Saturday 6 June 2015

We must find a common purpose in Scotland

The difficulty we have in Scotland is that around half the population desperately want independence while half the population desperately don’t. If there were to be another independence referendum this September what would be the result? I’ve no idea. It might be that another passionate Yes campaign would take them over the line. On the other hand, the same arguments that No put forward last time would still apply and in addition Scotland’s fiscal position is rather worse than was portrayed last summer by the SNP. The economics would again be scrutinised by experts and the vast majority of those experts would say that Scotland would be much poorer as an independent country. This would all be portrayed as very negative. No doubt it is. I would hope that any Pro UK campaign in the future would talk much more about how great a country the UK is. But economics is a vital part of elections and so I have no doubt that many people would reflect on the impact independence would have on their personal circumstances.

At the moment the SNP while in theory wishing to have Full Fiscal Autonomy (FFA) don’t want it now. It’s rather like Saint Augustine’s statement “Lord make me chaste, but not yet” One of the SNP MPs George Kerevan has described (FFA) as economic suicideScotland requires money from the UK government to break even. If we did not have that money we would have to raise taxes hugely and cut public spending massively. One wonders rather then why Mr Kerevan is an SNP MP given that he has so ably pointed out one of the main benefits of Scotland being a part of the UK.
The reason Mr Kerevan is an SNP MP, probably has nothing to do with the economics. He no doubt thinks Scotland ought to be independent simply because Scotland is a country. The "independence come what may argument" has a lot going for it. I have no quarrel with someone who says I don’t care if Scotland would be poorer as we would have our own sovereign parliament and it would be worth it. Lots of people around the world have argued in this way.  Independence made Ireland worse off materially for 50 years it also caused civil war partition and years of terrorism in Northern Ireland. It's clear then that many people are willing to go through tough times to get independence.

But this is not the argument that was presented to us. The SNP argued during the referendum not so much that Scotland ought to be independent come what may, but rather that we’d all be much better off. They convinced rather a lot of people, but mainly among those who either don’t care about the economics, the fundamentalists who want independence come what may, or amongst those who were willing to be led by the fundamentalists.  Would that tactic work again? It might. We live in a Scotland that has just voted for 56 SNP MPs. It isn’t exactly as if the SNP record in government in Scotland deserves such a level of support. They haven’t done wonders with those areas of Scottish life that they control. Quite the reverse. Moreover what these MPs are supposed to want, i.e. Full Fiscal Autonomy they in fact don’t want, that is if they actually all understand what FFA is. But if they don’t want FFA just yet, they clearly don’t want independence just yet either. Independence is after all FFA with bells on. So the Scottish electorate just voted for 56 MPs who represent a party that has not made a particularly good job of running Scotland and who have a policy they don’t in fact want. At least not yet.  As I frequently say, can we have another electorate please?

It’s all very well getting your supporters all worked up about nationalism. Isn’t it great when they treat politics as if it were a football match involving Scotland? I've long thought that Scottish nationalism stands on the shoulders not so much of giants as on the shoulders of Scottish football. If I had a time machine the one thing I would do would make the UK play football as one team. We wouldn't be having this argument in that case. When politics becomes a football match, then people vote for the SNP like they like they cheer on Scotland. It all becomes rather tribal almost instinctual and very far from intellectualBut thinking nationalists must realise that if Scotland did vote for independence we would all have to deal with the consequences and that means people who are not fundamentalist nationalists would have to deal with the consequences too. Those SNP supporters who believed the stories about Scotland being much better off after independence might react rather unpleasantly if they found out the reverse was true. Others who always knew that the figures didn’t add up, would most likely vote with their feet. This is not an ideal situation for anyone who cares about Scotland. Surely we all do.

We need to be grown up about this. We need to think about the idea of "not yet". Scotland is not yet able to achieve Full Fiscal Autonomy and for the same reason we are not yet able to achieve independence. Let’s then put off further debate on this subject until such time as we are ready. Scotland needs to be more or less breaking even before we should even think about going it alone. So why not let all of us work together as a united people towards the goal of Scotland breaking even?  As a UK supporter, I would support Scotland breaking even and living within its means, for I think it would show that the UK is working well for all its citizens including those in Scotland. But an independence supporter could likewise support this goal, for it would provide the condition for the possibility of Scotland becoming an independent country without too much pain.

It would be wise of Nicola Sturgeon to tell her supporters that independence while remaining a long term goal, is off the table for the next few years. This would help everyone to get over the division caused by the referendum. It would also provide businesses with the security of knowing that investing in Scotland was more or less risk free. We need to focus on bringing jobs to the poorer parts of Scotland, we need to focus on getting more value for money out of public services, we need to earn more and spend rather less. This would give us a Scotland that created jobs and had wealth and that was dependent not on natural resources but on our own initiative.

If at some point in the coming years Scotland was demonstrably breaking even or better still making a small profit, we could revisit the independence campaign again. I would still oppose independence. My country is the UK and I see Scotland as forming an integral part of it. I see advantages to Scotland forever being a part of the UK. But fundamentally I want the UK to remain together as one country, for the same reason that an American wants the USA to remain united as one country. This has nothing whatsoever to do with being better together. The UK Is one country and for that reason alone it ought not to break up. 

But those Scottish nationalists who wanted independence would be able to make their case from a much better position if Scotland were actually making a profit and this profit did not depend on the fluctuating price of a commodity. The best thing of all is that if Scotland were actually more prosperous than it is now, if there were less poverty and more opportunity, it would matter less to everyone whether we were independent or not. Independence would not be seen as the great disaster that most No voters think it would be, nor would it be seen as the only way to solve our problems as many Yes supporters think. In this way it might be possible for us all to unite behind whatever that future decision might be and so become one people in a way that is just not possible today.

We have the same task then whether we are Yes or No. We should work towards creating a fairer, more prosperous, more efficient country that lives within its means. Having done so, we could equally well argue that this economic situation has vindicated Scotland’s position as a part of the UK or that we are now ready for independence. But let us at least have a common purpose for the next few years. Let us cease this endless squabble about constitutional matters. Let us pause, make peace and discuss the issue again some years from now. 

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