Saturday 19 December 2015

Independence supporters should vote for Ruth Davidson

It’s odd to think that in a little more than three months we might have been arriving at Scottish Independence Day.  It doesn’t seem that long ago since September 18th 2014. I wonder if we would have been ready.

Of course, countries can become independent more or less instantly. Look at the history of Europe in the past thirty years. Many places woke up almost by surprise to find that they were independent. Sometimes this was by choice, sometimes by means of conflict, sometimes pretty much by accident. So clearly it’s possible.

Yet I don’t think a vote for independence in September 2014 would have led to independence in March 2016. The reason for this is that almost no-one in Scotland wants independence.

When Eastern bloc countries suddenly found themselves to be independent in the early 1990s, they didn’t get a pick and mix form of independence, they got the full on form and they got it instantly. There were border controls, there were new currencies and there were frequently poor relations with neighbours. Not one of the newly independent countries in Eastern Europe gained a form of independence remotely resembling the one that was promised to people in Scotland. What we were promised was a sort of interdependence. We were promised that life would go on more or less the same only instead of sending MPs to Westminster we’d have them all in Holyrood. But nothing very much else would change at least not for the worse. All of the things we liked about the UK would continue. Nearly every independence supporter I’ve ever come across wants this. It’s for this reason that I don’t think we’d ever have got close to Independence Day in March 2016.

What have we learned since September 2014? We’ve learned that referendums are pointless. If a referendum does not decide a question decisively what is it for? Given that a referendum doesn’t decide a question decisively one way, why should it decide it decisively another way? Neither side needs to cease campaigning if it loses a referendum. The idea then that the whole population of Scotland would get behind the result of a pro-independence vote is preposterous. In this sense it matters little who wins, we still remain more or less divided equally. This feels more like Ukraine than Scotland.

We’ve also learned that SNP promises and the promises of influential independence supporters have not come true. The optimism of the Yes campaign was very powerful. In a similar way to Mr Obama’s statement “Yes we can” won him huge support. It made everyone feel so good to proclaim that we can. But being a president and being an orator are rather different matters. It frequently has turned out in fact that he can’t. The world is a worse and less safe place now than it was when Mr Obama became president. He is in part responsible for this, more because of his inaction than his action. History will remember him, of course, but only for something that he was born with, rather than anything he achieved. A nice man, but one of the poorer presidents. So too likewise I suspect Mrs Clinton would be remembered only for what she was born with. But neither the world nor America need still more inaction. 

So too the optimism of the Yes campaign and the predictions they made about an independent Scotland have been shown to be wildly optimistic. They would have been unable in the short term to create the independent Scotland that they promised their supporters. Many of those supporters do not believe this, but this is mainly because they have chosen to read only those accounts that support their beliefs rather than challenge them. When you go down this route of not thinking objectively and ignoring inconvenient facts, don’t be surprised when bridges begin to fall down.

Imagine if Yes had won by a whisker and throughout the next year or so we had all begun to realise quite what independence would have entailed. It would have rather concentrated minds. Imagine if we had realised that an independent Scotland would be significantly poorer than a Scotland within the UK. We would all then begin to make personal calculations about our wages and about the amount of tax that we would have to pay. Imagine if the result didn’t make for pleasant reading. What would have happened?

My guess is the following. Scotland would have become “independent”, but some sort of deal would have been made that also kept us in the UK. There are a few countries like this in the world with interdependent relationships with others. The result of the referendum would have been respected, but in reality most things would have remained the same. This after all is what everyone in Scotland wants.  Scotland could have become a sort of Hong Kong to the UK’s China. Call it “independence” if you like, but really its interdependence.

This is in fact something similar to what has actually occurred in Scotland. We have become a sort of semi-detached part of the UK. The Scottish Parliament now has considerable powers and many more than it did a few years ago. Why did these happen? They happened because Yes did so well in the referendum. If Yes had only won 30% there would have been no extra powers. We don’t know how these extra powers will work out. At the moment the SNP appear disinclined to use them. They seem most concerned of all that the UK as a whole continues to subsidise Scotland. This means that they are unionists at heart as people like me are likewise concerned that we keep the benefits of the UK including the fact that we receive a subsidy. Hardly any Scots except a few fundamentalists want to be poorer. They think a poor and fully independent Scotland would be worth it. But apart from these few brave hearts, there are few enough Scots who find virtue in a diet of oats and salt. I don’t think Nicola Sturgeon wants this, which may make her a closet unionist too.

Until and unless Scotland ceases to dependent on UK subsidy, independence is off the agenda. That’s the reality. If the SNP dare not even raise income tax, they are not going to dare to actually vote for Scotland to become independent and poorer. They are so desperate to keep the subsidy that they are even threatening not to accept additional powers. What does this tell us then really? It tells us that even if they had won a vote on independence they would have gone to David Cameron threatening not to accept it.

Unfortunately nearly everyone in the Scottish Parliament has more or less the same solution to every problem. Ever more public spending, plus freebies for the middle classes, plus centralisation kills all known germs. There is though no reason whatsoever why Scotland could not be much better off than we are at present. But the way to get there is to lower public spending, lower tax, decentralise within Scotland and to accept that free markets bring wealth. If we all voted for a party that implemented such policies we would be ready for independence in next to no time. I therefore suggest that independence supporters vote en masse for Ruth Davidson.

The SNP are the best friends the Union ever had. It is their policies that keep Scotland dependent on the UK. It matters little to me therefore if they win every seat in the Scottish Parliament, it only makes their goal recede further into the horizon.

We have learned recently that referendums don’t necessarily lead to the intended result. Greece was told that if it voted No, it would cease to be a part of the Euro and indeed would probably have to leave the EU. Did any of these things happen? 

Likewise a vote for independence would not I believe lead to independence, unless and until the majority of Scots were willing to take a massive pay cut or until the Scottish economy is more or less breaking even. Given the way Scotland votes neither of these circumstances is likely to happen anytime soon.  

There is a final moral to this story however. We are soon going to have a vote on leaving the EU. If we vote to remain, our relationship with the EU will be more or less the same. But if we vote to leave, it doesn’t follow that we will actually leave. Suddenly there will be panic at the heart of the EU. After all the recent troubles, could they really afford to lose Britain? I rather think they would be somewhat more willing to accommodate a semi-detached Britain.  I think indeed they might even be willing to accept the sort of relationship we had when we joined, a common market, a free trade zone and not much more. Whatever happens our relationship to the EU is going to be one of interdependence. This semi-detached interrelationship could still be called leaving the EU. But really we can no more leave the EU than we can leave Europe. We are always going to trade with our European friends and be interdependent. But here’s where it is important to do a calculation. If we vote to stay in the EU, we will get nothing whatsoever, but voting to leave sometimes gets rewards.