Wednesday, 26 March 2014
Scotland Be Brave
At the end of February, the UK government decided to hold a cabinet meeting outside London's Downing Street. They headed for Portlethen, a few miles south of Aberdeen. In Scotland. Those of you who read my inane ramblings from outside the UK may ask what is particularly noteworthy about this. Well, this is the second time the UK government has held a cabinet meeting in Scotland. The second time, that is, in 90 years. The fact the people of Scotland will vote in a referendum in less than seven months from now, on 18th September, on whether to become an independent nation is, I'm sure, a pure coincidence...
There has been a fair amount of rhetoric emanating from London in recent weeks about how Scotland would be better off remaining as part of the UK. The independence referendum has been on the agenda since the Scottish National Party won an overall majority in the Scottish Parliamentary elections in 2011 but it's as if the powers-that-be in London have only just realised a history-making decision is imminent.
Scotland hasn't just changed in the last few months or since the SNP came to power. It's a country that has changed since the days of the Thatcher government, when the Scots felt they were being treated like second class citizens. Most Scots voted for the Labour Party in the 1980s. They saw this as the best way to get rid of the despised Margaret Thatcher whose policies changed Britain as a country. However, millions of people in the south and south-east of England adored Thatcher and what she stood for - the term 'free enterprise' was prevalent at the time which was a metaphor for making money no matter what the social consequences - and the Conservatives waltzed into power in three general elections.
It was clear the Scots were fed up of being governed - and dictated to - by a government few of them had voted for. So, three decades later, the momentum is such that Scotland's people will, for the first time, choose their own destiny rather than have it decided for them by people they didn't elect in London.
The latest opinion polls have the 'No' campaign ahead. However, the gap is narrowing. It seems panic has set in for the Prime Minister and Alistair Darling, head of the Better Together campaign. They have come out with a whole raft of claims in an attempt to demean the case for independence - with many of their arguments having the opposite effect and encouraging people, particularly young people, to vote 'Yes' come 18 September.
The Better Together campaign has, predictably, seized on comments from the European Commissioner José Manuel Barroso who said it would be very difficult for an independent Scotland to gain entry to the European Union. It's worth noting that Barroso is Portuguese. Portugal's neighbours are Spain who are determined not to let Catalonia have a similar referendum of independence. The Better Together people have ignored this and cited Barroso's comments as another reason for Scotland remaining part of the UK. However, after the next UK General Election, where the likelihood is Scotland will be stuck with another government no one here has voted for, there are plans for another referendum where the people will be asked if the UK should remain in or pull out of the European Union. In essence, if the Scots say no to independence, citing so-called vulnerability for being out of the EU as a reason, they may find the UK pulling out in any case. Again, it matters not what the Scots want in any EU referendum - it will be the people of England who will decide for us.
The Better Together campaign keep saying Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond is not prepared to tell us what currency we will be using and has no Plan B. The currency 'issue' has been thrown in as a scare tactic by Westminster. There is no reason why an independent Scotland would not remain in pound sterling which, as the currency of the UK as it stands, is as much Scotland's currency as the rest of the UK. Would the London based government really put English (and Welsh and Northern Irish) businesses at serious risk by saying you can't do business in sterling with Scotland?
Days after Westminster said Scotland wouldn't be able to keep the pound, David Cameron was in Scotland telling everyone that it would be better for everyone if the oil was protected and administered by Westminster. This is principally because, without North Sea oil revenue, the pound sterling would be in crisis. It's also worth remembering that if there is a Yes vote then Scotland won't be independent until 2016. It's AFTER the vote that the debt/currency/taxation issues start to get ironed out and they'll be the manifesto promises from the parties wanting to run the independent Scotland. The present diatribe from the Tories in England is self-protection. But what about Standard Life's threat to pull out of an independent Scotland I hear you ask? The crucial bit here is that Standard Life have said they may relocate if Scotland doesn't get the currency union it is entitled to. That's one helluva big 'if'. The pound sterling is as much Scotland's as it is the rest of the UK. Financial organisations like Standard Life are uncomfortable with change. They'll have five year business plans in place which may need to be revised should Scotland become independent - and even at that the rules and regulations in Scotland would need to change from how they are at the moment. And there's no reason to suggest that will happen.
Alistair Darling came out with a memorable quote when he said “People have to understand that, if the polls say yes, there is no going back. The result is binding.” This is one of the few statements Darling has said which I agree with. How many countries who have gained their independence in modern times have wanted to return to their previous status? You could ask a Better Together campaigner but the answer you will get is 'none'.
Darling's former boss, ex Prime Minister Gordon Brown has also joined the 'no' campaign. Are we seriously expected to trust the economic advice of the man who, as Chancellor, masterminded the collapse of the economy? The man integral in changing the regulations to allow greed and corruption in the financial sector? The man who now says Scotland couldn't afford to be independent? Brown has come out with a plan to devolve more tax-raising powers to Scotland if there is a no vote. How generous - but one must ask why he didn't come up with this plan when he had the power to do so i.e. when he was Prime Minister.
I've heard some Labour supporters say they've become disillusioned with the Labour Party and would vote 'Yes' come September 18th - only they don't like Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond or some of the policies of the Scottish National Party. This is somewhat missing a very important point. The referendum in September is not about Alex Salmond or the SNP government. It's about deciding whether Scotland should be an independent country or not. If it's a 'Yes' vote, there will be a general election in Scotland to decide who will govern the country. Personally, I'm not overly concerned about who the next government of Scotland is. Labour, SNP, Lib-Dems, Scottish Socialists, Greens - I would say Conservatives but that's stretching things - it matters not to me. I just want Scotland to govern itself and not be run by London as a kind of afterthought. It's a misconception to think voting 'Yes' is a vote for Salmond and the SNP - it isn't.
There are less than six months to go until Scotland's future is decided - by the people of Scotland. An opportunity to have a better Scotland, one that controls its own matters, one where the people of Scotland are placed first. Yes, an independent Scotland will make mistakes and errors of judgement. But these will be by Scots and not an old Etonian in London who only comes north of Hadrian's Wall when he has to.
I sincerely hope that, in the years that follow the referendum, Scots aren't struggling with their lives; dismayed by being governed by politicians hundreds of miles away, the majority of whom don't really care about Scotland; aren't despising another Conservative government making its 'tough decisions' on Scotland - you can be sure even if the whole of Scotland votes Labour in 2015 the government of the UK will be decided the hugely populated south of England. And aren't regretting that, in September 2014, they passed up the chance of several lifetimes.
Scotland the Brave is a famous anthem. In September, Scots can opt for a better future, one of hope, one which will be determined by Scots themselves. Don't be frightened by the scare stories emanating from London. We can do it. We just need to have faith in ourselves, our own ability to determine our own future - not have it decided for us by London. I want my two daughters and four grandchildren to have a great future, one they can look forward to with hope, optimism and pride. Will that be the case if we're still ruled by London?
We may never get such a chance again. It's almost time. Time for Scotland to be brave.