Which Way Forward?

My excitement at the implications of the national election result on May 5th, has been tempered over the last few weeks with the realisation that, despite a majority in Holyrood being from a party whose supposed raison d’etre is to obtain Independence for Scotland, it looks likely that Salmond will push the SNP to promote “fiscal autonomy” over the coming years, rather than Independence. He has already announced that this will appear as an option on the referendum ballot paper.

While fiscal autonomy appears at first glance to be a positive step on the road to Independence,  further examination leads me to think that it may well be an unnecessary detour. In 1979, the Scottish people voted for devolution and were denied it by the use of a rigged referendum. In the intervening 30 years, Scotland has grown in confidence and stature …and grown apart from the UK. Despite polls showing between 30-40% support for independence, this is likely to grow both as our nations financial precocity grows, unable to raise its own revenue and dependent on the largesse of an austerity promoting UK government.

Given that it is domestic finances that are likely to dominate the agenda over the coming four years, fiscal autonomy may appear an attractive option to address resource allocation.

Depending on the design of the ballot paper, some independence supporters may be tempted to support Fiscal Autonomy, should the threat of the status quo loom large, if independence appears not to have significant support.

It is critical therefore that the independence movement build a strong case for independence both to win support and also to ensure that existing supporters are not overcome with defeatism masquerading as realism. To achieve success, rather than extolling the virtues of an Independent Scotland through romantic notions of destiny fulfilled, the independence movement should dedicate its time to identifying how Independence can shape both our future nation and the context in which it lives.

I look forward to seeing a re-invigorated Independence campaign thinking around, what independence means, what its possibilities are, what kind of nation we wish to be and what kind of world an Independent Scotland will help shape.

Issues which must be examined, dissected and discussed include

The share of the UK national debt that an independent Scotland would assume responsibility for

The coastal territories of the UK, and the negotiation of the 1999 boundaries.

The relationship with the ex-UK monarchy within a Scottish Republic and the ceding of Crown Property

Scotland’s relation to the EU and our positioning within it

The Scottish currency and our relationship with the Eurozone – or possibly the Sterlingzone

Defence and International relations, including NATO membership

Scotland’s positioning within the UN and access to committees and councils.

This is not an exhaustive list and there are no are there easy answers to the above. What is clear however is that unless an understanding of our future position in relation to the rest of the world is described, developed and communicated widely in advance of any coming referendum we may be denied a substantial opportunity to improve not only the lives of Scottish citizens but, through the destruction of the exploitative UK state, the lives of the rest of the world as well.

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  1. Scottish republic says:

    The YES campaign has already started but it isn’t organised.

    Thisis probably because the person who will lead it is Salmond, however he can use all the help he can get from as wide a field as possible.

    Get going folks.

    1. The yes campaign will get organised, I guess the new cabinet have a lot to get on with. So yes they need help from all sources. They also need support and a combative response to the scaremongering denigration our independence movement, by the people who desperately want to hang on to the dying Union.

  2. Steven H says:

    Speaking as a unionist, a purely negative unionist campaign deserves to lose (and even if it wins, it will leave a bad taste in the mouth).

    We should expose the logical inconsistency of the nationalist position – either independence will be thoroughgoing, in which case voters will not like it (let’s face it) or it will leave Scotland basically the same as it is now (with the Queen, the pound, in the EU/NATO, etc), in which case: why bother at all?

    Every social policy any party might wish to pursue is achievable within the Union. There is no reason, other than nationalist romantic longings, to leave it.

    Steven

    1. Anthony Little says:

      Steven, there is no ‘logical inconsistency’ in seeing the possibility of fiscal autonomy as a stepping stone to full independence. Personally, I want and strongly support a full break with the UK and the re-emergance of a vibrant, optimistic, forward looking, engaging Scotland. And to leave behind for good the pessimistic, and London-centric “support” that the Westminster parliament still holds over us.

      Even with “independence-lite” (I hate that phrase) the SNP government would at least be able to demonstrate to the nervous Scottish people that we are quite able to manage ALL the different threads of Scottish life, and are not beholden to London to “show us how”.

      No more of the “too wee, too feart, and too stupid”

      1. Couldn’t agree more Anthony.

    2. Scaremongering doesn’t work Steven. The movement has come too far. Supporting teh Union is flogging a dead horse. Its days are numbered and teh UK is already crumbling. Far better would be for us to stand on our own two feet and have a mature relationship with each other based on mutual respect and ability to necogiate from an equal base. Scotland AND England both have a lot going for them, but not as long as Scotland doesn’t even have a say at Westminster and is bullied by Oxbridges who spend more time ridiculing us than looking at the turning point that has been reached, and moving forward. No country benefits from looking back to a glorious past and pretending or imagining that can last forever.

      1. Steven H says:

        Interesting how Rangers/Celtic style sectarianism is to be denounced but a lazy prejudice against “Oxbridges” who supposedly spend all of their time “ridiculing” Scotland is quite acceptable. Old habits die hard – if you stoke anti-English (or anti-“London” to give it its euphemistic title) feeling, it takes a long time to dissipate (if it ever does). The idea that all the resentment that the SNP have stoked towards “London” will just vanish after independence is deeply mistaken. Every fall in trade figures, or a rise in crime in Glasgow, will invariably be pinned on the villainous neighbours, I have no doubt. And it may disappoint you to know that as a Scot who lives in London, I have never experienced anti-Scottish prejudice.

        Just to note – nations of 6 million and 55 million do not negotiate from equal positions of strength. Simple realpolitik.

        Steven

  3. Steve Arnott says:

    Mhairi’s article raises some interesting points – but I think those of us who favour an independent Scotland need not fear a multi-option referendum in which three options are laid out, and where voters are asked to vote in order of preference, provided those options are 1) full independence 2) full fiscal autonomy or devolution max within the UK and 3) the post Calman/Scotland act status quo.

    Pro-independence socialists could argue – along I hope with the SNP and the Independence Convention – for vote 1 for full independence and vote 2 for full fiscal autonomy within the UK. If the pro-independence campaign concentrates, not the constitutional minutiae or nationalist sentiment, but the positive difference having such powers could mean to a future left of centre Scottish Government and the majority of Scottish people, then I believe both Labour voters, SNP voters who are not yet convinced of the indepndence argument, and those who did not vote could be persuaded to support independence in their own material interest.

    For instance why not highlight that in an independent Scotland
    * an oil fund could be set up to benefit the whole of society
    * the council tax could be abolished and replaced with a progressive local income tax based on ability to pay
    * that we could write the right to a free education, a free health service – both funded through general taxation – an affordable home and a living pension into a new Scottish constitution
    * that through progressive taxation we could limit the economic power of the wealthiest in society and redistribute wealth to end both cultural and material poverty
    * that we could begin to roll back 35 years of UK based Thatcherite neo-liberalism ending private sector exploitation of the public purse and begin to bring major utilities back into public ownership
    * that we could create a not-for-profit publicly owned Housing and Land bank to build affordable homes for rent and purchase
    * that we could create a publicly owned renewable energy company to ensure that wind, wave and tidal turbines are built by skilled workers here in Scotland and the profits generated are ploughed back into society in the form of lower domestic energy bills and investment in new technologies and advanced industries.

    I think such a programme – linked to the question of independence – makes it very much a question of what kind of people we are and what kind of society do we want to live in and leave for our children. Such an approach could gain massive support across the political spectrum with the exception of the pro-market right who are a tiny minority in Scotland anyway.

    Some of these ideas could also be achieved under devolution max but not all of them. However, even if a referendum were to deliver devolution max or full fiscal autonomy, pro-independence activists need not be disheartened. The Scottish Government would have massively increased powers compared to now and the issue of independence would not go away in the longer term as long as we remain attached to a right of centre British State. It would seen as the next staging post.

    A multi-option referendum would in all probability deliver a win-win situation – but only if how the increased powers can be used to benefit ordinary people and their lives is at the centre stage of the campaign.

  4. Drew says:

    Neither am I sold on the notion of independence from the UK, an institution I remain quite comfortable with. It would certainly suit the Union cause if SSP and others were to create or foster a split among the ranks of the Independentistas and set themselves up as the real independent republicans but would it help the entirely legitimate debate on independence? Perhaps the internal conflict among the independence movement does need exposed to public scrutiny.

  5. Siôn Jones says:

    I would think that the best way to pose the questions would be to have 4 options

    a) Full independence
    b) Fiscal Autonamy
    c) Current position
    d) Abolishment of Scottish parliament

    And then ask the voters to rank them in order of preference , 1 to 4 , making it plain that there is no compulsion to rank every option.

    I suspect that d) would receive hardly any votes, c) a bit more, and that a) and b) would tussle for the first spot – with b probably winning it by a short head.

    Making the choice EITHER a) OR b) would be stupid. Could let c in by the back door.

    One thing we know about Alex Salmond is that he is not stupid.

  6. Robert says:

    What would be the new currency? A Scottish pound linked to the English one with London still setting interest rates? In which case why bother? Or join the Euro and have interest rates set by Frankfurt? The ECB would not be concerned about a small country like Scotland on the periphery but would set rates to suit the larger continental powers like France and Germany. A separate Scottish currency independent of both London and Frankfurt would be vulnerable to the financial markets and be a barrier to trade with England. Face it the status quo is the best option.

    1. dcomerf says:

      “A Scottish pound linked to the English one with London still setting interest rates? In which case why bother?”
      Because fiscal policy is much more important than monetary policy.

      “A separate Scottish currency independent of both London and Frankfurt would be vulnerable to the financial markets”
      It would be a fairly strong currency given that Scotland is an oil exporter. NB we don’t necessarily want a strong currency.

      My preference would be for a sterling area, with a central bank setting the interest rates, and with the policy objectives of the central bank set by some democratic combination of all the governments within this sterling area. Obviously this will give monetary policy an “English weighting” but that is the price for avoiding the “barrier to trade with England”. As I said, no biggie – control of fiscal policy is much more important than control of monetary policy.

  7. Let Alex Salmond get on with building the case for independence. The catchphrase of the Scottish Government and people at present should be ‘its the economy stupid.’

  8. Coilleduine says:

    Fiscal autonomy is a prerequisite for the only option needed – Independence.

  9. Steve Arnott says:

    Drew – I’ve no doubt unionists will stoop to anything to preserve their precious British state and the oil and gas revenues that flood south to bolster it, including portraying the pro-independence movement as ‘split’. We are not. It is perfectly natural for people to have differing visions of what an independent Scotland could look like. I stand for an independent Scotland that is democratic, pluralist, socialist and green. A forward looking Scotland with a science and technology based economy. A Scotland that is a proud continuation and culmination of the Enlightenment ethos. Others may have a different vision but I’m sure we are all agreed this country is hobbled by the Union.

    My suggesting was a tactical and strategic one – that by concentrating on the kind of Scotland most Scots would like to see, and sharply contrasting that with what a neo-liberal Union has delivered in the last 35 years, I believe an Independence referendum can be won.

    1. Drew says:

      Steve,
      Its good to hear from you. You may remember meeting me with the CFO Highlands and Islands in his Inverness office in the mid oughts (Drew McFarlane-Slack)
      My comment was actually in reply to Mhairi, but equally applies. The overwhelming SNP victory suggests to me that internal differences in policy direction may now emerge within the ranks of those supporting independence and this may be a good thing for voters (it may also assist the unionists). Voters would be able to judge from a spectrum of views on independence, from the far left republican socialists to the centerist ‘lite’ monarchists. This debate would flush out diversity and could split the independent movement. Dontcha think?

  10. Tocasaid says:

    Little to disagree with. The benefits of independence should be hammered home again and again. We shouldn’t get too bogged down in ‘post-independence policy’ though. Every other independent democratic nation decides its policy on whatever party(ies) win the election. We maybe therefore ask what the Labour Party or Lib Dems, if they still exist, would do with Scotland’s wealth and resources after independence.

    Btw, the photo looks like the work of Am Buidheann Dubh.
    http://www.ambuidheanndubh.blogspot.com/

  11. Steve,

    There might be nothing to fear from a multi-option referendum, but that entirely depends on its set up. If votes are transferable, then I could see its merits, however if three options (independence, fiscal autonomy and status quo) are set against each other, then what you might see is the status quo being the largest of the three, despite it being the least favoured option of the other two groups, who together win a majority. After 79 we should know that the devil is in the detail of the referendum structuring.

    Drew,

    I dont think that the SSP envisages ourselves working in opposition others who support independence, even if their “flavour” isnt to our taste. The SSP stands for an independent Scotland which is republican and socialist in character. We are not alone in that – there are other organisations out there which share our vision, and there are also those who desire a more capitalist-friendly nation. We will work with all to achieve national liberation, however will continue to put our case to establish a socialist republic.

    Robert, Dcomrf,

    I’m not very sure what the monetary approach of an independent Scotland should be. What I am very sure of is that we need to have thought about it well in advance of any referendum. In the absence of thought, things tend to drift along as are. It may well be that – for the time being at least – we should continue with Sterling, but that should be based on a good case rather than intellectual laziness. With Greece about to drop out of the Eurozone, and the possibility of others following in its wake, the currency situation may look considerably different in five years time.

  12. George A says:

    Independence is not just a SNP desire. The official stance of labour does not reflect the view of all members – I don’t know to what extent but I suspect it is higher than the party suspect.
    On the question of independence – a nice quote from Ghandi’s campaign on newsnet

    First they ignore you
    Then they insult you
    Then they fight you
    Then you win

  13. Steve Arnott says:

    Mhairi,

    The votes would have to be transferable, otherwise I don’t think a multi option referendum would be acceptable. I think the SNP leadership are astute enough to avoid a ’79 debacle, whatever presures are imposed by the unionist media.

    Drew,

    Good to see other bolshie Highlanders on the this thread. The debates about the kind of Scotland will of course take place – both before and after independence is secured.

  14. RolftheGanger says:

    There is no strong pro-Union case. In the absence of one, the anti-independence case is be designed to:

    Blank the SNP view by denying print, air and television time in favour of Unionists. See how the BBC are doing it by sparse coverage. Pressure them.
    A chorus of orchestrated ‘anti’ voices in the media. GH, DL, TS. Argue and contribute.
    Create fear, uncertainty and doubt. F.U.D tactics are powerful ways of keeping change in check. Look at each ‘anti’ article by The Scotsman and it will have one or more of these themes.
    Propagate myths, over and above too wee/too poor/too stupid, eg:
    The SNP have gone soft on independence, ‘independence-lite’ is disinformation.
    SNP wants to have a ‘confederal Union’ -ie continue thinly disguised London control.
    The SNP are planning to have the Union military run Scotland’s defences. (To substitute pretend control for real change).
    You won’t get into Europe, Europe will control you. Europe will asset strip you. etc
    It is not Scotland’s oil, It is running out, It belongs to Shetland and we will annex Shetland, It is Europe’s oil, it is owned by the oil companies, we’ll take it off you. Too important to be controlled by Scotland, you know the song.
    There is no demand for independence. If there was, it is fading. Has died.
    You don’t need a referendum. Stress the (supposedly) low percentage Fors and never mention the low Pro support and high Don’t Knows.
    The Queen objects. Play the royalty card.
    etc. etc. Counter every myth every time. No exceptions.

    Belittle the SNP/movement at large by over-personalising things. eg, It is all and only about one (to be despised person) “Salmond’s ego, wee Eck, Shrek, fatso, all Salmond’s personal ambitions, Salmond picking fights, etc etc.
    Don’t buy into personalisation. Insist on respect, courtesy and formality.

    Set up fall back negotiating stances. Talk about Scotland’s vast share of vaster UK debts – carefully omit to mention the parallel sharing of ALL UK assets.

    Divide and conquer tactics. You Scots can’t run your own show – you’ll be(variously) a banana republic (‘Respect ‘ Dave); a mess of sectarian strife; a back door to England (so we can’t allow that to happen dontcha know) a threat to NATO (read the Westminster village) and so on. Build unity and don’t play to divisive games.

    Suck powers back to the centre, under the guise of more power to Holyrood, as Calman sets up. Supreme Court over-ruling Scots courts. Electoral Commission, Ofgen and other bodies doing centralist bidding.
    Resist and exert pressure for change.
    Strip Scotland of military, so there is no local forces to oppose martial law imposed to ‘deal with’ a manufactured ’emergency’
    If necessary be ready to use ‘Arab spring’ type people power.

    As the Anti’s get even more desperate to maintain the status quo expect:

    Vicious rumour mongering and character assassination,
    Hidden funding of the opposition,
    Media blackout out. cyberspace warfare, denial of service attacks and the like.
    Agent provocateurs ( the mild form is the cyber-Britnats who act as spoilers and try to provoke intemperate replies they can trumpet as ‘typical’)
    Playing the Orange card to divide and conquer by setting communities against each other on the NI pattern.
    Arm the rail police (responsible to London) on the pretext of anti-terrorism, to have force on the ground.
    They may even be stupid enough to do a ‘Dr Kelly’ hit.
    Impose martial law to ‘deal with’ a manufactured ’emergency’

    Think the above is paranoid, over the top and unreal?
    MI5 tried provocation in the 1980s.
    Try some internet research on black propaganda and how the UK fought EOKA in Cyprus, exiled Makarios, jailed independence leaders on trumped up charges, violently suppressed the Maumau in Kenya, and a dozen other empire rearguard campaigns. What makes you think the leopard has changed or will change its spots?
    Forewarned is forearmed.

  15. Matt says:

    I have a few questions:

    1) What would happen to the national debt after breakup. Scotland would have it’s share, £110 Billion I read. Could this be supported by an independent Scotland? This puts debt to GDP ratio to 69%, as opposed to 63% as it is with the UK at the moment. This ultimatly proves that Scotland can’t fund itself, without a major scaling back of the welfare and benefits provided.

    2) Scotland would be expected to either refund the costs of the Scottish bank bailout, or the Scottish banks would be forced to relocate to England. The reason for this is because England wouldn’t countenance having the majority of all that bailout money from English taxpayers going to support scottish banks. Either, RBS and HBOS would have to relocate to England, or the bailout share would be added to Scotlands National Debt?

    3) UK Government Bonds. These would need to be split between the remainder of the UK and Scotland. Since Scotland would be a new financially ‘immature’ country, once the split of gilts was done there could be a flight of investment from Scottish gilts to English ones.

    Adding all this together, then Scotland could find itself in a mess quite quickly. Yes, you would have your oil, but even this doesn’t cover the costs of your welfare state, debt obligations and a requirement to refund the costs of the bank bailout. My opinion is that the sooner this divorce is completed, the better it will be for England.

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