Thursday, August 16, 2007

Choosing Scotland’s Future

Due to appear in 'The Flag in The Wind' - published online each Friday

Last Tuesday saw the launch of a Scottish Government White Paper on the powers of Scotland’s Parliament. Unveiled by First Minister Alex Salmond, the document sets out 3 potential futures for Scotland: no change, greater devolution or independence.

Writing in the Daily Telegraph, former Labour Minister Frank Field accused Alex Salmond of being ‘rather cheeky’ for so doing, on the grounds that “devolution for Scotland was meant to put an end to any further discussions on the political shape of the United Kingdom”. Oh dear. Naughty us. We’d better just pack up and go home then, hadn’t we?

Actually, the best retort conceivable to Frank Field is printed on the inside cover of the document itself, where it quotes Irish nationalist Charles Stewart Parnell: “No man has a right to fix the boundary of the march of a nation; no man has a right to say to his country, “Thus far shalt thou go and no further””. It’s a declaration of principal which the other parties, which seem to be swithering at present over whether to take part in the conversation if independence remains an option, would do well to take to heart.

Cathy Jamieson, Labour’s acting leader in Scotland, burbled after the launch that: “We do not support independence. Everything in this paper is about independence”. Well actually, it’s nothing of the kind, as she would know if she’d bothered to even glance at it before parading her ignorance in front of the nation’s television cameras. Similarly, the Lib Dems should beware of making the same mistake as they made post election: that of insisting on the SNP’s repudiation of independence as a precondition of political talks.

The more that the other parties try to portray independence as being somehow illegitimate; as some kind of 1984-esque ‘thoughtcrime’, if you like, the more likely it is that they will be swept into irrelevance by the resulting public contempt. It’s also not good enough to say that since the SNP took 1/3 of the vote, that 2/3 therefore oppose independence. People vote for a variety of reasons, and independence, or indeed the ‘more powers’ agenda, deserves to be considered separately from the other issues of the day which might influence how people cast their votes.

Still, the ground has at least shifted. No longer does Labour argue that there should be no more powers for Holyrood. Instead, the debate is about which powers the parliament should now have. In that, the SNP has a clear advantage, in that independence is easy to define. The pressure is now on the other parties to define what their preferred option of ‘more powers’ would actually mean in practice.

In the interim, voters will be able to read the White Paper and give their views online. The most significant part of this, though, is that Labour, the Lib Dems and the Tories are no longer in charge of the debate. The people are, and that might be what’s disconcerting the unionist parties the most.


Ewan said...

"It’s also not good enough to say that since the SNP took 1/3 of the vote, that 2/3 therefore oppose independence"

Actually (and you wouldn't think this going by the media coverage) in the recent elections if you take each Parties view on the future of Scotland as it actually was:

32.93% (or 37.2% at list level) voted for a referendum on Independence - the Scottish meedja have of course forgotten that the Greens, the SSP and Solidarity also stood on a platform of offering a referendum.

32.15% (29.16%) for no change to the current devolved set up - Labour's offered position.

16.6% (13.91%) for a vague idea of more powers for the Parliament (the Tories never did list what these would be)

16.17% (11.30%) for a federal UK with taxes raised in Scotland and money then sent to Westminster - the long standing policy of the Lib Dems.

Now put this into the context that the current Labour UK government was only elected by just over four out of every ten people that voted and er the reason why the SNP can't bring forward a paper that discusses a referendum on Scotland's future as ONE of a range of options is??

Well what exactly?

See hypocracy - see unionists!

Ewan said...

Oops my old Stats lecturer at Aberdeen Uni's words about triple checking all statistics are now ringing in my ears! :)

Labour's share of the vote at the 2005 UK general election was actually only 35.3% so infact a greater share of the Scottish population voted for an independence referendum than returned Tony Blair to 10 Downing St in 2005!

Richard Thomson said...

A good point well made. I've said something similar about the Lib Dems and federalism in response to Robert Brown's letter in today's Herald. It probably won't get printed, but I hadn't thought of going through all the other parties' positions like that - I suppose the logic is that since none of us have a majority for anything we should all just pack up and go home!

Statistics, eh? I'll have to start referring to you from now on as the standard deviant ;-)