Treaties (on which EU is based) do not provide for an increase in the number of states, other than by Treaty amendment". Since the advice came from the government's own lawyers, it is hardly surprising that this was the advice, but the government will not say whether it came from the Attorney General (also an MP) the Treasury Solicitor (most senior lawyer) or the Foreign and Commonwealth lawyers, who are experts on international law. Salmond's argument to Neil that governments do not give their sources just does not wash, it is nonsense and gives governments the "right" to withold information right across the board and, given the occasions in this country where secrecy has been shown to be harmful to the interests of the UK or Scotland, I am surprised that any nationalist would argue in favour of retaining it. It would make more sense to argue the United Kingdom will not exist when Scotland leaves, but those waters have been muddied by the SNP's insistence that it will, in order to argue that an independent Scotland will remain as a monarchy.

When Heath negotiated the UK's entry to the EU, he bargained away the British steel industry (BSC), with devastating consequences for the Scottish steel industry but so determined was he to keep that a secret, he slapped a D Notice on the details of the negotiations, so that they became a "matter of National Security". It took thirty years for those details to come into the public domain but there is little doubt they would have had a serious effect on his campaign for UK membership if the British public had known about them at the time. Then, there is the Dodgy Dossier and the equally dodgy Lord Goldsmith and his advice to take the UK into the invasion of Iraq.  As Attorney General, he was "persuaded" to change his mind, which rather knocks on the head any argument that lawyers will not give advice in the future, if their advice is made public. It should also be remembered that Elizabeth Wilmshurst of the Foreign Office, took the honourable way out and resigned in protest at the war in Iraq. Of course the example of government secrecy that no Nationalist should ever forget, is the McCrone Report which, like the sell-out of BSC by Heath, took thirty years to surface.

Those issues have been so enormous that they impacted on all of us, first by membership of the Common Market and the consequences of same, the unbroken string of lies and the continuous deceit of successive Westminster governments about the size of the oil resources to which an independent Scotland could and still can, lay claim and, the iniquitous war in Iraq with the deaths of countless thousands of Iraq's people. That level of deceit is unforgiveable and those are only three of the examples of many that could be given, but there is a simlar type of deceit that goes on daily and which can, on occasion, have enormous consequences for individuals and families. Anyone who has been falsely accused of a crime, who has been the victim of a miscarriage of justice and who has tried to get the information which would allow them to prove their innocence, will find out very quickly what government secrecy really means, particularly when it involves the testimony of so-called "expert witnesses". The examples of the "Birmingham Six", Angela Canning, Sally Clark, John Brown are so well known they need no further explanation here, but there are many others where the false allegations have never been resolved and much of the information that could help, is denied the falsely accused, leaving them in a state of limbo. To add to the frustration, those responsible for witholding the information are also immune from prosecution, which ensures their conduct can never be examined. Supporters of independence should be very careful of allowing that system to be imported to an independent Scotland.

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