The second article in a series from John Andrews, an SNP and independence supporter looking again at Labour, sees the latest pensions gambit as part of a wider picture of a party and a movement with all the power but none of the answers.
When the SNP announced their pension policy shift, arguing now that UK taxpayers would pick up the bill for Scottish pensions post-independence, it reminded me of two things. First, the moment during the 2014 independence campaign when the baffling currency union policy of sharing the pound and Bank of England post-independence was announced. And second, an old joke, immortalised in Annie Hall, about two women in a restaurant complaining:
Two elderly women are at a Catskill mountain resort, and one of ’em says, “Boy, the food at this place is really terrible.” The other one says, “Yeah, I know; and such small portions!”
Not content with keeping the pound, the Queen and ridding Scotland of nuclear weapons by joining a NATO alliance with nuclear deterrence at its heart, now the SNP want to hold on to what they claim is the lowest pension provision in Europe. It feels again like desperate papering over a major crack in the independence argument.
The Brexit vote was supposed to provide the launchpad for another independence referendum. The carrot of a return to the EU would be the final push required to get the SNP over the line.
But Brexit has illustrated exactly what happens when you leave a political union and then attempt to establish a beneficial trading relationship on your way out of the door.
Even if, and it is a very big if, Scotland was able to quickly secure the prize of EU membership and achieve the more palatable currency option of joining the Euro rather than Sterlingisation or floating a brand-new currency, that benefit would be overshadowed by not one but two non-EU borders, at Gretna and Berwick, but also at Dover, for transporting goods between Europe and Scotland by road. Until new trading routes could open up, significant disruption, additional costs and paperwork restricting the free movement of goods, services and people would be incurred.
If we weren’t sure before Brexit, we are now. As well as the shortages of goods and labour we are already experiencing and complaining about, those coming to Scotland on holiday by road would face significant delays twice, with extra costs and paperwork hitting an already struggling tourism, events and hospitality industry.
And in the same way that not all EU citizens decided to take up the offer of the EU settlement scheme leaving labour shortages in hospitality, health and social care, rUK citizens who don’t have many ties other than work may decide to leave Scotland in numbers during the negotiating period.
As the UK Government is discovering, negotiating what is already on offer is often the most optimistic return on securing new trade deals. If Brexit took five years to negotiate the UK’s exit from the EU, how long would it take to negotiate Scotland’s exit from the UK and establish new institutions, trade relationships and alliances?
In the same way that Brexit supporters cannot wish away their larger European neighbour, the rUK geographical connection to Scotland is a fact of life that will always have a huge impact on our economic success and security, whether we are independent or not.
The SNP have never been stronger or more capable of winning elections, never had so many members in their history nor been so well funded as in the last decade. And yet a cogent plan for winning an independence referendum and navigating the aftermath in 2023 looks as far beyond them today as it did in 2014.
All governments run out of ideas and favour with the electorate as unfulfilled hopes and ambitions begin to outweigh the promises delivered. So how long will it be before former-Labour-turned-soft-SNP voters like myself decide that a Labour government is a quicker, less painful and less costly way to improve lives without the hassle and contortions of trying to find workable answers to the currently intractable problems of independence?