Monday, 23 May 2011

We didn't vote for independence - did we?

Well, King Alex is safely sworn in as First Minister and he has announced his new cabinet.  And so the  electoral cycle begins again.
Alex says it is as inevitable as anything ever can be in politics that Scotland will be independent.  The wily old dog!
There is one problem.  I don’t think we voted for independence. 
The SNP seemed to gain support as a broadly competent government of whom we should have no fear.  I don’t think their record was particularly scrutinised that deeply as Labour tried to run against the cuts – or whatever Labour were trying to do.  And the others weren’t that effective either.
The writer Gerry Hassan, writing about the Scottish Spring picked up on a deep long term transformation which has been occurring for decades.  This is a change from an age of identifying with the Labour party and seeing the world defined by the workplace, politics and class.
I think also the passing of the generations who lived through World War 2 and identified with a sense of Britishness through that experience has played its part in this transformation, and with it seen the decline of the Conservative and Unionist Party in Scotland.
Into this void has come the SNP, and during the 90s and 00s the Liberal Democrats – particularly under Charlie Kennedy.  Well, the LibDems have blotted their copybook big time while the SNP have grown.
Scotland has changed, tribal loyalties are decaying and the electorate is more volatile
The SNP positioned themselves with a wonderfully coherent sense of positivity and positioning,  A moderate left of centre party able to appeal to working class and middle class, and urban and rural Scotland.  A national party of Scotland.
Of course, the SNP also prospered from the perfect storm of a weak, poorly targeted Labour camapaign with a weak leader, and the collapse of the LibDems because they had gone with the Tories and lost credibility symbolised by the English tuition fees debacle.
So the SNP won and won big!  They have established, at Holyrood at least, two party politics of Labour and non Labour.  One party old, conservative and slightly authoritarian, the other modern, forward looking and aspirational.
But this doesn’t mean we voted for independence!
There does however seem to be support for increased devolution of power to Scotland.
Back in 2007 I for one did not foresee that the SNP were beginning to become more popular.  This may have been because I lived in Edinburgh which was not at that time an especially strong area for the SNP.  Nevertheless, their victory then surprised me.
I thought they would then follow a de-stabilising agenda seeking to undermine the relationship between London and Edinburgh.  In fact they didn’t.  They were much cleverer than that.  Alex Salmond has sought to evolve the parliament at Holyrood, little by little, into an independent Scottish Government.  Independence by stealth.
It is quite cunning and manipulative – but that is ok, that is politics.
With the SNP project has come a growing movement.  They have money, and the support of many key people in business and the arts.  With this comes resources for research, clever young strategists and thinkers.  They also have a cause.  Scratch many a nationalist and you find a hopeless romantic.  Labour have the moral high ground (or so they like to think!) The Tories fight for their values and prosperity.  So too the Nats have a cause that brings passion, people and bright young Turks.
Indeed, with many bright thinkers they are redefining what they mean by nationalism and independence.  For their thinkers Independence is about “...interdependence, partnership in these islands and more widely across Europe.”  They are talking about Scotland, the UK and Europe all still being connected but in a different and more appropriate way.
This is all very interesting.  It strikes me, as a firm believer in a federal solution for the UK and for Scotland , that the SNP may be coming round to a position I hold – maybe!
The Nats have placed their focus firmly on Holyrood.  This includes all their resources and intellectual capital.  It is another reason why they are winning at this level.
The LibDems and Labour need to use the intellectual capital they have with their Scottish contingents at Westminster if they are going to do well again in Scotland – this is especially true of the LibDems who have just taken such a pasting at the Holyrood election.
It is in fact a point I feel is important to not forget – Holyrood is Just one level of government!  Just because the SNP focus on it to the exclusion of other levels and have the agenda at the moment does not alter this fact.
This is the SNP agenda – to evolve Holyrood into a national government – which is not what most of us Scots want!
The Holyrood administration is not, for example, running the economy.  It was noticeable how irrelevant Alex Salmond was during the banking crisis and I can’t imagine how we would have coped with massive global entities like RBS or HBOS with balance sheets many times bigger than that of Scotland’s, if we had been independent!
 I therefore feel there is far more that binds us in the UK together that separates us.  I am a proud Scot and I want to see a strong measure of devolution.  At this juncture in our history I feel it is important we emphasise and celebrate that which binds us together lest we slip unwittingly into the nationalist spider’s web.
We are one island with one language – this is huge!
We are part of one economy – so many of our large companies are British companies based in Scotland.
This is nothing to say of the ties of kinship and friendship across the borders.
I also believe there are many British cultural traditions – some English in origin which have become assimilated into Scots culture like the waters of two streams merging together.
I think of things like:
·         Parliamentary democracy
·         Shakespeare
·         Morecambe and Wise or Coronation Street
Cultural things, English in origin, that have become part of our own culture.
I talked to one Nat recently who pointed out that Scotland once had its own parliament.  I know this! But it never reached the depth and the maturity that the English one did.  Nor did the Scots develop the tradition from medieval times, of rule with the consent of the people from Magna Carta, through the reforms of Henry iV, to the Tudor Settlement of sovereignty in parliament.  These natural rights of Englishmen, tracing themselves right down to Tom Paine, are part of the Scottish radical tradition.  True we have other traditions of thought and politics as wellt that are Scottish in origin, but we must not falsely separate our culture from other parts of Britain.
‘Wha’s Like Us?’ We have so, so much to be proud of as Scots for such a small nation but we should not build up a myth of superiority and wonderful traditions that are not quite as perfect as we would like.  But then sometimes nationalists do this.  Sometimes they are no strangers to a good measure of baloney!  
So there we have it.  I am concerned that the nationalists seek, through Holyrood, to drive a wedge to separate Britain by stealth.
This is not what most Scots want I believe.  A move towards a federal settlement may on the other hand be something there is support for and a basis on which we can do business.
It is important in the UK, before we run away with the nationalist fairy, that we recognise there is far more that binds us than separates us.
After all – we didn’t vote for independence – did we?


  1. Gavin
    I didn't realise you had a blog, interesting/.

    I think it's a pity Sots libs don't go for something stronger then you suggest here. Still it's your choice.

    May i comment that I think the more unification of standards in social provision and taxation over Europe as a whole, the better, and thus realisation of political union, rather than dissipation could be a nobler goal.

    So I feel that the SNP moves are good in the long run because separating from Westminster, if it went hand in hand with unifying with Brussels, is the answer for your country. Adoption of the Euro would be a significant step. It could be done quite quickly actually.