Tag Archives: Arguments against the Union

Promises of Additional Powers and the Fire that Didn’t Go Out

It might be tempting to think that the latest promise of additional powers for the Scottish Parliament would deliver the reality that the unionist parties consider to be best for Scotland – a stronger Scottish Parliament within a secure and stable United Kingdom.

Note that until this last minute promise was made, we had been led to believe that the best of both worlds for Scotland was a strong (not a stronger!) Scottish Parliament within a secure and stable United Kingdom. We already had it, we just didn’t appreciate it.

So which is it? Probably neither. It is difficult to understand how the Scottish Parliament could be strong at all when the United Kingdom Parliament retains the right to legislate on any devolved matter it wishes, let alone dissolve the Scottish Parliament within a matter of days if it felt the need to do so.

The offer of additional powers is just a cynical move designed to discourage the people of Scotland from reclaiming sovereignty, without which the notion of a strong Scottish Parliament is an illusion. A strong Scottish Parliament would be a permanent institution serving a sovereign people; that cannot happen inside the constitutional set up of the United Kingdom and there is no point pretending otherwise.

(For example, this is why the unionist rebuttal of the Scottish Government’s warning that the NHS can only be protected within the written constitution of an independent Scotland is misleading – it doesn’t matter if the NHS is fully devolved or not when the United Kingdom Government can still legislate on any devolved matter it wishes to.)

Alex Salmond is a very clever politician and like most clever politicians he often indulges in the type of spin and rhetoric that leaves even the most able opponent unsure if they are coming or going. Despite that, I think he is absolutely spot on this time. The last minute promise of additional powers for the Scottish Parliament is a sign of panic in Westminster.

I remember someone warning me once that you should never turn your back on a fire. You would never know for definite that it had gone out. A fire of discontent has been smouldering across working class communities in Scotland ever since Thatcher dismantled Scottish industry in the 1980’s and used North Sea oil revenues to subsidise this devastating programme of decline.

Successive United Kingdom Governments have had an opportunity to extinguish it once and for all, but instead they all chose to ignore it. A last minute promise of additional powers will only appeal to those too wealthy to have been affected by Westminster’s negligence in the first place, or to those too spooked by the perceived risk of constitutional change. For the rest of us, hopefully the majority of us, that particular fire didn’t go out.

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Ironic Interventions

Ironically, the Prime Minister of Canada, Stephen Harper, is the latest leader of an independent country to express concern over the prospect of Scotland becoming independent from the United Kingdom. Barack Obama and Tony Abbott have made similarly ironic interventions in recent months. Their collective view is that an independent Scotland would not serve ‘greater global interests’.

Whilst there are bound to be several reasons for this, we may hazard a guess that the crux would be an independent Scotland’s commitment to removing the United Kingdom’s nuclear deterrent from Scottish waters. This would force the United Kingdom to unilaterally disarm for an unspecifiable period of time, thereby ‘threatening global security’ and upsetting the existing international order.

There is also the concern that a diminished United Kingdom would not retain the same standing within the European Union, which would have an impact on the United States’ ability to strategically influence defence and economic decision making within a major supranational institution it cannot directly control.

Finally, the loss of softer powers; it has also been suggested that the United Kingdom would lose a degree of credibility in promoting itself as a model of democracy and justifying some of its military interventions in other regions of the world on that basis.

How could it hold onto that platonic ideal when one of the primary reasons cited for becoming an independent country is that the United Kingdom’s constitutional arrangement delivers a permanent democratic deficit for the people of Scotland, with unjust consequences.

An inability to block the imposition of immoral and discriminatory welfare policies, to reject involvement in illegal wars, or simply to have the government you choose, is hardly the sign of a society that considers itself to be a beacon of democracy, personal freedom and social justice.

Scottish independence would be an opportunity to rethink the relationship between the elected Government and the people governed; it would be an opportunity to reconnect economics with morality, and place universal welfare and social justice at the heart of our political and economic decision making. It might sound too fantastical to believe, but only because we have been conditioned into thinking that way.

More than that, it would be an opportunity to usher in a new era of confidence in Scotland, as a country that is perfectly entitled to enjoy the very same rights that Canadians, Americans and Australians have enjoyed since becoming independent countries. Scotland is an innovative, intelligent and resourceful country that is perfectly capable of negotiating its own way in the world. Successfully.

The United Kingdom Government should be berating itself for refusing to respond earlier to the level of frustration and discontent within Scotland, and other parts of the United Kingdom for that matter, with regards to the political weaknesses, and economic failures, of the union. Had it done so, it may have been able to avoid a late surge in favour of a Yes vote in two weeks’ time.

The union does not deliver what it purports to deliver, nor could it without fundamental reform. As some unionist political commentators have repeatedly warned, the biggest threat to the continued existence of the United Kingdom is not Alex Salmond, but the union itself.

The people of Scotland should not be influenced into rejecting independence by self-interested world leaders, when the objective of independence is to achieve what is no longer achievable for Scotland within the United Kingdom.

If the choice is between serving the ‘greater global interests’ of manipulative, corrupt, self-obsessed, power hungry military superpowers – the United Kingdom included – or having the full range of powers to address the economic, social, moral and cultural needs and interests of the people of Scotland, whether Scotland should become an independent country should not even be a doubt in anyone’s mind.  



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Questions For Darling

In what respect is it better for Scotland that the people who live and work here do not have the right to make every key decision that affects the way we live our lives in this country?

Why is it better for Scotland that we have a permanent democratic deficit with respect to UK Government elections and are never guaranteed to get the UK Government that we choose?

Why is it better for Scotland that the Westminster Parliament holds absolute sovereignty over Scotland and the Scottish Parliament remains a non-permanent institution that could be abolished in a matter of days if the UK Government decided it wanted to do so?

Why is it better for the people of Scotland that billions upon billions of pounds are wasted annually on weapons of mass destruction and fighting illegal wars, rather than tackling child poverty, homelessness and creating meaningful and long term employment opportunities for school leavers, graduates and the rest of our workforce?

Why is it better that the people of Scotland are subject to the UK Government’s stigmatising, destructive and socially divisive welfare and immigration policies, rather than being able to shape our own immigration policies to suit our different demographic profile and economic needs, and our own socially inclusive and universal approach to welfare?

Why is it better for the people of Scotland that the UK Government dictates that Trident is kept in Scottish waters against our will and within close proximity of Scotland’s largest city?

Why is it better for the people of Scotland that we are forced to subsidise the cost of major UK infrastructure projects such as HS2 when the majority of the benefit will be reaped by the City of London, whilst corporation and income tax are effectively rendered optional for multinational businesses and the wealthy elite?

How can it be better for Scotland that the UK government exploited Scotland’s oil wealth to subsidise UK debt and failed to invest a single penny of it in a fund to create a more prosperous future for the people of Scotland?  

In what sense is it better for the people of Scotland that our key decisions are taken for us by a government that has a track record of deceiving the people of Scotland with regard to its oil resources, used Scotland as a guinea pig for unpopular Tory policies and cheated the people of Scotland out of home rule in 1979?

If invited, would you be willing to help negotiate the terms of separation from the UK in the event that Scotland decides to become an independent country, and if so which currency option would you consider to be the right one for an independent Scotland if, as you insist, a currency union is guaranteed not to happen?

Why did David Cameron make a sneaky visit to Shetland this month?  





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Wisdom, Justice, Compassion and Integrity

The principle that moderate levels of economic inequality encourage growth may hold true in many cases.

However in the United Kingdom, one of the most unequal societies in the developed world, doing nothing to tackle the very high levels of inequality that exist has encouraged the emergence of a society riddled with extremely hard to shift social problems.

The longer it goes on this way – the United Kingdom government will never dismantle the economic and political frameworks that brought us to this point – the less likely things are to get better. So we need to ask the question, seriously, in what respect is Scotland better remaining part of the United Kingdom, when the United Kingdom has been in social and moral decline for generations?

It is one thing to trumpet the temporary trackers of economic success, such as low interest rates, low inflation and low unemployment, as Alistair Carmichael, Secretary of State for Scotland, did today; it is fine to talk about the security, stability and certainty that being part of a larger and more diversified economy offers; but it should never, ever be forgotten that these are the very conditions that have conspired to conceal the true extent of the corporate greed, fraudulent trading and immoral practices that have been propelling the United Kingdom forward for years.

Independence would not be a magic wand, nor does anyone seriously believe that; furthermore, even if an independent Scotland were able to build a new society in which economics and politics had not been granted permanent exit from the moral space of reasons, as is the case in the United Kingdom, other new social problems would be likely to emerge in the future to take place of the old ones.

It is worth reminding ourselves that economic inequality and social injustice, to the extent that we experience them today, are not inevitable, except within states and societies that consciously choose to organise themselves in certain ways; the United Kingdom is an excellent example of that way of organising things.

Although not a quick fix, independence could create the right conditions for Scotland to positively redefine itself and start to eradicate many of our existing social problems. This should not sound too good to be true, but it does. Why is that?

It is partly because we lack the belief that we could be doing so much better as a country, and there are some unscrupulous politicians within the Better Together campaign who are desperate to keep us feeling that way; but largely because some of our most basic economic beliefs and social values are partly constituted by the politically manufactured institutions that have been stubbornly holding the United Kingdom together well beyond its sell by date.

Regrettably, many of us are now at a point where we can no longer make a confident judgement about the authenticity of the beliefs we hold and can no longer recognise that the source of our social values is to be found within the complex web of capitalism, consumerism, cronyism, corruption, elitism, entitlement and greed, that sits immediately behind the façade of security, stability and certainty (the very things we are being asked to choose by the Better Together campaigners!).

Disdain for those living in poverty and needing government help, because they are bone idle and have become an unaffordable drain on our economy; suspicion of those unable to work due to illness, because they are a burden on our elitist society, and probably at it; fear of increasing integration into the European Union, because Westminster would not be able to call the shots and because it permits immigrants employment rights and benefits we would rather they did not have.

Making life as comfortable as possible for corrupt bankers and financiers because their skills are vital to the prosperity of the City of London and elitism is economically efficient; invading other countries because military intervention is required to deliver them a modern democracy similar to our one.

These are politically manufactured bull shit British attitudes.

They are dangerous and manipulative, but they have served an important purpose for successive United Kingdom governments. The question is: do we just keep going along with them because we don’t yet know which currency we will use in an independent Scotland, or how long it would take to process our application to join the EU? Are you being serious?

There is no disguising the fact that many of the institutions we consider to be supremely and quintessentially British were created to justify the United Kingdom’s imperialistic thinking, whilst many others now exist to encourage us to remain subconsciously wedded to the false and damaging world view created in Westminster, and unashamedly promoted by its band of job’s worth politicians, including the ones living it up in Holyrood and still pretending to care, really care, about economic equality and social justice.

It is this world view that still underpins the union today and is the reason why so many of our deep rooted social problems remain, despite all of the showy efforts to tackle them through the use of meaningless initiatives, such as David Cameron’s ‘Big Society’. British politicians have forgotten what the concepts of social justice and equality actually mean, despite their rhetoric to the contrary.

Westminster’s puppets in Holyrood are keen to argue that the Scottish Government already has the powers it needs to eradicate the high levels of inequality we have in this country; it just chooses not to use them. But that is an illusion. It is too simplistic to think this way. Eradicating inequality cannot be achieved by exercising more of the powers we have at our disposal. Nor would further devolution achieve this. It would just be more of the same way of thinking, within the same set of restrictions and the same end results.

What Scotland needs is the confidence and the creativity to think differently about how it organises itself, and the boldness to return economics and politics to their rightful place within the moral space of reasons.

Independence would not solve all of our problems quickly; but it would offer an opportunity to start again, on Scotland’s terms, and with wisdom, justice, compassion and integrity at the heart of what we are trying to achieve.

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Scotland’s Unfinished Business

I have just finished reading Henry McLeish’s interesting new book, ‘Scotland the Growing Divide’.

In it he develops a strong argument in favour of Scotland remaining within the United Kingdom.

But unlike the majority of fear mongering politicians who are firmly entrenched in the ‘Better Together campaign’, McLeish does not feel the need to question Scotland’s economic worth as a stand-alone nation, nor belittle its potential value to the international community.

Despite the fact that McLeish describes Westminster’s relationship with Scotland in less than positive terms, he nonetheless argues that the best future for Scotland is one in which it remains within the United Kingdom – however, not under the present constitutional arrangement.

McLeish believes that status quo Unionism and Independence are divisive scenarios. He believes that they are not the only options open to the people of Scotland and that we should start thinking immediately about exploring a ‘third way’.

His position is that he truly believes in the United Kingdom, whilst at the same time he acknowledges that the current constitutional arrangement is not fit for purpose and must adapt if it is to survive.

McLeish believes that more a federal style of government would better serve the nations that make up the United Kingdom. Rather than repeal the Treaty of Union, he would rather see it reformed in a manner that goes beyond devolution into an arrangement of shared power, taking Scotland towards ‘a more radical form of home rule’.

It is a very interesting and worthwhile argument. It is a suggestion to the people of Scotland that independence in the traditional sense promoted by the SNP isn’t the only option if we want to be much more fully responsible for our own future, whilst preserving some of the real benefits of being part of the United Kingdom.

But at the same time it is also a warning to the rigid unionist thinkers that their unwillingness to countenance any challenge to Westminster’s absolute sovereignty could be the very thing that destroys the United Kingdom in the longer term.

It is difficult to argue with this line of argument. It presents a compelling alternative to the two options on the table at the moment. It makes sense, but it describes a state of affairs that would be unlikely to gather sufficient support within the context of our current political thinking.

There is no denying that the Union will have to adapt if it is to survive. There is no denying that old style British politics and the absolute sovereignty of Westminster are out of date and causing more problems than they are solving. And there is no denying that the current constitutional arrangement no longer works for Scotland.

The majority of unionist thinkers are simply burying their heads in the sand about it; whereas the ones who are fully aware of it are trying hard to convince us that the status quo is in our best interests. They don’t want to adapt. Their ‘better together’ campaign underlines that fact with gusto.

I genuinely cannot see ‘the third way’ materialising. Politics is too much of a game; politicians and their party sponsors have too much to lose on a personal level if things change in a manner that doesn’t suit their private agendas. There is just not enough honesty in British politics, nor enough progressive thinking, to make it happen.

The idea of sharing sovereignty is not compatible with Westminster’s reason for being, and I doubt it ever will be without the type of wholesale and radical reform of British politics that would shock the entire country into a new way of thinking and working – and that is precisely what we need, according to McLeish.

For my part, I would still prefer to pursue complete independence in the traditional sense, even if the United Kingdom did manage to shock itself out of its constitutional slumber and McLeish’s third way became a real option (attractive as it may be for many people not yet convinced about the benefits of independence, yet struggling with the thought of remaining part of a rigid union that has failed Scotland for generations).

Devolution was described by John Smith as Scotland’s unfinished business.

That can mean different things to different people. To me it is simple. It means we have had a standing commitment since the 1997 Referendum to ensure that Scotland’s progression to independence would be achieved within our life time.

2014 is our opportunity to finish that business. For the future of our country.

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