Saturday 21 June 2014

A brand new UK is on offer if we vote No.

The independence debate that is going on in Scotland will change the nature of Scotland’s relation to the other parts of the UK no matter the result. If we vote Yes, we will become a new nation state and the relationship will become international, but if we vote No, we won’t go back to the place where we were before the debate began. We will rather have decisively rejected independence and defined ourselves as part of the UK forever.

The reason for this can be illustrated by the example of the US Civil War. Prior to that conflict it was common to describe the United States in the plural (The United States are) afterwards in the singular (The United States is). The Civil War fundamentally was fought over the question of whether a state had the right to secede from the Union. Force of arms answered the question in the negative.

We in Scotland are asking a similar question albeit in a peaceful way. The United Kingdom, (unlike the United States in relation to South Carolina), has given us in Scotland the right to determine whether we wish to leave the Union. But no nation state can forever be faced with an existential question as to whether a part will decide to leave. For this reason the choice will be irreversible.

Scotland will become a part of the UK in the same way that Aberdeenshire is a part of Scotland. Nationalists, who think that they can continue to push for referendums on independence every few years, will find that that the Westminster consensus on this issue will have changed. We will have gone through the crisis and Scotland will be no more able to secede than South Carolina. Secession will become something for history books. Of course Scottish nationalists could always try to persuade Scots of the merits of a unilateral declaration of independence, but the moment would have passed and they will rapidly become a dwindling band toasting the memory of their lost cause over the water.

Just as in the United States, the present struggle over independence will make the relationships within the UK stronger, but also and for this very reason much looser.  Once it is recognised that devolution is not a stepping stone to independence, the process of devolving powers can be extended almost without limit. This is the prize that is becoming available to us precisely because we are going through the trauma of the present independence debate.

The problem of devolution was always that it was asymmetric. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland were given parliaments, but England had none. We’re all familiar with the unfairness of this situation. But with the new powers on offer to the Scottish parliament something will have to be done about England. A wide ranging discussion is therefore going to take place on how more powers can be granted to Scotland, but also to England

Mr Salmond wants a currency union together with close ties and cooperation with the other parts of the UK. There is much in our present relationship that he wants to retain. The problem with this sort of relationship is that an independent Scotland would be sharing part of its sovereignty with a foreign power, but we would have no popular representation with which to regulate that relationship. At present the UK shares part of our sovereignty with the EU, but despite all of its faults with regard to democracy, at least in the EU we have a shared parliament and representation on the European commission. But Mr Salmond’s vision of what we would share with the other parts of the UK is far greater than what the UK shares at present with the EU. It makes much more sense therefore to have a shared parliament to regulate what we have in common with the other parts of the UK. But that is precisely what we have already. It’s called Westminster. Why would you want to get rid of our representation there? It would be like being in the EU but withdrawing our MEPs from Brussels.

There is an alternative on offer to us now. If only we reject independence there is the chance to create a federal UK. Why not have a parliament that deals only with English affairs, Scottish affairs, Welsh affairs and Northern Irish affairs, plus a parliament that deals with what we have in common. But it is precisely this that will inevitably occur once power is devolved to England. This sort of federal relationship would give us practically speaking as much control over Scottish affairs as independence, but we would still be able to influence the matters we share with the other parts of the UK.

Naturally Scottish nationalists dismiss these offers of extending devolution. They have never wanted devolution, they only want independence. It is also true that the new devolution settlement that would take place in the UK has not been put to the people of the UK either in a General election or a referendum. There is therefore the degree of uncertainty that is inherent in the democratic process. But any fair assessment shows that there is uncertainty on both sides of the independence debate.

The vision of independence put forward by the SNP depends on the cooperation of those who have already said No. Mr Salmond hopes to be able to reverse that No through negotiation, but no one in Scotland can know if he would succeed. Everything that is said about the pound and about EU membership is so much speculation governed by the bias of whether the person supports or opposes independence. But one thing is certain. These matters are uncertain.

The major UK parties could renege on their promise to extend devolution, but remember it was Labour and the Lib Dems who introduced devolution into Scotland in the first place.  The Tories now have been persuaded precisely because the irreversibility of the independence referendum result takes away any risk of extending devolution.

The future is uncertain. But there is at least as good a chance of Scotland becoming part of a fully federal UK as Mr Salmond getting his vision of independence. A federal UK moreover has the virtue of the fact that we know it would work, just as it works in countries like the USA and Germany. The nationalists of course don’t want this and will try to persuade us that it is not on offer. But this proposal is quite real, sincere and naturally follows from caring about both the interests of Scotland and  the United Kingdom. It is an offer for those Scots who want the maximum amount of devolution that is consistent with us remaining a part of the UK. It’s for those who don’t want to risk losing the pound or a messy divorce mucking up the UK’s economic recovery. It’s an offer that’s worth grasping with both hands as it will never come again if we reject it. 

Saturday 14 June 2014

Why an independent Scotland would face a demographic challenge

One of the biggest challenges an independent Scotland would face is demographic.  People in Scotland are living much longer than they used to, which of course is great, but so too are fewer babies being born which is less great. Under these circumstances any country will eventually struggle to pay for the public services that we all want. After some decades of ever increasing longevity and ever fewer babies the Scottish population has become more and more unbalanced. Ever fewer working age tax payers have to find ever more to fund the care of those who have ceased working.

What can a country do about this situation? One thing you can do is to encourage more children to be born. The SNP’s plan to help women with child care is an excellent idea, flawed only by its not properly being costed. It’s important to admit that free childcare for everyone would be very expensive, but it would also be worth it. Here I think all parties in Scotland should work together no matter the result of the referendum. Scotland’s low birth rate amounts to a national emergency and a united approach is needed if we are going to do anything about it.

But even if you can increase child birth, it will take a long time before it makes a noticeable difference to the work force. There are only so many women in Scotland and they can only have so many babies. You have to wait twenty years or more before a new generation of mothers is available.

It is for this reason that an independent Scotland would significantly need to increase immigration. Estimates vary but it is likely that we would need somewhere between 500,000 and one million extra immigrants over the next 30 years.

The demographic situation facing Scotland is not unique. It is something that we have in common with much of the developed world, but it has to be admitted that our situation is rather worse that the other parts of the UK. England especially has rather less need of immigration now partly because they have had much more over the past 50 years than Scotland. If Scotland were to remain in the UK we would not need the extra immigration for our demographic situation would be counterbalanced by that of England. This is one of the main benefits of being in the UK. The relatively younger English population makes the relatively older Scottish population unproblematic simply because we live in the same country and fiscal transfers happen automatically.

One of the difficulties that an independent Scotland would face is that immigrants are clearly more attracted to living south of the border rather than here. Why is that? Perhaps it’s the weather, perhaps the size of London, most likely it’s because immigrants prefer to move to where there are already immigrant communities.

This though would present a challenge to an independent Scotland in trying to come up with an immigration policy designed to attract more immigrants to Scotland than the UK. How are we to keep them here, if where they really want to go is London? Moreover, if the UK Government decided they would prefer rather fewer immigrants than Scotland, how could they prevent people, who have been admitted to Scotland, simply moving south? The challenge for Scotland would be to have an immigration policy that satisfied Scotland’s needs without being so different to that of the UK’s needs that it would be incompatible with the existence of the Common Travel Area.

Scotland needs people. But out of all the people living in Scotland, who were not born here, where do the vast majority come from? The answer is obvious. They come from the other parts of the UK. But why do people move here from places in England, Wales and Northern Ireland? We all know that there are lots of great things about life here, but one of the fundamental attractions to people from other parts of the UK about Scotland is that they would not be immigrants. At the moment, if you move to London to Edinburgh you are not emigrating, but rather moving to a different part of the same country. Anyone who has lived abroad knows that an international move is a much bigger step. Moreover many people are reluctant to live where they are not a citizen. For this reason the number of people moving to an independent Scotland from the UK is bound to decline. In this way independence is rather self-defeating with regard to immigration. Fundamentally if you want to attract people to Scotland you ought not to put an international border between Scotland and the greatest source of those people. 

Anecdotally I’ve come across quite a lot of Scots, especially those with high paying jobs who are making contingency plans to move south if Scotland votes for independence. They’ve looked at SNP plans and worked out that it is likely to be them that foot the bill.  I’ve met people who say they simply could not afford to live in an independent Scotland.  Surveys suggest that the people who are most opposed to independence are highly qualified, relatively affluent professionals. But these are exactly the sort of people who can vote with their feet. The immigration situation of an independent Scotland may therefore need to take into account the loss of some Scots who perhaps find that the business they work for needs to move from Edinburgh to London or those who simply don’t like the direction that nationalists are liable to take our country.

Where is Scotland then going to get the extra people we would need? Well one source is clearly the EU. Access to the EU labour market is one of the major benefits of being in the EU. Given our demographic situation, only a fool would complain about people coming here from Eastern Europe. It is the fact that we have been able to attract people from elsewhere that has enabled us to continue funding our pensions and health service without massively having to increase taxation. The likelihood however is that an independent Scotland’s path into the EU would be rather tricky and there could be a period when we were not in it. What would happen to those EU citizens already living here? The basis for their right to live here would have ceased. How would we be able to attract more EU citizens if for a time we were not even a member?  These kinds of uncertainties are liable to have a detrimental effect on EU immigration.

But even if an independent Scotland were to remain seamlessly in the EU, it’s important to be aware that many EU citizens are attracted to Scotland precisely because we are part of the UK. The Russian word for England is the common way to refer to the whole of the UK. Just as many Scots are unfamiliar with the geography of Eastern Europe, so Slavs are often unaware that the UK has parts. (How many republics in Russia can you name?) What they are attracted to is the traditional image of Britain picked up from films and literature. They generally see the Union Jack as a positive fashion statement that signifies being in the West. Again, putting an international border between Scotland and the British brand is hardly going to attract immigration, especially when so many Scots openly express such hostility to that brand.

The level of immigration we get from the EU is unlikely to increase whether we are independent or not. It may decline. Where else can we obtain people? There are lots of people from outside the EU who would love to come to Scotland. We have a much higher standard of living than much of the world. But then one of the difficulties for an independent Scotland would be to persuade the seven out of ten Scots who want stricter immigration controls.

I think these people are mistaken. Scotland’s choice will be between immigration and maintaining public services. But it’s also important to realise that there are significant challenges that go with increasing immigration. If a million more people come to live here in the next 30 years, where are they to live? We would need to build another three Edinburghs. What jobs would they have? How would we maintain a cohesive society with a common Scottish identity? How could we maintain an open border if we want to allow many more non EU immigrants than the UK?

There are lots of advantages to Scotland increasing its population. It would almost certainly be beneficial economically. London is in part wealthy because it can attract people from all over the world.  An independent Scotland would need to do likewise. But nationalism, which immigrants can rarely share, is hardly something that attracts; rather it is something that frequently repels.  The contradiction at the heart of the SNP’s policy is that increasing immigration is about bringing down borders not erecting new ones, it’s about recognising what we share with people from elsewhere rather than what makes us different, it’s about internationalism rather than nationalism. 

Saturday 7 June 2014

A vote for independence is a vote for the SNP

I’ve long been of the opinion that the SNP are in the business of hiding the truth from the Scottish people. This isn’t because they are bad people or anything like that, it’s because they believe passionately in Scottish independence, but know that people who share this belief are in a minority in Scotland. Less than a third of the Scottish population consistently support independence come what may and this figure has remained steady for years. These are the core SNP supporters, the people we meet online, who have believed in the SNP vision all their lives, who are desperate to win Scottish independence. I’m often impressed by their sincerity. They campaign effectively and they are very well organized. They are well funded too. They all know that the task is to convert the core nationalist support into 50% plus one vote. So they need to convert around 20% of Scots to their cause. This 20% are, of course, not SNP supporters; they may even be opposed to the SNP, but they need to be persuaded. How do you go about it?

The first thing you do is pretend that a vote for independence is not a vote for the SNP. Lots of Scots are put off by the SNP. I’m often struck by how many independence supporters object to being called nationalists. They seem blissfully unaware that one of the meanings of the word “nationalist” is someone who supports independence. Well then what is someone who is Scottish and supports independence other than a Scottish nationalist? This isn’t in any sense pejorative, but is an accurate description of someone’s political beliefs.  Ever since I can remember, to describe someone as a Scottish nationalist is to describe someone who supports the SNP, just as to describe someone as a Welsh nationalist is to describe someone who supports Plaid Cymru. People who support Welsh independence, but don’t support Plaid Cymru must be about as rare in Wales as dragons.  

One of the ways the SNP have set about trying to pretend that a vote for independence is not a vote for the SNP is by erecting a curtain between themselves and the independence campaign. This curtain is called Yes Scotland. But it’s rather like in the Wizard of Oz; in the end we find out who’s pulling the levers. Let’s look at who makes up Yes Scotland. The political parties that support Yes Scotland are the SNP, the Scottish Greens, the Scottish Socialist Party and Solidarity. The Scottish Socialists won 0.4 % in the last Holyrood election, Solidarity won 0.14 %, while the Greens won 4.4 % up from the 0.7% they had won at the previous General election.  By any normal standard these are minor parties. They have no chance of forming a government either in Scotland or the UK. Moreover even they realise that Yes Scotland is a front for the SNP.  Mr Harvie the Greens leader has described it as "entirely an SNP vehicle."

Naturally lots of people who previously have voted for other parties will vote Yes. But on what basis are they voting Yes? I assume it must be on the basis that they believe what is contained in the White Paper, Scotland’s Future. But who wrote Scotland’s Future? It was the Scottish Government which is made up exclusively of SNP members of the Scottish parliament. They are not in coalition with anyone as they won an absolute majority. Scotland’s Future is full of SNP policies many of them not shared by other parties and certainly not by other major parties. So clearly if I were to vote for Scotland’s Future, I would be voting for the SNP. It’s their manifesto after all. To suggest that someone can support a manifesto without supporting the party that wrote it is ludicrous.

When I was growing up in Scotland everyone knew which party supported independence. I can remember when they were a tiny party, but then they found their defining slogan “It’s Scotland’s oil” and they gradually became more popular. I remember when they opposed the Scottish Constitutional Convention and were against devolution because it wasn’t what they wanted. People who supported independence voted for the SNP, people who didn’t voted for Labour, the Liberals or the Conservatives.  The only party that has campaigned for independence for all of my life is the SNP. But now suddenly when there’s a referendum I’m supposed to believe that voting for independence is not a vote for the SNP? Well I’m sorry. I can see through the curtain. I know who’s pulling the levers.

Imagine if there were a policy that the Conservatives had which no other major party shared. Suppose, for instance, that they proposed reunification with the USA so that Britain would become the 51st State. Well let’s say they put it to a referendum with the question “Should Britain become the 51st state of the Union?” and imagine if the Conservatives campaigned for a Yes vote? Imagine if they had campaigned for this for years, but that Labour, the Liberals and the SNP had always opposed them. Well would it not be reasonable under these circumstances to say that a Yes vote would be a vote for the Conservatives? After all they would be the party in government; they would be the party that had always wanted to join the USA. Would it cease to be a vote for the Tories because a few tiny parties decided that they wanted to play the role of полезные дураки [useful fools]? Would it cease to be a vote for the Tories even though they admitted that in future USA elections they might not win?

Independence is the core policy of the SNP. It is the reason the party exists. Indeed the goal of independence is the only reason the SNP has existed since its beginning. In many ways it would be more accurate to describe the SNP as the Scottish Independence Party (SCOTIP). Anyone voting for independence who thinks they are not also voting for the SNP is deluding themselves.