Monday, 21 March 2016

Pushing For Independence

Better Together’s broken promises open the door to independence

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FM Nicola Sturgeon: making a renewed push for independence
Last week Nicola Sturgeon announced that from the summer the SNP will start to campaign to build support for independence. Many media outlets and Unionist politicians expressed surprise. Hold the front page “political party refuses to drop the policy that guarantees majority government”. On June 24 we will know if Scotland is once again on an independence referendum footing but we will still have to wait for the trigger of a sustained 60 per cent support for independence to start the ball rolling.
One of the problems the 2014 Yes campaign had was that it was relentlessly positive and missed the opportunity to highlight the dangers of continued Union. I am not saying Yes should have run a “Fear the Union Project” but a realistic analysis of how Westminster’s distant, disinterested and dysfunctional attitude to Scotland holds our nation back would have helped. Fortunately that is easier to do now as the No Campaign provided us with a long list of false claims and broken promises:
1. Renewables subsidies – Ed Davey, the then UK energy secretary, said: “Scotland could lose billions in renewable energy subsidies with a Yes vote and would put our green energy revolution at risk”. Davey claimed that 33 per cent of UK subsidies for wind, wave and tidal projects (£530m a year) came to Scotland and so independence would ‘slam the brakes on wind farm projects’. Now drastic cuts to the public funding of onshore wind-farms have been announced which Renewables Scotland claim could reduce Scotland’s economy by £3 billion.
2. Carbon capture – Davey also claimed the vital climate change project at Peterhead would be endangered as he signed a deal with Shell and Scottish and Southern Energy. However, after the referendum, Westminster pulled its promised £1bn of support and the project failed.
Scotland’s EU membership not looking so secure with a No vote to independence now
3. EU membership not secure! – David Cameron claimed that the only way to protect Scotland’s EU membership was to reject independence. No campaign spokespeople parroted the phrase “EU membership only guaranteed with a No vote”. Now we have polls in England showing that the EU referendum is too close to call while 60 per cent of Scots plan to vote Stay. Right-wing, separatist, British nationalist and often racist, anti-European sentiment will now decide Scotland’s membership of the EU as Scottish votes will not be enough to influence the result unless England’s vote is within one per cent.
4. Labour’s majority promise – Labour who led the No Campaign claimed that not only would independence “consign the rest of the UK to permanent Tory rule” but that a Labour Government would sort out Scotland’s problems. Labour lost by a mile and the Tories won a majority just as I had predicted in this column in 2014. Once the EU referendum is over, Ukip will disappear and their votes will mostly go back to the Tories and England, it seems, will continue to quite happily consign themselves and Scotland to permanent Tory rule.
5. Scotland should lead, not leave the UK – An almost perfect piece of political spin from both Gordon Brown and Johann Lamont but no one seemed to tell David Cameron. The day after the referendum Cameron announced English Votes for English Laws (Evel), effectively meaning no MP from a Scottish constituency can ever be prime minster of the UK and ipso facto can’t lead the UK.
6. Pensions not safer in UK – Gordon Brown warned that independence came with a pensions time-bomb. The UK Government backed that claim and now we see pension age increases for women meaning some will lose out up to £30,000. UK Government policy since the referendum means that middle to high earners will be better off through their pensions but that low earners will bear the cost of pension reforms. A Scot earning around £15,000 with a working life of 30 years, could see their pension drop £1,800 per annum.
7. It was Scotland’s pound – We were told that Scotland could not continue to use the pound after independence. Denying claims that it was a political manoeuvre, the No Camp claimed that a currency union was unworkable. However last week on STV’s Scotland Tonight Sir Mervyn King who ran the Bank of England for a decade said “it would have been totally feasible, there was no need for an independent currency.”
Scotland is still waiting for the watered down Smith Commission powers…
8. Slower meaningless devolution – David Cameron claimed that “A No vote would lead to faster, fairer, safer and better change and that draft legislation for new powers for Scotland would be in place by January, 2015”. John Swinney tells us that almost every concession for more powers in the watered down Smith Commission document had at least one Unionist party trying to block it. We now also know that the Westminster negotiators tried to use the Scotland Bill fiscal agreement talks to cut Scotland’s budget by £7bn over ten years.
9. Uncertainty was a myth – David Cameron claimed inward investors had told him they wouldn’t invest in Scotland until after the referendum due to uncertainty but 2014/15 turned out to be a record year for Scottish inward investment, the number of projects increased by 17% to 91 between April 2014 and March 2015.
10. Job losses – Some strangely specific claims were made by the No camp on protecting jobs. They claimed that the Scottish HMRC tax offices would close and many jobs would be lost as they also collect taxes for England. Since the referendum it has been announced that 2,500 HMRC jobs in Scotland are to go. Again Better Together teamed up with steel workers’ union Community to claim that a No vote would protect steel jobs, but now 270 steel jobs have gone in Scotland.
Miliband and the Foreign Office warned of manned border controls between Scotland and England
Miliband and the Foreign Office warned of manned border controls between Scotland and England in the event of Scottish independence
11. What, no border controls? – Former Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael launched a UK government report entitled Borders and Citizenship claiming that Scotland would have to have a manned border with England after independence.  This was backed up by Ed Miliband claiming new members of the EU must accept free travel. Ireland has a pre existing free travel agreement with the UK which as well as being an EU member also has an opt out of Shengen. If the UK leaves the EU Ireland would no longer have an automatic opt-out, but last week Boris Johnson claimed that a Brexit would mean no change to the current open borders agreement with Ireland.
I could also point also out that the MoD announced 13 Type 26 frigates with Defence Secretary Michael Fallon making it clear that the investment was conditional on Scots rejecting independence. In the end the order looks like being just 8 ships as the money is needed to pay for new nuclear weapons. Or that the No camp claimed Scottish tourism was being damaged by the referendum and specifically that UK interest in travel to Scotland was down by 29%. Strange then that the figures for 2014/15 show Scotland had a record tourism year with a 9% increase in holiday trips and 41% increase in business trips.
We were also told that you can’t have a sovereign oil fund as it wouldn’t be viable whilst running a deficit but then Westminster announced that the North East of England could have a Fracking Fund to make sure the local communities benefit from their oil wealth. Corporation Tax cuts were labelled unhealthy and a “race to the bottom” and we were told it couldn’t be devolved to Scotland, but was then devolved to Northern Ireland and in this weeks budget the Chancellor George Osborne has announced Corporation Tax cuts. We were also told that the big financial institutions would leave Scotland with a Yes Vote – it turned out they would just reregister but keep all the jobs here and that would have destroyed the bank bail out myth, but now Scottish Widows has relocated anyway and ironically HSBC are threatening to leave and move their European HQ to Paris if there is a Brexit.
I have also previously detailed how the “broad shoulders of the Union” have let down Aberdeen. Thats around 20 and the list goes on and on and on there are actually far too many to mention them all here. So why, when so much is obviously wrong with the case for the Union, is support for independence not soaring? There are two reasons; firstly as Nicola Sturgeon has astutely realised the case for independence needs to be made loudly and then people will be made to consider such evidence as listed above – it needs to be taken to the voters – they won’t search for it themselves. Secondly we need to create and promote a clear economic argument, a detailed roadmap to prosperity through the powers of an independent Scotland (the raison d’être of Business for Scotland) this would send independence support soaring. That roadmap can be built without the need to reply on oil but the oil price coming back to profitable levels by 2020, as 97 per cent of senior oil executives expect it to, would also open the floodgates.
Did someone say Game On?

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