Scotland – what next?

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Lecture date: Sun, 2nd Nov, 2014
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Points from our Scottish independence debate:

What happened, and prospects

Every age group from 16 – 54, apart (just) from 18 – 24 year olds, had a majority for independence: 59% of those between 25 – 34, for example. The YES vote was lost because only 27% of pensioners voted so.

The fond hope of the Establishment that the result would bring ‘closure’ looks to be false. An Ipsos Mori poll for STV in late October found that two-thirds of Scots want another referendum within 10 years and more than half want one within five. Alistair Darling, who led the Better Together Campaign, has predicted that this will happen unless the Scottish Labour Party halts the SNP.

A poll by YouGov held between 27 and 30 October has found that 52% of Scots would now vote YES. It also found that 43% of Labour supporters now back independence, with only 22% considering Labour represents their interests well against 65% who say it represents them badly. Darling’s hope looks forlorn, and his campaign presumption that he could speak for Labour voters en bloc, a counter-productive insult. The areas with the largest YES majorities were in the Central belt, which has the highest proportion of the poor and unemployed. The SNP now has a far larger membership than the Scottish Labour Party, which is running on empty, and whose leader has resigned.

Gordon Brown’s last minute pledge of ‘devo max’ cannot be kept by his party: dependent on Scots MPs in Westminster to form a government, it can’t countenance further devolution at the price of denying them the vote on English issues; the only fair outcome. The parliamentary committee tasked with formulating ‘devo’ proposals is stalled in consequence, and Labour will take the blame in Scotland. The supreme political twist of the knife is that UK Labour’s jibbing will cause them to lose the very Scots MPs they rely on at the next election. As the Italian Marxist Gramsci said, “The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born. In this interval a great variety of morbid symptoms appear”. The Labour pains – and parturition – look inevitable.

A recent successful split

The Czech Republic and Slovakia went their separate ways on 1st Jan 1993, after agonised talks over ‘devo max’ failed. Slovakia is especially relevant, having a similar population to Scotland’s 5.3 million. One reason for the split was Slovak antipathy towards privatisation; a unified government couldn’t be formed. Briefly, Slovakia has boomed: In 2013, the Economist Intelligence Unit forecast that Slovakia’s GDP will grow by 2.1% – three and a half times faster than the Czech Republic. Any traditional hostility between the populations, initially fomented by the split, is said to have evaporated: relations are said to be better than ever because of independence.

Duff arguments against

Most of the Commonwealth, with very different economies, participated in the Sterling Area, pegging their currencies to, or using, sterling until the UK devaluation in 1967. Many other blocs of countries have similar arrangements. The UK couldn’t prevent pegging of a currency to sterling. The largest factor in the NO vote was apparently a belief that the UK would bar the use of sterling; however it is unclear how: commerce would demand continuation. There is no real doubt that the EU would admit Scotland, whether or not it adopted the Euro. (Independence – ask, say, a Frenchman – does not vanish with a Currency Union. It still leaves scope for very different politics and budgetary priorities.) Ironically, the Scots might join as the rump UK left, and English companies wanting easy access to the EU market might migrate to
The risk of company migration from Scotland was a canard. The reasons for a company to trade in Scotland would be unchanged by independence. Migrating its place of residence is almost always caused by radical changes in a tax or regulatory regime affecting worldwide operations. The SNP know that, and they haven’t contemplated any change from UK tax rates that would be more significant than those that a UK government might bring, other than for oil, which is ‘take it or leave it’. All countries are prey to capital markets and demands for tax breaks in exchange for inward investment. Scottish independence would be no more ‘light’ than elsewhere in the world.
A bleat that the UK wants you to stay, was for the Left founded on fear of a perpetual Tory or a UKIP government, or further ‘Americanisation’. We should not begrudge the Scots removing themselves, but campaign for what we want in our own backyard.

So, what’s it all about? It doesn’t turn on economics, or ‘divvy-ing up’ assets or income flows.

The mix of Scottish political opinion (be it about Foreign & Defence policy, privatisation, the Monarchy, whatever) has diverged from that of the British Establishment consensus, but their representatives in the UK parliament are powerless there. Why turn up?

Devolution has given a measure of autonomy over many things that concern Scots, but what can be devolved by a UK Parliament can be taken away by the same, pleading a perceived need for uniformity or UK national priorities.

Scottish Government based on proportional representation is a healthier and more inclusive way of doing things, that is born of a fresh start. Vested interests will prevent it happening in UK parliamentary elections.

74% of the YES voters gave ‘disaffection with Westminster politics’ as a prime reason for their vote. They would rather have some prospect of a slightly more egalitarian society in Scotland, than no chance of it, on past and present evidence, from any UK government.

The consequent transformative effect: as the SNP put it, “A vote for independence will be the clearest possible declaration of confidence in ourselves and our nation. Independence will release a period of energy, effort and ambition which has the power to realise our hopes and expectations and transform our country.” Somewhat illusory, maybe; would that the UK as a whole, or its rump, had the same hope.

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Norman Bacrac

Norman Bacrac was first elected a Trustee of the Ethical Society several decades ago. He is also Editor of the Society’s monthly journal, Ethical Record. As a former physics teacher, he is particularly interested in the hard problem of how the physics of the brain generates conscious experiences, the role…