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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!

Friday, April 11, 2014

Slipping - or sleeping?

The metaphors we use in our speech betray our political anxieties. During the Cold War, the talk was of “the domino effect” as fears were stoked of country after country collapsing into communism. In the 1970s, when the idea of a Scottish Parliament was on the cards, the talk was of “the slippery slope” such a concession offered to Independence.

In the event, the domino pieces collapsed in the opposite direction – it was communism which fell.
But, thanks to the Labour Government of 1997-2010, the Parliament (and Scottish Executive) was eventually established - in 1999 after a successful referendum in 1997. Its electoral system was designed to be more consensual than the Westminster one – and coalition government (Lib-Lab) duly became the order of the day – despite the scale then of the Labour vote. A stronger Committee system was also created in Parliament to encourage a more open and inclusive system of policy-making. 

All of this has helped shape a positive view of the political process in Scotland which is in sharp contrast with the cynicism and anger one finds amongst the English public.
From 2007 a minority Nationalist government has been in power in Scotland – controlling the 60% of public spending in the country which the Scottish government controls. And in 2011 Scottish voters were duly persuaded to give the Nationalists enough seats to form a majority government. 
A year later, after an intensive process of deliberation in both parliaments a major Bill was passed (with Nationalists taking no part and abstaining in the vote). The Bill extended the powers of the Scottish government – although few voters understand that since they will not be implemented (if at all) until after the referendum of September.   

The “slippery slope” may have turned out to be remarkably free from stress or dangerous falls but is still looking dangerous. As the Notes from Britain blog put it last summer -
        What is remarkable in the present state of the independence argument is the vast extent to which those leading the Yes camp are deliberately playing down the very core idea of independence: namely, that Scotland would be going it alone, as her own new State.
In a speech in the summer, the First Minister made a very curious statement which totally played down the significance of independence – he said that Scotland is currently a member of six unions and that of these it is just the one from which he wishes a divorce. This one is the political and economic union with the rest of the United Kingdom.
         An independent Scotland “will continue to participate fully in five unions”, said Mr Salmond: (1) the European Union, (2) NATO’s defence union, (3) a currency union, (4) the Union of the Crowns, and (5) the “social union between the people of these isles” (whatever that means).
         Mr Salmond’s new-found, five-fold Unionism is highly fanciful.
·         While I have little doubt about his commitment to wishing to remain in the EU, that doesn’t make him a Unionist.
·         His NATO policy is new, hated by at least half his own party, and likely to be highly contentious within NATO given the SNP’s determination to rid Scotland of nuclear weapons.
·         His unreliable assertions on the currency union were exposed months ago as something which the rest of the UK would not be able to sign up to without imposing on Scotland the sorts of fiscal constraints that would make her more dependent on London, not more independent (the fiscal crises of southern EU states has demonstrated the design flaw at the heart of the euro).
·         His use of the seventeenth-century phrase, the Union of the Crowns, is anachronistic and inaccurate: what he proposes is that an independent Scotland would become a 17th realm within the Commonwealth (Her Majesty the Queen is currently Head of State in 16 countries around the world).
·         And what this amorphous phrase the “social union” is supposed to mean is anyone’s guess.
One independent blogger put it rather well when he commented that  -
Having listened to the position of those who favour Scottish independence I have reached the view that they are not arguing for independence but for autonomy within some greater union which protects Scotland and its economy. I have yet to hear any voice demanding true independence.
It was only in November that the Scottish Government leaders issued the much-heralded White Paper on Scotland’s future. It may have looked focused (with 500 questions) and well-researched (with 670 pages) but most of it is “aspirational” – with everything depending on what will clearly be hard-fought negotiations.  About such things as the scale of public debt to be taken by an independent country; what will happen to the pound; and the terms of entry to NATO and the EU.

The efforts which have been made by “unionists” these past few weeks to indicate the risks associated with such uncertainties have, as I indicated at the time, been totally counter-productive.

The problem is that public figures supporting the unionist argument have no credibility. They belong to a political class which is now totally despised – belonging as it does either to rich upper-class, neo-liberal “Conservatives”; despised New Labourites who sold out, under Bliar, to neo-liberalism; or to Liberals who have proved more neo-liberal than them all. 
And the elevation of so many Labour MPs to the House of Lords – such as The Noble Lord, Baron Robertson of Port Ellen, The Noble Lord, Baron Reid of Cardowan, The Noble Baroness, Lady Liddell of Coat Dyke and The Noble Lord,Baron McConnell of Glenscorrodale  – now gives even them a foreign and feudal air which does not sit well in these populist times. Robertson's recent speech is a classic example. One is tempted to say to him what Atlee famously said to Harold Laski in the late 1940s -  "a period of silence on your part would be welcome".
As the "yes" vote swells, it seems almost as if there is no longer anyone serious left to fight!

The “slippery slope” is no more, it seems. The ground is more level - and therefore even more dangerous to “sleepwalkers”

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