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."


  1. The motivation for Barroso's intervention was surely that the EU does not welcome existing Member States splitting up: Scotland could be followed by Catalonia, Flanders, Padania...Such splits do raise complex institutional issues in the transition that the SNP is understating. As regards a new currency union, shouldn't England and Wales have a referendum to decide if they want to join?

  2. I bow to your superior knowledge of European politics, but the story told here is that, for example, the Spanish government is quite relaxed about Scottish independence and regards Catalonia as a total different case.

    I think the philosophy behind the EU is that functions should be carried out at the most appropriate level. Clearly issues such as trading rules, international crime, climate change, pollution etc need to be dealt with at supranational level: other functions at national, regional or local level. To my mind it shouldn't really matter to the EU whether there are two national governments in Britain or one (or three, if the Welsh want to assert their nationality.)

    As for a referendum in the rUK as to whether or not to continue with sterling without Scotland, as you know I'm not in favour of referendums at all: they have no place in a representative democracy. Unfortunately once they're introduced they spread like the measles, and there's really a strong case for the whole of the UK voting on Scottish independence.

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