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Sunday, 17 May 2015

Alex, You Better Live To Be 100 Plus

For me, one of the most depressing incidents of recent memory was the result of the Independence Referendum on September 18th 2014. It was not just the fact that over 2 million Scots voted against independence, what was even more depressing was the unadulterated glee and triumphalism of the No campaigners, as the results came in and area after area recorded overwhelming opposition to what the majority of nations regard as normal. I couldn't help thinking, "What kind of people are we, that we celebrate the opinions of the metropolitan elite, the English media and the political establishment, contending as they do, that Scots are too poor to even contemplate independence?" That doesn't even begin to touch on the opinions of the Kelvin McKenzies and Boris Johnsons, speaking for large sections of the English people, who regard Scots as perpetual whiners, subsidy junkies and wasters. I thought, "It is one thing to accept, secretly if we must, that alone of almost every other nation on earth, Scots lack the smeddum, the intelligence, the desire even, to govern ourselves. But to celebrate it as if we had just been liberated from years of occupation by a cruel and vengeful enemy, at the end of a bitterly contested war; what the hell happened to self-confidence, self-respect, dignity?"

The aftermath, the enormous growth in membership of the SNP, the "Party of Independence"; the daily repetition on social media of a new found desire for independence, on the part of many who had been energised by the referendum to participate in politics for the first time, began to renew my hope that many Scots were beginning to realise they had made a mistake by voting "No". The result of the election on May 7th took everyone by surprise, not least the SNP. Nicola Sturgeon wasn't just playing safe when she reminded party activists that "Every seat above eleven will be a record for us" and when she urged caution on being told the results of the exit polls on the day of the election itself. When the first result was announced for the constituency of Kilmarnock and Loudoun, "SNP 30,000" I knew something special had happened. I should have been over the moon but as the night wore on - my wife and I were there until the end - we both realised we weren't, in fact we felt quite flat. We finally realised the reason for that feeling was the almost total absence of the word "independence". Newly elected SNP MPs, some with unbelievable majorities, came to the mike to speak about "progressive politics", "Scotland's voice will be heard", "stronger Scotland" but few if any, spoke about independence.

Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP leadership in general, gave ample warning that "this election is not about independence", "it is not about another referendum", "even if the SNP were to win every seat, it would not be a mandate for independence or even another referendum". In interview after interview since the election, she has reiterated that stance, agreeing with Andrew Marr when he said, "What you are saying is that the SNP is a National party and not a Nationalist party". That is to do no more than state the obvious, given the number of the party's leadership who have consistently eschewed Nationalism in favour of class politics, but the SNP in the past, never saw any contradiction and always considered the party to be a National party - hence the title.Older members, those of them who always considered themselves to be Nationalists, may find themselves disappointed as independence is put on the back, back burner, where it has been for the past twenty five years or a whole political generation.

Nicola Sturgeon summed up her approach in an interview with the Sunday Herald on 3rd of May, when she said, "My immediate objective and priority in politics is to try and make things better for all of us who live in Scotland right now. If I was to judghe everything all the time on looking two or three steps ahead - what does this mean for the SNP's ultimate goal? - we'd very quickly lose all the trust that people in Scotland have in us. It would be totally counterproductive. The most important thing is to  do the best you can for the country as you see it in the here and now". In other words, short termism rules OK. I don't believe people would lose trust in the SNP if they thought every policy position was mindful of the ultimate goal of independence. At least they would know where they stood and, more importantly, party activists of long standing would believe the party actually wanted independence.

Perhaps also, there would be fewer contradictions in SNP policy if more thought was given to how current political decisions affected the prospects for independence. We all know the last five years have seen real suffering among the working class; the food banks, cuts in welfare, job losses, and a general reduction in living standards for large sections of our population are hardly a sign the country is doing well. But it is giving false hope to Scots to suggest that short term measures such as a "few more powers" are going to provide any lasting benefit. If the SNP really believes Scotland cannot prosper to its full potential, until we have complete independence - which means total control of our resources - why adopt political positions which will delay that day to some time in the distant future, if it is attained at all? Independence has been on the back burner for the past twenty five years; how much have we lost in oil revenues in that time? Norway started its oil fund in 1990 and it is now worth an estimated £450 billion. For the past thirty years Scots economic growth has been 0.5% lower each year, than the UK as a whole - a measurement which is reduced by including Scots growth levels, thereby disguising the true disparity - therefore how much have we lost in job opportunities, increases in welfare and so on?

The SNP has always rejected, with good reason, the Unionist argument that to leave the rUK would mean economic disaster, enormous job losses, loss of trade etc. Why in Heaven's name therefore, is the only argument we have heard from the SNP in opposition to leaving the EU,  the loss of jobs? There is no difference between Better Together's argument for remaining in the UK and the SNP's argument for remaining in the EU. People are treated as no more than factors of production, with no interest other than "jobs, jobs and more jobs". The fact that over 100,000 jobs have been lost in the Scottish fishing industry alone, the Scottish steel industry was destroyed as the price of entry to the Common Market, as it was then, are totally ignored. There is no mention of the democratic deficit, the centralisation of power, the supremacy of EU Law over Scots Law and the fact we are powerless to negotiate trade deals with those countries outwith the EU. Despite their protestations - quite rightly - that David Cameron has no right to deny Scots another referendum on independence, the SNP seems to think it has the right to deny Scots a referendum on whether an independent Scotland should be in the EU. Despite opinion polls which contradict them, the SNP continues to peddle the myth that Scots are much more pro-EU than the rest of the UK. If that is the case they should have no fear of an in-out referendum.

Just as the currency proved to be a major stumbling block in the Independence Referendum, so Full Fiscal Autonomy (FFA)is proving to be just as big a stumbling block in the aftermath of the General Election, despite the SNP's 56 seats in Scotland. The party insists that is all it needs to ensure the Scottish economy can provide the necessary increases in employment, economic growth and improvement in living standards to enable Scotland to abolish food banks, get rid of austerity and abolish the current deficit. At the same time, it totally ignores the fact that Westminster would still control the currency and that it is not possible to have FFA in a currency union. Within 24 hours of being elected as the SNP MP for East Lothian, George Kerevan wrote in The National of May 9th, "We all know that in present UK economic circumstances a fiscally autonomous Scotland would face a significant budget deficit. For Scotland to accept fiscal autonomy without inbuilt UK-wide fiscal balancing -financial transfers or subsidies  from rUK to Scotland - would be tantamount to economic suicide." While this is totally contrary to the argument presented by the SNP prior to the May election, the party is now arguing that FFA would take several years to implement, during which time the very limited new economic powers that the Scottish Government will be granted, will generate enough economic growth to cancel or at least substantially reduce the current deficit. This is economic nonsense.

Another advocate of FFA who has also changed his argument, is the founder and leader of Business for Scotland, Gordon Macintyre-Kemp. In The National of May 15th he wrote, "The best way to run the UK is to move towards increased devolution and federalism.....If Scotland then chose independence, then the UK currency zone and common market becomes a confederation. However, it seems that everyone has a different definition of Full Fiscal Responsibility and most describe full fiscal independence - something you can't actually have within a union." George Kerevan also advocated moving towards federalism within the UK. So we now have independence is really a confederation and two leading SNP supporters, one of them an SNP MP, advocating federalism.Is it any wonder that there is a petition currently making the rounds on Facebook, demanding that the SNP includes another Independence Referendum in its 2016 Holyrood manifesto? If it is included at all, we can be sure the timetable set will be indefinite to the point of being meaningless.

We will have to wait to see just how effective the SNP's 56 MPs will be in "making Scotland's voice heard" but I suspect there are many who will be disappointed at just how much impact they will have. Of one thing we can be certain, there will be no UDI. As the votes and the seats piled up on May 7th, I was reminded of the first National Council that was held after Winnie Ewing won the Hamilton by-election in 1967. She told delegates that one of the Labour MPs, one of the few who actually spoke to her all the time she was there, said to her that he hoped she would soon settle down, to which Winnie replied, "I didn't come here to settle down, I came to settle up". Given the retreat by the party leadership from their original position of demanding the immediate implementation of FFA, I am also reminded of the question I used to ask applicants to go on the list of parliamentray candidates, "If you thought Scotland would be poorer with independence, would you still be a Nationalist"? I suspect there would not be many who answered "Yes". Alex Salmond said the "SNP's 56 MPs will shake Westminster to its foundations" I would love to think he is right, but he also said he expected to see independence "in his lifetime". Alex, you better be prepared to live to well over 100.