Wednesday 12 May 2021

What the SNP needs to do to get indyref2


It is likely that we are safe from an independence referendum for the next five years. The only way that the SNP can achieve a legal referendum is if it gets Westminster’s permission. So long as Boris Johnson continues to say No, Sturgeon can get her wish only if Labour wins the next election and forms a coalition with the SNP. The price of such a coalition would obviously be a referendum. But after Hartlepool it looks unlikely that Keir Starmer will be the next Prime Minister so can we all forget about Scottish politics, kick indyref2 into the long grass and get on with our lives? Sure, we can, but not if we want to win in the long run.

After the next General Election, the SNP will say that it has a mandate for an independence referendum no matter how much or how little it mentions the issue during the campaign. The same will be the case at the next Scottish Parliament election. There may be something unexpected that stops the SNP, but the scandals and splits this year did not dent its support, so it is hard to see what might. Sturgeon will eventually depart and the SNP would struggle to replace her with someone as talented, but that alone will not be enough to seriously lessen SNP support.

It would help if there were only one Pro UK party or at least if Labour, the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives worked together to maximise Pro UK seats at elections. But they each are more concerned with self-preservation and self-interest so I doubt that they will. We have learned that even Alex Salmond cannot set up a new party capable of winning a seat, so it is hard to see how anyone else can unless it is someone with a vast amount of money and access to the media.

We may feel reasonably safe for now. If Sturgeon tries to have an unauthorised referendum, we will challenge her in the courts with a Scottish Gina Miller. Not me. I am far too poor. But there are already tentative plans for this. If the SNP control the courts enough to defeat MacMiller's  challenge, we will ignore the SNP’s referendum. We will not debate. We will not publish leaflets or appear on TV. Let them play with themselves winning 100% of the vote. It will merely make them look farcical and will not take them one step closer to their goal.

But the task is not merely to win during the next five years. What does it matter if we win now, but lose ten years from now or twenty? This is the problem with the Pro UK strategy. It depends on Westminster continuing to say No, while granting the SNP the right to ask for a referendum with the expectation that eventually they will be told Yes. After that it would be a coin toss.

Even if the Pro UK side won the next independence referendum so long as the population remains evenly split the SNP will want a third. It might have to wait, but after another twenty years it would get another go. If you keep going that way, eventually it will win. The present Pro UK strategy involves losing in the end. What’s the point?

The instinct of many politicians such as Gordon Brown is to make concessions to Scottish nationalism. Let’s make the UK a federal state, with more powers for its parts. Let’s organise a forum of the nations and regions. Let’s assert that we are more Scottish than British.

But all of these ideas, like the idea of the Scottish Parliament that fuelled nationalism in the first place are based on loosening the UK rather than uniting it. Mr Brown’s federal state would not be like the USA or Germany where most people feel primarily American or German rather it would be like the pre 1860 United States where the allegiance of citizens was primarily to their state, except Mr Brown would not fight a war to stop South Carolina seceding he would give it a referendum.

A four-nation approach merely emphasises that we are not one nation. Mr Brown is proposing a forum that emphasises our division and separateness. Sturgeon too demands a four-nation approach, but only if it gives her a veto on anything she disagrees with, which turns it into a one nation Sturgeon approach. She takes the view that Scotland cannot be outvoted because she sees no unity in the UK at all, but rather loose bonds of pink ribbon that can be untied whenever she wishes. The more people like Sturgeon and Brown view the UK as four nations, the less reason there is for them to be joined at all. The endpoint of the four nations journey is that you get four independent nations.

Scottish nationalists view the UK as a “Union state”. They deny that the UK is a nation or a country. What they mean by this I think is that the UK is a confederation where each part maintains its separateness and sovereignty. If that were the case, I doubt the UK would have lasted five years let alone three hundred. A confederation is inherently unstable. It either becomes a federation like the United States or it reverts to being separate states.

The EU at present is similar to a confederation. Each member state partly retains its sovereignty and its identity as a separate nation state. Scottish nationalists therefore must believe that they would be leaving one confederation (the UK) in order to join another larger one (the EU). They must also believe that the EU will not become a federation despite the promise of "ever closer union". Fiscal transfers within the EU remain limited for now. While the EU has monetary union, it does not have full political or fiscal union. The wealthier parts of the EU do not automatically transfer money to the poorer parts. It is this that enables the states to retain part of their sovereignty and their separate identities as countries.

But this is the problem for the Scottish nationalist. If the UK were really like the EU why does the Treasury send money to Scotland to help us get through the pandemic? If the relationship between the parts of the UK were really like the EU, what justification could there be for fiscal transfers? After all Germany does not bail out Greece.

The existence for centuries of fiscal transfers within the UK demonstrates that we are not a confederation. If people like Mr Brown really think that we are more Scottish than British and that we are four nations loosely connected, why does he think that Scots should receive money from English people when Greeks don’t get anything from Germans?  If we only minimally share our identity with English people, because they are more English and we are more Scottish, then there can be only be a tiny thread of Britishness connecting us, why then should we share any more than Greeks and Germans. 

Just as sharing a European identity was not enough to keep the UK in the EU it is also not enough to make Germans and Greeks feel like fellow countrymen because they both feel more German and more Greek than European. But Mr Brown is turning Britishness into something like the sense of being European, a mere secondary identity. If Scots and English people cease to feel that they are fellow countrymen why should the taxes raised in the south of England be used to help Scotland? But without fiscal transfers there could be no internal market, no shared currency and no concept that the citizens of the UK owed each other any more than we do any other human being.  

Those Scots who benefit from the economic conditions in Britain due to our monetary, political and fiscal union and who benefit from transfers from the wealthier parts of the UK to the poorer parts, i.e., who benefit from British pooling and sharing are doing so under false pretences if they deny or minimise their Britishness for in that case, they have no right to what the UK provides us because we are fellow citizens rather than foreigners. To benefit from your British citizenship while campaigning for Scottish independence exposes you as being a mere hypocrite not least because you do not intend to reciprocate if only Scotland can leave the UK.

If Scotland were part of a confederation, it would be wrong to prevent it leaving at any time. But the UK’s fiscal transfers show that Scotland is not a part of a confederation. The fact that Scots are treated as fellow countrymen and receive freely whatever is necessary from the whole of the UK means that our fellow countrymen have the right to expect that we will reciprocate and not merely leave whenever we please. The balance of credit and debt not merely financial built up over the centuries joins us in such a way that we cannot merely walk away when we please.

But if the UK is not a loose confederation, it must then be something else. It is not a federation, otherwise Mr Brown would not want the UK to become one. The only other alternative is that the UK is a unitary nation state that happens to have parts which are called countries. But the fact that a thing is called something does not mean that it is that something. The Isle of Dogs is neither an island nor does it have more dogs than anywhere else in London.

Those who favour the four nation approach and who want to set up forums where each nation is represented or who wish to create a federal UK want there to be a looser relationship between the parts of the UK than there is at present. They hope that being looser will preserve the UK. But it is only because the UK is a unitary nation state that it can legitimately refuse a referendum on independence. After all an independent Scotland would not allow the Borders to secede even if a majority wished it, because it would view Scotland as a unitary nation state which forbade secession.

By emphasising the four nations of the UK rather than one unitary state and by seeking to make the relationship between the parts less close than they were previously Mr Brown not merely fuels nationalism and separatism he justifies the SNP’s demand for a second referendum. Unitary nation states routinely refuse independence referendums. The looser and less unitary we view the UK by emphasising it being four separate nations, the less justification there is for denying a referendum whenever the SNP wants one, but also crucially the less justification there is for pooling and sharing and fiscal transfers.

If the UK is a unitary nation state with parts that happen to be called countries, then we have no more duty to give Scotland a referendum than Germany has a duty to give Saxony a referendum. Saxony is not a sovereign nation state and neither is Scotland, because neither is part of a confederation. But if either wished to secede it’s first task would be to give up the fiscal transfers from the nation state it is a part of.

Most people in Britain treat our country as if it were a confederation, where each part has a separate identity and has the right to independence when it wants it. This means that England counts the cost of sharing with Scotland and begrudges what it sees as English money subsidising ungrateful Scots. It is only for this reason too that the SNP thinks that an election to a devolved parliament can give it a mandate for independence. But Scotland would only have the right to a referendum on leaving the UK if it had already for some time ceased to benefit from the pooling and sharing which come about because of the UK’s unity, its internal market and the fiscal transfers which go wherever they are needed with no one counting the cost or expecting repayment. To demand independence when you are receiving Treasury money that pays your wages and keeps your business afloat from those fellow British citizens who you wish to reject is to have the morality of a thief.

The condition for a second independence referendum must be that Scotland ceases to receive fiscal transfers from the Treasury and that all Scottish spending is covered by revenue raised in Scotland. When the SNP have made Scotland live within its means so that we are no longer dependent in any way on the other parts of the UK, then and then alone if the SNP wins a majority can it ask for an independence referendum. You cannot expect to benefit from sharing, if you plan to leave and not reciprocate and not even repay your debts.

So, unless the SNP is willing to renounce all money from Westminster let there be no more talk of referendums for it dishonours us and turns us into tricksters who are happy to be treated as fellow countrymen so long as Mr Barnett sends us money, but if ever the roles were reversed would not hesitate in refusing to reciprocate on the grounds that the English were bloody foreigners.