Sunday, 12 January 2014

Independence? - Don't Make Me Laugh

Despite what follows below, I will be voting "Yes" next September, for the very good and simple reason that the question that will be on the referendum ballot, will be, "Should Scotland be an independent country?" I cannot imagine why any Scot could possibly argue that their native country should be anything other than independent, as the alternatives entail control of our affairs being in the hands of other states. That said, the one political party that historically championed Scottish independence, is now offering a status which will fall well below that of independent states. As a hard-line, uncompromising (in terms of independence) Scottish Nationalist, I joined the SNP in 1955 because it was the only political party in Scotland which advocated independence. I left the party in 1990, after 35 years of unbroken membership, because in my opinion it had ceased to advocate independence and the policies it has adopted since 1990, under the leadership of Alex Salmond, have convinced me I took the right decision.

In May 2011, Professor James Mitchell, Professor of Politics at Strathclyde University, wrote a piece in The Scotsman, suggesting that Alex Salmond's problem in persuading SNP members that the party still sought independence, was one of "linguistics rather than conception". I wrote at the time that it would take more than mere linguistics to explain the volte face the party leadership had conducted on the question of the currency an independent Scotland would use. Recent controversy on this issue has shown just how wrong both Professor Mitchell and the SNP leadership were, if they thought the Scottish people, let alone long-time party members, would be so easily gulled.

The editorial position of "Scotland on Sunday" has never been in favour of Scottish independence, although to be fair, it has always favoured devolution in some shape or form. As the boundaries have been pushed ever further towards granting greater powers to a Scottish government, the confusion surrounding the actual powers which will be granted, become ever more confusing. In the 1960s and 1970s, there was little doubt in the minds of the Scottish electorate, just what independence meant but, as soon as the Westminster parties began to try to undermine the certainty in Scottish minds, of what it meant to be independent, "Scotland on Sunday", in line with other Unionist newspapers, increasingly adopted a more hard-line position as far as independence viz a viz devolution in whatever form, was concerned.

Opinion poll after opinion poll in recent months, have all underlined the degree of confusion which now exists in the minds of the Scottish electorate, the vast majority of whom are not political animals and a substantial minority of whom, don't much care about politics at all, as the falling turnout at elections has shown for some time. In November 2013, "Scotland on Sunday" in its leader column, wrote of the potential "lack of definition" expected in the White Paper to be published by the SNP the following week. The paper wrote, "This (the lack of definition") is perhaps inevitable given the nature of the SNP's current vision of independence. Gone is the 19th-century nation-state nationalism of the 1970s SNP. Gone too is the more internationalist "Independence in Europe" approach that succeeded it, and the resulting enthusiasm to ditch the pound and instead embrace the euro. And definitely ditched is the scarcely veiled contempt for all things British that allowed John Swinney to declare in his leadership campaign of 2003 that he intended to "tell the Brits to get off". On offer now to the Scottish people is a new kind of 21st century independence that recognises that the optimum state for a modern country is one that, to a large degree, shares sovereignty and competencies with its neighbours.The SNP's current plan includes a great deal of shared co-operation with the very Whitehall power brokers from whom the party is first seeking a fundamental split. On a whole range of issues - the monarchy, currency, macroeconomic policy, security, financial regulation, diplomacy - the Nationalists see independence as a partnership with the rest of what currently makes up the UK. What the SNP is offering, in a nutshell, is "Independence in Britain".

It has been generally acknowledged by political commentators, whether or not sympathetic to the Yes Campaign, that the SNP's White Paper is more of a political party manifesto, than a statement on the  principle of independence. As we approach the date of the referendum next September, those members of the Yes Campaign who are not also members of the SNP, will find it increasingly difficult to simply accept whatever policy statements, are produced by the SNP, as representing the general views of Yes supporters. It would be difficult for any Nationalist or, anyone who favours independence, despite describing themselves as "not a Nationalist", to disagree with the following statement by Alex Salmond, taken from his "Insight" piece in "Scotland on Sunday" of January 5th 2014. Salmond wrote, "Independence will give Scotland the powers needed to build an even stronger economy. It will enable us to compete effectively in the global economy, rather than remain under Westminster, which has created an unequal society and an unbalanced economy".

I couldn't agree more but there is one major problem with that statement, independence "free of Westminster" is not on offer to Scotland under the policies of the SNP. Every serious commentator, every economist who has looked at the issue, including the much lauded members of the Scottish Government's own Fiscal Commission, all agree that a sterling currency union, as suggested by the SNP, will NOT give Scotland freedom from Westminster control. Paper after paper has shown how currency unions can only work effectively if there is also fiscal and political union. The debacle of the euro didn't just happen because of bad management and ill-discipline by a few member countries, as is often claimed by advocates of the euro; it was inevitable because it lacked the control over the transfer payments necessary to compensate those countries whose economies could not compete with the strongest members. The currency union advocated by the SNP will keep Scotland under Westminster control and stymie any independent action by any Scottish government. The only people who say they believe a sterling currency union would give Scotland independence and freedom of action to pursue its own economic agenda, are the SNP leadership. Last week, Salmond threatened to renege on Scotland's share of the National Debt "unless Scotland was admitted to a currency union". In other words, the SNP will renege on Scotland's share of the UK debt unless "London agrees to continue to run Scotland's economy".

"Scotland on Sunday" may believe that "Independence in Europe" no longer applies but when SNP Headquarters was questioned in November 2013 about the party's EU policy, particularly when the decision to drop the referendum on membership took place, the HQ sent a paper which was passed by the party's National Council in 2003, together with the comment that, with the exception of membership of the euro, the remainder was existing policy. The clause on the euro read, "Subject to retained fiscal sovereignty and provided the economic conditions are right, the SNP favours Scotland's participation in the common currency, the eurozone, from the earliest achievable opportunity. The choice to join or not join would remain that of the Scottish people in a referendum."

When challenged on the SNP's change of policy on the euro and the pound sterling, Salmond is fond of quoting Keynes, erroneously, "When circumstances change, I change my mind". The SNP backed the original ERM until it collapsed eighteen months later, then the euro, until the most recent debacle and now wants to retain sterling, despite Alex Salmond's one-time description of the currency as "a millstone round Scotland's neck". Circumstances did not change in the case of either the ERM or the euro; both were doomed from the outset. Unfortunately, the SNP, for what they considered to be short term advantage, decided to adopt both. They refused, or were unable to anticipate the long term consequences, just as they are doing with the sterling currency union.

The rest of the paper on the EU reads as follows:-

"The European Context of SNP Policies"

Virtually no area of domestic Scottish policy is untouched by European law and policy. This is true under devolution and will remain so after independence.
Steady pressure must be exercised to this end both on Scottish Ministers and the Scottish Executive, and on Westminster Ministers exercising responsibilities at EU level that effect Scotland.

Some indications of the importance of this may be gathered from the following alphabetical list of policy domains affected.
1) Agriculture and Rural Development
2) Citizens Freedoms and Rights
3) Competition and Single Market Policy; State Aids
4) Consumer Affairs and Food Safety
5) Culture, Education, Youth, Media and Sport
6) Development and Cooperation
7) Discrimination and Equal Opportunities
8) Economic and Monetary Affairs
9) Employment and Social Security
10) Environment
11) External Trade
12) Fisheries and Fish Farming
13) Health
14) Industry and Energy
15) International Relations, Common Security and Defense policy
16) Justice and Home Affairs
17) Regional Policy and Structural Funds
18) Research
19) Transport and Tourism.

To that can be added the fact that we have absolutely no control over our own borders, in terms of who can come here from the EU member states. That would seem to matter little in light of the "open door" policy and unrestricted policy the SNP would have on immigration. A mere glance at the list of areas of government activity, over which membership of the EU will deny us control, should cause even the euro fanatics in the SNP to pause before they claim that member states retain their independence.

When the SNP leadership speak about "independence" in the context of the referendum, they are talking about their version of independence and by no stretch of the imagination can their version be compared to the independence enjoyed by Norway, Switzerland and a host of other countries who still value the concept of the nation state. SNP supporters and other Yes campaigners rail at any criticism of the SNP, believing they should be given a free hand, that arguments over the currency and the EU for example, simply makes the task of persuading those who are currently opposed to independence, all the more difficult. What makes persuading opponents of independence of the value of governing ourselves more difficult, is treating them as fools. Salmond and the SNP have been caught out too often, making assertions on the currency, the EU, legal advice that did not exist. They have made it easy for the No side to ridicule their claims because they presented them with such easy targets. The tragedy is that it is not SNP policies that are being ridiculed, it is the very concept of independence, which the SNP claims their policies represent.

When unionists, as represented by journals such as "Scotland on Sunday", in all seriousness, recognise that what the SNP and unfortunately, the leadership of the Yes Campaign, are offering, can be caricatured as "Independence in Britain", we have a long way to go before the international community will take us seriously. What is being offered could be called Independence-lite or Devo-plus but Independence? - don't make me laugh.


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