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David Porter » Articles at Suite 101 » Scotland’s New or False Dawn Will Have to Break Soon

Scotland’s New or False Dawn Will Have to Break Soon

Whether Scotland should/could break from the UK, will be another elephant in the crowded room of British politics over the next few years. This article was first published on Suite 101, 17 November 2011. It is relevant today. The issue has far from gone away.

As autumn gives way to a forecast long, bleak winter, the voters of Scotland will be wrestling with tax/spending issues and fallout from the Euro’s collapse at one end of the scale, to the proposed daylight hours changes at the other.

The question of how much Scotland suffers/benefits from changing winter/summer time is symptomatic of a wider issue. Scotland has to face a once-in-a-lifetime decision, a unique opportunity, challenge and responsibility in the next three years.

As Scots struggle like other Britons with their finances and winter difficulties, at the backs of their minds will be the unresolved dilemma of the Scottish Referendum. Having elected a Scottish National Party government with an overall majority in the summer of 2011 committed to holding a vote on secession from the United Kingdom, voters will have to engage fully with the debate soon.

The Independence Generation

Guardian Scottish correspondent Severin Carrell wrote in October 2011, of a mock referendum held by SNP students at Glasgow University to gauge support for independence. One said, ‘this is not just for the Scottish people, but for everyone who lives in Scotland’.

Carrell called this the ‘independence generation’ identified by Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond who hopes they’ll enable him put through legislation for an independence referendum in 2014 or 2015. It may be that Salmond will secure a lowering of the voting age to 16 or 17 by then, so young people will be critical to his campaign. The under 35s now are the most pro-breakaway voters.

Support for the Union is still high on both sides of the border, but polls indicate Salmond’s slow, waiting game will pay off, as opinion shifts his way. A cross-party pro-Union Scottish pressure group, One Dynamic Nation (ODN) has been formed, but Carrell thought 12 years of living with devolution would aid the independence cause.

Observers think David Cameron will not want to be the Prime Minister ‘whose greatest legacy was to preside over the break-up of Britain’. That alone raises the stakes between the two men, sends more ministerial visits to Scotland, intensifies the political debate and is beginning to affect the argument for more powers for Welsh and Northern Ireland assemblies too.

After May’s elections, new leaders were needed by all major parties. The Conservatives elected Ruth Davidson, a 32 year old kick-boxer elected to the Scottish Parliament in May, after a controversial campaign in which one candidate, Murdo Fraser, proposed responding to the Scottish climate of diminished Conservative presence by abandoning the title ‘Conservative and Unionist’ altogether.

The Salmond Factor

That demonstrates how politics keep changing, how old certainties slip away and how Salmond remains a towering influence over the country. His interim demands for bigger borrowing powers, tax levying authority and control of the seabed (gas and oil) are astute moves that quicken the pace of the independence debate.

In November, Benedict Brogan wrote in the Daily Telegraph that ‘the Union is too far gone to be saved by Cameron or Miliband’, in a piece that set conventional wisdom on its head. Most assume that the Union will survive in its present semi-devolved (though not in England) form through proper campaigning.

Brogan argued the best efforts of the established parties will make no difference as a more informal relationship of ‘looser ties between Scotland and the rest of the UK now seem all but inevitable’. In large part this was to do with ‘the wiles of Mr Salmond, a formidable operator adept at manipulating the instruments of state to play his tune’.

To make sure that Scottish students, users of public transport and patients do well out of the subsidy system is just good politics. To assure the Queen that whatever happens, the ‘Union of the Crowns’ is not at risk, is a master-stroke.

The old left-right politics, de-industrialisation of much of Britain in the 1980s, power-games within both Conservative and Labour governments and the situation where public spending is higher per Scottish head than elsewhere in Britain, have also played their parts in entrenching two opposing views. In Scotland it’s that Scotland is treated badly by the English who want to steal their resources; in England it’s that Scotland is doing very well out of always asking for more and should support the UK itself.

Brogan hinted that the test would be for Scotland to take charge of its own income and expenditure and see what happens. Really the only argument left for the Union was that ‘the current model works fine’ if we just stop talking about the constitution and get ‘promoting growth and making schools better’.

Despite the fact that we’re moving into an era of popular public opinion through social media, television voting, epetitions and referenda, there are many aspects of this gigantic opinion poll not yet resolved. They include:

  1. Where is the legality of such a plebiscite coming from?
  2. Should voters in England, Wales and Ulster be allowed a say on Scottish independence?
  3. Is a referendum in Scotland to be binding on the government or advisory?
  4. What if Scotland says yes to independence; the rest of the UK says no?
  5. What is the actual question to be: status quo, devolution or outright independence?

Sources:

  • The Guardian, Severin Carrell, Scotland’s ‘independence generation’ that could decide fate of the union, 9 October 2011. Web 17 November 2011.
  • Daily Telegraph, Benedict Brogan, 8 November 2011, The Union is too far gone to be saved by Cameron or Miliband. Web 17 November 2011.

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