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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!

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Scotland's Default Position?

The last few posts, I realise, have not actually added much to the sum of understanding on this thorny issue of Scottish “Separation” - a more honest term, for me, than “independence”. Noone aspires to dependence – but separation is a tortuous process, generally involving painful choices and difficult negotiations.

The Scottish Government of the past 6-7 years has had a very good press but is now, for me, pushing its credibility - and that of the notion of independence - to the limits.
·       The Scottish nationalists (for such they call themselves) refused to play any part in the decade-long process which led to the honouring by the Labour Government in 1997 of its promise to give the Scottish people a referendum on Scottish Devolution. They simply jumped on the bandwagon which duly delivered a resounding yes vote then - and the Scottish Parliament in 1999. And the same was true after 2007 when various commissions set up by other political parties reported on the feasibility of further powers; and Bills were debated and enacted. The nationalists sat on the sidelines.  Verily they have had it so easy!
·       In 2011 they became the majority government and were able for the first time to talk seriously about a referendum on independence – which would not then have suited them. Westminster could have been difficult (in ruling, for example, that the power to hold such a referendum fell outside the “devolved” powers) but the terms of agreement on how such a referendum would be conducted were concluded remarkably easily- in “the Edinburgh Agreement” of October 2012 giving the Scottish Parliament the power to pose a single option question in a referendum - which would be held before the end of 2014. No sweat for the nationalists.    
·       They argued in the November 2013 White Paper that little would change – neither the pound nor membership of the European Union or NATO. British Government and EC responses have suggested otherwise. While I accept there is a lot of “grandstanding” going on (particularly on EU membership), it is clear that there could be no monetary union with England. If the euro crisis has demonstrated anything, it is that that there can be no shared currency without fiscal union. The choice is then a Scottish pound (backed by a National Bank, debt recycling and currency fluctuations) or the euro.  

It was the Labour and Liberal politicians who controlled the Scottish Parliament from 1999-2007 who gave the Scottish Government its distinctive policies – eg of “social justice” and community empowerment; free residential care for the elderly (when in England they are charged 300 pounds a week); free university tuition (when in England they are charged 9,000 pounds a year); almost free drug treatment; health services remaining in the public domain while the subject of profit in England; community ownership of rural land. No sweat for the nationalists.

To be fair to the party which is called the “Scottish Nationalist” party, they have become more left-wing as the Labour Party became more right-wing. They have indeed inherited the mantle of social democracy.
That is what has changed in the past decade. The Scottish people – a social democratic nation – feel betrayed by the Labour Party; and have no confidence in the ideology it shows south of the border.  

The left-wingers in Scotland now part of the yes movement believe this is a unique opportunity to salvage the post-1945 settlement so badly savaged by Margaret Thatcher. Small Scandinavian nations have shown that this is possible – particularly if, like Norway, they have oil and have set up Oil Funds and tax regimes to ensure that the benefits flow to future generations. But oil revenue is now declining sharply…… 

Germany has shown the benefits which  federal system brings. Patently Scotland has very different traditions and culture from the rest of Britain. The majority of Scots would chose to remain in a Federal system - but have not been offered that option. There is a huge risk they will leave by default!  
The New York Review of Books had a useful article last month which summarised the mood and arguments nicely. And this neutral post from an English sociologist is a superb take on the wider British context which gives so many Scots the inclination to go it alone.

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