I suspect that we are now seeing two “debates” about Scotland.
- Within Scotland there is a vigorous debate going on with much soul-searching between:
- a self-confident, self-contained “Yes” campaign that knows what it wants and thinks it can see the way to get it. They have traction.
- a stuttering, disparate and increasingly desperate “No” campaign that knows what it does not want but cannot coherently vocalise what it does want. It is slipping.
- Outside Scotland there is a horrified “shadow” semi-debate that lacks any structure or discipline – typical of debates amongst the disenfranchised.
- Nicola Sturgeon, “Yes has the big momentum.”
BBC News website 7 September 2014 : Scottish independence: Vote ‘will go to the wire’
- Alan Johnson, “Scotland as a nation is crucial to us in the UK”
BBC One 7 September 2014 : Andrew Marr Show
These quotes rather sum up the situation, and illustrate why the Union may be lost.
The No campaign – particularly its supporters outside Scotland need to reflect on how their increasingly strident, possibly panicky “arguments” will be received in Scotland. It’s the “So What?” test.
Take Alan Johnson’s “arguments” vocalised today:
- “Scotland as a nation is crucial to us in the UK”, “The progressive future for this country [UK] relies on us staying together”
- “So What, we won’t be part of the UK, that’s your problem“
Likewise, the anti-arguments about currency and borders are very real to those of us South of the putative international border, but have been dismissed as “bullying” North of that border – bullying by the “Westminster elite” so despised by so many Scots (and a lot of the British).
George Osborne is at this moment (On Andrew Marr) is saying “I’m an Englishman, I passionately want Scotland to stay” (“So What?“), but “No ifs, No Buts we will not share the pound”. He is promising more tax powers and more powers over welfare and saying those plans will be put forward in the next few days.
Do the Scots really want to stay with a group that only concedes greater powers at the barrel of a gun? Those plans will not be put through the legislature prior to the referendum – they are as much “vapour policies” as Salmond’s “Scotland’s Future” – in fact there is no guarantee that a UK Government would willingly grant more powers to Scotland. By doing this he introduces uncertainty and risk to the “No” campaign. Why risk whether these “promises”, made reluctantly and under duress, will be fulfilled? Vote “Yes” and “get” Salmond’s mythical certainties instead.
This campaign boils down to:
- Do those in Scotland have the nerve to be independent? Yes, of course, indisputably
- Is the current “offer” presenting the best time to go? Possibly Not, disputably
Scotland is finding a stronger independent voice – the debate has shown that. It has been conceded that Scotland could work as an Independent Country (as if that was ever in dispute). The Scots have the identity, they have the capability, they have the resources and they have found more than enough self-confidence.
But is now the right time? Wrong Question – because the answer to the separatists is “Yes”
But is the present situation propitious? Here the Scots (or more accurately those in Scotland) have to think seriously how the Rest of the UK will react – because Independence terms are not agreed.
The “No” campaign has failed to puncture Salmond’s bluster that “Scotland’s Future” is a given and that all the separatists aspirations will be conceded when the English come to their senses and accept the sovereign will of the Scots. Possibly they have been too frightened to be seen to “play the man”. They have failed to point out that England, Wales and Northern Ireland also have “sovereign wills” that have been given no voice.
From the South of the Border it appears (as indisputably to me as the opposite is indisputable to the separatists)
- If Scotland wants an independent economic policy (See Scotland’s Future) it has to have an independent currency
- If Scotland wants an independent migration policy (See Scotland’s Future) it has to accept that there will have to be border controls – we cannot have a porous border.
- If Scotland wants to be an active member of the EU (See Scotland’s Future) it has to accept with England (unfortunately) wanting, and likely to, take rUK out of the EU, there will have to be a customs border from the Tweed to the Solway.
Post “Yes”, I fear for the political atmosphere in England (Wales and Northern Ireland will be concerned by-standers). We will have seen a Conservative and Unionist Prime Minister fail to conserve the Union and it will have happened with the majority of us unable to have a say. We will demand that say – in a rather unfocused way.
It has been suggested that having a General Election in May 2015, part way through Salmond’s self-proclaimed “negotiation period” between 19 September 2014 and 16 March 2016 (“Indy Day”) is not particularly clever. However the argument seems to be that the General Election should be postponed. This seems to me to be totally wrong and to continue the abuse of the disenfranchised South of the border.
If anything there should be an immediate General Election.
- So we can kick out the Prime Minister who will have squandered the Union.
- So that we can debate how we want post “Yes” negotiations to be carried out.
- To give a mandate to those who will negotiate separation.
Even this will be imperfect, because the General Election will constitutionally elect Scottish separatists to the Parliament that will have to negotiate separation.
Post independence, remnant UK will be more Conservative, more England dominated, more Westminster centric, more isolationist, more Euro-phobic, more Euro-septic, more Xenophobic and it (unfortunately) will get the sort of Conservative Government it deserves. Not the sort of neighbour that Scotland might want.
A post-referendum General Election this year will either:
- Reflect the likelihood of a reactionary English group that may just enable a continued Conservative dominated Parliament.
- Lead to a temporary Labour Government dependent on MPs from North of the Border for its majority. So post independence, this Government will probably fall.
In either case the non Scottish members will be looking to ensure re-election in the first Independence Day rUK General Election.
The false certainties of Scotland’s Future – forced on the debate by Cameron’s arrogant “head in the sand” refusal to face the possibility of the disintegration of the UK and to negotiate pre-referendum – mean that post “Yes” negotiation will probably be bad-tempered, belligerent, and self-interested (from both sides). Leaving Cameron and co in charge will not avoid this – not giving a voice to the disenfranchised and angry is an even worse option.
So is this the sort of political atmosphere in which the Scots want independence? Some will argue that it is “there for the taking”, that there will always be problems and in respect of the sort of considerations raised above, the “So What?” question applies. The answer being “Have confidence, go for it, delay will not necessarily lead to a better opportunity – take what is on offer now, any pain will be short-lived and worth it in the long-run”.
A narrow “Yes” victory will be divisive. A narrow “no” victory will also be divisive – but might be the reality check that the UK needs.
- Something must be done about the Westminster system
- Any separation needs some pre-negotiation – this referendum campaign is a lesson in how not to do it.
- Separation may be friendlier if there is a two-stage referendum:
- Vote “in principle”: a mandate to negotiate
- Approval of the terms
- A UK wide referendum on stage B is possible if negotiations lead to separation being seen as a “Velvet divorce” rather than a “leaving”.
“No” will not be the end of the matter.
George Osborne and Co will be obliged to come through with their Devo-Max proposals – even though the mandate for such proposals is only assumed.
Will we see wider reform of the Westminster System? I somehow doubt it – it’s not in the mindset of the Westminster elite to believe that they are part of the problem – that Scots are trying to get away from Westminster almost as much as they reach for national independence.
There is a danger that a narrow “No” will make Cameron and Co try to follow a “never again” strategy. However having nearly lost the Union there is no guarantee that Cameron will hold on to his position – perhaps we have to ask WWBD? What would Boris Do? The status quo could take two approaches to future independence demands:
- Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt worked, therefore no change is required.
- The ability for the nationalists to peddle false certainties almost lost the Union and steps must be taken to ensure that any future independence campaign is more informed and based around an agreed scenario.
So is now the best time for Scots to grasp independence? I don’t know – but I (from South of the Border) fear the answer is Yes.