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Sunday, 4 November 2012

An Independent Scotland Does Have Alternatives

Blair Jenkins of the Yes Campaign has consistently emphasised that the Campaign does not speak for the SNP, nor does the SNP dictate to the Yes Campaign, in terms of what an independent Scotland will look like. The problem created by that approach - and it is difficult to know what other general approach the Yes Campaign can take - is that the public perception is that whatever policy position the SNP adopts, is assumed to be the definitive policy position that will apply in an independent Scotland. Thus, when the SNP claims an independent Scotland will continue with sterling as its preferred currency, that an independent Scotland will be granted automatic membership of the EU and, an independent Scotland will retain membership of NATO, but without nuclear weapons, the Scottish electorate assumes that will be the position of an independent Scotland. It is also assumed the Yes Campaign must endorse those policies as the Scottish public as yet, does not differentiate between the SNP and the Yes Campaign.

While it is perfectly understandable that the Yes Campaign will refuse to either endorse or reject SNP policies in the run-up to the referendum, it means the party is being given a free run to determine the nature of an independent Scotland. The Yes Campaign is not a political party, therefore it lacks not only the mechanisms to formulate policy, it lacks the legitimacy to speak for any section of the Scottish people on any policy position other than the demand for independence. As the largest political party, the most organised political party and the richest political party on the Yes side of the independence debate, as well as the small matter of forming the Scottish Government, the SNP is perceived by the Scottish electorate as the most likely political party to form the first Scottish government if the referendum returns a "Yes" vote. For those reasons, no other political party on the Yes side of the debate  is perceived to be able to offer any alternatives to the policies being offered by the SNP, although they are expected to campaign for independence as part of the overall campaign, subsuming their own agendas to that of the Yes Campaign until the referendum vote in 2014. The Greens have already found difficulty in accepting that subservient role and unless the tensions this creates are resolved, there is always a danger the Yes Campaign will be damaged.

The Yes Campaign may have to widen its role and, at least inform the Scottish people, that realistic alternatives do exist, to the policies being offered by the SNP. The Campaign need not compromise its position and endorse any alternative, but it could lend its weight to the argument that there are alternatives. Yes Campaign spokesmen have been questioned on those areas on which the SNP has been most vulnerable and their first, and indeed only response, has been to say they do not speak for the SNP, therefore they cannot answer the criticisms being made. The alternatives to the main areas of attack on the SNP, have been endorsed to some extent, by other political parties such as the Greens, the SSP or the SDA but as they are seen to be on the fringes of Scottish politics, despite the Greens being represented in the Scottish Parliament, their arguments are rarely given the exposure they sometimes deserve, by a Scottish media which has shown little interest in any arguments other than those made by the SNP and the other mainstream parties. Quite willingly therefore, the media colludes in the exclusion from the debate, of all arguments other than those made by the SNP on the Yes side, and the Unionists on the other. Any attempt by any of the minor parties on the Yes side, to offer different policies from those of the SNP, is immediately presented by the media and the Unionists, as "a split in the Yes Campaign" although any number of different positions on the Unionists side are accepted without comment, as part and parcel of normal political activity.

An "independent" Scotland post referendum, must be presented as some monolithic, body of political positions, and any suggestion of policy differences, is condemned as "weakness" or "leaps in the dark"; while the rUK, post referendum, must be accepted on the basis of "promised but unspecified reforms" which will "increase the power of the Scottish Parliament." The Liberals have even re-discovered federalism, which again the Scottish electorate is expected to endorse, without any explanation of how many assemblies/parliaments (if they were even acceptable) would be required to satisfy the electorate in England.
The SNP is being pursued relentlessly by the Unionists, on three of the most important issues in the debate on independence; the currency, the EU and NATO and the problems which the SNP is now having to confront, are largely of its own making, as it has attempted to slip them under the radar of the Unionist opposition by a combination of sophistry and dissembling. Each of the three issues is worthy of a separate blog and one will be provided, but a summary of the alternatives should be sufficient to highlight the need for the Yes Campaign to address the problems being created for the Independence cause, by Unionist attacks on SNP policies. The lack of acknowledgement of alternatives, by the SNP and the Scottish media, suggests that no alternatives exist, thereby increasing the pressure on the SNP which is forced to dissemble even more, as it attempts to relieve the pressure. The embarrassment of Alex Salmond could have been avoided if  he and the party had not taken such entrenched positions.

It is difficult to understand why the SNP and Alex Salmond have allowed themselves to be cornered and embarrassed to such an extent on the question of the currency. They have reacted as if the only alternative to the embattled euro, is to keep the pound sterling after Scotland becomes independent, pretending at first that all of the 67 currency arrangements in the world, were all the same as that which they initially proposed for an independent Scotland and the rUK. That position lasted all of 48 hours, before Alex Salmond changed his initial statement and since then, we have learned that the SNP now advocates a formal currency union, arguing that such an arrangement worked for both Eire and Australia in the early years following independence. That claim will be examined later but why would an independent Scotland allow London and the Bank of England to control the Scottish economy, when an independent Scotland could launch its own Scottish currency and avoid that external control? Gavin McCrone has already backed that alternative but the SNP has yet to say why it prefers sterling to a Scottish currency, when the party has campaigned for years against the Bank of England setting interest rates for the UK, in order to suit the South East of England. The Scottish people are at least entitled to know such an alternative has been favoured by other newly independent countries in Europe, and why it is deemed to be unsuitable for an independent Scotland.

Alex Salmond and the SNP have taken an equally inexplicable position on the EU, leading to the First Minister being called "a bare-faced liar". Those who have assumed the SNP had taken legal advice on the question of an independent Scotland's position on EU membership, included a great many people who took more than just a passing interest in politics. They accepted what they believed were repeated claims by Alex Salmond and other SNP spokespeople, that the claim that an independent Scotland would automatically be accepted as a successor state in the EU, was at least based on something more than just some academic's "opinion". As the position of an independent Scotland has been debated back and forth in recent weeks, by those with different opinions and different political axes to grind, so the embarrassment of the First Minister and the SNP has increased accordingly. The political fallout of this embarrassment has yet to be calculated, let alone felt, and opinion polls have yet to record significant falls in support for independence but why would the SNP continue to take such a political stance, when it is so unnecessary?

 Why should Scotland be subjected to repeated threats of being isolated, forced to join the euro, forced to erect border controls, refused entry to the EU and every possible combination of obstacles known to man, when we could tell the EU politely, to keep its membership and stuff it. We could deny ourselves the pleasure of having our agriculture controlled by Brussels, our fishing grounds plundered by Spaniards, our trade determined by the Common External Tariff and all the many impositions of the undemocratic, centralised and corrupt EU by refusing to join and join the EEA and EFTA instead. Why would we want to be a part of an organisation that is so corrupt that its own auditors have refused to certify its accounts for fourteen consecutive years because on average, £6 billion per annum cannot be accounted for? We are Net contributers to this corrupt organisation and we have a balance of payments deficit with it. The figures for Scotland are unclear but the figure for the UK is £50 billion in 2010/11. A referendum on EU entry would show how much Scots really hanker after continued EU membership.

The third and final policy embarrassment the SNP has created, is the reversal of the party's long commitment to come out of NATO and demand the removal of nuclear weapons from the Clyde. The party decided to retain membership of NATO but only on condition that it removed the nuclear weapons and Trident submarines from the Clyde. The usual arguments were used to persuade the party members to reverse the party's policy, arguments more commonly made by Unionists when arguing against independence. If the members were not in favour of NATO, they were isolationists, lived in a dream world and were turning their backs on their allies in the rest of Europe. It was vitally important they let our allies see we could be relied upon for collective defence and join them in an alliance which had as its main policy a commitment to a first strike nuclear provision. It seemed to matter little that, with the exception of France, none of those allies  whom the members were asked to re-assure, actually had or stored nuclear weapons of their own. Only Scotland, with its 5 million of a population, was required to play host to these weapons of mass destruction. This is the most difficult policy to which an alternative can be offered which is not a complete reversal but the notion that the nuclear submarines on the Clyde will be easily removed is already being questioned. As always, there are threats of job losses as if 8,000 jobs are any kind of justification for the manufacture and store of such hideous weapons. In any case, the savings of £1.5 billion on defence every year, can go a long way to creating alternative employment.

If the Yes Campaign is serious about presenting a positive alternative to the negativity of the Unionist No Campaign, it should at least give some consideration to presenting alternatives to the Scottish people, to the policies being offered by the SNP. The Campaign carries more weight than the smaller political parties in its ranks with the exception of the Greens, but it may find it increasingly difficult to continue to argue persuasively that it is not simply the SNP's mouthpiece as the polling day gets closer. It may help to suggest that alternatives do exist and that the SNP is not the only show in town.