I think last night’s debate between Salmond and Darling had a very predictable outcome.
It was made for TV and we are no closer to understanding the finer details of either side’s plans for Scotland. Salmond stubbornly refused to budge on the currency question and Darling failed to agree that Scotland could be a successful independent country. He also failed to articulate a better vision for Scotland than the reality we are living with today.
Whilst Salmond can be excused his refusal on the grounds that he simply cannot answer certain questions about independence until after negotiations have been concluded with the United Kingdom Government, Darling at least should have been able to inform us what additional powers the United Kingdom Government would give Scotland, should we agree to remain within the union.
Instead, he fluffed that particular question quite badly – because there are no definite answers yet to that one either – and he simply harked back to the completely meaningless line that we are ‘better together’ because Scotland enjoys the ‘best of both worlds’ as part of the United Kingdom.
To buy into the concept that we have the best of both worlds, as Darling appears to, is to agree that the devolved powers held by the Scottish Parliament, embedded within the constitutional arrangement of the United Kingdom, yields the optimum conditions under which Scotland is able to thrive and prosper as a country – surely that’s what it is all about, after all?
To reject it, as Salmond is urging us to, is to question whether there are aspects of the asymmetric relationship between the Westminster Parliament and the Scottish Parliament that limit the Scottish Government’s ability to achieve that level of prosperity.
The United Kingdom’s asymmetric model of devolution means that whilst the Scottish Parliament has control over a number of areas affecting life in Scotland, the United Kingdom Parliament in Westminster controls the rest of these areas and retains absolute sovereignty.
Whilst it probably wouldn’t happen, the constitutional doctrine of the Sovereignty of Parliament in Westminster means that the Scottish Parliament could be abolished in a matter of days, just as the previous devolved Parliament and Government of Northern Ireland was in 1972. The idea that we enjoy the best of both worlds is therefore as much a temporary concept as it is a false one.
The falseness of this concept is illustrated by the ugly corruption that runs through the United Kingdom Government and its supporting institutions, in the levels of social inequality that has left large sections of Scotland poorly educated, living in wretched poverty, with unacceptably low levels of life expectancy, unable to heat their homes in the winter, feeding their families from food banks, and with absolutely no hope of a better life.
In a country blessed like few others with an abundance of natural resources – the sheer extent of which is continually denied or played down by the United Kingdom Government – this state of affairs is nothing short of shameful. The United Kingdom Government should be embarrassed by the way it has deceived and failed the people of Scotland. Darling surely knows that as much as Salmond does, but it is only Salmond who wants Scotland to organise itself differently in order to make better use of these resources for the people who live here.
Other than having limited scope to manage some of the symptoms, the devolved Scottish Parliament has no power to address the root causes and restructure the political and economic frameworks that have led us to this point. This cannot be the best of both worlds, not even close.
Whilst Salmond definitely needs to sharpen up for the next debate and think about a different way of responding to currently unanswerable questions, I think Darling will struggle because he has already played his strongest hand in pressing Salmond over the currency issue.
Salmond has the strength of conviction that should see him through, whereas Darling is fronting a cause that he sometimes looks uncomfortable with, like a lawyer trying to get a result for a client, even though he knows it isn’t right.