Tuesday, 18 February 2014
Bully for Scotland.
I have considerable sympathy with Alex Salmond's view that the forces of reaction are using "bully boy" tactics in the debate on Scottish independence. First there was the threat to take Royal Navy shipbuilding orders away from an"independent" Glasgow on the spurious grounds that we couldn't rely on a "foreign country" to supply our defence requirements; then the unanimous declaration by all three major British parties that an independent Scotland would not be able to keep the pound, no ifs, no buts, no discussion; and now a declaration by José Manuel Barroso that it would be "almost impossible" for an independent Scotland to be a member of the EU.
The first threat is a nonsense. We rely on the US for Trident (though many of us think it is a pointless waste of time and money) and I believe the British army still uses a Belgian rifle. I'm curious to know how Barroso was recruited to the "No" campaign: you'd think this was the sort of domestic argument in a member country that a civil servant would keep out of. It would be fair enough to say that membership would not be automatic and need to be negotiated, but clearly the EU would be desperate to retain the membership of a rich country like Scotland, even if only to obtain its supplies of whisky without paying customs duties.
Clearly the argument that a currency union between two countries is unworkable is absolute nonsense, given that across the Channel there's a currency union of 18 countries. I don't claim that the Eurozone is working without difficulties, but we can learn from their mistakes (notably the lack of a "lender of last resort," which sterling has and would continue to have in the Bank of England.) And it's worth remembering that when the Euro was created we British could buy one for 70.5p (£1= €1.42); today, according to this morning's news, we'd have to pay 82p (£1= €1.22). In other words since the creation of the Euro the £ has lost value compared with the it by 16%. Not all that wonderful a currency. (The loss of value of the £ of my childhood compared with the $US, when with reasonable accuracy we could refer to 5/- (25p) as a dollar, beggars belief.)
I regret that Salmond has not had the courage to stick to his original preference, which was for Scotland to join the Euro. I know that would be a very daring policy at the moment, but at least if Scotland joined it now, at the current exchange rate, they'd have the advantage of the rUK, who will doubtless come scurrying to join the currency within the next 20 years, by which time the pound will probably have reached parity with the Euro, a depreciation of of further 18%.
The irony is, of course, that this bullying, from Westminster in particular, will probably strengthen the "Yes" vote in Scotland. That would be the likely reaction of any sturdy Scot. Although the current polls still show a healthy majority in favour of the "Better Together " option, all the movement since the beginning of the campaign has been towards "Yes." An inept campaign by the "Yes" cause in the electoral reform referendum led to the overturning of a two to one majority in favour of reform. Inept campaigning by the "No" campaign could easily turn the majority against Scottish independence into a "Yes."
That would be a pity, because in my view the solution for the future of Scotland, and indeed the rest of the UK is not on the ballot paper. That is Home rule, or what is now called "Devo Max."
The Liberals tried to offer Home Rule to Ireland three times (1886, 1893 and 1912) and each time it was scuppered by the Tories (who, democratic, law-abiding, upright and patriotic as they claim to be, actually called upon the British Army to mutiny if the will of the Commons were implemented). This stupidity led to a century of bloodshed in Ireland, and that, indeed, may well not yet be over.
While similar dire consequences may not develop in Scotland whatever the outcome of the referendum, to me the ideal solution is for Scotland to have complete autonomy, including taxation, over domestic affairs, with the UK remaining responsible for foreign policy, defence, the currency, BBC and meteorological office. (I've always felt it a bit mean that the BBC no longer broadcasts the weather forecast for the Irish Republic.)
Similar devolution should be enacted for Wales and the English Regions - Liberal/Liberal Democrat policy for as long as I've been in the party, and we should be saying so loudly and clearly.
That would, of course, mean a parliament for England, which should be in York.
Post Script (added 19/02/14)
One of the fears among progressives about Scottish independence is that it would condemn the rest of the UK to a permanent Tory governments. Apparently this is not the case. A letter in the Guardian from Byron Criddle of Aberdeen University claims that: "Of the nine postwar elections after which Labour formed the government (1945, 1959, 1964, February and October 1974, 1997, 2001 and 2005) the party would without its Scottish MPs have had Commons majorities in all but the 1964 and the two 1974 elections." Well, that's some consolation if the Scots vote "Yes."