The SNP’s annual conference, beginning this week in Perth, comes immediately after the meeting between Alex Salmond and David Cameron in Edinburgh to sign the historic agreement setting out the terms of the referendum on Scottish independence, to be held in the autumn of 2014. The agreement does not include a second question on more powers, as the SNP had desired, but it does allow for 16 year olds to be given a vote, which the SNP hope will bolster its support.
According to the most recent poll this is support the nationalists and the Yes campaign as a whole sorely needs, with two thirds of Scottish voters still not convinced when it comes to independence. These polling numbers have remained more or less the same since the SNP won its groundbreaking majority at the last Scottish elections in 2010. It suggests that a clear chasm exists in the minds of many SNP voters between running a devolved administration and full separation. Bridging this chasm, along with changing the minds of the rest of the two thirds of Scottish voters who currently support remaining in the union, will be a major challenge for the Yes campaign over the next two years. It is also one that will weigh heavily on the minds of SNP delegates in Perth this week.
When it comes to the progressive wing of the pro-independence movement, the challenge of offering an alternative vision distinct from that being offered by the SNP is massive given the extent to which the issue has been dominated by the nationalists. This conflation between the SNP and independence is deeply entrenched within Scottish society, even though technically if the Yes campaign were to win a majority in 2014 it would be followed by fresh elections in 2016 to elect a government, which might not necessarily be formed by the SNP. However as things stand the shadow cast by the SNP and Salmond over the issue is so great it is hard to conceive of another party or political vision challenging its dominance in an independent Scotland post-referendum.
A cursory examination of the SNP’s current policies could be interpreted as progressive. In contradistinction to the current Westminster government they have refused to introduce tuition fees for Scottish students entering higher education, cancelled all PFI and PPP contracts within the NHS in Scotland (introduced by Labour), maintained free personal care for the elderly, free bus passes for the elderly (both also introduced by Labour), introduced free prescriptions, committed to a five year council tax freeze across all 32 Scottish local councils, and remains committed to ending Trident if and when Scotland becomes independent.
Closer examination reveals the opposite to be the case, however. The policy of no tuition fees for students entering higher education is being funded by the introduction of swingeing cuts to the funding of FE colleges, a traditional route onto university for students from low income backgrounds. The SNP intend cutting £74million from Scotland’s 41 further education colleges by 2015. Moreover, bursaries for worst-off students will be cut in 2013 from £95million to £84million, thus robbing many students of the funds they need for essentials such as travel and books.
With regard to the cancellation of PFI and PPP contracts, the introduction of the Scottish Future Trust in 2008 to replace it amounts to the same thing – namely the leveraging of private finance to invest in infrastructure projects, NHS included. Scotland’s biggest public service union, Unison, produced a briefing setting out its concerns over the role of the Scottish Future Trust in government finance when it was introduced in 2008.
As for the council tax freeze, this deprives local councils of revenue required to maintain public services and jobs that are used predominately by people on low incomes. In of itself it is not progressive and does nothing to address the regressive nature of the council tax and the need to replace it with one that is tailored to the ability to pay. Add to this the fact that child poverty in Scotland has gone up under the SNP (it is now 1 in 4), and one of the first things the nationalists did upon taking office was cut Labour’s scheme of free central heating for the elderly, the word progressive becomes increasingly inappropriate where the SNP is concerned.
When it comes to international issues one of the main arguments in support of the Scottish Nationalist Party has been its opposition to the war in Iraq and its pledge to end Scotland’s participation in ‘illegal wars’. In truth this is a semantic sleight of hand, as it means that any future war which carries the imprimatur of the UN Security Council will be supported by a future SNP Scottish government. The SNP support the war in Afghanistan, supported the NATO intervention in Libya, and the leadership’s U-turn over NATO membership means that it envisions Scotland providing men and materiel to future NATO missions around the world. More crucially, and worryingly, the ability of the SNP to scrap Trident will be made more difficult in light of this U-turn. Trident is part of NATO’s military apparatus and its continuing strategic base on the Clyde would likely constitute a condition of Scotland being granted membership.
On the economy, the SNP holds Norway up as the economic template of a future independent Scotland, which significantly is not a member of the EU and has created a hugely successful oil fund for future generations. The high price of oil has seen Norway’s economy not only protected from being overly impacted by the global economic crisis but register increased growth. It is an economy in which the state enjoys a large footprint, and in which a strong welfare state and large public sector combines with a commitment to progressive taxation to provide its citizens with among the highest living standards of any advanced economy.
But here’s the rub. If the SNP intend to emulate Norway’s social and economic model it will have to commit to nationalising the oil and other key sectors of the economy, while raising taxes for the rich, business, and high earners at the same time. This path is contradicted by the party’s intention of reducing corporation tax to 15 percent, thus entering Scottish workers in a race to the bottom for jobs.
The question of what an independent Scotland’s currency would be has yet to be convincingly addressed. With the eurozone in a state of crisis the viability of the euro as the new Scottish currency is questionable. And even if possible, how does an independent Scotland’s entry into the EU square with the SNP’s flagship economic policy of reducing corporation tax? Ireland got away with this reform at a time when the global economy was enjoying a boom. Now the situation is much different, with the EU unlikely to rubber stamp any new member state setting a rate of corporation tax as low as 15 percent.
The validity of such a policy must also be examined in light of what it would mean in terms of wealth redistribution. If the objective is a low tax paradise for big business and he likes of Donald Trump, it contradicts Alex Salmond’s pledge to have Scotland set a ‘progressive example’ for other nations to follow. On the other hand if an independent Scotland were to retain sterling as its national currency it would be in the invidious position of having its interest rates set by the Bank of England. Where would this leave the question of sovereignty? Scotland in this scenario would be entering into a position of economic vulnerability to decisions made by the central bank of a foreign country, much the same as Panama vis-à-vis the United States.
These are all vital questions that have yet to be addressed by the SNP. More widely, the progressive wing of the Yes campaign has much work to do to make its argument for an alternative heard.
Johann Lamont, the first leader of the Scottish Labour Party since the party’s newly devolved status, spoke last week about how we need to make the richest pay most for services. You wouldn’t think that such a notion would be controversial from a leader of an opposition party facing Governments in Westminster and Edinburgh who are both brutally cutting public services and service provision. Yet, it caused what we in Scotland refer to as a “stooshie”, such a furore that it is already been seen as a defining moment in Scottish Labour’s history.
So what was so wrong about her speech? After all, essentially all she said was that she would review how free universal benefits are paid for, did not commit to anything and clearly stated her opposition to the fact that the poorest are losing out most from the SNP Government’s programme of cuts and austerity. The main things to look at in any speech or announcement are timing, presentation and content.
The timing of her speech has to be looked at in the context of the new arrangement between the wider UK Labour Party and Scottish Labour. It also came in the week leading up to the 2012 Labour Conference in Manchester. The conference was peppered with low points such as speeches by Ed Balls and Liam Byrne promising a looming cuts agenda from any future Labour Government. This meant that, despite no actual cuts being announced in Lamont’s speech, it was placed in that context, by other party’s spin machines and the media in general.
As the new branches and therefore the full new arrangement for the devolved Scottish party does not kick in until January next year, it seems a strange time to be flexing her muscles as the Scottish leader or to be laying out a path indicating where Lamont’s Scottish labour will be heading. This, according to a senior party member, was her intention, to set out where she saw the party going and to establish herself as the leader. However, one of the features of the newly devolved structures is a branch system that has more power than before and a commitment to a party that would be more democratic. The review by Jim Murphy and Sarah Boyack heard time and time again from party members about how angry they had been at arbitrary decisions taken at top level by the previous leader Ian Gray and his team, not least the last minute desperate decision to adopt the SNP’s Council Tax freeze. Lamont’s focus on the freeze throughout her speech was correct, it is regressive and does affect the poorest most, it’s clear that this was an attempt to distance herself from Gray’s mistakes and set out a clear position on Council Tax by Scottish Labour. But, she has done what actually caused the membership’s anger with Gray, she has not sought a party consensus, nor had any sort of internal democratic decision-making process on the idea of universal benefits. She has “done a Gray” as one Labour Councillor put it last week, by making announcements from the top down, from the leadership, irrespective of the membership’s feelings on the issue.
So, why now? Why not wait for the devolved party’s beginning in January? Why not wait for the outcomes of internal party reviews on paying for public services and further devolution? The timing of her speech was wrong.
The presentation of her speech was what has caused the problem’s for Scottish Labour in the aftermath. The reaction to the speech from the usual suspects was over the top and they misquoted her and what the speech included. There was no “lurch to the right” there was no “bowing to the Westminster Party”, there was certainly no Tory policies or even New Labour policies involved. Yet, it was quite easy for the media, the SNP and other left nationalist groups to portray it that way as she overly focused on a few universal benefits and, most importantly, used the dreaded words “something for nothing”. As it happens, her use of that phrase was correct and was part of an argument that is difficult to disagree with. She said:-
“Alex Salmond is quick to point to the high levels of welfare in Scandinavia but those universal benefits are paid for by high levels of taxation. Scotland cannot be the only something for nothing country in the world.”
But from that, her enemies were able to misquote her and state that she had attacked a “something for nothing culture” or a “something for nothing society”, clearly a million miles away from her use of those words. But this Daily Mail/Tory mantra that has been used to attack those on benefits could be associated with Lamont because her speech DID continually look at universal free benefits such as free bus passes, free tuition fees and free prescriptions. The next line in the speech was, “And I will not tolerate a country where the poorest pay for tax breaks for the rich”, but that message was lost because of the shoddy wording of the earlier statement. The presentation was wrong.
The content of her speech was essentially about the SNP’s cuts, and the deceit of the Scottish Government in letting people believe that Council Tax freeze’s and free universal benefits come at no cost to the people. She correctly pointed out where the Scottish Government were failing the poorest, council job cuts, cuts in FE colleges, falling standards in free care etc .
But, as she offered no alternative, it was obvious that the conclusion people would reach was that she was about to advocate removing the universal benefits her speech centred on. She failed to include anything on how she would take money from the richest. She made no case for the efficiency or benefits of means-testing and, most importantly, accepted as a “truth” that the world is now a world where the game has changed, where austerity is the norm.
So, the content, like the presentation and the timing, was wrong.
So where does this leave Scottish Labour? There is anger within the party at this announcement, at the way it was delivered and, especially, that very clear points that the party should be making, against the Council Tax freeze for instance, have been lost amongst a bad week that has put the party on the back foot, forced to defend itself against a position on universal benefits that has still to be decided. Yet, Lamont, in the main, was right. The SNP are treating the public as fools, are making pledges that amount to nothing more than electoral bribes and Labour must review how we go about raising money to protect services. The criticism of her speech was, in the main, wrong. It wasn’t a Tory speech nor was it a New Labour speech and, as it focused on making the richest pay, was no rightward shift for Scottish Labour.
The party in Scotland now faces a fight, but a welcome one. We need to use Lamont’s reviews to make a clear case for supporting free prescriptions, free university tuition and proper local accountability over the Council Tax and public services. Lamont clearly believes in a return to means-testing and/or cutting back of the benefits and services that are universal in Scotland. She has, despite herself, possibly had the effect that she intended, a real debate on where the newly devolved Scottish Labour should be heading. Unfortunately for the leader, she might not like what she hears, and the debate might leave her position as leader in question if and when she loses the argument.
Former NOTW news editor, Douglas Wight (pictured), has been arrested and charged with committing perjury at the perjury trial of Tommy Sheridan in 2010. He was arrested by Strathclyde Police under their Operation Rubicon investigation into phone hacking, perjury, and breaches of the data protection act. Wight joins former NOTW editor and David Cameron spin doctor, Andy Coulson, who was earlier arrested and also charged with committing perjury at the Sheridan trial.
Sheridan, who was found guilty at his trial and sent to prison in 2011, remains determined to clear his name. He completed his sentence in July with the removal of his tag after serving part of it under home detention. The Defend Tommy Sheridan Campaign has its own Facebook page, where you can follow the progress of the campaign.
I’M DELIGHTED to see the new edition of The Scottish Sun hit the streets …today.
At a time when the media sector — and the economy as a whole — faces tough times, it’s great to see a vote of confidence in the Scottish newspaper industry.
This paper brings the prospect of more jobs and more security to those already in employment.
The Sunday edition of The Scottish Sun is born of turbulent times in the newspaper industry. The Leveson inquiry is, rightly, looking into some of the issues that have prompted these changes. But the questions the probe is looking at relate to the industry, not one newspaper or company.
And at a time when it has become all too easy to knock journalism, it’s worth remembering the good newspapers can do.The Scottish Sun’s campaign to sign up organ donors in memory of seven-year-old Cole Gibson is just one example. The risks journalists face were brought home this week when two were killed in Syria, including Marie Colvin of The Sunday Times.
At its best journalism informs, entertains and shines a light into murky corners. It’s vital for a healthy democracy. That’s why today is an important day not just for the Scottish newspaper industry but for Scottish public life as a whole.
Scotland’s newest Sunday paper will be a fresh and vibrant addition in a nation that has an insatiable appetite for news.
The independence referendum in autumn 2014 will be chance for the whole country to have their say.
The Scottish Sun will play an important part in the great debate on our future.
So enjoy the first-ever edition of Scotland’s newest Sunday paper.
I look forward to returning to these pages in the weeks and months to come!
The launch of the Sun on Sunday may have caused some ripples in media and political circles in London, but its splash headline about an Amanda Holden exclusive surely didn’t.
North of the border things were very different where a distinct Scottish version of the Sun on Sunday didn’t disappoint. This was following Rupert Murdoch’s tweet last week that he was in favour of Scottish independence, declaring: “Let Scotland go and compete. Everyone would win.”
The Scottish Sun on Sunday lived up to the expectations with a front page proclaiming a “Day of Destiny” and revealing that the date of the independence poll will be 18 October 2014.
This is a massive moment. The SNP government is in the middle of its own official consultation on the mechanics and details of the independence poll – and they have decided to breach their own processes, all for gaining the favour and a headline from the new Murdoch paper.
After Murdoch’s tweet, Salmond’s spokesman let it to be known that the two men had been in telephone conversation. Nothing to do with politics or editorial content, of course, all about jobs and investment. The motivations are not hard to fathom. Murdoch, the arch anti-establishment figure in his own mind, wants to have revenge on the British political classes who courted and then spurned News International. What better way than to threaten the breakup of that very state, the United Kingdom?
Then there is Alex Salmond, and his idea of politics and Scotland. This is fast becoming a content-free zone with independence presented as continuity rather than any kind of change: an independent nation in name with the same crown and currency – and even the possibility of Nato membership and nuclear weapons.
The implications of this are quite significant. The SNP’s success so far has been in articulating Scottish interests in a centre-left manner. However, at the same time the SNP’s politics have been an ambitious “big tent” coalition that runs from leftwingers to neoliberals and social conservatives, from a “red Scotland” to a “Scotland plc” worldview .
This is the same kind of politics as New Labour at its peak, of seeking to further progressive goals by entering into a Faustian pack with the forces of globalisation, the City and the Murdoch papers. Salmond exhibited the same blindness to the triumphalism of Fred Goodwin and RBS.
Then there was his relationship with Donald Trump as the entire Scottish political class declared “Scotland open for business” and laid down before Trump’s ambitions for a golf course in the sand dunes of north-east Scotland. This once passionate love-in has all turned sour, with the American tycoon infuriated by a plan for wind turbines near his golf development, and declaring himself “personally betrayed” by Salmond.
The Scottish Sun famously came out for the SNP in 1992 but then changed its mind. In the 2011 Scottish parliament elections it also endorsed the SNP. Salmond seems to like dealing with big beasts, but he risks, like leaders before him, having a blind spot to their failings and the ethical dimension.
The bigger problem is the progressive agenda of Scottish nationalism. This has always been more implicit than explicit, based on a rejection of centre-right UK politics and a belief in the centre-left characteristics of Scotland. It has never been fleshed out by Salmond and the SNP, and their pursuit of “big tent” politics and Murdoch’s endorsement have to bring into question what vision of Scotland drives them.
The progressive potential of Scottish nationalism, of a society championing solidarity, compassion and social justice, can no longer be left unsaid. The SNP must make it centre-stage, otherwise what is the point of independence? But how has such a politics been aided by the SNP’s pursuit of Rupert Murdoch?
The official history of Britain is one of glory, achievement and noble endeavour. This tiny island nation, we are taught, at one time controlled an empire that covered a quarter of the globe, spreading civilisation, free trade, democracy and freedom, British values that have shaped the world for the past four or five hundred years.
This is a nation that has excelled in science, engineering, industry and war. The names of Britain’s war heroes and statesmen – Drake, Marlborough, Nelson, Wellington, Churchill et al – are internationally renowned. British industrial might led the way for over a century in productivity, innovation and invention, and Britain’s system of parliamentary democracy has spawned imitation the world over, as have British universities with their proud tradition of excellence.
Such is the greatness of this tiny island nation its mother tongue remains the international language of choice, spoken and understood by diplomats and government ministers of all the nations without exception.
It would be hard to find a published history that doesn’t concur with the aforementioned in either detail or sentiment. And yet it is a lie, a fabricated, obscurantist version of a history that in truth should be a source of shame to every right thinking British citizen.
The British state came into existence with the passing of the 1707 Act of Union joining the English and Scottish parliaments. The monarchy had already been joined in 1603, but politically, economically and militarily the two nations remained distinct, each following their own course. Wales had already been legally annexed by England in the mid 16th century via the Laws in Wales Acts, and Ireland would not be brought into the orbit of what would then be known as the United Kingdom until 1801.
The impulse behind the formation of the British state was the desire of a rising merchant class, whose power and influence had grown with their wealth, to reap the rewards inherent in larger and more powerful military’s ability to forge a larger empire by which to fund a nascent industrial revolution. The increased supply of natural and human resources required at home to fuel economic growth was also a key factor in the formation of this new political and economic entity. The resulting history since the formation of Britain has been one of war, exploitation, plunder and pillage. From the triangular trade – in which African slaves were bought and then transported to work on plantations in the Caribbean and the Americas, with the goods produced subsequently transported back to and sold in Europe – to the opium trade in China, famines in India, concentration camps in Africa, Britain has engineered and perpetrated some of the most heinous and barbaric crimes against humanity ever recorded.
Yet those directly responsible, undoubtedly worthy of being labelled genocidal maniacs and mass murderers, are venerated.
Take Sir Charles Napier, whose statue sits in Trafalgar Square. This is a man whose legacy is written in the blood of the poor and wretched of India, where he spread British values at the point of a sword. It is written in the suffering of the poor and working people of this island, where prior to his posting to India he played a key role in suppressing the Chartist movement. Or what about Lord Curzon? This is another venerated British hero who made his reputation in India, brutally quelling revolt and unrest, before returning home to lend his efforts to the suppression of the movement for women’s suffrage at the beginning of the 20th century.
Then of course there is Winston Spencer Churchill, the exemplar of that British bulldog spirit responsible for withstanding the might of Hitler’s war machine, the inspiration behind Britain’s survival during the dark days after the fall of France in 1940 and up to America’s entry into the war in 1942. We are all familiar with the stirring speeches, the defiant V For Victory salutes. What is less well known is his role in the gassing of the Kurdish town of Sulaimaniya in 1925.
Back then, faced with a growing insurgency in the newly and artificially constituted nation of Iraq, Churchill, who was then Britain’s Colonial Secretary, ordered the town bombed from the air with poison gas.
If regardless of this heinous event Churchill’s racism and imperialist heart still remained in any doubt, it was reaffirmed by the statement he made to the Peel Commission of Inquiry of 1936-37, set up by the British government in response to a popular Arab uprising in Palestine over the influx of Jewish immigrants, this under a Zionist project that was already well underway.
Churchill said: “I do not agree that the dog in the manger has the final right to the manger, even though he may have lain there for a very long time. I do not admit that right. I do not admit, for instance, that a great wrong has been done to the Red Indians of America, or the black people of Australia. I do not admit that a wrong has been done to these people by the fact that a stronger race, a higher grade race, a more wordly-wise race, to put it that way, has come in and taken their place.”
In truth there are so many episodes of cruelty and barbarity committed in the name of the British Empire, it is difficult to know where to begin and where to end. From Ireland to India, from Africa to America, a trail of blood and suffering has been the true legacy of an organised system of what can only be described as state-sponsored murder and theft. Every statue and monument in the centre of every British town and city, every grand building, palace, and mansion, all of them were financed by wealth pillaged from Britain’s former colonies and colonised peoples.
Inevitably, Britain’s history of war and imperialism, and its current role as junior partner in service to US hegemony, has had a deleterious impact on British society at home.
That a British government was able to take the country into an illegal if not immoral war in Iraq at the beginning of the 21st century, and was able to continue in power after being exposed as having lied and dissembled in order to do so, speaks to the culture of war and might-is-right that still exists in British society, one passed down from generation to generation and so lauded in the nation’s culture.
The anachronisms of empire abound in British institutions that remain sacrosanct yet entirely unaccountable. These include the nonsense which is the monarchy, the House of Lords, and the judiciary. On the surface they appear as quaint, even benign aspects of a heritage that makes Britain unique and distinct. However, unique and distinct are not necessarily positive virtues, and in the context of a society which values progress over regress, justice over injustice, they are in fact positively negative.
Despite currently being the seventh largest economy in the world, Britain has some of the worst social indicators of any nation in Western Europe. It is home to the poorest pensioners; has one of the highest rates of child poverty; the most under-funded public health service; the most under-funded public education system; the lowest paid workers who work the longest hours; the highest paid corporate and management executives; and the highest prison population.
Following the brutal example of her US senior partner across the Atlantic, social and economic injustice is now wedded into the fabric of society in Britain. Indeed, the very notion of British society today, after three decades of the free market, is that of a conglomeration of individual self interest unhindered by any shared obligation or responsibility to the collective. The need to reverse this state of affairs has been exacerbated by a global recession that with a right wing Tory-led coalition currently in power threatens to make reality Thatcher’s infamous statement that there is no such thing as society.
Up until recently many placed hope in the election of Ed Miliband as leader of the Labour Party in 2010, believing his leadership would effect a shift to the left by Labour and offer an alternative to the politics of austerity being proferred by the Tories and their Lib Dem cohorts. But after just over a year in the role, Miliband and his shadow chancellor Ed Balls have capitulated to the Thatcherite consensus that exists within the mainstream media and within Labour’s own shadow cabinet. By announcing his intention not to roll back any of the Tory cuts and to likewise cut spending if elected prime minister at the next general election, Ed Miliband and Ed Balls revealed the extent to which Blairism, the bastard child of Thatcherism, has retained a philosophical and ideological stranglehold over Labour, in the process killing off any hope of a viable UK-wide electoral alternative to the status quo of austerity for the poor and continued abundance for the rich.
In Scotland an SNP devolved government is committed to a referendum on independence in the year 2014. Since first coming to power, first in 2007 as a minority government within the devolved Scottish Parliament, and latterly winning a huge mandate to form a majority government after the 2010 Scottish elections, the SNP have proved head and shoulders above their political opponents in Scotland in terms of cohesion, purpose, and political nous. Led by Alex Salmond, it is felt by many that the SNP have filled the left of centre space in Scottish politics vacated by Labour in the course of its shift to the right under the influence of Blairism.
In contradistinction to its Westminster counterpart, the SNP have refused to introduce tuition fees for Scottish students entering higher education, cancelled all PFI and PPP contracts within the NHS in Scotland (though PPP has been reintroduced through the back door via the Scottish Futures Trust), maintained free personal care for the elderly, free bus passes for the elderly (both introduced by Labour), introduced free prescriptions, committed to a five year council tax freeze across all 32 Scottish local councils (though this particular policy isn’t as progressive as it seems at first glance given it has deprived local councils of the ability to invest in local services and jobs, especially at a time of deep spending cuts by central government), and remains committed to ending Trident when and if Scotland wins independence.
In addition, the SNP proved consistent in their rhetorical opposition to the war in Iraq and have maintained their support for Tony Blair to be tried for war crimes at The Hague. They also deserve credit for effecting the early release from prison on compassionate grounds of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, the man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing in 1988, but whose conviction has always been the subject of controversy. The SNP’s refusal to bow to pressure from the US over the Libyan’s release was impressive. However their later support for NATO’s military intervention in Libya was less so.
Also less than impressive is the manner in which SNP-majority local councils have cooperated with the Coalition’s spending cuts, laying off workers and cutting investment in local services. Moreover, it wasn’t too long ago that Alex Salmond said that the Scottish people didn’t mind Thatcher’s economic policies. He also championed Fred Goodwin’s disastrous takeover of Dutch bank ABN Ambro at the height of the banking crisis, leading RBS to the brink of collapse, and was a keen supporter of bank deregulation.
Child poverty in Scotland has gone up under his administration (it is now 1 in 4), and one of the first things the SNP did upon taking office was cut back Labour’s scheme of free central heating for the elderly. Internationally, Salmond’s original vision of an independent Scotland joining an arc of prosperity with Ireland, Iceland and Norway was left in tatters when the first two of the aforementioned economies were among the hardest hit due to their over exposure to financial markets.
Wisely, the leader of the SNP has since focused solely on Norway as the economic template of a future independent Scotland, which significantly is not a member of the EU and has created a hugely successful oil fund for future generations. The high price of oil has seen Norway’s economy not only protected from being overly impacted by the global economic crisis, but register increased growth. It is an economy in which the state enjoys a large footprint, in which a strong welfare state and large public sector combines with a commitment to progressive taxation to provide its citizens with among the highest living standards of any advanced economy.
But here’s the rub. If the SNP intends to try and emulate Norway’s social and economic model, it will have to commit to nationalising the oil and other key sectors of the economy, while raising taxes for the rich, business, and high earners at the same time. This path is contradicted by the SNP’s intention of reducing corporation tax to 15 percent.
The question of what an independent Scotland’s currency would be has yet to be convincingly addressed. With the eurozone in a state of crisis, and with the EU likely to be redrawn in favour of its most powerful member states as a result, the viability of the euro as the new Scottish currency is questionable. And even if possible, how does an independent Scotland’s entry into the EU square with the SNP’s flagship economic policy of reducing corporation tax? Ireland got away with this reform at a time when the global economy was enjoying a boom. Now the situation is much different, with the EU unlikely to rubber stamp any new member state setting a rate of corporation tax as low as 15 percent.
The validity of such a policy must also be examined more closely, given what it would mean in terms of wealth redistribution. If the objective is a low tax paradise for big business and he likes of Donald Trump, this surely contradicts Alex Salmond’s recent pledge to have Scotland set a progressive example for other nations to follow.
On the other hand, if an independent Scotland were to retain sterling as its national currency, it would be in the invidious position of having its interest rates set by the Bank of England. Where would this leave the question of sovereignty? Scotland in this scenario would be entering into a position of economic vulnerability to decisions made by the central bank of a foreign country, much the same as Panama vis-à-vis the United States.
These are vital questions that have yet to be addressed by the SNP.
Constitutionally, the notion that progressives and those interested in a society based on the principles of social and economic justice should support a campaign for Scottish independence that does not include a republic among its objectives is misplaced. With an unelected monarchy still in place as head of state, Scotland’s newly won independent status would undoubtedly be compromised.
When it comes to the tactics employed by the SNP in fighting its independence campaign, reductionist analogies with historical events, such as the Battle of Bannockburn, which bear no relevance to the 21st century, do the Scottish people a great disservice. On the contrary, they open the door to anti-English sentiment, which if carried too far could have dangerous consequences both north and south of the border.
The Scots are not an oppressed minority. Indeed, the notion that the likes of the Duke of Buccleuch, Sir David Murray, Sir Tom Farmer, and Brian Soutar are oppressed because they are Scottish is risible. Nor is it possible to escape the fact that someone living on benefits in Glasgow or Edinburgh has more in common with his English equivalent than he does with any of the aforementioned names. Overall, the British establishment is made up of Scottish, English, Welsh, and Irish members, which places even more importance on the need for progressive supporters of independence to call for an end not only the 1707 Act of Union, but also the British Monarchy and its various institutions and privileges, such as the Privy Council (of which Alex Salmond is a member) and the Crown Powers.
Anything less is to invite the danger of supporting the status quo under a different flag, rather than breaking the Thatcherite consensus that has dominated the political, economic and cultural life of these islands for far too long.
This Thatcherite consensus, by the way, was delivered with the help of the SNP, which back in 1979 tabled the vote of no-confidence in the then Labour government at Westminster, thus paving the way for the snap general election that followed and Thatcher’s entry into Downing Street.
Of course this is one historical event of which Alex Salmond and the SNP won’t be eager to remind the Scottish people.