Friday, 3 January 2014

A Parcel of Rogues

Standard Answer Number 47 To The Question of Scottish Independence

I realise that, in setting down these thoughts, I will possibly offend or discomfit at least three of my friends north of the border, but I hope if they re-read this they will realise that actually every word has been carefully and dispassionately considered to have what I think are their best interests at heart.

The trick, it seems to me, is “how do we ensure the continued `independence’ and wellbeing and growth of the Scottish people and Scotland while also continuing to ensure the continued wellbeing and growth of the UK as a whole?” I believe the current route being considered is incompatible with these aims, and the one is being sacrificed to the other, on a pretext which, when you examine it, is pretty spurious.

Although the issue has been obfuscated by all sorts of party politics and vested interests, I do believe that it is possible to achieve that aim, although what I am suggesting will be viewed initially as anathema by some people whom I currently count as my friends.

I hope my own loyalty to Scotland is not in any doubt. I have been going to Scotland on holiday since 1971, over 40 years ago. All my adult life, in fact. My ancestors, the Fenwicks, were on the side of the Jacobites. “Sir John Fenwick’s the flo’or amang them” is piped by smallpipers both sides of the border, Ettrick shepherds in shepherds’ check, in memory of Sorrell, the sequestered horse that resulted in William of Orange’s death when it stumbled on a molehill, leading to much quaffing of Drambuie and toasting of “The Wee Gentleman in Black Velvet”.

When it comes to Scottish culture, I can quote Rabbie with the best of them, I can recite the Selkirk Grace on Burns Night (and I cook a mean vegan haggis) and I even know my Hugh MacDiarmid. So, as an “eemis stane in a yowdendrift”, I hope you will respect my bona fides.

If I could, I would wind back the clock and apologise for Culloden and the Highland Clearances. Not least because it would take the wind out of the sails of Alex Salmond. And that could never be a bad thing. But I can’t. Even though my ancestors were probably on the losing side, I can’t. We have to start from where we are.

So; at the last election, Alex Salmond won a mandate from Scotland for a referendum on independence. Which probably was rather a “brown trouser” moment for him, since up to that moment his political stance had been posited on the sort of vague idea of “Scotland shall be free … er … one day” This was the perfect status quo for Alex Salmond, because it was the optimum mix that allowed him to surf a wave of vague, unfocused anti-English casual racism that is extremely prevalent in some parts of Scotland, while not actually having to do anything about it. It is what I sometimes refer to as the Braveheart tendency, which is normally expressed these days by supporting whoever England happens to be playing at either football or rugby. Anyone but England. That should be the SNP’s motto.

Having had his bluff called at the election by the very people he had been courting for years, Salmond now realised he had to actually hold the referendum he’d been hoping to avoid. So his next step was to try and transmute the idea of Scottish “independence” into something more palatable to his political ends – something which he called “devolution max”. Under this option, Scotland would continue to derive all the benefits it currently enjoys from being a member of the United Kingdom, but would have even more money from central funds and even more say over where it is spent. Nice work if you can get it. Amazingly enough, David Cameron managed to talk him out of this, and the result is that we are now back to the idea of a straight in/out question.

If I had been asked to put money on it, in that particular contest, I’d have bet on Salmond. He’s the sort of person who’d go into a revolving door behind you and yet somehow emerges from it in front of you, and clutching your wallet. Anyway, somehow Cameron managed to argue him back to a straight referendum – possibly he has some incriminating negatives or something, who knows?

So, a devolution vote there must be. I have to say at this juncture, that if it was up to me, I wouldn’t have started from here. I think the road to devolution on which we were set by Tony Blair in the run up to the 1997 election has been a disaster for the United Kingdom, and particularly for England. It’s set up all sorts of anomalies and precedents, it’s created divisiveness and ill-feeling, and it’s landed us with, amongst other things, the West Lothian question.

One idea which is often promulgated as a solution to this is that we should have an English Parliament, too. Personally, I resent the additional cost, apart from anything else, of these additional parliaments, not to mention the constitutional anomalies I referred to earlier. I have always thought, and I still maintain, that the only effective and sensible government of the British Isles is that they are governed as the British Isles. In other words, that the political and government boundaries of the islands should be the same. I also feel that Ireland is another area where the boundaries of the island should be the same as the boundaries of the government, and I believe that one day they will, but I don’t want to get sidetracked into a separate discussion of the Irish question right now.

Just sticking with the constitutional issues for the time being, the basis of the case for Scottish independence is usually cited as being the right of indigenous peoples to self-determination, as set out by the UN Declaration of Human Rights. I have to say I think this is stretching things a bit. There has been so much interchange over the centuries, and so much emigration (often for regrettable reasons, but there again we can’t wind the clock back, however much we may want to) that I am not sure any more what the indigenous Scottish race even is. There are probably more indigenous Scots living in Canada, and they don’t have a vote. And neither do I, despite my occasional Scottish genes. The vote which is based on the supposed “right” of the indigenous Scottish people, will in fact be taken by a “snapshot” of the inhabitants of that country, some of whom will be Italian, some Chinese, some Polish. It is a complete anachronism. The actual premise under which the vote is being held is at an irrevocable variance with the people who are actually currently entitled to vote.

Plus, I am afraid to say, a vote which affects the future of the whole of the UK should, really, if there is anything like fairness and justice, be voted upon by the whole of the UK. Surely people in England should have some say in Scottish “independence”, even if you allow that it won’t have such a direct effect on the Welsh and Northern Irish. Proponents of a yes vote in the referendum argue against this on the grounds that people in England would vote to keep the Scots “enslaved” under the “English Yoke”. I think they might be surprised. I do, however, think that the United Kingdom, in an uncertain world, is “better together” even though by using that slogan I risk potentially allying myself with some people I deeply loathe and despise (David Cameron, to name but one).

The argument that we should all have a say in the future of the UK because we all live here, which seems perfectly logical and sensible to me, has - I am afraid - already been conceded without ever really being debated, and now the focus has switched to the mechanics of what Scotland would look like if it did decide to vote in favour of “going it alone”, and in the White Paper published by Alex Salmond, we see a further attempt to smuggle the idea of Devo Max back in through the back door.

Scotland will basically cherry-pick, according to this document – they will keep the pound, they will piggy back on the UK’s network of international embassies and consulates, they will retain the Royal residences, they want to stay in Europe without having to re-apply, they’ll stay in NATO, but they don’t want the nuclear subs on the Clyde. In other words, we’re back to devolution max. I wonder how many Scots would vote for independence if it meant developing a new currency from scratch, recruiting their own army, developing their own banking system and their own diplomatic service, and re-applying to join the EU, to name but a few. I can understand this seems appealing to some Scots, especially Salmond’s Braveheart tendency, in that it represents the best of all possible worlds, but I still fail to see how, when you look at it in the cold light of day it could be defined as “independence” in any meaningful sense of the word.

So, we’ve got an election to establish the rights of the indigenous Scots to independence, which most of the indigenous Scots can’t vote in; we’ve got a proposal to break up the United Kingdom, in which only one part of the Kingdom actually has a vote, and we’ve got a definition of independence which looks very much like the existing “English Yoke” but without the nuclear subs (which will probably either be housed on the Mersey or used against the inhabitants of Merseyside, depending how David Cameron feels that day) Still being in NATO will still make you a target though. And of course the currency and diplomatic stuff assumes that England lets you do it, though I agree, with the Tories in power, if you offer them enough money, they’ll let you do anything.

I am pretty sure that Scotland, high on a tide of Proclaimers and Braveheart sentiment, will vote “yes” in August 2014. Somebody’s probably already done the calculation for all the oil versus the Scots share of the deficit and all the other incidentals that need to be taken in along the way. And when they wake up, the morning after, and drink a gallon or two of coffee, I hope that the people who support anyone but England, and who think that voting “yes” in the referendum is in some way paying back “the English” for Culloden and the Clearances, can see a difference, when the party’s over and the poppers are swept up. Because the only difference I can see is that the future of the United Kingdom will be more perilous and more uncertain than it was, and that, north of the border, nothing much will have changed. The poor will still be the bottom of the heap. Alex Salmond will retire to “Dunleadin, Isle of Arran”, and the MSPs will carry on pretty much the same as before, with pretty much the same powers.

So there you are, I’ve probably lost three good friends by writing this, though if they are as good as I hope, they will have done me the honour of at least hearing me out, and I hope they will realise that I am writing this because I am totally fed up of the inaccurate shit coming from both sides in the “debate” so far. And because, believe it or not, I have what I see as the best interests of Scotland at heart as well. It’s just that me, Mel Gibson, Alex Salmond, Alastair Darling, Nicola Spurgeon, David Cameron, old uncle William Wallace and all, all disagree about exactly what that is. I think it’s Scottish people deciding Scottish issues up to the point where these conflict with the welfare of the UK as a whole, but the sort of people who sing “Flower of Scotland” at Murrayfield will already be hitching their kilts abune their knee, and jerking it in my direction for daring to say so.

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