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This is not a blog which expresses instant opinions on current events. It rather uses incidents, books (old and new), links and papers as jumping-off points for some reflections about our social endeavours.
So old posts are as good as new! And lots of useful links!

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Drifting Apart

There’s less than 6 months to go to the referendum on Scottish independence. The wind is in the sails of those who want to cut loose from England…..a few months back those disposed to vote “Yes” to the question about independence  accounted for only a third of the electorate . Thanks to what is widely seen as bully tactics by those with political and financial power, those in favour of independence are now within a few points of those disposed to say no.
My father was Scottish; my mother English. I left Scotland 24 years ago but still strongly identify with the social democratic ethic of the nation (and it is – and always has been – a nation, with its own legal, religious and educational sovereignty). The different culture is evident from the fact that only one Conservative politician (out of 75) represents a Scottish seat in Westminster. And all Scots are increasingly alienated from a neoliberal Coalition Government which has been in power since 2010 in London. The Scottish Parliament and Government (Executive) which has been in power in Edinburgh since 1999 has differentiated itself strongly from that ideology – not least since the Scottish Nationalist gained an overall majority in 2007. But is this alienation a sufficient reason to cut off the ties with England which we’ve had since 1707?

As an ex-pat who has no vote (no residence) who follows the various discussion threads, I am amazed at the self-confidence of all who take part. Where is the agnosticism and scepticism which such a portentous issue requires…..??
Donald Rumsfeld is not normally someone I would quote, but his comment about “unknown unknowns” deserves respect and understanding.  In all the discussion, I have seen no serious attempt to develop different political, fiscal and social scenarios for Scotland let alone England.

It is obvious that a highly- developed country of 5 million people could operate as a nation state – there are about 40 members of the United Nations and a quarter of EU member states with smaller populations.
The real questions are more on the following lines -
·       How independence would affect the dynamics of trade, currency and investment (public and private) in Scotland - and in the residual (disunited) Kingdom
·       With different scenarios for relations with Europe and the Euro
·       What precise additional benefits will independence give which the traditional and post 1999 measures of Devolution don’t
·       How these benefits measure against the risks suggested in the first two sets of questions….    

At the personal level, I face a future where 2 of my daughters would have passports from a different country; in which I’m not even sure what form my 2015 passport (and driving license) will take; nor in which denomination my (yet unclaimed) pension will be paid. All minor nuisances, I readily agree, compared with the anguishes of migrants in the Europe of the first half of the 20th century......

One of the few discussions which reflects my concerns was on the site of the Royal Society of Edinburgh -
However, there is much that Scots currently take for granted, aspects of good government at the micro-level, that might be threatened by independence. Will an independent Scottish state have to replicate the entire panoply of government ministries and public agencies, many of which benefit from economies of scale and are run – relatively speaking – cheaply and smoothly as British-wide institutions? How much would it cost Scotland, for instance, to set up its own equivalent of the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency at Swansea or, alternatively, to contract in to it from outside the United Kingdom? In other areas of public administration, the costings will be more elusive. By contrast with the humdrum and unspectacular efficiency of the DVLA, the BBC provides a compelling example of a widely loved service, whose broadcasting role in Scotland would be precarious in the event of independence.Moreover, notwithstanding coded talk of a ‘social union’, welfare and pensions are, of course, likely to be even touchier subjects for Scots. Unionists need to capture for themselves the rhetoric of social union.Obviously, matters of public administration and the distribution of benefits do not capture the imagination of the wider public in the same way as centuries of grievances – or imagined grievances – concerning the overbearing behaviour of a richer and more powerful neighbour.
Nevertheless, such is the complexity of modern society that an interlocking set of effective UK-wide bureaucracies – however dull and uninspiring a subject for campaign slogans – is not to be lightly jettisoned without overwhelming good cause.
The House of Commons Select Committee on Scottish Affairs is chaired by an ex-colleague of mine who was notorious all of 30 years ago for his duplicity and who does not seem to have improved much with his added years. This site gives an insight, however, into the seriousness with which that committee at least has taken the issue of separation and this evidence gives a sense of how the economic aspects are being explored


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