Thursday 15 April 2021

The Unity Pledge


It’s hard to imagine a bigger change to ordinary life in Scotland than if we voted for independence. This was the case in 2014, but at least then the UK was an EU member state and if Scotland had been able to join the EU soon after independence the former UK and Scotland would have both been member states following the same EU path to ever closer union. Perhaps we would have ended up uniting again in a United States of Europe. But Brexit has changed everything. I have opinions about what Scottish independence would be like, but I don’t really know what would happen, because no one does. We need clarity.

Every election in Scotland whether it is a General Election, a Scottish Parliament Election or even a local election is decided on the basis of what voters think about independence. A second independence referendum is continually supposed to be happening next year. I have no idea how Scottish independence would affect my house price, my job, or my pension. Neither Scottish individuals nor the Scottish Parliament can ever really plan anything, because next year or the year after there might be a referendum that changes everything.

We need to know for certain that for the next few years we need not worry about Scottish nationalists trying to partition Britain. We need to call a halt to the campaign for independence which began in the years before 2014 and which has never really stopped. We need to relax from the tension caused by us always being on the brink of leaving, always being divided from our fellow Scots, always worried that next month or next year everything we know about Scotland will change.

All for Unity has come under relentless attack lately from some Pro UK commentators to the extent that for one or two of them it has become something of an idée fixe. If you are relentlessly obsessed with All for Unity to the extent that you are struggling to write about anything else, it might be worth refocussing your attention on your own reasons for this obsession. The cure for monomania will probably not come from still further study of the D'Hondt voting system, nor indeed will it be eased by overly constant worry about how many Scottish Conservatives might lose their seats because of George Galloway. All of this is to miss the point and to focus on the trivial rather than the fundamental.

Political goals are not primarily about electoral calculation. No party would ever even begin if it gave up at the start because it had no popularity and would get zero votes. We don’t know what effect All for Unity will have on the election. But we know that the Pro UK side of the argument is ill served by Labour, the Conservatives and Lib Dems. The inability of these parties to devise a tactic that has even a chance of winning is reason enough for them to lose seats to All for Unity. Their inability to work together is the reason they will lose them to the SNP.  But more importantly All for Unity is coming up with ideas that address the central concern of Pro UK people. For this alone it deserves our support. We need clarity about independence and when if ever a second referendum might occur.

During every election I can remember since 2014 there has been speculation about whether the Prime Minister will give into demands from the SNP for a second referendum. We hear from worried sources in Westminster about Boris Johnson having to give in if Scottish nationalists won a super-majority. But nobody knows the grounds for granting or refusing a referendum, which makes it appear to depend on a whim.

There is a sort of game going on. The SNP at one point thought to include something about indyref2 on the ballot paper, but then changed its mind as indyref2 might be a vote loser. We are left to wonder if Sturgeon would only ask for indyref2 if she knows in advance that her request won’t be granted. She must know that the next few years would be the worst possible time to begin a new nation state. Lots of Scottish nationalists want independence in theory, but not in practice and at least not yet. All is uncertainty, when what Scotland needs is clarity and common purpose as we recover from the pandemic.

One of the best ideas to have come from All for Unity is the idea of a Clarity Act. You can read the details here and sign the Unity Pledge.

Imagine if David Cameron had made the SNP promise that there would be a twenty-five-year gap until they would have a second chance. It would have changed everything about the past few years in Scottish politics. Even if the SNP were in power, the Scottish Government would be focusing on schools and hospitals and other public services rather than the constitution.

Imagine if independence supporters were told that parts of Scotland that did not vote for independence would have the chance to stay in the UK if they chose to. Would that make them more or less likely to vote for independence? Some commentators thought it bizarre to suggest that Scotland might be partitioned. But this is just to accept SNP assumptions that the territorial integrity of Scotland must be maintained, while that of the UK may be threatened. Every other European nation state is secure in its territory only the UK is continually under threat. This is precisely because commentators never treat the UK as being something permanent, but always something is threatened at each election. No one else in the world thinks this way. Everyone else thinks it bizarre that while Britain can see off the threats of Germans and Russians a change in the minds of a few swing voters might and anger at England electing Tories might destroy the United Kingdom. Why should Scottish territory be inviolate when Scotland has no international existence nor an international border. If it is legitimate to partition Britain, why not Scotland? If on the other hand partition is illegitimate apply this to Britain too.  There is nothing remotely odd about the Borders choosing to join with Cumbria and Northumberland after all at various points in history the border was further north than it is now. If Orkney & Shetland can choose to stay in the UK why can’t Aberdeenshire. Scottish nationalists should win independence for only those parts of Scotland that choose it.

Scots need clarity on the issues that matter most to us. These are the ones that I think are the most important. But we are starting a debate about this issue. What matters is to bring the issue before the British Government. Supporting All for Unity is the best way to do that.

1. What currency would an independent Scotland use and how would that affect our financial situation. For instance, would Scotland have a lender of last resort if it used Sterling unofficially?

2. Would Scotland join the EU?  There is disagreement between the SNP and Alba. How long would it take and what would the conditions be?

3. Would there be hard border between Scotland and England? Would it just be a trade border, or would we have to show our Scottish passports too?

4. Would Scots be allowed to be Scottish and British citizens, or would we have to choose? How would that affect Scots living in the former UK? If they chose to be Scottish citizens would they have to apply for Leave to Remain in the former UK?

5. Would Scotland be able to join the Common Travel Area allowing us to live and work in the former UK and Ireland or would we have to join Schengen which would make that impossible.

6. Would Scotland have to receive a proportion of the UK national debt based on population? If so, this would amount to more than 100% of GDP with at present close to a 30% deficit. How could we avoid bankruptcy?

7. What trade relation would Scotland have with the former UK and the EU? How would this affect the fact that most of our trade at present is with the other parts of the UK?

8. How would Scotland leaving the UK change shared institutions such as the British Army and the BBC?

9. The former UK would no longer pay pensions or other benefits to Scots what guarantee would we have that they would be paid at all?

10. How long would divorce negotiations take and would the former UK treat Scotland like the EU treated the UK? Would relations between the former UK and Scotland be hostile or amicable.

 Let’s be clear the task of a Clarity Act would be to make Scottish independence harder to achieve. But it ought to be harder to achieve because the Scottish electorate when asked in 2014 rejected independence decisively. Most countries in the world do not allow secession at all let alone two goes in less than ten years.

Signing the All for Unity petition is an immediate way of registering your support for a Clarity Act that would give us all certainty about what independence involved and the circumstances in which a second independence referendum would be granted. But it is better still if you vote for All for Unity. None of the other parties are arguing for a Clarity Act.

We want to change Scottish politics and bring new ideas and policies that will make the UK more secure. Only when the SNP ceases to continually ask for independence because it is clear that it is not happening any time soon, will it begin to focus on running Scotland and making the lives of all Scots better whatever our view about independence.

This is what the Unity Pledge will achieve. It can do so only if you sign it and vote for All for Unity.