JOHN CURRIE argues that despite all the excitement in political and media chattering classes about the forthcoming independence referendum, out in the real world, most people haven’t given much thought to it.
I am someone who has a normal job (a Project Manager in a bank), doesn’t normally write blogs for political websites, and only dips his toe into politics at elections and through voluntary Community work. I consider myself a patriotic Scot, but also a pro-devolution Unionist and I am alarmed at the way the SNP have done the running on this, and if Labour (the only Unionist party taken seriously in Scotland) don’t work out a strategy shortly, it won’t be so much a case of David Cameron lost Scotland, more like Scottish Labour lost Britain.
The new Scottish Labour leadership must not run scared of the SNP on this issue. Labour has a head start as, generally speaking, people don’t really like major change. The SNP know this, which is why they are trying to muddy the independence waters with a “devo max” question, and lash out when sensible questions are asked and criticisms are made of their independence stance.
To prepare the ground for a successful referendum campaign, Labour must use focus groups and talk to voters to understand why it lost so heavily in May 2011. It must reshape its policies so that it stops being a central belt party. It must stop being seen as just representing public sector unions. It must present itself as a potential government in 2016, and start gaining in opinion polls in the lead up to 2014. That way the public are more likely to listen to the Labour message on independence.
I suspect the Scottish electorate would like the right questions asked along with some cold hard facts, so perhaps the powers that be in Scottish Labour would like to consider the following:
- Pretending the sky will fall in after independence is insulting, grates, and backfires politically. The morning after everything will still be the same outside the living room window. Scotland could go it alone as a separate state. In population terms, it is much the same as Norway, Finland or Denmark. The question is should it?
- Would Scotland receive automatic EU entry? Opinions differ – what I would like is a straight answer from the EU itself. If entry is not automatic, Spain might veto our entry to avoid setting a precedent for Catalonia or the Basque country, and our membership bid might be held hostage to issues over which we have no control (for example, I understand Greece hinted at blocking the accession to the EU of various East European countries if Cyprus wasn’t admitted at the same time)
- If independence is about economics, what is the point if the country is tying yourself to monetary unions over which you have no control (like the wacky idea of keeping now-foreign Britain’s currency post-independence) or very little control (the euro, if Scotland ever joined the EU). The negative consequences of this need spelt out.
- How would Scotland pay for itself? I suspect the country could, but with difficulty. I would like to see independent analysis done by a respected (and neutral) US or European university. This would provide light on the economic question that is supposedly key to the vote. I suspect an independent Scotland would have similar public services to the Republic of Ireland (i.e. less), with higher VAT, higher prices, and having to pay for services we take for granted as being free, such as visiting the GP. The politics might become as corrupt too!
- The SNP love the idea of an independent Scotland with a seat at the UN. Is that the limit of our ambitions? I prefer the idea (and security) of being part of a big, globally significant, country, and we’ve had more than our fair share of UK Prime Ministers in the last century. Real patriotic Scots like to rule England too!
- On a similar note, can you imagine what the TV will be like? I suspect it will be insular in outlook, and a similar drive will take place in Scotland to force people to learn Gaelic if they want public sector jobs. Apart from TV, other things will take place to make Scotland “different” from potentially being on a different time zone to England, as they will surely change their clocks down south, to road numbers and road signs.
- The SNP want the “devo max” question on the ballot, because they want a consolation prize. I think this muddies the waters, and is there to split the unionist vote. However, if they spelt out what was, and it seemed to be popular, we should not object to the question being asked in a separate referendum on a separate date (if a referendum was deemed necessary for it). This does seem to be the most popular choice, and Labour will pay in the court of public opinion if they block it.
- A question that is never asked is “Why would we want to separate?” We are not like the states that emerged from the former USSR, where Russia oppressed Estonia, Latvia, etc. They were right to demand independence, and it was great that they got it. However, England does not oppress Scotland. The proof of that is the simple fact we are having this debate.
I like England, most English people I’ve met are very friendly, and I feel embarrassed about the amount of Scots that seem to have a “chip on their shoulder” about everything English. It is true their commentators can drive a Scot nuts at World Cups when they go on about 1966, but seriously, I think the English would celebrate Scottish success at a World Cup (as long as it is not against them!)
So, what is it about the rest of Britain that causes the SNP to want independence? Is it just economics and political power for them? If that’s the case, some patriots they are.
John Currie is a member of the Labour Party and acts as treasurer to the Glasgow South Labour Party.