Bold alternative urgently needed to Scottish independence

In Scotland the Better Together campaign has deservedly come in for some stick. The pro-Union cause has so far failed to agree on devo-more, the alternative to independence many politically aware Scots seem to want. (Incidentally if it ever comes to an NI referendum, their website is not the model to follow: remarkably for a Save the Union umbrella organisation it’s trite and one dimensional.

They key critique is made by my friend Alan Trench whose Devolution Matters blog is the technical manual on the subject.  In Scotland on Sunday with co-author Guy Lodge, Alan made the essential case for stronger Scottish devolution with greater revenue raising powers and announced his Devo More blueprint under the auspices of the IPPR, to be launched on Friday.

Leaving the framing of a greater devolution option until after a referendum carries real risks for those who want Scotland to remain a part of the United Kingdom…    By setting out an alternative to independence ahead of the referendum, the pro-union parties will not only be able to reassure this important electoral constituency. More significantly, once armed with a clear alternative the unionist camp would finally be in a position to articulate a positive vision for Scotland’s place in the union.

Meanwhile Alex Salmond had been busy ducking and diving over whether a newly independent Scotland would have to negotiate EU membership from scratch and promising a written constitution full of social and economic rights to tempt referendum punters reminiscent of the stalled NI Bill of Rights. The questions about such rights as ever are: how are such rights enforced  and who pays?

Astute as ever, Iain McWhirter sees convoluted clashes between the different referendum campaigns on the UK and Europe and Scotland and the UK.

How is this ( terms for a UK in-or-out of Europe referendum) debate going to impact on the independence referendum? Well, this is the big unanswerable. But it could be a game-changer, if only because it undermines a key plank of the Unionist case, which is that Scotland would be thrown out of Europe if it votes Yes, and would have to go through complex negotiations to get back in again. Clearly, Scotland is just as likely to find itself out of Europe if it sticks with the UK. Scotland is not as obsessed with the European Union as England. Attitudes are very different here, not least because the Tory party is largely irrelevant in Scotland and the main parties, the SNP and Labour, are pro-European.


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  • David Crookes

    A very interesting post, Brian: thanks. Many unionists in NI have been worrying about Scotland leaving the UK. Many Scots are now worrying about the UK leaving the EU. History has a habit of being awkward.

    Mr Salmond, whom several journalists persist in treating as a divine manifestation, has made a complete booby of himself over the European question.

  • Thanks Brian. Good post.
    I commented to a friend in the SNP (a city councillor in Glasgow) that i have yet to see any evidence of an intelligent defence of the union in Scotland.

    The entire tone seems to remind me of the Devolution debate in the late 1970s.

    It has to be said that, of course with the help of the 40% rule, fear won the day.
    I think the NO camp will triumph and that will settle the matter for a generation.
    However, I think it will be a victory for negative campaigning.

  • Riocard

    I’m in favour of Scottish independence and therefore fail to see why a “bold alternative” is “urgently needed” at all. To make the political discussion more interesting? I couldn’t care less. I just hope a majority Scots vote for the independence option in 2014. Remember Bannockburn & Culloden!!!

  • Riocard.
    I think you will be disappointed in 2014.
    Failure to secure a 2nd question was, IMO, a big blow to Salmond’s project.

  • bellabugiardini

    A principal aspiration of the YES campaign is a fairer society in independent Scotland.

    But a recent report from the Child Poverty Action Group said the Westminster government’s current policies would result in 85,000 Scottish children pushed into poverty by a government that the Scots did not vote for, and which is pursuing policies four-fifths of Scottish MPs rejected.

    The set of powers that might be transferred under Alan Trench’s report (were it to be adopted in full, which is extremely unlikely) would leave that inequality untouched. In fact, it will perpetuate the existing set of conditions that make the UK one of the most unequal societies in the Western world.

    In that respect this is old news and a familiar pattern. Under strong pressure to change Westminster will stall, and drag out the process long beyond the point where it might make any difference. The answer to Scotland’s severe issues of inequality are not to be found in the hands of Labour or Tory hands in London, but in an independent Scotland.

  • Mr Beach

    Just because one doesn’t like the pro-Union message does not mean that it has been objectively been ‘negative’. Better Together could promise a Union flowing with milk and honey, with a haggis on every table and a barrel of oil in every house- do you really think the Nats would ever acknowledge the positivity of this?

    As for the devolution debate, I really don’t see why why Better Together has to be involved in this. BT is an umbrella campaign whose role is to provide a positive case for Scotland remaining in the UK. It is not meant to set out what the constitutional and political arrangement ought to be should that happen. This is because the three parties involved (and others who are non-affiliated) have their own differing views on this. If (and when) the referendum is won, the pro-union parties can include in their manifestoes a commitment to further devolution and stand for election based on that.

  • Framer

    ‘A bold alternative’ to independence is the second last thing Scotland wants or needs. There comes a time when saying no more is not only tactically sensible but politically too or the cry will be never-ending. Asking for a bit more, a little bit more, then even a wee bit more, by which time you are so distant from the UK you might as well be independent.
    We’re half way there at Westminster especially as SNP MPs can’t be seen to do more than carp in debate.
    Devolution has also passed its peak, perhaps even its ‘best by’ date, if not yet ‘sell by’.
    Dividing up the money is fun but it is thin political gruel (or broth) compared to making decisions on the cake proper.
    Devolved entities can no more tax their voters than fish can talk.

  • JPJ2

    Who do you trust to act in Scotland’s best interests?
    Scottish Government: 71%
    UK Government: 18%

    The above response reported by the Scottish Social Attitudes survey is the reason why the referendum result will be much closer than (fortunately) many unionists believe.

    If the belief ever takes hold that the Tories are going to win the 2015 election, that will make the referendum opinion polls narrow sharply.

    Should “No” eke out a narrow win, but the Tories win the 2015 UK GE, don’t expect Alex Salmond’s once in a generation referendum to hold.The Nats, and probably the majority of Scots, will not support him in that 🙂

    The people of Scotland will decide when there is another vote-that is democracy after all.

  • JPJ2

    Further to my post of yesterday.

    Cameron’s speech on an In/Out EU referendum will increase support for the Conservative party-and thus increase support for a “Yes”to independence as I predicted yesterday.

    The joke/hypocrisy of talking about a referendum FOUR years from now after all the criticism of the Scottish referendum and its “uncertainty” will not be lost on the electorate of Scotland 🙂

  • DougtheDug

    I’ve read Alan Trench’s report and in the main it’s just a reworking of Calman. Calman allows Scotland to put income tax up or down 10p simultaneously across all bands whereas Trench gives complete control of income tax to Scotland. Control of Scotland’s natural resources, control of energy policy, control of corporation tax and control of the welfare system are not proposed in Trench’s report. Calman MK II is probably the most generous description of it.

    The other important part of the report is that it calls for the removal of any needs based formula to work out the top up grant required under his proposals and seeks to level all public spending across the UK. In Scottish terms this means a big funding cut for public services and it would have an impact on Northern Ireland too when the Barnett formula or any other needs based formula for public services disappears.

    The unionists in Scotland blew what should have been the main plank in their “No Scotland” campaign when they refused the offer to put more devolved powers on the ballot paper. Now they’re struggling to put together a “jam tomorrow” strategy of vague promises of more devolved powers at some unspecified and unpromised time in the future in the hope the Scottish electorate will believe that the referendum is a choice between independence and more powers not between independence and the status quo. The Devo More report is just part of that campaign.

    The question of Europe is an interesting one because there is no legal answer. The decision will be political not legal. The best thing to do is to turn the question on its head. What would the EU gain by kicking Scotland out? Since Scotland has 66% of Europe’s oil production, a large chunk of their rich northern Atlantic fishing grounds and a huge renewable energy potential I can’t see any case for the EU kicking an independent Scotland out.

    @Phil Mac Giolla Bhain

    The SNP never wanted a second question because a second question would mean that there was devolution proposal worked out, agreed and promised by all three unionist parties on the ballot paper, a proposal which would therefore make it through Westminster. It would have been the central plank in their “No Scotland” campaign. It would have been an independence killer. However with the SNP appearing to favour it the automatic reaction of all unionists was to regard it as an SNP owned question and to reject it out of hand. Now they’re scrambling around trying to make Scots believe that devolution is going to come riding in over the hill, some-time, some-when if they just reject independence. Alex Salmond knew they couldn’t put a devolution proposal together even when faced with an indepedence referendum so the idea that they’ll pull one out of the cupboard in the case of a no vote is truly “jam tomorrow”.