The Scotland Question

There is a surprising number of threads about Scottish independence on Norn Irons third best political website. In part this is tribal……Norn Irons unionists will, by default back a “United Kingdom” and oppose Scottish independence. Irish nationalists of course oppose the “United Kingdom” and any weakening of the link between Scotland and London is to be welcomed. And we love our proxy wars. Unionists line up to support Israel. Nationalists line up to support Palestine. It is how we are wired. And understandable that Slugger O’Toole having solved (???) the Norn Iron Question should address the Scotland Question.

To recap. Scotland is part of the United Kingdom but since the days of Margaret Thatcher has been agitating for greater autonomy up to and/or including full Independence. Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative years were a watershed. Anti-working class, anti-trade union, Thatcher’s policies such as the attacks on the coal mining industry, the steel industry and the public sector as well as trialing the “poll tax” in Scotland has produced a situation where there is only one Conservative MP in Scotland after the 2010 British General Election. It is so unlikely that there will be an improvement that Scottish Conservatives are actually talking about changing the name of the Party. There are literally more Giant Pandas in Scotland (Edinburgh Zoo recently received two from China) than Tory MPs.

Following Tony B Liar’s (Labour) triumph in the British Election of May 1997, Labour fulfilled a manifesto promise that the Scottish people would be granted a referendum on Scottish “devolution” a parliament with limited powers. And in September 1997 the Scottish people voted for their own parliament in its capital city, Edinburgh.

From a “British” perspective the referendum was a mistakes. They did not learn the simple lesson of History that an “independence” movement is not neutralised by appeasement. It is actually emboldened. The Government in Scotland is the majority Scottish Nationalist Party, under a master tactician, First Minister Alex Salmond who quite simply has out-thought the previous Labour Government (to 2010)and its Conservative dominated successor (2010 onward)

The referendum was also a mistake from another point of view, often described as the West Lothian Question, first posed by Tam Dalyell British Labour MP for West Lothian ……..as far back as the 1970s.

Dalyell like many Scottish Labour MPs was a unionist at heart…….and he posed the question that a Scottish MP such as himself would/should not be eligible to speak or vote at Westminster on an issue which only affected English people. This seemed merely of limited academic interest in the 1970s but took on a whole new meaning when Scotland was granted devolution and got it’s own government.

Indeed in 2007, Gordon Brown MP for a Scottish constituency became Prime Minister of the “United Kingdom” and presided over a “UK” Government which had a Health Secretary and Education Secretary who could not legislate for the people living in the Prime Minister’s constituency. Thus a British Cabinet discussed increasing prescription charges for medicines which were only applicable in England. Charges in Brown’s own constituency had been abolished by the Scottish Government. It was not supposed to be like this.

But Devolution is a genie which will not be put back in the bottle. The reality of a Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition Government in Westminster in 2010 ……preaching austerity and hardship had a predictable consequence in the Scottish Parliamentary Election in May 2011. The Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and Labour all lost seats and the Scottish Nationalists were the big winners returned to govern Scotland on its own.

Yet it should be pointed out that the SNP only holds six of Scotlands fifty nine Westminster seats (Labour holds forty). How can the discrepancy be explained. Well of course the dynamic is different. People vote Labour to keep Tories out of Government (it manifestly failed to work in 2010), the system of voting is different and of course issues are different.

But the 2010 figures are revealing Labour 40 seats, Liberal Democrats 12, Conservative 1……SNP 6.

The Liberal Democrats are “dead men walking” in Scotland. The 2011 Scottish Parliament Election practically had the Party in melt down. Their crime of going into coalition with the hated Tories will not be forgiven. The Tories dont need to care about Scotland. But Labour with all those Scottish seats cannot win a majority at Westminster……..To regain power Labour cannot afford to lose seats in Scotland.

Yet the dilemna for the British Labour Party is that to keep hold of and increase  ENGLISH seats……it must curtail the power of the Scottish Parliament.

Thus Alex Salmond and his SNP hold all the cards. And Salmond is playing his hand brilliantly. He will be organising a referendum in 2014 on Scottish independence. And David Cameron………whose Party holds just one Scottish seat says he will not allow it and that the British Government will frame the question.

The tactic appears to be to make the issue more complex than it actually needs..provide more options so that no clear majority emerges. Of course the basic premise that the future of the United Kingdom is not just a question for the Scottish people is flawed. If Scotland wants a “divorce” from England……then that right cannot be vetoed. The difficulty is that there is no pre-nuptial agreement. How will assets and liabilities be split up? Who owns Scotland’s Oil? Who controls a “Scottish” Army? Can Scotland tell those American nuclear submarines to leave? Of what proportion of the UK National Debt does Scotland pick up the tab?

Yet the past week has been marked by an increased level of vitriolic exchanges between London and Edinburgh. England simply does not understand the Celtic Nations and seems shocked, irritated and angry that Scotland could even think this way. The Celtic Nations on the other hand totally understand the English.

As always its a matter of History. And there is an old truism that the English are incapable of remembering and the Irish are incapable of forgetting. Harsh but probably true.

There is certainly a tendendency in ALL big nations……USA, Britain included…. that the people previously oppressed should simply “get over it”, “move on” and “draw a line under our shared history and move forward together”. Easier said in Washington than on a Sioux Reservation in Minnesota. Easier said in London than in a pub in Crossmaglen.

The curious response of both Conservative and Labour to the Scottish “threat” (sic) is an appeal to History. But its not merely a question of an END to History……it is as much about a BEGINNING to History.

For the Conservatives seek to define the History of Scotland as beginning with Act of Union of 1707 (confirmed on the field of battle in 1746)…..an appeal to the aspect of a United KINGDOM which ended hostility. For Labour, History begins in 1798 (and subsequent advances of the Enlightenment which stresses a Brotherhood beyond the artificiality of Nationality…..an appeal to the aspect of a UNITED Kingdom.

It seems to me that such a mixed message is bound to fail.

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