by Joe Middleton
I was watching the BBC programme Dinner with Portillo the other day, which was discussing Scots independence, and some of the reactions of the English guests were instructive. Rod Liddle initially tried to doubt the existence of Scotland at all, but later admitted that he was really worried an independent Scotland would take away all the Scots Labour MP’s from Westminster. As a leftist of sorts he thought this might not be in his interests as England would become a permanent Tory zone.
Portillo himself seemed to imagine there would be no consequences whatsoever for England, with London remaining the centre of the universe, he was therefore quite happy for the Scots (and Wales) to become independent because essentially we don’t really count.
An Oxford academic worried about how England might change without the influence of Scotland and Wales and might become a less tolerant country as a result. None of them were particularly interested in the effect independence might actually have on Scotland, an omission which perhaps perfectly illustrates the nature of the union!
On the ‘other side’ Hardeep Singh Kohli, who appears to have wangled a berth for himself as a TV expert on Scotland, proved his own ignorance by declaring that a separate military presence for Scotland was impossible and also bizarrely claimed that he didn’t even know the SNP’s policy on nuclear weapons.
He seemed to imagine Scotland as a jealous lover, spurned by those nasty English types who don’t care for our affections! In fact a battered wife might have been a better analogy but when people claim ‘the English’ as a whole believe a certain thing they are generally on a hiding to nothing and this was clearly the case with Mr Kohli.
Former Labour party First Minister Henry McLeish could have enlightened him on SNP policy no doubt but perhaps couldn’t be bothered, he was more interested in whether the RBS should be considered a British bank rather than a Scots one.
Meanwhile historian Michael Fry made some decent points but his political analysis seemed to be that we would be so skint with independence that we would have to slash public spending (as a Tory he liked the sound of that) even though the actual evidence is that Scotland puts more money into the union than we receive!
I mention this programme because it indicates the kind of mish mash which passes for serious commentary on Scots independence through the British prism of TV news.
Anyone watching this programme would have been no wiser about Scots independence at the end than they would have been at the start, yet the case is very clear and easily described.
As long as Scotland and Wales are outvoted by a factor of 10-1 and 20-1, in the important arenas of defence, foreign affairs and other important areas like pensions and social security, within the British parliament, then we do not live in a genuine democracy and our views are easily and effectively ignored.
So what moves are being made towards holding a referendum on independence and what is the current situation of the SNP Government?
Right now the SNP are being attacked by the ‘Scottish’ press for various imaginary sins. Possibly to deflect attention from actual fraud at British parliamentary level by Jim Devine MP, the press have decided that an auction for a lunch with Alex Salmond is the height of corruption. The fact that the individual who bought the lunch, could have made the same donation directly to the SNP, and that there were no policy implications escapes our journos.
No, the most important issue for them is that the SNP might have used the parliamentary canteen (parliamentary facilities!) for the lunch in question… If it sounds pathetic, it is.
Nicola Sturgeon has also been dunked into luke warm water for the heinous crime of representing a constituent. Yes, because Nicola wrote a letter asking a court to consider that a custodial sentence might not be advisable for a benefit fraudster with ten kids this is seen as a shocking lapse of judgement.
The Edinburgh Evening News claims “the honeymoon is finally over for SNP”. This claim that the SNP’s popularity was a ‘honeymoon period’ was always designed to be a stick to beat them with, however given that the SNP won the elections in May 2007 it’s been a hell of a long honeymoon! The unionists have yet to hit the SNP with a charge that will stick. In reality they have governed extremely well, a fact which sticks in the throat of many a biased journalist.
The unionists attempted to kill the SNP’s referendum bill by trying to arrange one of there own flunkies as committee chairman. Margo MacDonald’s assisted suicide bill which should have gone to the health committee was instead given to a newly created ad hoc committee with a view to ensuring a unionist chair on the proposed referendum bill which was expected to follow it.
In fact however the SNP neatly sidestepped this abuse of parliamentary procedure by publishing the Bill in draft form meaning that they can delay its actual implementation to a more opportune time.
The SNP plans to hold the referendum in 2010, after the result of the UK elections and at a point where any new Government will have revealed its hand in respect of Scotland. Labour and Liberals might find it more difficult to deny a choice on independence in the face of a hostile Conservative UK Government!
At the moment however all the unionists are pledged to deny Scots a choice and to publish a bill would simply hasten its demise. Timing in this case is everything, and the SNP have organised through their national conversation a proper consultation with the public. SNP ministers have travelled up and down all of Scotland and held numerous public meetings to properly consider independence.
The ill fated Calman commission, designed to scupper independence without actually going as far as considering it, has given its findings which have subsequently been entirely ignored by both Labour and Conservatives. So called devolution max, is actually devolution minimal as no unionist party is willing to countenance any actual financial level of independence.
Without the purse strings of course a devolved assembly remains effectively controlled by central Government, a fact they are all well aware of. Calman was designed to outflank the national conversation, however because it ignored independence all it has done is reveal the poverty of ambition for Scotland of all unionists. Job well done!
What this means is that the line between independence and devolution remains clearly drawn. When the referendum happens the Scots will get a choice which is clear between those who want the best for Scotland and those who don’t.
The unionists can delay that vote but ultimately they cannot deny it. If the SNP needs to spend more time talking to the public and dealing with actual political issues then I’m sure they are happy to do this. If they have to fend off ill aimed allegations without much actual weight then they seem entirely capable of that as well.
According to opinion polls many people in Scotland remain unconvinced by independence, probably because the actual issues are rarely properly addressed through the British media. Those issues will only be properly addressed by those who believe in independence making a case for it. This is what the SNP is attempting to do and gradually they are moving towards their ultimate objective.
Scotland must finally be given a choice and when that choice is properly debated through a referendum campaign their patient groundwork through the national conversation will hopefully pay off.
Monday, February 15, 2010
by Joe Middleton