Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Devolution Max/ Independent Lite Question

The forthcoming independence referendum seems to have got somewhat sidetracked recently by this whole “Devolution Max”/ “Independence Lite” issue. Essentially it centres around the idea that Scotland would have full, or close to full fiscal autonomy whilst remaining part of the United Kingdom. The idea sounds fine in principal, offering both a halfway house to those wanting independence and placating those not ready to take the full step to independence. Yet the reality of the situation is that the Devolution Max issue is currently doing little more than giving the Unionists more ammunition with which to load their weapons of mass negativity.

Take, for example, a recent debate on Newsnight Scotland when Labour Unionists tried to argue that if a referendum produced a majority in favour of independence it would lose credibility (to the point that it could be ignored) if a second question regarding increased powers for the Scottish parliament received a greater majority. This really is quite a childish argument to make and it seems that now the SNP hold a majority in the Scottish Parliament and have gained a clear democratic mandate with which to hold a referendum on Scotland’s constitutional future, Labour Unionists really will try anything to derail that referendum. Yet Labour have nothing positive to offer the people of Scotland and the sad reality is that their negativity seems to be born largely out of the bitterness that they are no longer the main party in Scotland.

The Conservative/ Liberal Democrats, for their part have already hinted at both a London government-instigated referendum and a second referendum (which I’m quite certain they would not hold if there was an initial “no” vote to independence). Murdo Fraser has on a number of occasions accused Alex Salmond of being” feart” as regards his decision to hold the referendum in the second half of the SNP’s term in office. Yet the only people who are feart are those who do not agree with the referendum, those who are feart of the Scottish people’s right to choose their own constitutional destiny, those who are feart that Scotland is too small and stupid to govern itself and those who are feart of Scottish statehood. It is Unionist politicians who lack ambition for Scotland and in their own ability to lead an independent Scotland, believing as they do that Scotland and its people should remain subservient to London. That is the true nature of being feart.

Alex Salmond believes in the ability of Scotland to be a successful independent nation and in his ability to lead that nation .The Unionists, for their part, are stuck in the political equivalent of a dead end job with no prospects of advancement, believing that their superiors in London possess more intelligence, drive and ambition than they do.

Yet perhaps the most frustrating aspect of the whole Devolution Max issue is that we may end up in a situation where we trust the Scottish Government to have full fiscal autonomy, yet at the same time not trust its ability to print passports, run a few embassies and attend the occasional meeting of the United Nations. Surely if you have the ability to run a country economically, then the rest would be child’s play. Moreover it seems like we’d end up doing all of that work and get none of the credit, because any fiscal success on Scotland’s part would not be recognised internationally. Rather, it would simply benefit the yearly balance sheets of UK plc, with Scotland being considered a mere subsidiary.

If a Devolution Max question has to be included in the referendum then it must, as a bare minimum, guarantee Scottish statehood. And not statehood in the sense of being akin to an American or German State, but Statehood in the sense that it could take its place at the United Nations. This would be quite possible if the UK were to move towards a confederal structure whereby Scotland and England could share a currency, share elements of defence and be involved in various cross border institutions. Yet, regardless of what settlement is decided upon in the referendum, it must make a symbolic difference to Scotland and it people. Simply adding more fiscal powers to the Scottish parliament will do little to enhance the standing of Scotland on the world stage. The bottom line is that we either believe that Scotland is capable of representing itself on the world stage or we don’t and some halfway house measure of autonomy will not satisfy in the long run.

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