Tag Archives: Scottish Parliament

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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The Problem of Scotland’s Right to Self-Determination

In 1707 the Act of Union was passed into law as a political solution to the problem of Scotland.

The possibility of political union had already been raised a couple of times during the previous century, but rejected on each occasion by both sides. When King James VI of Scotland succeeded Elizabeth I to the crowns of England and Ireland in 1603, he strongly favoured a political union and attempted to bring it about.

However, Scottish nobility rejected the idea as they feared that Scottish interests would be secondary to English in a London based Parliament, whilst English feared that Scotland would be favoured because of their Scottish King.

The pivotal moment came when the Scottish Parliament passed the Act of Security in 1703 in response to the English Parliament’s 1701 Act of Settlement, which had been designed to guarantee a parliamentary system of Government and to determine that succession to the throne would settle on Princess Sophia of Hanover and her Protestant heirs.

Scotland’s response was to declare its right to choose its own successor to the then Monarch, Queen Anne; but England’s immediate concern was that if Scotland were to do this, the Scottish Crown may be passed back to the Roman Catholic Stuart line of succession, bringing with it a belief in the divine right of Kings.

This could have raised the possibility of Scotland forming closer allegiances with France, who openly supported the House of Stuart’s divine right to the throne, thereby threatening the security of England as they fought against France (indeed, Scotland had been a recruiting ground for the Duke of Marlborough’s armies). To avert this threat, a full incorporating Union with Scotland was deemed necessary and urgent. It was the only solution to the problem created by Scotland’s right to self-determination.

The Act of Union in 1707 therefore had the aim of ensuring that the Act of Settlement was enforced in Scotland, guaranteeing parliamentary authority, rather than monarchical absolutism, Protestant succession to the throne, and preventing any potential French alliance that could have destabilised England’s future security.

A combination of economic blackmail, in the form of the Alien Act in 1705, which blocked the import of core Scottish products into England, and financial inducements secretly distributed to key sections of Scottish nobility, was used to ensure that Union would be achieved.

The latter worked particularly well given that the Scottish Parliament was divided by too many different personal agendas and lacked strong leadership; furthermore the economy was struggling as a result of poor harvests on the back of massive financial losses sustained by the Company of Scotland in the Darien fiasco. The timing seemed right for the governing classes in England and Scotland, but for different reasons and with different levels of national support and dissent.

In return for agreeing to dissolve the Scottish Parliament, thereby adopting the Act of Settlement, Scotland was given access to England’s colonial trading markets. In the first instance, Scotland’s economy remained depressed, and suffered tax increases which many believed were used to support the English war effort and help repay English National Debt.

Eventually, however, the imperial rewards of the Union with England began to materialise, both in terms of the expansion of its core industries and development of new ones, but also in terms of overseas opportunities for Scottish middle class professionals and elite merchant traders. Despite the feeling that Scotland had been forced into giving up its independence, and despite widespread public outrage at the time, clear benefits slowly emerged in certain sections of Scottish society.

Three hundred years later, there is a growing sense that the political, economic and social future of Scotland would be better served by undoing the Union of 1707, in order that Scotland may once again exercise its right to self-determination. Although the benefits of independence are not universally supported, a clear message has been sent to Westminster that there is a very strong feeling that the United Kingdom Government does not serve Scotland in a manner that enables it to maximise its resources and its opportunities.

An independent Scotland would once again be a problem. Not only in terms of weakening the United Kingdom economy by removing significant natural assets and revenue generators from the equation, such as the Oil & Gas industry, and the developing renewable energy industry, with Scotland enjoying an estimated 25% of Europe’s wind and wave potential, and 10% of its tidal potential.

It would also pose a threat to the economies of the remaining countries in the United Kingdom if it were to offer commercial incentives and lucrative tax concessions to attract new inward investment into Scotland, rather than elsewhere in England, Wales or Northern Ireland. In addition, the cost of dismantling the United Kingdom is likely to add significantly to the national debt of all concerned.

The problem of Scotland today is that the transition to independence would have a destabilising economic effect on the rest of the United Kingdom and would likely cost hundreds of billions of pounds to manage. Just as in 1707, when the Union was a political solution to safeguard England’s national security, and perpetuate the Act of Settlement, saving the Union today would be a political solution to avoid economic damage and safeguard international clout and position.

Whilst there would be upheaval on both sides, and there would definitely be no economic miracle forthcoming, it is quite disingenuous of politicians to romantically promote the idea that we would be much better off staying together, when their true underlying motives are driven by lazy convenience, maintenance of position and retention of power.

At root, the problem of Scotland is, and has always been, that its right to self-determination is just too inconvenient, and too much of a threat, to the personal interests and corrupt agendas of certain sections of the social, business and political elite, from BOTH sides of the border, who are firmly in control of our wealth, and who would have far too much to lose on an individual basis.

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It Wasn’t Needed Then…

It is interesting to consider whether an independent country would make the decision to give up its political and economic autonomy today, because it believed that it would become stronger and more prosperous as a result?

Scottish Labour Leader, Johann Lamont, believes that Scotland would do exactly that.

She claims that had Scotland already been an independent country, we would be seeking the type of political, economic and social union that we currently have as part of the United Kingdom.

Lamont supports this claim with the argument that being part of the United Kingdom enabled Scotland to weather one of the worst economic crises of our lifetime when the banking sector collapsed.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-politics-18271392

The implication is that had Scotland been an independent country at the time, exactly the opposite scenario would have occurred. It would not have been able to survive the banking collapse and economic ruin would have been the result.

Whilst I completely respect her right to believe in Scotland remaining within the United Kingdom, I think it is disingenuous to be told that Scotland only avoided complete economic collapse by virtue of its union with the United Kingdom.

This seems to be a key argument used in favour of the Union, among many other similar ones. Yet it was the UK Government’s deregulation strategy that ultimately led us to the point of collapse in the first place. It wasn’t a policy set in Scotland and the Scottish Government had no control over it.

Furthermore I think it is outrageous to suggest that an independent country would make the choice today to surrender its economic and political autonomy to another country, just because certain individuals harboured an unsubstantiated belief that it would be stronger as a result.

As it happens, I think it is an equally unsubstantiated belief that becoming an independent country would make Scotland a wealthier country and create more opportunities for its people. Otherwise both sides of the debate would have clearly set out their stalls. But they haven’t, because they can’t.

There is very little to be gained by rehearsing the same rhetoric over and over again. It is all about creating hope on the one hand and stirring up fear on the other. We know the facts of the matter regarding the current arrangement and many people will understandably take comfort in that.

But I think there is much more to be gained by simply asking the question whether you believe that your country should have the right to determine its own future and whether you want to take responsibility for that, or whether you are content with this responsibility remaining with others.

To return to the original question: it is one thing to suggest that an independent country would seek strong links with other countries in order to strengthen its position in the global economy. That is perfectly standard practice.

But it is another thing entirely to suggest that had Scotland already been an independent country, it would actively seek to give up its right to make its own decisions, because of a misleading and completely unsupportable notion that it could not survive on its own.

Johann Lamont obviously makes this suggestion in defending what she believes is best for Scotland’s future.

But in fact, this way of thinking simply takes us back three hundred years.

It wasn’t needed then, and it isn’t needed now.

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