Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Decline and Fall

It’s been pretty galling over the past two years to have to sit and listen to the gloating of certain unionist politicians and pundits, utterly convinced that the restrictions placed on an SNP minority government has meant that the spirit of the times is back with them.

The assertions of conceptual superiority have flown thick and fast. We've been told, seemingly without irony by those who led us neck-deep into the big muddy of Iraq, that an independent Scotland would have no standing or influence in the world. We've also been hectored that Scotland couldn't afford to maintain current defence spending, at the same time as the UK presides over a £4.5bn defence underspend in Scotland.

It's hard to take lectures about a credible defence posture from a government set to deliver us aircraft carriers with no aircraft to carry and submarines that can't seem to tell where the Isle of Skye is. However, it's harder still to take lectures about economic prudence and competence from a political establishment which has led the country to the brink of financial ruin.

Gordon Brown designed the very system of financial regulation which has served us so badly. However, that didn’t stop Labour politicians who very pointedly failed to properly regulate the banks they were responsible for, from castigating the SNP for apparently failing to regulate Icelandic banks the SNP self-evidently wasn’t responsible for. Nor did it stop them from slating the SNP for failing to act in areas of the macroeconomy where by Labour's own devolutionary design, the Scottish Government had no powers to act anyway.

No more. October 2010 is the month where the case for devolved Scotland in the Union unraveled in spectacular style. Britain's decline has been inexorable and long-term for a century or more, but rarely, if ever at all, has there before the recent defence review and Comprehensive Spending Review, been a series of events which have exposed so cruelly and so quickly the gap between the rhetoric and the reality of the nature of the modern British state.

The defence review has been little more than a cost cutting exercise dressed up as grand strategic design, which will see Britain unable to fight another Falklands war. As if the carrier position weren’t farcical enough, we will sacrifice 4 frigates and their abilities to keep sea lanes clear at a time when piracy has returned to the seas.

Further big power pretensions remain in the ongoing £100bn commitment to Trident. Yet with the scrapping of the Nimrod replacement maritime patrol aircraft, the government has sacrificed a key element in keeping safe from potential hostile forces the one Trident submarine on patrol at all times. Incredibly, at a time when Russia is probing Atlantic air space several times a month with bomber and reconnaissance aircraft, there also now hangs a question mark over the future of RAF Lossiemouth as a fast jet base.

Yet if the defence situation is dire, the economic situation has also come home to roost with the comprehensive spending review. Tory Chancellor George Osbourne and his Lib Dem mini-me Danny Alexander have managed what previously seemed impossible – uniting Labour and the SNP in a consensus that the spending cuts are coming too quickly and go too deep.

The outcome of the CSR means that Scotland faces a dismal future of cuts which will deflate the economy and create a further widening of inequality. A swingeing cut in university funding south of the border, to be filled by massively increased student contributions, will have an inevitable knock-on effect in Scotland through Barnett. It’s the final proof, as if any were needed, of how unbalanced our economy has become, and the growing gulf in expectations north and south of the border of what the state is there to do.

Through lazy overreliance on easier Empire markets, a potent cocktail of toxic labour/management relations in the 60's and 70's and suicidal economic policies in the 1980's, Britain cast aside manufacturing to become dangerously over-reliant on the turbo capitalism of the square mile. All the while, through follies like Iraq and Trident, we've been bankrupting ourselves diplomatically and economically, all in order to underwrite the global pretensions of a Westminster oriented political elite, who's sense of prestige and self-worth is inextricably bound up in the idea that somehow, Britain still matters.

The pretensions of this elite have rendered Britain a failed state. Once unifying institutions like the Post Office are to be privatised to help pay the bills. Even the so-called national broadcaster has become a slave to Government interference, rendering it unable to reflect the diversity of the state which pays for it. Anything that there might have been worth saving about Britain’s politics – an ethical Labourism, one-nation Toryism, Scottish Liberalism - has all been trampled underfoot by a metropolitan power grab.

If we can't rely on the British state for economic stability, for international prestige, for defence, to be a force for good in the world, as a force for modernisation and social progression, then what on earth is it for? More to the point, with our own Scottish institutions of government in place, why do we allow our own ambitions any longer to be subordinated, when we could get on with building a state better attuned to reflecting the aspirations of the nation we want to be?

The gentle, almost unspoken social union, the familiarity of ties of family and friends will remain, but Britain as a political entity deserves to be put out of its misery. Under independence, just like now, our ambitions may be constrained by a lack of resources or by our own limitations. At least we’ll never be held back by the decisions – or delusions - of anyone other than ourselves.