Enough #indyref2 nonsense – let’s talk federalism

davidgowDavid Gow, former European Business Editor of The Guardian and a contributor to the 1975 Red Paper on Scotland, says #indyref2 is a phoney war – the real future lies in federalism.


The result of Sunday’s election in Catalonia changes nothing for Scotland: a second referendum here is still meaningless; redundant; kaputt.

The independistas may have an absolute majority of seats in the Barcelona parliament, but they won less than 48% of the vote and Madrid, regrettably, will probably continue to play hardball rather than engage in constructive dialogue.

By contrast a constructive dialogue does exist in the UK, if one is paying attention. It’s about federalism.

Not that you’d notice it from the tired old mantras uttered by the SNP and its media poodles, of course. Instead of being constructive, Nicola Sturgeon has been playing manipulative games over the likelihood of pushing for a second referendum pre- or post-Holyrood 2016, and whether, indeed, she believes a repeat ballot can be won. She has even issued a tediously irrelevant and hypothetical challenge to Kezia Dugdale (and Willie Rennie) to admit the case for one if, when and maybe.

There is, of course, no reason – historic, philosophical, whatever – why Scotland should not be independent like Denmark. But there are plenty of compelling reasons why it’s a non-urgent, self-defeating option right now or in the nearest future.

First, none of the questions or doubts that lay behind the No vote a year ago – on currency, deficit financing, EU membership – has been resolved. To the contrary: they have become even more tangled and not just because the oil price is stuck below $50 a barrel ($47.86 on the day of writing) and could stay there for another five years.

The Greek experience of striking out for anti-austerity within a currency union has been nasty, brutal and short. Alexis Tsipras dictated a suicide-or-surrender note at the Eurozone July summit, is learning in the most painful way possible that fiscal sovereignty is purely totemic, and is now hoping against hope that bigger countries in the Eurozone swing behind the pro-investment, pro-growth strategy (real solidarity) his country needs. And it is almost certainly the case, pace the SNP, that Scotland as putative 29th or 31st member of the EU would be forced – unlike the UK or Sweden – to join the single currency.

In today’s Europe no one country, not even Germany, can pursue an anti-austerity policy on its own. (That’s been belatedly left to the European Central Bank with its QE programme). So, second, the case of the SNP and other pro-indy supporters that they alone are anti-austerity rests on sand. It is, as Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell are saying, an empty slogan unless and until it is accompanied by real, workable policy measures.

The new Labour leadership team and its economic advisers (some shared with the Scottish Government) are embarking upon drafting and crafting just such a raft of measures – and, at the same time, accepting the case for a balanced budget (without ruling out extra borrowing should the circumstances dictate that). Cue ritual (economically illiterate) denunciation of “support” for George Osborne’s fiscal charter / £30bn cuts / £12bn gouged out of welfare spending.

Labour’s new economic team is, rather, arguing (as the SNP claims it is too but ain’t delivering) for investment-led, growth-orientated, purchasing-power-boosted-via-pay and productivity rises – and not austerity. Meanwhile, yet again, the fiscal position of an independent SNP-led Scotland would require huge spending cuts and/or tax rises and/or borrowing. Or growth in double digit figures that not even India can achieve – and out of the question if, as likely, the global economy is plunged into a new deflationary crisis within the next couple of years. It would be austerity-plus.

The third reason and, for me, the most compelling is that the federalist argument for a new constitutional settlement in the UK (but also the EZ and even the EU) is only just being (re)made and gaining traction. It is being adumbrated here and here, for instance. The Federal Trust (of which I am a council member) is bringing new vigour to the case here too and elsewhere (from the UK government’s new constitutional adviser). Independence increasingly looks like the chimera it is; federalism like a genuine local solution to global problems.

There’s been plenty of muttering that the First Minister is looking more and more favourably on this option too – even if her predecessor isn’t. That would be welcome if it’s true. We need a full-scale debate on a federal UK written constitution, including an elected Senate, rather than warmed-over baloney about “independence” a year on from its clear rejection.

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13 thoughts on “Enough #indyref2 nonsense – let’s talk federalism

  1. When David Gow makes a statement such as “There is, of course, no reason – historic, philosophical, whatever – why Scotland should not be independent like Denmark. But there are plenty of compelling reasons why it’s a non-urgent, self-defeating option right now or in the nearest future” he does so I believe not to inform the debate but to provoke those that he disagrees with. This article is more about inflaming the argument rather than enlightening it.
    Is it necessary for me to explain why this piece is so antagonistic?
    When I hear a fellow Scot agree that yes Scotland can be an independent country like Denmark but that independence is ‘non urgent’ and ‘self defeating’ my first reaction is anger.
    My second reaction is one of quiet reassurance. Why? because when David Gow admits that Scotland can be independent but that it would be in his opinion a ‘self defeating’ exercise, he nails his colours to the mast of unionism with a Hilti gun. As a supporter of independence it surely does not need me to explain why those on the Yes side find his position so depressing. This sentiment, ‘of course we could (be independent) but no thanks its not for me’ is at the heart of what divides us.
    And this is where the reality of politics produces unsuspected outcomes that appear not to bother Mr. Gow. The independence movement lost the referendum last year but the campaign for an independent Scotland within Europe continues. As it does it appears that there will be casualties along the road. The first surprise is that the first casualties are on the winning side of the referendum vote. I ask myself and I think David Gow should ask himself the same question, is his position credible? Could he be wrong? Should he not consider that if Scotland can be independent then why should it not be? He should also consider is it worth it? How much damage is he prepared to see the Labour party in Scotland suffer for the cause of unionism?

  2. Federalism, interesting idea.
    Is that the same as Home Rule and does it involve Full Fiscal Automony?
    The LibDems have whispered the F word to each other for decades.
    Sure there’s even one trot tendency in the Labour Party that support it, very quietly of course.
    Thing is, if you take Federalism to its fullest conclusion you can kiss goodbye to sending MPs to Westminster.
    Federalism would put Scotland in the same position as the Isle of Man.
    Do you really see the Scottish Labour Party going for that?
    Then again, they might not have any choice.

  3. Hey, Dave – I think your article would have been even better if you’d included a few more “of course”‘s. Made it seem more obvious that you don’t think much of Scottish independance. You know.

  4. Oddly we had a few voices bleating about a renewed push for federalism, just before the referendum. You could hardly pick up a London daily without seeing in a political piece, that a Devo Max/federalist option was there for Scotland’s taking. David Torrance, Gordon Brown etc.
    Yet here we are a year later. No sign of it, no explanation of what it would entail, what powers would be involved, how England would fit in—just wishy-washy pie in the sky stuff. The Lib Dumbs have been playing this tune for a hundred years now, yet have NEVER pushed for it to actually happen when they had the opportunity to do so.
    If Labour REALLY wanted it, why was it not included for our vote in the referendum, a third option was sought and rejected by the NO side and all its constituent parts.—yet all polling suggest a big majority of Scots would want that option ( If it was, indeed, Devo Max ).
    Is this just a ploy to trick us back into Labour’s arms? Another “Trident” moment?
    Watch this space ! Referendum 2 is coming to us in 2020.

  5. The case for Scotland conducting it’s foreign affairs is at least as strong as the one for conducting it’s economic affairs. What is there about that you people don’t comprehend.

  6. Pity these comments are so negative – time for an opponent of independence to respond. Throughout the UK, there is growing disillusionment with the political system. A properly worked out federal structure would meet a lot of this head on and would maybe even end the SNP’s continual bleating about more powers for Holyrood – they still haven’t used the existing ones because they want to blame Westminster for everything.

  7. And those existing powers would entail the Scottish taxpayer paying twice for the same service. That’s why Labour never used those powers when in office.
    Are you a Tory (Ah, a Red Tory. I’m sure there’s a lot of difference …)?

  8. David, enjoyed reading your article and thank you for declaring your vested interest as being a member of The Federal Trust and blowing your trumpet of propaganda promoting Federalism as opposed to Scotland’s Independence.

    The way I see it is Scotland was an Independent country before the act of the union back in those days lots of the population where poor uneducated illiterate and oppressed, the aristocracy made this deal without the backing of the Scottish People. The people were robbed of their Independence back then and now the people have decided that they want it back, they are not asking for something new they want back Scotland’s independence.

    Fedaralism is your chimera the vow is not being delivered in full and Westminster are still not delivering the Smith Commision in full and until there is another Independence Referendum then normal rules of politics have be suspended, and as for the idea of Federalism it does not matter because the people are supporting something bigger than Federalism which is a cause and that cause is the inevitable Scottish Independence and supporting the SNP is their ways and means to getting to Scottish Independence.

  9. If the Labour Party woke up their ideas and grasped GB Federalism wholly then the SNP would be scuppered when what the people really want is true self determination for each of the countries making up the UK. I am not a Nationalist but uif Federalism is not to be pursued the the SNP will be my only alternative.

  10. Federalism is yesterday’s solution to today’s problem. Sadly for its proponents the Scottish people aren’t buying the Home Rule/FFA/devo-max snake oil any more. There are a number of problems here; some due to the structural problems of structuring a workable federal system which will be acceptable to all in a UK context, some due to the lack of political will and consensus to fashion such a system and some down to the fact that Scots no longer trust the britnat establishment to deliver on its promises in the unlikely event such a system could be agreed.

    The indyref campaign, and the torrent of negativity and bile inherent in Project Fear mean there is no going back for the vast majority of Yes voters. As was pointed out during the campaign, the closer the UK moves toward full Home Rule, or giving Scots control of everything bar foreign affairs, defence/security and macro-economic policy, the more like independence it looks. In the end, you might as well go the whole hog and have the real thing as an ersatz version.

    More importantly, federalism (or any version of it) just won’t happen because the vast majority of little Englanders just aren’t interested in it. They heartily wish the whole issue of Scotland, EVEL and constitutional reform would just go away. If they aren’t indifferent, they are usually hostile. Most are pretty happy keeping things the way they are, and aided and abetted by a supine mainstream media and most of the establishment, they are very likely to get their way.

    Hammering out a federal system that was acceptable to all sides in the UK (assuming it could EVER be done) would take years. Given the compromises that it would entail it is also inherently likely to please nobody; it will clearly be insufficient for most Scots, and probably go too far for many in the rest of the UK.

    Lastly, I see David Gow can’t resist regurgitating the discredited “you’d have to join the Euro” lie. The popularity of this line just shows you can’t kill a bad idea. There is no compulsion involved in the Euro. It is true that new EU members are required to agree that they will do so at some point. As our Swedish friends have shown however, there is no timetable and certainly no sanction if you don’t. It is a relatively simple matter to effectively remain outside the Euro ad infinitum by simply refusing to abide by ERM guidelines.

  11. Were we not told the much vaunted “vow” was “… as near to federalism as you can get…” And we’re we not further told that the “vow” had been “….delivered in full…” And did Gordon Brown not recently complain in parliament that the government had not delivered? Just asking.

  12. What mind numbingly negative rubbish ! You see , the difference between the Unionists and the Nationalists is “YES WE CAN !!”

  13. Do we keep our own wages and decide what to do with them or keep giving them to our next door neighbour to let them decide

    This makes sense how?

    Labour must get with the modern programme and move forward in the world, stay the same and die

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