Tomorrow Nicola Sturgeon will unveil the SNPs economic case for another independence campaign. As it will focus attention on Scotland’s sluggish economic performance under an SNP government on the defensive, it’s a high risk strategy. Support for Indyref2 would first exploit resentment that the UK government has given no weight to the big Remain majority in Scotland and will ignore the Scottish Parliament’s refusal to give consent to a Withdrawal Bill that would fail to devolve powers over agriculture and fishing to Edinburgh when they return from Brussels to the UK. But this is a separate battle which may be concluded before an Indyref2 campaign gets off the ground.
That leaves the economic case. A campaign would again monster the Tories for austerity and denounce a Brexit outcome short of their ideal to give it traction. It’s a complex picture and an Indyref strategy will take time to emerge – if it ever does. But the vision has a clarity and appeal that Irish nationalists will recognise.
Once a UK federalist, commentator Iain McWhirter has come out as a supporter of Scottish independence. What tipped him over? A Scottish remainer’s view of Brexit of course. It’s a powerful case that will be contested. One thing is for sure. It sounds more convincing that fellow Scot Michael Gove’s claim that Brexit has strengthened the Union. McWhirter’s is the case to answer.
Scotland cannot be content as a declining region of the over-centralised Brexit Britain that Remainer Ruth Davidson described, inadvertently echoing much of the SNP’s case. The UK Tory attempt to revisit the British Empire in “Global Britain” is not a project that will involve Scotland, emotionally, morally or economically, as the original empire arguably did. This is not a partnership of equals, even in theory.
Nor is it the caring-sharing UK that Gordon Brown promised would be the reward for a No vote in 2014 – a new, federal Union committed to social welfare. It will be a centralised, deregulated, free-market Britain, which will seek to overcome the economic self-harm of Brexit by trying to undercut our European neighbours through social cost-cutting, tariff wars and currency manipulation. Britain is raising the drawbridge against the very immigrants who help keep the economy buoyant and society diverse.
I am not a member of the SNP, or a nationalist, but there is no doubt in my mind now that Scotland should be an independent country in Europe. Federalism might have been an enlightened alternative to independence, but I’ve been writing about it for more than 20 years and it is less likely now than ever. Labour picks it up every so often, and Richard Leonard claims to be an enthusiast, but there’s no demand for it south of the Border, and you can’t have federalism in one country. Moreover, Brexit Britain is about restoring the unitary British state, which is why the autonomy of the Scottish Parliament is being curbed.
Nations exist for a reason: they are geographical entities,with common culture and social norms, which have been shaped by history and economic circumstances. It is the natural condition of nations to govern themselves, and really we can’t expect others to govern for us. That just leads to the paternalism and dependency of the Barnett Formula. Scotland’s endemic slow growth cannot be addressed by remaining tied to London. Only when the key decisions are taken in Scotland will it be able to progress like other European small nations, and remain an open society.
This has nothing to do with “identity politics”, as the Tory Environment Secretary, Michael Gove, claimed at the Policy Exchange conference, suggesting that independence was all about tartan racism. This was richly ironic in the wake of Windrush, which revealed endemic racism at the heart of the supposedly “warm home” of the British state. Mr Gove was one of the leading figures in the Brexit campaign which was the epitome of a narrow nationalist project that sought to limit immigration and diversity. Scotland is an open, European nation and wishes to remain so; it is mR Gove’s Brexit Britain that is obsessed with borders and cutting off from the rest of the world.
Membership of the European Union allows nations to be self-governing without borders, without protectionism, without punitive immigration controls and without nationalism. The selfish, militant and often racist nationalism of the 20th Century has largely been extinguished. It is Brexit that has revived it in the UK. Independence in Europe is the only option that makes sense for a small country like Scotland.
The prospects of Theresa May giving permission for Indyref 2 are non-existent, says fiercely pro-Union commentator Alan Cochrane
It is only Prime Minister Theresa May and her government that can authorise another such vote unless the Nats on parade on Saturday want to go the way of their supposed Catalan allies and seek to hold an illegal referendum – a course of action that would be doomed to failure and which even that ace gambler, Alex Salmond, steered clear of when he was First Minister.
But there is not a cat in hell’s chance of such agreement being forthcoming. The view at Westminster tallies pretty much with Scottish public opinion in believing that the independence issue was sorted and settled four years ago.
The Times surveys the economic battleground
The SNP Growth Commission report, to be published tomorrow, will claim that Scotland has all the assets necessary to do as well as any successful small country in the world and to boost the economy by £4,100 per person.
Andrew Chapman, a financial adviser to the Scottish government, told Holyrood’s finance committee that Scotland was on the verge of an “economic shock”. This is an economic slump so severe that the government is given emergency borrowing powers allowing ministers to spend their way out of trouble in the short term.
.Andrew Wilson, the former SNP MSP behind the Growth Commission report, will argue when he publishes his report tomorrow that a combination of Scottish independence and the right policies will spark dramatic improvements to Scotland’s growth rate.
But, reacting to the evidence from Mr Chapman that Scotland’s growth rate is so poor that emergency remedies might soon be authorised, Murdo Fraser for the Scottish Conservatives said: “The SNP’s independence referendum plan will not distract the public from Scotland’s grim economic performance. Surely now the SNP must wake up, stop penalising Scots with tax increases, focus on productivity and start encouraging businesses.”
A spokesman for the Scottish government said: “Rather than blame the SNP for a mess of their own making the Tories should get their own house in order, end Brexit uncertainty and commit to keeping Scotland in the European single market and customs union.”
- Scotland would have to find tens of billions of pounds to hold in reserve if it became independent, according to Ronald MacDonald, research professor of macroeconomics at the Adam Smith Business School. He said the money would be needed to protect a Scottish currency from speculators and crises.
Professor MacDonald, an adviser to the International Monetary Fund, said there would have to be huge spending cuts or tax rises or both to raise the funds to provide the reserves it needed.
The SNP Growth Commission report is expected to recommend that an independent Scotland start by sharing sterling before setting up its own currency, pegged to the pound. Professor MacDonald said both options would require substantial reserves and prove to be hugely expensive.
Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London