Tag Archives: Better Together Campaign

If the Union Still Exists in 2044…

If there were any lingering doubts over whether the Scottish Government would be better placed than the United Kingdom Government to be the ultimate decision maker with respect to Scotland, I think the release of Government files from 1984 should help to draw that particular debate to a close.

http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/news/prem-highlights-1984.htm

To my mind, it is not just a question of which set of politicians would be more skilled at managing Scotland’s economy and more understanding of the circumstances and problems that are unique to Scotland; it is also a question of general trustworthiness, and whether there is any credibility at all in the stories that can be heard echoing around the gilded halls of Westminster.

The United Kingdom Government has form. A series of apologies for despicable lies, appalling policies and immoral practices, some of which were covered up, whilst others were simply spun in more appealing directions, has left the honesty and integrity of the politicians and ministers in whom we have entrusted our country over the years in serious doubt. I listed a couple of them in an earlier post:

https://liamconway.wordpress.com/2012/09/13/all-the-truth-in-the-world-adds-up-to-one-big-lie/

There is also the additional question of whether the common thread running through the years has been Westminster’s inability to reconcile its obligation to act in the best interest of all of the constituent countries of the United Kingdom simultaneously, with its relentless drive to keep pace with the real super powers of the modern world.

(For example, weapons of mass destruction are kept in Scottish waters, not because it is in Scotland’s best interest that they are there, but because it suits the United Kingdom Government’s global agenda, and Faslane is sufficiently far away from the more densely populated areas in South East England that fewer lives would be endangered should something go wrong!)

It is a miscalculated ambition. It is an inconsistent proposition. Westminster simply cannot relinquish its supremacy without dismantling the United Kingdom as we currently understand it and the relentless drive to salvage something resembling global power and status from the wreckage of its glorious empire has never left the psyche of its politicians schooled in this way of thinking.

Consequently, the motives behind some of the decisions taken in the name of national interest are frequently buried in the tangled mess of conflicting local responsibilities (which are also completely at odds with each other across different parts of the United Kingdom and rarely understood) and global ambitions, with the economic and social damage more likely to sit locally than anywhere else.

The choice Scotland faces in September this year is the choice between which Government is best placed to serve the interests of Scotland and get the best out of our people and our natural resources.

It is essential that trustworthiness figures at the heart of that debate, but trustworthiness is rarely a defining characteristic of a Government that is more interested in concealing its real decisions behind lies, spin and propaganda, in order that it can retain its absolute authority from a distance over local affairs it understands very little about, whilst recklessly pursuing its global ambitions with impunity, using our wealth and in our name.

The United Kingdom Government was not designed to get the best out of Scotland in the first place. There is little to be gained by pretending otherwise now. In the event that the union survives the referendum in September, it would be very interesting to see the reaction of those who had been persuaded by the propaganda and spin of the Better Together Campaign when the 2014 Government files are made public in 2044.

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Nietzsche Versus Darling on Scottish Independence

The philosophical concept of eternal recurrence is a complex one. Friedrich Nietzsche used it to put forward an interesting hypothesis about the existential plight of human beings.

His aim was to capture the idea that we could be forever locked into a fatalistic cycle of continually recurring events. There are times when life comes close to feeling like that; most of the time British politics feels exactly like that – the former Chancellor, Alistair Darling might be able to shed some light on that.

But first Nietzsche, who invited us to imagine how awful and frightening it would be to suddenly realise that everything that had already happened to us in this world would happen over and over again, down to the minutest detail, with no variation and no opportunity to escape.

In Nietzsche’s fatalistic scenario, it would take an exceptional person to recognise that this is what human existence was like. Rather than fall into a state of despair, his superior strength of mind would enable him to embrace eternal recurrence and learn to love his fate.

We don’t need to be fatalists nowadays to appreciate why eternal recurrence might actually seem like a comforting idea to many people. Not necessarily in a metaphysical sense, but in an everyday sense that captures the belief that our core patterns of social, political and economic exchange ought to be reliable, predictable and guaranteed to be in place again tomorrow.

It would be entirely natural to feel a sense of dread when trying to imagine what it would be like if these predictable patterns were suddenly disrupted for good. And in the event that there were insufficient detail available to understand exactly how that disruption would affect our lives, our fears would start to fall quite neatly into the gaps opened up by our unconstrained imaginings.

This is how Scottish independence is depicted in some quarters, with a great deal being made about the horrible uncertainty that would follow. Alistair Darling invited us to imagine how awful and frightening it would be to buy a one-way ticket to an uncertain destination. And despite his disastrous spell in charge of the United Kingdom’s bank balance, he still tries hard to spook us about the turbulent and troubled world we would be inviting into our lives if we voted against the absolute certainty of the union.

But rather than run away from it, it is actually worth remembering there is an important place for uncertainty in our lives: exceptional outcomes are often achieved when a major change comes along to shock us out of our old routines.

The psychological discomfort that accompanies major change, and the feeling of uncertainty it creates, can be the catalyst for unexpected growth, whether for an individual previously afraid to deviate from an established routine, or for a nation hitherto not even permitted that basic right.

Unlike the set up in Nietzsche’s fatalistic landscape, and despite Darling’s apocalyptic warnings, it is perfectly possible, and highly desirable, that the ordinary man in the street should disrupt the eternally recurring political manoeuvres that continually conspire to have a detrimental effect on Scottish society.

Of course, and with Thatcherism to one side, it is not that these manoeuvres were purposely designed to damage Scotland, or other parts of the United Kingdom for that matter; far from it. It is rather that the absolute supremacy of Westminster, and the London centric policies its politicians are slave to, means that we will be unable to maximise the potential of our natural resources for the benefit of our people for as long as we remain locked into this rigid union.

There is something to be said for embracing uncertainty, particularly when the certainty we are being urged to stick with is for the benefit of a union that has gone so far down a one way track that it can do nothing else now, other than feed its powerful and insatiable economic centre, whilst telling the story that is in the best interest of our country that we are set up this way.

The underlying reality is as rock solid and certain as you could ever imagine it to be; in this respect, Darling is right on the money (for once).

It is a reality in which Scotland’s democratic deficit is guaranteed for evermore; it is a reality in which we know that Scotland’s position on social equality and welfare will never be driven by the people of Scotland but by a Government in Westminster with entirely different priorities and allegiances; it is a reality in which we can be assured that Scotland’s true wealth will never be used for the benefit of the people of Scotland, but to help pay for colossal infrastructure projects with no benefit to Scotland, support illegal wars we did not agree to, and host weapons of mass destruction we neither need, nor want.

Now, I am no fatalist. Yet I feel more inclined to heed the words of Nietzsche over Darling: how awful and frightening it would be to suddenly realise that everything that had already happened to us in this world would happen over and over again, down to the minutest detail, with no variation and no opportunity to escape…

As far as I concerned, this is the most exciting year in Scotland’s history.

Let’s hope 2014 is an exceptional one.

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A Fine Array of Academics

A fine array of academics led by Professor Hugh Pennington have quite clearly been banging their learned heads together to come up with a few more ‘reasons’ why it is better that Scotland does not have the right to make all of its own decisions on issues of great importance to the people who live here.

The primary one appears to be that the excellent tradition of great Scottish thinkers contributing to global problems would come to a regrettable end with independence; in other words, our world leading reputation for innovation and discovery could be irreparably damaged because we would no longer be able to share ideas outside of Scotland and would no longer be able to benefit from UK funding.

Professor Pennington is quoted in various newspapers as saying that ‘the absence of barriers allows not just funding and people, but ideas and innovation, to flow freely across borders’.

I find it incredible that he would make this type of comment whilst arguing against independence. Which type of barriers does Professor Pennington think would suddenly be erected in an independent Scotland that would create a hermetically sealed bubble around Scottish ideas and innovative thinking?

More than that, I find it utterly astonishing that he would think that we would believe that two or more independent countries could not collaborate on significant international research programmes and access appropriate funding for that purpose! How on earth would we have progressed thus far?

Good ideas are not stopped at the borders of an independent country any more than disease causing bacteria are held up for checks at passport control; but unfortunately, when it comes to political interest, it seems to be much easier for influential thinkers to spread bad ideas that frighten people today, than it is for the rest of us to share good ideas that will bring real benefits in the future.

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Two Impermissible Consequences of Scottish Independence

Despite the daily nonsense uttered by the learned politicians fronting the Better Together campaign, I think it is actually becoming much clearer that the central premise in the vast majority of arguments against Scottish independence is this:

Scotland leaving the United Kingdom would not only pose a significant challenge to the economic and political ideals of Westminster; it would also represent a potential threat to the economic ambitions and foreign policy preferences of the United Kingdom’s key international partners and allies.

There are at least two impermissible consequences of Scottish independence that the United Kingdom Government needs to manage. The first concerns national defence and the second concerns economic standing, both of which have highly undesirable consequences for the United Kingdom and other countries outside of the United Kingdom.

Status Quo – the clear message of the Better Together campaigners – not only suits the United Kingdom’s centralist approach to Unionism and its total commitment to the supremacy of Westminster; it also suits others in the international community, with whom the United Kingdom Government needs to retain close and strong relations for reasons of economic expediency and matters of national defence.

The United Kingdom’s entire nuclear deterrent is based in Scotland. It has been noted that it could take up twenty years (or longer) and a gargantuan sum of money to develop a new facility capable of hosting nuclear weapons elsewhere, with the impermissible consequence of enforcing unilateral nuclear disarmament on the United Kingdom Government for an indeterminable period of time.

http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201213/cmselect/cmscotaf/676/67602.htm

This would seriously weaken the United Kingdom’s ability to defend itself and would therefore also diminish the country’s standing as a key player in setting EU defence policy – which is not only vitally important to the security of the United Kingdom, but also to its ability to maintain an influential and authoritative role in international negotiations concerning these matters.

This takes us to the second impermissible consequence of Scottish independence. Post Scottish independence, there would be a distinct possibility that the United Kingdom would no longer be one of the big three economic states in the EU.

If the United Kingdom were to suffer a reduction in its influence with respect to EU policy making, not only in terms of defence, but also in terms of economics, it may find that its relationship with the USA in particular would be weakened; the United Kingdom would no longer be one of the USA’s principle levers for influencing European politics and that could affect inward investment and create an added degree of uncertainty across global markets.

http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201213/cmselect/cmfaff/writev/643/m02.htm

Loss of territory, reduction in population, and fewer material resources, would all contribute to further, and much tighter, curbs on Government spending, having a particularly adverse effect on the economy for an unknown period of time. There is a possibility that the United Kingdom would no longer be operating from a position of strength in the global financial markets and that could have a damaging effect on its ability to influence EU policies and international thinking.

The United Kingdom Government’s refusal to accept these two impermissible consequences is often mixed with fear of losing an array of historical privileges granted by the Union and a fiercely protected, but totally outmoded, sense of British entitlement. Combined with an uncompromising belief in the supremacy of Westminster, the intentions of the Better Together campaign are not too difficult to work out.

Few of us are fooled by the suggestion that it is about Scotland’s interests and that it is about securing the best future for our nation. The Better Together campaign is not based on the premise that ‘remaining in the United Kingdom is better for Scotland’. It is not about Scotland at all. It never has been. It is about the United Kingdom’s interests first and foremost – driven by the London centric politics of Westminster – and retaining its long standing and prestigious stature within the global community.

Don’t get me wrong. There would be a number of difficult challenges to be faced by an independent Scotland and many mistakes will be made along the way. Problems will be encountered here, there and everywhere. Clarity would need to be sought over a number of important legacy issues. The process will be horrendously complex and expensive.

But it is disingenuous of unionist politicians of both parliaments to push the propaganda that Scotland’s interests would be better served within the Union, when Scotland’s interests have rarely been served well within a Union that has been built on the backbone of Westminster supremacy.

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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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‘Better Together’?

The irrefutable strength of the Scottish Independence campaign is that it is built on the fundamental right of self-determination. All nations have the right to choose their own sovereignty and political status, without external interference, and that is essentially what the independence of Scotland would secure.

It is insisted that independence is therefore the natural condition of a nation such as Scotland, and that the people of Scotland are best placed to determine its economic, political and social future. I completely agree with this.

In my view, the only argument that would ever convince me that we were ‘better together’ is one that would demonstrate, first of all, that Scotland’s claim to nationhood was ill conceived, and hence that we had no right to self-determination; and secondly, that the people of Scotland were simply incapable of taking full responsibility for the future of their own country.

It would take a very powerful argument to convince me that it is better for Scotland to have its economic, political and social future controlled and determined by a Government that sits outside of Scotland; a Government that the people of Scotland can rarely influence, if at all.

When Alistair Darling launched his ‘Better Together’ campaign to keep Scotland in the United Kingdom, I was hoping that he, as the former Chancellor of the United Kingdom Government, would offer some sound economic and political arguments why Scotland would indeed be better off remaining in the union.

I genuinely wanted him to challenge my thinking on this matter. I genuinely wanted to feel that Alex Salmond would now need to come back with some strong rebuttals. Perhaps then he would need to begin filling in some of the gaps in his own vision. But no need – there were no strong arguments forthcoming, just a watery statement about how we should embrace and celebrate our cultural diversity and our great social union.

I am with Darling in recognising that cultural diversity is a good thing. It is a fact of life in an interesting, prosperous and thriving nation. It is what Scotland was built on. It is absolutely to be embraced. I am with Darling in acknowledging that loving Scotland does not mean having to leave the United Kingdom behind. But it does mean exactly that if your love for Scotland means that you want to take responsibility for your own affairs.

The poverty of Darling’s argument has not gone unnoticed. And it is not because he failed to come up with hard facts and figures demonstrating that Scotland could not survive on its own – in fact, he acknowledged that it probably could, given its oil wealth – but because he failed to put forward one single convincing reason why a nation such as Scotland should not want to determine its own future.

In some respects we may well be better off together. In some respects, there will be strengths to be gained from being part of a union that you cannot have on your own. That much is obvious. But it does not preclude the fact that there may also be many other respects in which you are not better off together. That much is obvious too.

I believe that it would be significantly better for Scotland as a nation to create and nurture its own opportunities, and to maximise its own resources, than have its future determined by a Government that believes that independence should be avoided because it is unsettling, inherently risky and unjustified; and fronted by a scare mongering individual who tries to spook us by insisting that independence ‘would send our children to a deeply uncertain destination’.

Sorry Darling, poor effort; I, like many others, remain unspooked.

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