Sunday, 27 April 2014

If Scots Choose Labour Rather Than Independence, They Could Be In Line For Another Kicking

The recent poll by ICM showed that if Scots thought the Conservatives would win a majority at the UK General Election in May 2015, 41% would vote Yes in the Independence Referendum in September 2014, while 42% would vote No. On the other hand, if Scots thought that Labour would win the rUK General Election in 2015, the number who would vote Yes in the September 2014 Referendum would fall to 36%, while 44% would vote No. In other words, although the gap between those who will vote Yes in September and those who will vote No, is continuing to get narrower, month by month, there is still a majority of Scots who would still prefer a Labour Government in Westminster to an independent Scotland. The likelihood that in an independent Scotland, there would be a greater chance of having a Labour Government more often, does not seem to have entered the minds of those Scots who prefer Labour in Westminster to independence. However, that the possibility there may be a Tory Government in Westminster is enough to persuade a sizeable number of Labour supporters to choose independence, suggests that that part of Labour's support is relatively soft and moveable.

That was not always the case, as with the possible exception of Wales, no part of the UK has shown more loyalty to the Labour Party than Scotland. That is hardly surprising, given that the Labour Party was founded by two Scots, Robert Cunningham Graham and Keir Hardie, although Hardie's early political activity was with the Liberal Party and the trade union movement, and his Parliamentary career was spent representing an English constituency. Despite the loyalty Scots have given to the Labour Party, particularly since the end of World War II since which time the popular vote has never dropped below one million, the loyalty has never been returned, even when Labour formed the government in the UK parliament. In those years when Labour took both the majority of the popular vote and the parliamentary seats in Scotland, but the Conservatives won the UK General Election, Labour's strength in Scotland was largely wasted. Labour's Scottish MPs were aptly named "The Feeble Fifty" in 1987.

There is no doubt the Atlee Government after World War II, established a system of state responsibility which improved the lives of working people, out of all recognition to their lives in the aftermath of World War I. The establishment of the Welfare State and the National Health Service is a permanent monument to the commitment of the Labour Party politicians of that era, to the betterment of the working class but what has followed, has been a pale imitation. The Blair/Brown era of New Labour, may have won three general elections but it was on a platform that was a continuation of the Thatcher years, reflecting the growing divide between general attitudes in Scotland and the rUK, particularly London and the South East of England. The nationalisation programme of the Atlee Government may be a thing of the past, with the exception of the NHS, but privatisation, particularly of the rail system, has been anything but successful and the coal and steel industries have all but disappeared completely.

The questions Scots Labour supporters have to ask themselves are, has their loyalty to Labour over the years been repaid, despite the leading role played by a succession of Scottish government ministers, particularly during the Blair years and, has Scotland managed to even keep pace with development in other parts of the UK, as the traditional industries on which the country depended, disappeared as a consequence of a mixture of deliberate government policy and foreign competition? The answer has to be a resounding "No" to both questions. For Scotland to benefit in proportion to the loyalty it showed to Labour, would suggest that other parts of the UK would be denied whatever limited benefits were available. That has never been the case and over the past forty years, despite the evident needs of the Central Belt of Scotland, Labour policies have been little different from those of the Conservatives, in terms of government spending and more recently, cuts in spending.

Perhaps the biggest betrayal of Scottish Labour supporters, has been the denial of the benefits that could have come from the discovery of oil. Labour governments were just as guilty as Conservative ones, of lying to the Scottish people about the amount of revenues oil brought to the Treasury. They were also just as guilty of using those revenues to help to rebuild industry in other parts of the UK, while little was done to ameliorate the effects of the run down of Scottish industry. Callaghan when he was Prime Minister stated that oil revenues would reach "around £4bn by 1980s" when in fact, revenues in 1985 reached £12bn. The McCrone report of 1974, showed that an independent Scotland would be one of the richest in the world, therefore that information was deliberately hidden from the Scottish people for over thirty years, something only recently admitted by Dennis Healey, "for fear of aiding nationalism".

Defence spending has figured largely in the debate on the referendum, with threats to Scottish jobs on the Clyde being held up as the first casualty of independence. At the same time, Scots are told that any attempt to get rid of Trident will bring total isolation from "the world", as well as the wrath of our NATO allies down on our heads. Blair was Prime Minister of the UK between 1997 and 2007 and there was a reduction of 10,500 defence jobs in Scotland, with a total underspend of in excess of £5.6 billion in Scotland. We can only imagine what could have been created if that "underspend" had been used to create opportunities in education, health or changing the shape of the Scottish economy. During the whole of that period, Gordon Brown was Chancellor of the Exchequer but one of the most important reforms he initiated was in the field of pensions. It is ironic that he recently warned Scots against independence on the grounds that an independent Scotland could not afford the pension liabilities to which it would fall heir. This is particularly galling, given that the liabilities would have been greatly reduced, had his reforms not destroyed the pensions industry in the UK, by removing the tax benefits to pension funds in his very first budget. It is now estimated that that reform alone, has stripped over £115 billion from pension funds since 1997 and wiping out the vast majority of final salary schemes in the UK. It is further estimated that the total figure lost to retirement funds is closer to £ 250 billion, when the potential growth and re-investment of those funds, are considered.

Brown's reforms in the banking and financial services industry were also responsible for the collapse of the banking system in the UK and the recent crisis. Apologists are quick to argue it was a "world crisis" which is untrue and in Brown's Mansion House speech of 2007, after having been Chancellor for longer than any other holder of the office, he had this to say to the financial services industry, "I congratulate you on these remarkable achievements, an era that history will record as the beginning of a new golden age for the City of London. I believe it will be said of this age, the first decade of the 21st century, that out of the greatest restructuring of the global economy, perhaps even greater than the industrial revolution, a new world order was created." In 2004, in the same Mansion House speech, he had told the same audience of financial high flyers and power brokers, "In budget after budget, I want to do even more to encourage the risk takers." We now know who those risk takers were and the impact their risk taking  has had on the economy. It is a far cry from Labour's alleged commitment to the under-priveleged.

West Central Scotland has been one of the most loyal parts of the UK to Labour, but has it benefited in any way from this commitment? In a recent blog "Poverty - The Curse of Scotland", I outlined the extent of poverty  that still exists in Scotland and how little things have changed in many parts. In the recent TV programme which looked at the life and career of Margo McDonald, she spoke of being confronted by a London journalist when she contested Govan in November 1973. The journalist suggested that Scots were being selfish by claiming the oil was Scots, to which Margo said, "Come with me and within five minutes of this office, I will show you conditions of poverty and then you can tell me if we are being selfish." I could still show you those areas forty one years, several Labour governments and countless Labour councillors, after Margo first spoke of them. Now that the modern Labour Party in Scotland has thrown its weight behind the planned Tory reforms to public spending and has even declared war on the "something for nothing society", Scots would be foolish indeed to place their faith in Labour.

We live in a country where there is not a main street in any town which does not have its share of charity shops, where people can shop for second hand clothes. There is even a hierarchy of shops, with those which cater for the "better off" and style conscious. It is a trend which means it is no longer any kind of stigma to say one shops in a charity shop for clothes. It is one thing however, to be "trendy" by frequenting charity shops to buy designer labels second hand; it is quite another to be forced to buy second hand food in the growing number of food banks, now frequented regularly by an estimated 90,000 Scots. If Scots continue to choose Labour, in the hope they may form a government at Westminster, in place of independence and the certainty they will get the government that a majority of Scots actually vote for, they will undoubtedly get the kind of kicking they have been experiencing for the past fifty years and more. The uncomfortable truth of the matter is, there is a possibility Labour will be doing the kicking, just as they have done in the past.

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Have Scots Not Sacrificed Enough For This Damnable Union?

There is an old photograph currently being displayed in a Crieff shop window. It is of a young man in WWI uniform of the Black Watch. It is a studio photograph and he is standing with one hand on his hip while the other, rests on the back of a high sided dining room chair, clutching a lit cigarette between the first two fingers. His boots and leg dress are caked with the mud of the front line trench he had just left. His TOS is cocked over his right ear, as regulations demanded, and as he stares confidently into the camera, he just  epitomises the regimental motto, "Nemo Me Impune Lacessit" or "Wha Daur Meddle Wi Me?" The narrative accompanying the photograph reads as follows, "William Duff of 111 King Street Crieff, was killed on the Somme by a sniper. William was 18."

Willie's name is on the Crieff War Memorial, across the street from my house in Crieff, one of 46 other Black Watch Privates killed in WWI, along with 3 Officers, 3 Sergeants, 3 Corporals, 8 Lance Corporals and 2 Pipers, a total of 65 men from a single regiment. But that is only part of the story as the other panels on the memorial hold the names of another 26 in other Highland Regiments and 141 from various corps and regiments as well as 2 nursing sisters. There were also 17 Crieff men who were killed serving in the armed forces of Canada, Australia and New Zealand and 1 in the army of the US. The total number of Crieff casualties in WWI was therefore 252. The casualty figures for WWII were considerably lower, as was the case for every other community in Scotland, and the Black Watch, although having the largest single casualty rate of any regiment suffered "only" 10 casualties. The RAF, mainly aircrew, had 16 and another 24 were spread over other regiments and corps, with another 2 nurses also paying the ultimate price, making a total of  52.

Every city, town and village in Scotland has war memorials which tell the same story but what is striking in the Tayside region, particularly Perthshire, are the numbers who served in the Black Watch. This is hardly surprising as the regiment was raised in Aberfeldy and the regimental depot was in Perth for over 100 years. Of the 50,000 men who served in the Black watch in WWI, over 10,000 were killed and 28,000 were wounded. Only the Royal Scots, with almost 12,000 killed had a higher casualty rate. Perth City had over a 1,000 killed and an unknown number returned badly wounded, to die as a consequence of their wounds within a few years after the end of the war. In 1936 Perth had a total population of 36,000 but in 1922, that figure had fallen to 33,000 and the braes and glens of Perthshire were certainly much quieter in the years after 1918. The regiment was founded in 1739 as a series of independent companies with the express purpose of keeping the peace in the Scottish Highalnds and between its first foreign engagement at Fontenoy in 1746, to its last as a regiment in its own right in Iraq, it amassed a total of 150 battle honours, won in every theatre of war in which Britain was involved all over the world.

Perthshire paid a high price for its commitment to the "local regiment" but so has Scotland, for its commitment to the Union of 1707. When Nelson demanded that "England expects..." at Trafalgar, he simply overlooked the fact that 25% of the sailors to whom the exultation was addressed were Scottish. English Ministers are fond of appealing to history, as they try to defend the Union, no doubt in the hope that Scots in general, are as ignorant of Scottish history as they are. Unfortunately, in far too many instances, too many of our people live up to that expectation. When Cameron did his quick romp through Scottish history during one visit in 2012, he said, "From Waterloo to the Second World War our servicemen and women have fought and won together." The loyalty shown by the Black Watch did not prevent the state murder of Farquhar Shaw and the McPherson brothers, as well as the deportation to the colonies of 200 of their comrades, none of whom ever saw Scotland again, for trying to force the British government to honour a prior agreement that the regiment would not be sent to fight abroad.

On the first day of the Battle of Loos on 25th September 1915, of 69 battalions that went over the top, 35 were in Scottish regiments and 24 of those battalions, in two Scottish divisions, suffered 44% of the total deaths. There were another 11 Scottish battalions in the three other divisions which took part. Scottish casualties in WWI were horrendous, so horrendous that immediately after the war the government did much to prevent the true figures coming to light. The total killed as a percentage of total mobilised was 26.4% whereas the figure for the rest of Britain and Ireland was 11.8%. The Scottish figure for total killed as a percentage of population was 3.1% whereas the figure for the rest of Britain and Ireland was 1.6%. Only Serbia (37.1% and 5.7%) and Turkey (26.8% and 3.7%) respectively, are thought to have suffered higher casualty rates than Scotland. Wolfe's dictum, "They are little mischief if they fall..." would seem to have been followed to the letter. as over 148,000 Scots are known to have been killed in action.

That same pattern emerged during WWII although the casualty figures were much lower. Nevertheless, over 58,000 Scots died and the deliberate sacrifice of the 51st Highland Division by Churchill in 1940, in a vain effort to keep the French in the war, is another perfect example of the way in which the British establishment has repaid Scottish commitment to the Union. Placed under the control of the French, in an effort to persuade them that Britain was not about to run out on them, despite the evacuation of the BEF at Dunkirk, the 51st were left at the mercy of an ally that hoisted the white flag at the first opportunity at St Valery en Caux. The 51st was chosen to be the sacrificial lamb because of the reputation it had created as one of the top fighting units of WWI and the high regard in which it was held by the French. The fighting retreat from the Somme to Normandy cost the division over 1,000 killed, 4,000 wounded and between 8,000 and 10,000 captured, although many escaped during the long march into captivity.

The sacrifice of the 51st touched almost every home in the area of Scotland from which it drew its men and there was much bitterness at its sacrifice. One officer wrote while in prison camp, "One is forced to conclude therefore, that it (the division) was deliberately sacrificed as a political pawn. " The Duke of Argyll, who was a Captain in the Argylls at St Valery, said some years later, "It has always been abundantly clear to me that no Division has ever been more uselessly sacrificed..." I have known many of the men who served in the Division at that time, indeed my father's closest friend who piped my parents from the church at their wedding in 1938, was one who served five years in captivity, and I can vouch for the deep bitterness among many of them, at being asked to sacrifice their lives for an ally - the French - they found to be totally unreliable.

Many in Scotland have felt it was no accident that Trident was housed on the Clyde and that the first nuclear reactor at Dounreay, as far away from the main centres of population in England as it was possible to get. That Trident sits so close to Scotland's biggest centre of population mattered little to the British Establishment and we can be forgiven for thinking that Wolfe's dictum of "They are little mischief if they fall..." again played its part. Of course opponents of  Scottish independence will react in horror at such a suggestion but, in the words of another famous English woman who knew the Establishment well, "They would wouldn't they?" Nevertheless, they have been quick to acknowledge that any attempt to house it anywhere in England will be met with popular opposition. True to form and in line with the customary tactics of the UK Government and Better Together, Admiral Sir George Zambellas has warned that removal of Trident "would hit at the very heart" of the UK navy. Hammond, Secretary of Defence, comes north to warn us of the loss of jobs. Quite why the rUK navy cannot have Trident housed some where in England has yet to be made clear and Hammond's threats ring rather hollow given the underspend in defence spending there has been and the loss of 10,000 defence jobs that have already happened.

Quite frankly I am not overly concerned about the future of the rUK's navy and, if they want to retain their seat on the Security Council, they will soon find an alternative home for a weapons system they will never use and which they cannot afford. When Hammond and other Secretaries of Defence are prepared to GUARANTEE no jobs will be lost if Scots vote No, they might be listened to but until then, their words and threats are as worthless now as they have always been in the past. The SNP and Yes Campaign will do well to take note that many of us feel strongly that Scots have sacrificed more than enough already for this damnable Union. We are in no mood to sacrifice any more.

Monday, 14 April 2014

Why The Scottish "Left" Should Support Scottish Independence

Nicola Sturgeon's overt appeal to Labour supporters in Scotland to vote "Yes" in September, is being noted by some commentators as a new departure, although the better informed of Scottish journalists, are well aware that the SNP and Labour have competed for the same working class vote for decades. Ms Sturgeon made it clear she was not asking them to support the SNP, that the referendum was not about the SNP but about the future of Scotland, the nation. Alex Salmond, probably in full knowledge that he is not everyone's favourite politician, made the same point, adding it was not about the "First Minister". The first breakthrough by the SNP was by Dr Robert McIntyre, when he won Motherwell in a by election in 1945, followed by Winnie Ewing in Hamilton in 1967. Dr McIntyre's tenure in Motherwell was as short lived as that of Margo McDonald's in Govan in 1973 but the SNP's success in working class areas of Scotland predated by some years, its later success in Tory seats from 1974 onwards and, the only two seats the party managed to retain in the debacle of 1979, were Dundee East and Western Isles, both traditional Labour strongholds.

When the SNP won eight previously held Tory seats, out of the total eleven they won in October 1974, the Labour party dubbed them "Tartan Tories", ignoring the thirty six second places the party won in Labour seats. Unfortunately the name stuck and damaged the SNP particularly in West Central Scotland, despite the fact the reason for the victories in Tory held seats, arose from the SNP's success in harnessing the anti-Tory vote in those seats. The losses in 1979 arose for two main reasons, the first the return of large numbers of Tory voters who had abstained in 1974, the second, the erroneous belief among traditional Labour supporters in those Tory seats taken by the SNP in 1974, that Labour had a better chance of beating the Tories. They had never, ever done it in the past but this was a Daily Record campaign and Scotland had to learn to live with the consequences.

Traditionally, the "Left" in Scotland has opposed Nationalism of any sort, Scottish Nationalism included, although a distinction has to be made, between Labour supporters and the "Left". Labour supporting, working class Scots can be just as socially conservative as their Tory supporting counterparts, in more rural areas and support for the Labour Party, frequently has little or nothing to do with support for socialism. For generations large swathes of Scotland's working class voted Tory or in some cases, Liberal; in fact anything but Labour and increasingly, many of Scotland's working class has viewed Labour through jaundiced eyes, believing the party has betrayed them over many years and many issues. The performance of the current Labour Party in Scotland has done nothing to change that view, as Labour has lined up with the Tories in Better Together and Johann Lamont's deplorable "something for nothing society" speech, emphasised how willingly Labour is prepared to implement the same public service cuts as the Tories. The "Left", the intellectual Left, is important however, as it can give a lead, particularly when it comes to taking a realistic view of what it is that Scottish Nationalism actually says, what it stands for.

Chambers dictionary defines a nationalist as, "one who favours or strives after the unity, independence, interests or domination of a nation". It is frequently seen as something unsavoury and chauvinism, imperialism, even racism are often used as synonyms. There are different theories of when Nationalism became a potent political force, with some political scientists claiming it is a modern concept, pointing to the unification movements in Europe as evidence of same. It is true that Germany and Italy only became nation states in 1870 under the leadership of Bismarck and Prussia and Cavour and Garibaldi respectively, but Scots had achieved their independence as a nation, and had established the Scottish nation state, with national territorial boundaries very close to those we have today, with the Treaty of Northampton in 1329. The Czech people lost their independence when their Bohemian state was defeated at the Battle of White Mountain in 1620, but they had occupied that territory from the 9th century. They regained it in part, when Czechoslovakia was formed in the aftermath of the First World War in 1918 but it was not until 1993 that the territory we know as the Czech Republic was formed.

For a great many people in Europe, Scots among them, their Nationalism has been expressed in fighting for their freedom or against the attacks of more powerful neighbours. The Polish people saw their territory increasingly annexed by Prussia, Austria and Russia during the Polish Partitions 1772, 1793 and 1795 when the Polish state disappeared completely. The Duchy of Warsaw, created by Napoleon, saw a part of that territory restored but it was not until 1918 that the Republic of Poland was re-established, only for the territory to be occupied again by Germany and Russia in 1939. Despite fighting on the side of the Allies during World War II, the Polish people were again betrayed, placed under the control of the Soviet Union and not until the fall of Communism in the 1980s, were they fully independent. Thus English, German and Russian Nationalism has taken a different form from that of Scots, Czechs and Poles and while Scottish Nationalism is condemned as narrow isolationism, despite the long history of Scottish involvement with Europe, British (English) Nationalism is lauded and applauded as something noble, to be celebrated in extravaganzas such as the London Olympics. The annexation of almost half the world by Britain during the days of Empire, aided and abetted by the Scots, is still seen as a power for good, as if it happened in a fit of absentmindedness.

I have never had any qualms about saying I am a Nationalist and until Scotland retains its independence, I will continue to be a Nationalist. My Nationalism is not expressed in the desire to annex anyone else's territory, it is concerned only to see the nation of Scotland restored as an independent nation state and extends no further than that. I will still be a Nationalist after that because I will still want to protect the interests of Scotland and the Scottish people, as we re-establish ourselves on the world stage, participating in those alliances which seek to protect and nurture the interests of other people and nations throughout the world, at the same time, creating a decent society within our own borders. To my mind therefore, there is nothing to be ashamed of in being a Nationalist, it is simply an expression of the love I feel for the country called Scotland and a deep desire to see the best outcomes in all things, for the Scottish people. The question I often pose to those who condemn Scottish Nationalism is, "Why is that so wrong, when British (English) Nationalism, with all its imperialistic connotations, is considered to be so right?" I have yet to get an answer.

Scottish Nationalism has never been based on antipathy to other people and about the only concession Unionists are prepared to make to the Nationalist movement in Scotland, is that it has never been based on ethnicity or any hint of racism. That is not to say there are no racists in Scotland, of course there are, just as there are racists in every society, but racism has never been one of the pillars on which Scottish Nationalism has been built. There is an undoubted antipathy to England, which boils over occasionally to antipathy to English people, but that is a manifestation of the troubled history we share and the years of fighting against English aggression and their desire to dominate. It is also a reaction to the condescension with which England treats Scotland and the manner in which the case for the Union is frequently made. Our two peoples may share a history, just as we share a history with our European neighbours, but it is not the same history, any more than our two peoples have the same language, culture or social mores. The history, languages, culture and mores of the Scottish people are what make us Scots and differentiate us from our English neighbours. They are what make the Scottish nation. Much of that culture, including the languages, both Scots and Gaelic, the poetry of Burns, Ferguson and McLean, are frequently treated with derision by the English establishment, despite the part played by Scots in the Enlightenment of the 18th and 19th centuries. These are the things that Scottish Nationalism seeks to defend and promote, often in the face of continuing animosity from England. At no time has the Scottish elite sought to reciprocate and treat English language and attitudes with the same animosity and derision.

The political Left in both Scotland and England have tried for years to argue the case for the Union, in terms of working class solidarity. One English commentator, who regularly pops up on discussion programmes, recently argued that, "A Scottish worker in a supermarket has more in common with an English worker in a supermarket, than with the landed gentry in Scotland." That argument has been made for generations and used to be couched in the following terms, "A Scottish miner/steel worker, has more in common with an English miner/steel worker etc etc." Unfortunately for the Unionist Left, successive Westminster Governments closed the Scottish pits and steel works, leaving the Left to scrabble around looking for alternative comparisons. The actions of successive Westminster Governments in closing the pits and steel works, as well as so many other Scottish companies and institutions, forced many on the Left in Scottish politics to re-examine their traditional loyalties and come to the conclusion that Scottish independence offered more by way of opportunities to build the kind of country they preferred, than continuing loyalty to the Union with England.

Thus Dennis Canavan, Chairman of the Yes Campaign, stated twice at the last Yes rally in Edinburgh, "I am not a Nationalist.." He repeated it on the Sunday Politics programme the following day. Colin Fox has made the same claim and Tommy Sheridan, a recent convert to Scottish independence, like Jim Sillars and so many others recruited to the SNP over the years, cut their political teeth in the Labour Party in Scotland. Canavan, like others on the Left, claimed he is "an internationalist" as if that and being a Nationalist are mutually exclusive. Again I have asked and have yet to be given an answer to, "how do those who proclaim their internationalism so loudly, think there can be internationalism without nations and nation states?" What is it about Scottish Nationalism that they find so unacceptable, given that they will concede it is not based on ethnicity or racism and has no aspirations to annex anyone else's territory?

That is not the only question the Left has to address. A Scottish miner or steel worker, when they existed, may have had something in common with their counterparts south of the border but just how far did their shared interests go? The one important factor which the theory ignores, is the part played by community. Miners and steel workers, or workers of any kind are not simply workers, they do other things, they belong to other organisations. Outside of working in a mine, what would a miner in Fife or West Lothian, perhaps a member of the local Orange Lodge, have in common with a miner in Poland, who speaks another language and is likely a practicing Catholic? Brian Wilson, in his latest contribution to The Scotsman, argues that a Yes vote in September would mean, "working people and their families in Corby, Newcastle or Liverpool would find themselves confined to permanent Tory rule.." Thus, in order to enhance the prospects of the Labour Party in the UK, Scots working people must be denied independence so that working people in England can be denied the government that many of them voted for. Unless thousands of working people in England voted Tory, there would be no permanent Tory majority and that is something the Labour Party has to sort out for itself. Similarly Anas Sarwar, argues Scots must thole nuclear weapons on the Clyde, until "the world" decides to rid itself of nuclear weapons. Scots will wait a long time before the USA and Russia decide to rid themselves of their nuclear arsenals.

In common with many other traditional Nationalists, I want independence for its own sake because I believe Scots are different, are distinctive, have their own culture, are a nation and that Nationalism is about dignity, self-respect and self-confidence. I want to see Scots have a greater belief in their own self-worth and although the country which may arise from the political deliberations which follow a Yes vote in the referendum, may not be the kind of country and society I want to see, it will be the first time in 300 years we will have the opportunity to build something worth while. For too long, Scots have ignored the possibilities that independence can offer, placing their faith in traditional loyalties to Westminster political parties, only to see those loyalties thrown back in their face. Wilson and Sarwar make it perfectly plain where their first loyalties lie, the Labour party. Scots people have paid the price of that misplaced loyalty over many years, through years of Tory governments we did not elect and wars we did not want to fight. The intellectual "Left" in Scotland can help to change that. It must recognise by now that the changes it seeks have little or no chance of being achieved within the Union of the UK, where there is so little to choose between the major parties that they can comfortably endorse each others cuts to public services and a change in government would be seamless. Independence must be a better bet for all of us.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Who Do We Trust Least?

When I wrote the last blog, "Who Is Going To Blink First?" I anticipated the issue of NATO becoming much more important as we came closer to the referendum in September. It is going to be more important than it might have been for the simple reason the SNP made it so. I don't expect the party supporters to accept the following argument, but many of them didn't accept it when I predicted the SNP was ready to do a deal on membership of NATO, but it happened nevertheless. Had the SNP stuck to its original policy of remaining outside of NATO, there would have been no question of expectations being raised, that a further deal could be made on retention of nuclear weapons on the Clyde.

It is no secret I have opposed much of the SNP's entire campaign strategy, although I will be among the first to congratulate them if Scots vote Yes. While I still believe that if we get a Yes vote and the SNP's platform is endorsed, we will still not have independence, I will continue to advocate a Yes vote and will vote Yes. This apparent contradiction is because of the question which will be asked in the referendum, "Should Scotland be an independent country?" I still cannot understand why anyone would vote "No" to that question, why they would rather have their country governed by another neighbouring country like rUK or, a Union of neighbouring countries like the EU. If the SNP's platform is endorsed and the vote is Yes, we will still have so many of the existing articles of the UK such as a currency union and Westminster control of the Scottish economy, that not even the most blinkered SNP member will be able to claim it is independence.

 This means that it will be necessary to campaign immediately to reverse those SNP policies which ensure we are not independent, a campaign which is not going to be a matter of a few months or perhaps even a few elections. Those who are seen as responsible for getting the Yes vote, will rightfully claim the spoils of their victory, perhaps for more than one term of office. Unless they have a complete Epiphany moment, little is likely to change on the grounds, "we must give the policies a fair chance" etc etc. Both Nicola Sturgeon and Blair Jenkins are on record as saying they hope the currency union lasts for many years. That is the reason I have been so vocal in my opposition to policies which I believe undermine, restrict or in any way reduce the independence of the Scottish people to have the kind of country they would prefer to have. Many of those who disagree with me have argued that all of the issues I have highlighted at various times, can be addressed as soon as we are "independent", by which they mean "get a "Yes" vote." They will soon find politics does not work like that and we run the risk of being stuck with what we start with for longer than they think.

I firmly believe the SNP has created the situation with which it is now faced, in relation to the currency union and NATO membership, by adopting a policy line on both which lays it open to pressure which could have been avoided. Pressure would have been applied even if the SNP had retained their opposition to NATO membership but the arguments would have been of the usual "isolation" variety. The difference would have been that the party or Scotland would have been in a much stronger position to have Trident removed, if it could be said we did not want to be a member of a defense/political organisation which has a "nuclear first strike" policy, a principled stance which can be defended. To be prepared to take up membership of NATO, while continuing to oppose nuclear weapons, rings as true and principled as Labour's opposition to nuclear weapons, but only when the whole world feels the same way. Scots will wait a long time before the USA and Russia decide to get rid of the nuclear deterrent. To emphasise that Trident will be removed only when it is "safe" is suspiciouly like a warning to Scots that they may have to wait a long time.

Professor Phillips O'Brien, Director of the Centre for War Studies at Glasgow University thinks the SNP's White Paper gives a hint they would be willing to do a deal "which may prove unpopular with grassroots members". That may be wishful thinking on the part of the professor but is in line with the previous "leak" from the unknown minister and it clearly underlines the thought processes of some on the No side and is more than likely a fair indication of the conversations which have been taking place. The No side need the Clyde and the SNP thinks it needs a currency union. The obvious question is whose need is the greater? Alex Salmond has emphasised "we want to be good members of NATO" while reminding us that 24 members of the total 28, do not have nuclear weapons on their soil. How many of them had previously served as the only available base for one of the most potent nuclear weapons on earth? What does being "a good member of NATO" mean?

The closer we get to the referendum date, the greater the pressure will be exerted and, as much else in politics, perception is what counts. How will the polls look much closer to polling day? How will each side react to the pressure. Which leadership do we trust least to do what is right?

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Who Is Going To Blink First?

The leak of alleged discussions inside the Westminster Government's Cabinet, to the effect that if there is a Yes vote in the referendum on 18th September there will be an agreement to have a currency union with an independent Scotland, has caused the No side no end of trouble. There is also an alleged quid pro quo - an agreement by the Scottish Government, that Trident will continue to be based on the Clyde. As soon as the Guardian released the report of the alleged leak, the First Minister and the Yes Campaign, immediately claimed they were right all along to claim the Westminster Government, the Shadow Chancellor and the Lib/Dem equivalent, were all bluffing when they said there would be no agreement on the currency union. The media has made a meal of the alleged leak ever since and there is no doubt the No side has been badly damaged.

It is intriguing that the First Minster and the Yes Campaign generally, have been so ready to accept that the unknown minister responsible for the leak was telling the truth in this instance, when they have cast doubt on just about everything else that both known and unknown sources have said throughout this campaign. The electorate in Scotland, as well as the rest of the UK, have every good reason to doubt any statement emanating from any of the political parties in this country, given the track record for honesty of each and every one of them. The establishment in the UK is corrupt from top to bottom, as can be shown by the behaviour of MPs over expenses, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, bankers over financial services, the police, NHS administrators and just about every public body in the country. Unfortunately, the conduct of the referendum campaign, which should have been about honesty and reason, has been marred by the evasiveness and willful dishonesty of both sides.

That said, Alex Salmond and his team have every right to make life as uncomfortable as possible for the No side, by highlighting their duplicity and emphasising that much of the uncertainty surrounding the question of the currency, could be avoided if the alleged whistleblower is telling the truth. Unfortunately, so much time and energy has been spent on highlighting the probability that the Unionists have been lying, that the electorate is in danger of losing sight of the most important factor of the proposed currency union viz the loss of control of the Scottish economy to the Bank of England and Westminster politicians, something which Nationalists have fought to change for as long as I can remember and which has been highlighted in previous blogs. That point was made by Alex Gallagher in The Scotsman of 2nd April, when he wrote, "am I the only one who thinks it is a peculiar lunacy to hail as a triumph the possibility that control of your economic levers might be transferred to a foreign bank and foreign politicians, placing control of your economy outwith your borders.."?

Significantly, the alleged quid pro quo of Trident remaining on the Clyde, has been given very little air time. The possibility of such an event was immediately rejected by both John Swinney and Nicola Sturgeon, who added the caveat that the removal would be in the first term of the Scottish Parliament so long as it could be done, having regard to the safety of both Scotland and the rUK. Given the extreme difficulty the rUK would have in finding an alternative site, not least of which would be localised political opposition, "safety" issues could be a stumbling block for years to come. The one other actor who may have something to say on this issue and which has had no mention at all, is NATO. Membership of this club was so important to the leadership of the SNP, that it was prepared to split the party and lose two MSPs, to force through a policy volte face. Unfortunately, the increased tension in Ukraine could not have come at a worse time to ask NATO to consider favourably, an application from an independent Scotland whose first act would be to banish nuclear weapons from its soil.

The announcement that NATO is considering offering membership to Armenia, Moldova and Azerbaijan is bound to increase the tension even further, to say nothing about what it will do to Putin's already heightened distrust of the West. Georgia was promised "future membership" in 2008, while Ukraine already has an Individual Partnership Action Plan and has been encouraged to seek membership of both NATO and the EU. Russia has always had a difficult relationship with the West, pushing her frontiers as far west as possible, from the Polish Partitions of the 18th century to the Iron Curtain of the 20th. the situation in Ukraine is simply the most recent chapter. If the SNP believes the alleged leak by the unknown minister, they must accept both parts. It is an indication of the discussions which have been held in London and the reaction of the Unionist media and the No side, would certainly suggest there was truth in the leak.

If we assume the leak is true, and I believe it may be, it raises several questions, the first of which is, how important is the currency union to the SNP? Will it be a case of a currency union at any or all costs or, if it isn't, what price is the SNP prepared to pay? - a prolonged tenancy of the Clyde perhaps? If Trident is to be used as a bargaining tool, the Scottish Government will face both the rUK which will find it difficult to find an alternative home, and NATO which will have little inclination to concede to an application for membership of the club on Scottish terms.The question now is, who will blink first in this game of "bluff, bluster and bullying"?