In less than four months, we’ll go to the polls to vote Yes or No to the question:
“Should Scotland be an independent country?”
But as I pointed out a few weeks ago (and Simon Jenkins pointed out yesterday) the SNP are not offering independence: they want major decisions for Scotland’s governance to be made at Westminster/in London. (It’s all in the White Paper: haven’t you read it?)
As anyone who’d read the White Paper would realistically note:
Most problematic of these are monetary union, the handling of debt, and public sector pension liabilities. There is no way London would underpin Scottish banks or Scottish borrowing without a say – eurozone-style – in fiscal and monetary policy north of the border. Until it established credit, Scotland would have to borrow heavily, and the cost of doing so could be punitive – witness the failure of Czech-Slovak monetary union in 1992.
Such compromises would hamper Salmond’s scope for tax incentives and other aids to growth. He could sub-contract many services to London, such as tax collection, benefits payments, vehicle registration, consulates abroad and even BBC services.
Voting Yes because you think this will get rid of the Westminster ideal of austerity? Westminster will still be making those decisions. Plans for a people’s assembly, for citizen input into a Scottish constitution? There is no way that either the Chancellor of the Exchequer or the Bank of England would permit negotiations for their management of the Scottish economy to be held in public. Nor is there any commitment in the White Paper for any citizen input into the negotiations of an independent Scotland: only a handwaved idea of including in representation from other parties (SNP still the majority and still the Scottish government).
Most of the Yes campaigners I’ve discussed this with don’t really seem to have a clear idea of what will happen between a Yes majority on 18th September and independence day in March 2016: they gloss over that crucial period, and the basic institutions that will be set up then, with an indifference that seemed shocking at first: eventually it just firmed up my decision to vote No. If Yes campaigners are mostly so uninterested in settling the basic form of an independent Scotland that they cannot be bothered to think about how to ensure the SNP doesn’t stitch us up in a closed-doors deal with the Tories (or Labour, after May 2015), we certainly should hope they don’t get the majority in September.
The so-called Ukip “earthquake” didn’t change my mind. We’ve known all along that there exists a substantial minority of racist, xenophobic, homophobic Brits – Scots, English, Welsh, Irish – who are convinced that Nigel Farage – a bankster and professional politician – “speaks for them”. That proportionally fewer of that group voted for Ukip in England than in Scotland, says, I’m afraid, that a substantial fraction of respectable white nationalists in Scotland vote SNP rather than Ukip. There are not enough of these voters to get a majority in an election with a high turnout, and Ukip’s European Parliament win last week says that Ukip cared about mobilising the electorate for their party in an election that would get a substantial fraction of their political leadership into jobs that pay more than an MP’s, have less-supervised expenses, and require little to no attendance at debates.
The Kensington-based David Coburn’s various ramblings on Twitter since his unfortunate election as Ukip’s MEP for Scotland, indicate he has never considered the remit of a Member of the European Parliament: he is a political novice with a fondness for making speeches about his own views, dropped into Scottish politics after 20+ years in London. If not for his arrogance and belligerence, one could almost feel sorry for him. But if he is typical of Ukip members suddenly elevated to elected office, then every single one of them is likely to be a future electoral liability.
What is problematic about Ukip’s victory is that so many of the parties – the Scottish Greens are an honourable exception – are looking at the Ukip turnout and asking “how can we win those voters over to us” – rather than looking at the huge majority who didn’t vote at all and asking “how can we get those voters to want to turn out and vote“?
I had a tiny fraction of a vote in Labour’s last leadership election, as a union member. I used it to vote, rather hopelessly, for Diane Abbott, simply because she appeared to be the only candidate standing who was not a professional politician and not “male pale and stale“. As Ian Smart noted last year, Ed Miliband – no matter how capable and effective he may be – simply has no narrative: no background but “Labour politician”. He’s a male pale stale member of the political classes: he was never in all his adult life anything else.
And more and more, Labour has become the party that is simply the least bad of those likely to win power. I won’t be voting again for Mark Lazarowicz, my current Labour MP. He voted for the welfare cap: so did the majority of Labour MPs, whipped into voting for a Tory policy against the poorest and most vulnerable. No matter what Labour claims they will do when in office, the three-line whip for the welfare cap stands out: regardless of their promises, that’s what their party leadership actually supports. That doesn’t make them as bad as the Tories: it just makes them a dreary well-I-suppose-they’re-better-than-the-alternative party.
And dreary well-I-have-to-vote-and-they’re-not-as-bad-as-the-others choices don’t get high electoral turnout. People who consider voting in every election to be their democratic obligation appear to constitute about one-third of the population: perhaps a third of the population just aren’t interested and wouldn’t vote no matter what: the remaining third, I would say, judging by past electoral turnouts, will come out to vote if they see something to vote for. And I think it’s clear Labour’s leadership has no idea whatsoever how to provide that.
So, why I am still leaning towards No? Well, in part because voting No appears to be the only way of stopping the SNP from stitching up a deal with the Tories that ensures London and Westminster continue to get to make decisions for the Scottish economy with even less democratic accountability than at present.
In part, also, to be fair: I am not yet in the same state of despair as so many of my friends, who see nothing to hope for in a No vote – Labour and the Tories lurching rightward in Ukip-inspired schemes to pick up votes, neither party caring about the vast majority who no longer see a reason to vote for either of them, and the LibDems flailing as the party goes down to catastrophic electoral defeat, blaming anything rather than their MPs having been steadily voting for Tory policies since 2010.
I got the “letter from Sophie” the other day: Better Together sent out a spoofed letter purporting to be from a 19-year-old student named Sophie [Update: Apparently she really exists!], who planned to vote No because of Better Together campaign reasons. (Most of them are nonsense.) I wasn’t impressed. But I sent back the form provided with a note that said if I was inclined to vote Yes it would be because of Labour party policies like the welfare cap.
This is a mess. But it won’t be less of a mess if the SNP get their way: it will only mean that Scots will continue to be ruled by a Westminster government with no democratic representation at all. If there is going to be a continued right-wing mess at Westminster, and the SNP think Westminster should continue to make decisions for Scotland, well, then we might as well still have Scottish MPs to badger about it.