While the SNP demand clarity over what the ‘No’ campaign stands for, PAUL DEVLIN asks what the ‘Yes’ campaign is offering beyond the current platitudes.

It is instructive that recent comment and debate regarding Scotland’s constitutional future has focused intensely on the ramifications of Devolution Plus and Devolution Max, with both arguably being scrutinised more thoroughly than the SNP’s vision of Independence (or Indy Lite as defined by the Devo Plus group).

In fact, after the Devo Plus launch, a spokesman for Alex Salmond said:

“The Devo Plus launch reinforces the need for clarity, in place of the current confusion, about what No in the referendum from the Tories and other anti-independence parties means. This information needs to be in the public domain well before the referendum.”

Implicit in this is the suggestion that such clarity on Independence exists. Moreover, a recent Sunday Herald editorial stated that: “there is clarity on the meaning of independence”. However, while there have been pronouncements that Independence will rid Scotland of poverty and deprivation, the SNP’s position seems to be subtlety moving towards a basic position of it is better to have certain powers than not.

Whilst there is a certain amount of obvious logic in this, what is not logical is to constantly bemoan the lack of economic powers while at the same time propose that an ‘Independent’Scotland’s Monetary Policy would be decided by the Bank of England. Moreover, once a Parliament/Country possesses powers, the crucial issue is actually how it decides to use them. ‘More competitive rates’ of Corporation Tax inevitably leads to a race to the bottom while potentially benefiting owners/major shareholders of certain bus and media corporations.

Between now and the autumn of 2014 (as well as the date being leaked to a certain recently (re)launched Sunday newspaper, it should be remembered that Autumn 2014 was conveyed to Sky News before it was announced to the Scottish Parliament), it is crucial that the Unionist parties and especially ourselves in the Labour Party develop more detailed proposals for enhancing the Devolution settlement in the event of a No vote. However, it is surely incumbent on the SNP to offer a compelling vision of an Independent Scotland beyond platitudes such as “a country that does the best for its citizens” (Linda Fabiani), “A Fairer, green, more prosperous country” (Joan McAlpine) and a country which “can be a beacon for progressive opinion” (Alex Salmond). On the latter point, we need detailed answers on how an Independent Scotland would protect the most vulnerable in society, improve social mobility and reduce inequality, arguably the three pillars of Progressive Politics.

The debate between now and 2014 is not about anniversaries and our ability to host sporting events, it is about the future of our nation and what type of country we wish to be, both internally and in the global community. The time for platitudes and references to avoiding the war with Iraq (from someone who referred to humanitarian intervention in Kosovo as “unpardonable folly” and it should also be borne in mind that Devo Max and possibly Independence Light would entail a shared foreign and defence policy in any case) has passed. The debate which Scotland deserves needs to start with a clear outline of what a Yes vote would mean.

Paul Devlin is a Labour Party activist in Glasgow South CLP.

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14 thoughts on “A call for clarity on independence

  1. I quite enjoyed your article Paul until I got to the bit – “(from someone who referred to humanitarian intervention in Kosovo as “unpardonable folly”) – who said this and when? Alex Salmond said that the bombing of a facility in Belgrade which resulted in the deaths of many civilians was “an unpardonable folly” – just to refresh your memory!

      1. Alex Salmond did not describe the humanitarian effort in Kosovo as “an unpardonable folly” – he was describing Blair’s military intervention and the bombing of a facility in Belgrade which led to many civilian deaths. I can quote sources but I wonder if it’s worth it as I have 3 previous posts modded off – someone is not interested in the truth!

      2. “from someone who referred to humanitarian intervention in Kosovo as “unpardonable folly”.

        Never known bombing to be described as ‘humanitarian intervention’ before.

  2. Paul, I am not a member of a political party ( tho’ I once, briefly joined Labour ) so my viewpoint is my own. I wonder if it’s Mystic Meg who should answer your question, because precise detailing of what an Independent Scotland would look like is probably not possible ( given Labour could not possibly, right now, outline their programm, next term, for obvious reasons ), only a broadbrush approach to this will do. I think what the SNP has said was that independence would give Scotland the TOOLS to eliminate poverty, rather than poverty WOULD be eliminated. That surely is true, that the elected future Government would then have a choice of what action it would prioritise and that would depend on the philosophy of that Government. But, unlike now, it would have all the cards in the economic deck to play with. And all things become possible, to those who dare. Who will that Governing party be?. First term, undoubtedly SNP, after that, it will be whoever has the vision to argue a winning case.
    The comment on corporation tax is interesting. If you dont want to attract investment or encourage indigenous industry by variation in tax levels, it would be interesting to know how Scotland will grow its economy on your terms. We are geographically disadvantaged here, so we need another lever to level up the playing field. What would it be?

    1. Gavin – thanks for taking the time to read and comment on my piece. In essence, that is my point and my concern is that while some in the SNP such as the Deputy First Minister see themselves as Social Democrats (as she stated in her recent lecture at Glasgow University) others would envisage an Independent Scotland as once that had vastly reduced public spending. The SNP seem to be singing a social-democratic tune without detailing how they would use these increased powers for progressive ends. Re Corporation Tax, I think there are more effective ways for Government to play an active role in stimulating the economy than an across the board reduction which would likely reduce the overall tax take, such as targeted support for technological innovation and SMEs. http://www.demos.co.uk/publications/theentrepreneurialstate

  3. I think you know perfectly well what independence means Mr. Devlin. If you, as “a political activist in Glasgow South”, really do not then may I suggest you find some other interests.

    However, for the benefit of those who are less clear the SNP are about to embark on a campaign of public information on what independence will mean for ordinary people the like of which has never been seen before in Scotland. By the time of the referendum no one will be in any doubt as to what it will mean. Nor will they be in any doubt about the scaremongering bull we’ve had rammed down our throats by the Unionist parties for decades.

    And as for your smug comparison with Blair’s disgraceful behaviour over Iraq and Salmonds stance over Nato bombing raids over Kosovo – shame on you.

    1. My reference to the First Minister’s comments on Kosovo were meant to demonstrate that foreign policy is complex and was not meant to be “smug”. As I have previously written on this site, I have an amount of respect for the First Minister and I actually remember reading an interview with him after the Westminster vote on Iraq where he made a number of insightful comments. Unfortunately, his more recent comments, like those in 1999, do not show the First Minister in his best light.

  4. Its the chance to shape a new Scotland together which is the appeal of independence so the questions need to be asked but its searching for the answers that catches the political imagination. The democratic possibilities presented by independence create a space for new and radical solutions for Scotland made in Scotland. Scottish Labour need to get on board now or they risk looking thoroughly anti-democratic by trying to limit our choices and our possible futures.

  5. If you don’t mind me saying, this is YET ANOTHER clarion call for Labour to come up with some ideas for devolution and to have something positive to say about the union, mixed in with playing on the it’s-safer-hiding-under-the-bed ‘uncertainties’ of Independence (plus the usual sniping at the SNP).

    Despite articles like this I think those with even just a tiny bit of positive imagination have a pretty good idea of what Independence may mean and also that there were will obviously be uncertainties. But then who knows what the future may bring – I mean what will the UK’s credit rating be in two years time? What taxes will there be? Will the NHS actually exist in England? Will there be another banking crash? Will there actually be improved banking regulation? Will the UK help to ‘liberate’ Iran? Will Greece’s economy overtake the UK’s? Will the oil run out? Will the wind run out? Will Labour be in the driving seat heading to oust the Tories from Westminster? Perhaps the Unionists should provide the people with some certainty on that?

    So, I think the best thing is to stop pretending that Scottish Independence is this vague unknowable frightening thing and start coming up with the positive alternative vision for Scotland that our people will want to vote for, rather than threatening and coercing us (for that is what this scaremongering is) into sticking with the devil we know and the same-old same-old.

    If you followed any of the evidence given at the Scottish Affairs Committee you will know that certainly the academic opinion is that Independence is a pretty clear concept (despite the real-world uncertainties) but that getting people to vote ‘No’ and then telling them what they voted for AFTERWARDS (Devo-whatever) is not a very democratic way to go about things. I suppose it depends how much you trust the electorate to recognise a pig in a poke when they see one.

  6. Detailed answers are necessary. While many people will see little change, there are also a considerable number who have genuine concerns for their employment, pensions, benefits and so on. If the referendum campaign is purely to get independence, and then let’s see what happens – it will fail.

    Both sides need to have more concincing arguments, rather than dewy-eyed visions of utopia or the darkest pits of hell.

    1. Barbarian, I think you are one of the few people to comment on the above piece in a useful way.

      The idea that ‘we should all know what independence means’ is nonsensical. The SNP have changed their views on what powers are to be held in Scotland over recent years so how can anyone say with any certainty what an independent Scotland will look like.

      As you say Barbarian, any attempt to gain support for separation just by saying – at least we have the power will fail.

      People want to know what will happen to their pensions, jobs, benefits and avoiding these concerns will surely result in a NO vote.

  7. Congratulations for being the first person from a unionist party in a long time to use the word ‘Independence’ through out your article without the fear of turning into something nasty, well done.
    And remember after we gain independence in Autumn 2014 the sky will not fall down, some policys will already be decided upon and some will be still have to be negociated, but having another two years to provide the details and proposals towards our future is now seeming to be good thing.
    We are just waiting for that positive responce from certain parties.

  8. It is a real problem for the SNP that many people assume independence will be as the SNP see it. It’s a catch 22 position for them. On the one hand the media, the people, political parties etc expect detailed answers on what an independent Scotland would look like. In order to alleviate these concerns the SNP, as the main instigator, feels that it needs to give as much details as they can. Not to do so would present a golden opportunity to an uncompromising unionist press. It would make them look like they haven’t thought about the consequences.

    However, on the other hand, the SNP believes in the principle of independence. The idea of the people of Scotland mandating a government based on their values undiluted by those from the south. Really this is merely a constitutional framework. It’s not constrained by any particular ideology – left, right or neither. It is, at the end of the day, merely a platform (just as the present settlement is) that allows decisions to be made.

    Personally, I quite like the idea of a social democrat, northern european style of government. However, that’s not why I want independence. I want independence because I just simply believe that decisions will be made better here for ourselves and that there will be more accountability. I think that it presents an opportunity to create a cleaner, fresher government. I don’t think this half-way house really is going to work longterm. I’ve been to small countries around Europe and I don’t see why it’s not a viable option. I might be wrong but I’d like to give it a go.

    I understand why people would want to have more clarity about things. That’s only natural. However, I struggle to see how we can really match those concerns completely. It is really difficult to answer how any future government will use tax powers. To suppose that an independent Scotland will definitely be associated to the SNPs lower corporation tax policy is to suppose that no other party will ever be in a position to go a different way. Logically, that doesn’t really hold water.

    Salmond and the SNP have tried to negotiate this problem by trying to be super-confident about their details. I actually don’t accept that the SNP haven’t given assurances on things. I think they have. However, that is somewhat my point. I don’t think it’s feasible for the SNP to give these assurances because they simply cannot logically be made.

    I actually think that the other parties are frightened to make a case for how they would use the powers an independent Scotland would afford them. Then we would have a far more accurate picture of what an independent Scotland would look like. However, I totally understand why, from a strategy point of view, why they wouldn’t do this.

    At the moment, we seem to be looking very, very short term in this debate. If we vote yes it won’t be Salmond making policy forever. It’ll be our sons and daughters for years to come.

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