Tuesday, January 10, 2012

English liberals should also be worried about Scottish independence

It always pays to get other perspectives in an argument. When there were the riots back in August, some of the best coverage was from the "Daily Telegraph"; I may not have agreed with many of their opinions, but it was useful to know things from the other side of the coin.

With the Scottish referendum issue now in the news, it's easy to think that all politics centres around Westminster; that's certainly true when compared to the rest of England. I guess that most English people are pretty oblivious to Scottish concerns; that's understandable, when Scotland feels so inconsequential to the overall fate of the UK.
That may be so, but it also pays for British politicians in Westminster to actually pay attention to what Scottish people actually think, rather than just repeating the same mantra day in, day out, that England and Scotland have a "unique history together", and all that.

David Cameron and the rest of Westminster would do well to occasionally read "The Scotsman" newspaper, Scotland's version of "The Times". That way they might better understand what Scots actually think about London rule, and where the Scots see themselves. I recently read "The Scotsman" myself, and it's a real eye-opener.

For this reason, here's a plausible scenario that could lead to Scottish independence by default.

The UK government has declared that any referendum on independence should be only a "in-or-out" decision and of a time of London's choosing; they say that Salmond is using the referendum issue for his own political purposes, and is nothing more than a trickster; furthermore, from a legal point of view, only Westminster has the right to grant legally-binding referendums, so Salmond's unilateral referendum would be challenged in the Supreme Court.

Now, all this may well be true, but it cuts little ice in Scotland. Salmond points out, correctly, that the SNP had long ago said it would hold a referendum in the second half of this parliament, so they're merely sticking to the timetable they promised some years ago. And the Scottish people know this too. Furthermore, Salmond points out although the legal decision on the referendum may lie with London, this is essentially a Scottish question of sovereignty, not an English one. Scotland chose to join with England of her own free will; any right-minded person would see that they should have the right to leave of their own free will. Anything else would make England seem as an imperial power keen to cling on to one of its last remaining colonies (and give even more ammunition to Salmond).

Most Scots do not want independence; this is clear for now. However, the majority are in favour of further powers to Scotland short of independence. The UK government's decision to block any option to choose for Scots' preferred option of "Devo-max" is therefore unbelievably short-sighted. Not only that, but by denying Scots the powers they wish for, they may well, perversely, be more likely to support outright independence just out of spite.

As things stand, Salmond has declared he will plan for a referendum for 2014 anyway, regardless of Westminster's legal objections, and one with an independence and "devo-max" option. This kind of petty tit-for-tat over the legal smallprint of the referendum from Westminster only benefits Salmond; it's the UK government who look petty, not the SNP.
So the most likely result as things stand is an "illegal" unilateral referendum by the Scottish government in 2014 that with either result in a demand for outright independence, or something not far short of it.
Then the legal battle would commence between the UK and Scottish government in the Supreme Court, which would add only more to the rancour between Edinburgh and London, leaving the two parallel governments god knows where. And again, this would only benefit Salmond.
Alternatively, in the likely 2014 vote, Salmond may well have already easily persuaded Scots that the only way to prevent this kind of long and absurd legal battle in the Supreme Court is to vote for outright independence, therefore giving him the moral authority to demand talks with the UK government and be done with it. And this scenario is not exactly unlikely, as I said before: given the option of fighting a ridiculous legal battle for more Scottish sovereignty within the UK over a seemingly more straightforward independence, many Scots may well prefer the latter. Many sane people would, given the options.

So, let's say that it's now the summer of 2016; one year after a UK general election, and six months since Scottish independence.
Within the rest of the UK, the immediate political beneficiaries would be the Conservatives, as they have traditionally had a firm majority of the English seats over Labour. In fact, A UK without Scotland may well lock Labour from power almost permanently, as they usually could rely on their dominance in Scotland to offset any lack of support in England. In that sense, Labour have been a more "British" party than the Conservatives; since the Second World War, the Conservatives have lost more and more support outside of England, leaving them an almost entirely English party.

So the legacy that a vote for Scottish independence would create is also to bring out effectively the death-knell to the Labour party; it's support would be broken up across different countries, and Scotland's independence would only add further to calls for Welsh independence, Labour's other stronghold.
And where would that leave the English left-wing? Stuck in a country dominated by Tories, with England as a one-party-dominant state. The best thing for English liberals to do in this circumstance would be to emigrate to Scotland. Any Conservative Prime Minister would in this political climate be under even more pressure to show more "bulldog spirit" to Europe, with people more likely to vote "yes" on exiting the EU. And then we'd be in very interesting territory.

What's more, everything I've just talked about is not a flight of fancy; as I've explained, this is a very real possibility, as things stand. Just don't say I didn't warn you.

No comments:

Post a Comment