Scotland’s Future


I re-read the Scottish Government’s white paper ‘Scotland’s Future’ while researching my previous article ‘W(h)ither Independence?’. At 650 pages it’s a hefty document and there probably aren’t many people who’ve read it cover to cover, which is in itself a criticism of the document. Mhairi Black said recently that she ‘hated’ it. I wouldn’t go that far, indeed I believe it serves a useful purpose, however I am critical of its format.

Essentially ‘Scotland’s Future’ falls into two parts. One part deals with the nuts and bolts of extricating Scotland from the UK and covers things like the timetable of withdrawal, the role of the Civil Service, pensions and the division of assets. All of these matters will be the responsibility of the Scottish Government, hence it’s official status as a ‘white paper’

The other part is much more party political in nature and makes numerous proposals, for example on welfare and tax reform, increased child support and of course that we dump Trident.  Incidentally, on tax, Scotland’s Future suggests raising about £250 million extra in the first tax year, pretty much what the recent budget is expected to raise.

Many Unionists have poured scorn on Scotland’s Future, saying it is full of uncosted promises and vague assertions. Yet they never felt the need to produce their own counter proposal. I may have a solution to that anomaly. In retrospect I think it would have been better to have separated these two parts; the first part covering the mechanics of separation, quite rightly being produced by the Scottish Government as a white paper and part two as an SNP post independence declaration of what they would do if elected as the first Government of an independent Scotland.

The advantages of this approach are that it’s a lot simpler. Constitutional geeks can pore over the minutiae of Part one, while Part two could be produced as an easy to read manifesto for the general public. Doing this would also provide the opportunity for the SNP to challenge other political parties to produce their own manifestos – highlighting their proposals for an independent Scotland or for those of a Unionist persuasion, detailing their vision of Scotland within the Union.


W(h)ither Independence?


Pete Wishart has generated a great deal of coverage in both the MSM and blogosphere by suggesting that the SNP should allow its current mandate for a second independence referendum to expire. He points out that after two close losses, the Quebec independence movement has now been in the wilderness for 20 years. I believe the comparison with Quebec is inappropriate. The Quebec independence referenda were culturally based. Quebecois felt alienated by the Anglocentric majority in Canada and wanted to express their French roots more fully. However, Canada has a federal system of Government and provinces enjoy a great deal of autonomy (including fiscal autonomy); by contrast, Scotland has nowhere near as much autonomy and is in many ways something of a vassal state.

So whilst celebrating their cultural heritage and how they see themselves is clearly important to many Quebecois, unlike Scotland’s place in the UK, being part of Canada doesn’t pose an existential threat. Scottish independence is driven by much more fundamental needs, to gain control of the fiscal mechanisms necessary for economic development and social policy. These needs will not go away after another No vote, indeed while we are tied to the UK post Brexit they will come ever more sharply into focus, exacerbated over time as nearby small, independent nations prosper whilst we are stuck in the slow lane, forever subordinate to Westminster’s priorities. So conditions for Scottish independence are unlikely to be diminished. The Quebecois on the other hand were more likely to ask whether the disruption was worth it, for something so ephemeral?

So my view is that of the old saying ‘a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush’ If the SNP uses its mandate and we lose, we’re unlikely to lose core support and the reason for Scottish independence won’t recede. Allowing the mandate to expire on the other hand is highly likely to lead to a loss of support for the SNP – in particular back to Labour. Pete Wishart states that nobody has told him they would stop voting SNP if they don’t exercise the mandate, however I would have thought that the vehemently hostile response to his comments might cause him to think otherwise.  As far as I’m aware, there’s nothing in the UK constitution that dictates how often we can hold an independence referendum, so as long as we keep electing Scottish Governments with a commitment to independence in their manifestos, we are still in the game.

The likely outcome of a loss of support however, is that come the next Holyrood elections, the SNP won’t be able to form a Government, opening the door for a Unionist coalition of some sort. That would make it a lot easier for a Tory administration in Westminster to impose new constitutional restrictions on the Scottish Parliament, making a further independence referendum virtually impossible.

Wishart says that Independence is the most hotly debated issue in Scottish politics. Again I disagree. Most debate is currently within the Independence and Unionist bubbles. The case for independence hasn’t really been presented to the electorate since 2014, when we started on 28% and finished on 45%. Next time we’d be starting in the mid forties and serious debate of the issues on TV would allow voters a much better comparison of the relative merits of the two choices than at present where Unionist tropes of Scottish ‘debt’, UK single market, low growth and currency go virtually unchallenged in the MSM. We will also be able to question the UK Government on its vision for Scotland in a highly uncertain post-Brexit future. In 2014 we started from a choice between the status-quo or what was presented as risky independence. The latter now looks a lot less risky, particularly if Scotland remains in the EU or EEA while the UK is outside. Meanwhile the status quo simply isn’t on offer.

Which leads me to the nature of the independence campaign. Much heat and not much light has been expended on whether to follow the Norway, Irish or New Zealand economic models. Interesting but irrelevant in my view. The goal is independence – self-determination. After independence is the time to debate such practicalities, when political parties can set out in their Manifestos their vision for Scotland; high tax, low tax, how to grow the economy etc. What I believe we need to do during the campaign is to highlight the many many small, prosperous, independent countries that surround us, the differing economic models they follow and to stress that we the electorate will choose how we are governed post independence.