James Williamson questions why Scottish independence may be such a difficult task to achieve.
Following Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond’s resolute challenge to David Cameron of a televised debate on Scottish independence at the recent annual SNP conference, it is clear that the fiery Scot leader aims to keep the issue lodged firmly at the forefront of British politics: not merely as a matter for “Scots living in Scotland”, as Cameron dismissed it. Apparently downplaying the importance of the issue, the Prime Minister instead offered the pleasure of a debate to ex-Labour Alistair Darling, now head of unification group Better Together. Is the Scottish leader’s determination to challenge Cameron on the issue a sign of extreme confidence within the SNP of a credible argument for independence, or, as the PM claims, an overtly public charade to divert attention from the lack of clear-cut plans for an independent Scotland?
The controversial issue of Scottish independence, facing a referendum next year, is something of an anomaly in British politics, with all three main parties remaining almost entirely in agreement in opposition to Scottish independence. With Labour having amassed more votes in Scotland during the last UK general election than the Tories and Lib-Dems combined, (over 1 million, compared to the 413,000 and 465,000 for the Tories and Lib-Dems respectively), and 41 seats compared to the whopping one seat won by the Tories, a more cynical observer may see a link between these figures and Labour’s wish to keep Scottish voters in British elections. Though of course, surely Miliband and his merry men would never be swayed on such an important issue based solely on easy votes and keeping hold of a delicious, anti-Tory slice of electorate…
…a more cynical observer may see a link between these figures and Labour’s wish to keep Scottish voters in British elections.
On the flip side, would this same cynical observer not assume that the Tories, garnering virtually no support within Scottish constituencies, should be rejoicing at the chance to cut loose and bid adieu to a Labour stronghold with an apparent willingness to vote for any party that happens not to be the Conservatives? Unfortunately for those hopeful of the chance to cripple Labour’s sphere of influence past Hadrian’s Wall, it goes without saying that the issue is far more complicated than this. Of course, industry, military and economy are intrinsically linked between the two nations (or rather, the two parts of our single, joint nation, as Mr Cameron would urge you to call it), not to mention the prevalent Anglo-Scottish social relations that Alistair Darling’s Better Together has recently shifted its focus to, emphatically declaring that ‘we are not easily separated by those who now seek to divide us’.
Sadly, the majority of public addresses from either side of the debate appear to be disconcertingly vague on the specifics of quite how the nations would be divided (within the SNP alone opinion has varied between switching to the Euro and sticking with Pound Sterling), instead driven by generally meaningless political rhetoric such as Salmond’s claim that the pursuit of independence is one of ‘national self-belief’ – an example of a soundbite that may sway public decision, but does little in the way of producing or revealing any political decision. Indeed, Cameron deemed Salmond’s demand for a televised debate ‘a diversionary tactic’, used to conceal ‘the lack of credibility of plans for a currency union, funding pensions and managing volatile oil revenues.’
Furthermore, Scotland’s Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s claims that UK plans to make ‘despicable’ cuts to the Scottish welfare system mean that ‘Scotland can’t afford a no vote’ in next year’s referendum are undermined by a commission of welfare experts set up by Sturgeon herself. This commission declared that the current welfare system is so integrated in Scotland that an independent Scottish welfare system could not be sufficiently prepared until 2020 – four years later than the date planned for the nation’s independence.
…the current welfare system is so integrated in Scotland that an independent Scottish welfare system could not be sufficiently prepared until 2020…
This general disorganisation of those leading the campaign for independence, and in the case of Sturgeon’s claims, even blatant disregard for the advice of welfare experts, suggests motives not fuelled by economic and political freedom from the rest of the UK, but by that so very Scottish, so very admirable and yet so disappointingly impractical of characteristics – national pride.
That is not to say I don’t believe Scotland could survive as an independent state. It has a larger population and economy, greater culture and richer history than many other independent states, and even advocates as fiercely nationalistic as Salmond maintain that economic and social relations with the rest of the UK would be upheld on good terms. Rather, my own concern lies in the ‘why’ of Scottish independence. The Scottish parliament is run as part of a British economy and government that allows free tuition fees for Scottish students at Scottish Universities, and enjoys the benefits of an arguably flawed yet entirely accessible and functional NHS, not to mention comparatively (as opposed to an independent Scotland) strong influence in the EU. On a far less literal and rather more sentimental note, if my argument must match the sentimental nationalism that drives a large proportion of the independence movement; there is a simple fact that those in favour of independence generally overlook – the clichéd old notion of that eclectic mix of tea-drinking, kilt-wearing, tradition-bearing eccentrics that so many Americans and Europeans insist upon seeing us as. Not as English, Scottish or Welsh, but as British. On a day-to-day basis, we may just about function as normal people, with different views, political allegiances and indeed, entirely separately, as English or Scottish. Nonetheless, a handful of nationalists, in order to form an independent Scotland, would first have to break down centuries of history and that one simple fact mentioned above:
Who could truthfully say they’ve not once enjoyed feeling British?
James can almost always find something to be slightly discontent about, and is currently studying English Literature at Durham University. When not complaining about things around him, his interests include playing music, watching a good film or enjoying a quiet drink somewhere excessively English.