Sunday, 5 January 2014

To the Barricades!

Happy New Year

There was an interesting interview in the Guardian yesterday with the playright and author David Greig.

The subject matter is the Referendum and at the start the message is very much that he intends to vote Yes.

Reading the article as a whole however, you see that by his own admission he might yet change his mind. Now, if I was making a purely partisan point I might point out that this direct testimony gives a lie to the repeated suggestions by some on the Yes side that. while they might currently be behind, their vote is solid while ours is much softer. The reality is that, in addition to the genuine still don’t knows there are people on both sides at the moment who will vote differently come September 18th.

Logically, that is more a worry for the side currently ahead who would be content for politics to be preserved in aspic for the next 9 months. We’d then win comfortably. You don’t need to take my word for that, Nicola Sturgeon admitted as much in her interview with the BBC on January 2nd.

Of course we keep getting told that there will at some point be a game changer although interestingly in his most recent contribution the SNP strategist Stephen Noon was left relying on three suggestions none of which are now within the Nationalists control: UKIP doing (very) well in England (but not in Scotland) at the European elections; the Tories looking likely to win the 2015 UK General Election and the eventual improved Devolution offer from the “UK Parties” failing to excite.

I want to deal briefly with the first two of these points before turning to the third, that being my main topic today.

I’m not really convinced the European elections will have much of an impact on either Scottish or British politics. Otherwise, simply put, a lot more people would be intending to vote in them. I suspect the only real consequence for of UKIP doing well will be in relation to the internal cohesion of the Tories. And the only result of that will be to increase Labour’s 2015 prospects.

Even that aside, it is simply inconceivable that by September 2014 it will look “likely” that the Tories will win in May 2015. That’s not because a Tory victory will by then be impossible, although various UK demographic and systemic issues certainly don’t help them.  It is simply be because at eight months distance nobody will know the “likely” outcome in 2015. Insofar as some think that the possibility of a Tory victory makes them inclined to vote Yes, they have made that decision already. The best Yes Scotland can hope is that continued uncertainty allows them to hold on to that vote.

The third element is more interesting however. Some already fully intending to vote Yes will of course declare on the announcement of the proposals that they are so disappointed that it has made their final decision for them. Others already inclined to No will seize upon even the most minor movement as justifying the decision of their already faint hearts without (alleged) embarrassment. But I take Mr Greig at his word when he suggests that their might be some voters who will decide on their Referendum vote only when the final devolution offer is known.

So what might it be?  Well I've written about what it could be at its maximum already. But it won’t be that, not least because a subsequent conversation with Professor Jim Gallacher has persuaded even me that the assignation of VAT wouldn’t be in Scotland’s own interest given the “head office” effect.

It will instead, I suspect, be all income tax, probably geographic taxes like Air Passenger Duty and (not insignificantly) Inheritance Tax. And on benefits not much more than Housing Benefit, which should have been devolved anyway in 1998. And there will be a few extra legal bones thrown in such as all Road Traffic Law and the Misuse of Drugs Act.

But none of this will be ”Independence”. It will still, on any view, involve a common UK foreign and defence policy and a common macro economic strategy (although, arguably, the current White Paper offer, based on a common currency, also implies the latter, just without us having any say in it). It also won’t involve a flag or an anthem. Clearly therefore it won’t be of interest to diehard Nationalists.

So, if David Greig, and others, still need to know our offer before making their mind up then they should make their mind up now. This has never been about constitutional technicalities. It has always been a choice between being participants in our own destiny or merely waving “our own flag” while,  in relation to more important matters,  being mere pawns in the calculations of England, a much larger  “foreign” Country forming a physical and intellectual barrier between us and the rest of the world. That is the choice in 2014 as much as it was the choice in 1707.

Maddest of mad Nationalists aside, does anybody, looking  back, think that we made the wrong call in 1707? That the Empire that we then built together wasn’t to our mutual advantage or that its ultimate sacrifice in the defeat of Nazism wasn’t to our mutual credit? That, even today, the BBC or the NHS or our command of the world’s language are nothing to be proud of? That it would be better if there had been no Perth, Western Australia or Hamilton, Ontario? No David Livingston or Mary Slessor? No Scottish Enlightenment or Clyde Shipbuilding industry? No Keir Hardie to found the Labour Party or Manny Shinwell to serve in its greatest government?

Well, actually, undoubtedly, some do. Some who think that we should just look after ourselves and hope that the world just leaves us alone in the process. Contrary to the re-writing of history currently being undertaken, Scottish Nationalism was not devised as a reaction to Mrs Thatcher. Nationalists were nationalists while we were engaged between 1939 and ’45 in a life or death struggle for the very future of civilisation. (An “English war” in which they believed no Scot should be obliged to take part). And they were still nationalists when the 45-51 Labour Government was building the modern welfare state, bizarrely contesting the Paisley by-election in 1948 with Tory support and on a platform of abolishing the (British) NHS! And they were still nationalists when they conspired to defeat Jimmy Reid in Dundee East in 1979 by running the most vicious of red smear campaigns.  They have but few real principles: Parochialism and isolationism, bound together with the glue of grudge and grievance. And leopards don’t change their spots.

And, so, in the end, those who would sign up for that for want of a specific devolution scheme to their liking should maybe just get on and vote Yes. This is not an argument about constitutional niceties. It is an existential struggle over your world view.  A certainty that over three hundred years Scotland and England together has proved a better bet than we here standing alone in self imposed isolation, looking on at events. Let that be the terms of the argument and then let’s get this done.

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