Jim Sillars: Dancing Around Devolution
In an article first published in Holyrood magazine, SNP veteran and nationalist icon, Jim Sillars, questions the SNP leadership’s courting of the of the Devo Max brigade.
DANCING AROUND DEVOLUTION
It’s time the SNP membership woke up to smell the coffee. In case they haven’t noticed, the objective that gave it life and has sustained it over many difficult, barren years is being undermined by its own leadership courting an alternative which, at root, seeks a vote for Scotland to remain within the United Kingdom.
It is disingenuous to claim that if the Scots vote for devo-something-extra then they will be entitled to have it. The effect of additional devolution powers for Holyrood will have to be judged by their effects upon other areas of the UK, especially those in the North of England who already feel disadvantaged by the powers we have. Taking into account others as well as the Scots is the fundamental price of membership of the Union. All the rest falling into step with Oor Jock is an illusion.
That the SNP Government has encouraged these devo-something ploys is a matter for deep regret, because anything that implies we can have our cake and eat it over economic powers in devo-land, eats away at the case for independence. There will be those, the ultra-loyalists, who will deny that there is an SNP leadership hand in this call for a second question. The devo-idea on the referendum ballot paper would not have floated for one minute if Alex Salmond had not given it the green light at the last party conference, and his minions not briefed the press time and again on the subject. It would not float now if the First Minister said outright that he has a mandate for only one question, independence, and only independence will be on the ballot paper.
There will be those, many indeed, within the party who think that Alex is being very smart.
A second devo-max question is an insurance policy if the independence question is lost.
The SNP will, this thinking goes, claim to have won something extra for Scotland and, if Westminster does not implement it, then the SNP will campaign in 2016 on outrage at the denial of the people’s decision.
Does no one stop to ask why the UK Government, and the unionist parties, are not seeking a second question on additional powers given that they have held out such a possibility if we vote down independence? They do not intend to paint themselves into a devolution corner. They know that once independence is defeated, they drive the agenda. Westminster can live with another SNP government dancing an enraged jig in Edinburgh, displeased with all it is going to get – Calman. Once independence is sunk, the SNP threatens no one, and Westminster can relax and renege.
To warp the strategy for independence by encouraging the devo brigades as an insurance tactic, is not only unwise, but is a betrayal of the needs of this nation. Instead of dancing around devolution, the SNP should be shouting a truth from the rooftops – that Scotland is shackled to a fading power, one that is skint and holds out no prospect of anything except economic decline and the further tearing apart of the social fabric of our society; and that the only way out of years of cuts and rising unemployment, is to break free and take command of our own destiny.
George Osborne’s headline admission in The Daily Telegraph of 27 February, ‘UK has run out of money’, says it all. The editor of The Spectator has pointed out that the UK debt burden will only be “returning to pre-Brown levels by 2038”.
Those are the facts, the reasons for getting out of the UK, and have to be hammered home to the Scots. There is no prosperous future for our children if we reject independence.
The SNP membership is guilty of allowing the case for independence to go by default. Where are all those working groups on various issues that are at the heart of the independence debate, and when, tell me, has the party engaged in the kind of sustained campaigning with the evidence supplied by those many working groups? The party has been content to let the leadership do its thinking, and that leadership’s inadequacies are glaringly obvious.
The fact that Alex and his ministers tower above the opposition in Holyrood has made the leadership and the party at large intellectually lazy.
They rejoice in managerialism, coveting credibility. That it is not enough for a party that claims to seek a complete break with the present constitutional and economic set up. The result is that in response to each question lobbed at them by unionists, or to negative opinions on independence expressed by economists, we get the cry of “scaremongering” or off the cuff replies instead of a well prepared rebuttal, that should be based on extensive research and policy formulation by the working groups which, unfortunately, do not seem to have been formed.
Where, tell me, is the sustained education of the Scottish people on the deep structural defects in the economy south of the border to which we are joined? Where is the coherent defence policy? Where is the description of the new economic programme on independence in order to tackle the Union legacy of high unemployment? What changes do we propose to labour laws, given the imbalance of power between employers and workers that now exists?
How will tax revenues be collected, and how will the administration of social benefits be carried out?
How is it that today, most Scots have no idea of the true nature of the oil industry and the importance of the latest large finds, and so easily fall for the arguments about it ‘running out’? Is that not a sign of SNP failure to educate through sustained campaigning?
Is the membership happy with Nicola Sturgeon’s remark as being well thought out policy, when she told The Times conference on 2 March that an independent Scotland would ask the Bank of England to be lender of last resort for our financial institutions and that: “We would pay the Bank of England ….to provide those facilities”? How much? As for the idea that Scotland could get a seat on the monetary policy committee of the Bank of England, it’s risible. Just ask: why would Westminster agree to a foreign country having a seat on its central bank? In all the talk about a currency union with the government down south, it seems to have escaped the leadership’s notice that such could only happen if they agree. What if they say, “yes, no one can stop you using sterling, in the same way people use dollars for international trading, but we decline to take you onboard as a member as we 55 million don’t need you 5 million up there.” Before, and at The Times conference, the leaders of the party were scattering hostages to fortune at the feet of the unionists. The referendum better be held back to autumn 2014, because between then and now there is a mountain of work be done unless, that is, the party, like the leadership, seems content to settle for remaining part of the UK. Scotland deserves better than it is getting.
This article was first published in Holyrood magazine on 12th March 2012.