Friday, 27 January 2012

Leaving Politics Aside, Scotland Deserves Freedom

In an about turn contemplated over several years, our UK Political Editor Harry Cole sets out why he now supports the notion of an independent Scotland

Ae fond kiss, and then we sever! Ae farewell, and then forever!

Written by Harry Coleon 25 January 2012 at 4pm

Sponsored Message: With characteristic bluster the First Minister chose Burns Night to set out his plans for the promised referendum on Scottish independence. As Salmond said this afternoon, independence would give “a fundamentally better relationship across these islands, and a more balanced one than we have today.” I agree with Alex.

Anyone who ever had the dubious pleasure of hearing me hone my public speaking skills in the debating chambers and drunken dinner parties at Edinburgh University will wonder where my body has been buried by the end of this piece. We will hear the defence of the union between England and Scotland countless times over the next few years, and it’s an argument that five years ago I could give you standing on my head. However, I just don’t believe it anymore.

Having lived in Edinburgh for four years, since returning south my unionist credentials have weakened by the day. It’s not just the much trodden notion that, in political terms, the right would be the biggest victors of a split. That idea doesn’t hold much water anyway. The issue of Scottish freedom goes beyond party politics, though there are plenty of reasons why politicos of all colours should not be scared of the consequences.

Scotland is not well. This is the nation that gave us the telephone, the television, reason, logic, economics and whisky. Yet since the business interests of some three hundred Edinburgh merchants over-ruled the desires of the rest of a nation in 1707, Scotland has been in decline. The brain drain that saw enlightened Scots give America its magnificent constitution has never stopped.

What remains is a nation dependent on the state; a hand out culture and a something for nothing utopia. An insult to its past. And this will never change while Scotland remains the junior partner in a relationship it never asked to be in. According to the 1909 census, Scots were the tallest people in Europe, yet they now have a life expectancy four years lower than the European average. With two thirds of the country living off, or employed directly by, the state, it is clear that dependency is not working.

As is so often the case, the solution to this problem is freedom. Scotland will not recover while dependent on London. This conversion to the cause is not to say I will suddenly be supporting the SNP. Their machine is smothering Scottish freedoms through their continuous feeding of the state machine.

With Devolution Max, the obvious halfway house to full independence, Scotland would be raising its own taxes and will be forced to realise that free prescriptions and free education for life are the perks of a society free of responsibility. Salmond is not the man to lead a free country and his ideas on how to get there are deeply flawed. However, that is not to say he is wrong on the core issue that drives his fight.

The SNP are not yet signed up to the reality based community and they seem to be doing everything to avoid having to tell the Scottish people how it really is.

With Devo-Max, Scotland will take its share of the debt and for the first time their fair share of the pain. With economic stagnation on either side of the border, both Scotland and England need a rival. With independence or Devo-Max these two nations can rival each other.

This mire that blights us both could be solved through two economies competing for trade; two economies forced to reduce tax to attract investment; Edinburgh’s financial West-End slashing rates to challenge the City. The two nations cannot properly compete while one is latched onto the Westminster teat. Two neighbouring nations must become friendly rivals.

And what of the other half of this once convenient marriage? There are those on the English right who support Scottish freedom because of the lazy idea that it would lead to a permanent Conservative majority in the UK. In 2005 there were nearly one hundred thousand more Conservative voters in England, and by May 2010 that figure was closer to million.

As for English Labour, they would learn to adapt to survive. It would probably require a shift further right for Labour in order to win, but that is natural given that they will no longer have the support of their guaranteed Scottish returns. It does not take much to envisage a Labour leader who can eat into the small-c conservative majority that makes up England. Hell, it wasn't too long ago they were winning election after election on those terms.

And all would not be lost for liberals and self-proclaimed progressives either. If Scotland were to separate it would come in stages, with Devo-max the obvious halfway house. Such a break would leave Westminster to debate and decide foreign policy and defence, but England would have to have a separate legislature for its own affairs.

In all likelihood, and rightly so, this new English parliament will be elected by some sort of proportional system. Our First Past the Post system luckily evolved into something better in reality than it looks on paper, but in all honesty even its most vocal supporters could not say that a brand a new system should be built by the same design. The potential for a real role for a fully elected House of Lords would be forced into play by a split, too.

The matter of Scottish independence goes beyond party politics. All sides of the political debate have something to lose from the split, but that is far outweighed by what the two separate countries will gain. Economic revival, cultural rejuvenation and a more a democratic country should be the dream of all parties and Devo-max can provide that. It is a step that makes sense for the futures of both England and Scotland.

The Act of Union served those who wanted it well, but the majority were never asked. The time has come to rectify that, and to take a leaf from Salmond’s book, I’ll let Burns have the last word:

“Ae fond kiss, and then we sever!

Ae farewell, and then forever! “

Harry Cole is the UK Political Editor for The Commentator and the News Editor for the Guido Fawkes Blog. He tweets at @MrHarryCole

Tags: Alex Salmond, Alex Salmond Burns Night, An independent Scotland good for friendly competition with England, Devolution Max, Edinburgh, Harry Cole and Scottish independence, Scottish independence, Should Scotland break away from the Union?, Where would an independent Scotland leave Labour?, Why Scotland must become independent, Will an independent Scotland benefit the Conservative Party?, devolution, harry cole

Hamish MacDonnell - This New Scotland is Slick and Professional

It was no coincidence: Alex Salmond chose the Great Hall of Edinburgh Castle and Burns’ Night to launch his consultation on an independence referendum yesterday so he could send out the message that this was about Scotland and nothing else.

From the high, wood-beamed ceiling and the suits of armour in this most impressive of ancient Scottish halls to the lines of verse from Scotland’s national bard which the Scottish First Minister dripped into his speech, everything was designed to impress – and not just the Scots.

There were reporters from China, broadcasters from Spain and bloggers from Russia packed into the hall – all there to find out whether the United Kingdom was about to be broken up.

And because he knew his message would go world-wide, Mr Salmond was most careful too in the impression he gave about his vision for Scotland.

“This is a most prosperous country,” he declared – without pausing to let anybody query that statement.

He quoted Rabbie Burns, he spoke of the history of the Great Hall – the venue for the first recorded meeting of the Scots Parliament 900 years ago - and he spoke of his vision for the future of Scotland as a free, independent, progressive European nation state.

Soon after he started, though, the wind got up – as it tends to do around this rocky outcrop perched high above Scotland’s capital.

The gale started rattling the stained-glass windows and blowing around the grand fireplace behind the First Minister’s back.

“Ah, the winds of change,” Mr Salmond quipped.

In doing so, he both echoed Harold Macmillan’s famous speech of 1960 which heralded the break-up of British colonial Africa but he also showed he is as diligent a student of politics as any leader in these islands.

Apart from his entrance, which was a characteristic 45 minutes late, everything about Mr Salmond’s presentation oozed professionalism.

Every detail seemed to have been considered. The First Minister usually speaks from a lecturn embossed with the website address of the Scottish Government.

Not yesterday. For this big event, even the lecturn had been changed and now bore the web address of the referendum consultation paper – just in case it was picked up by the television cameras.

There was a modern new Saltire logo and everything was branded with the slogan: “Your Scotland, Your Referendum.”

It was slick and professional and it is this, above all, that should worry the UK Government. There may be considerable gaps in the detail of the SNP’s plans for independence but, on the surface at least, they appear unbeatable.

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