An alternative view on the possibilities of Scottish independence or maintenance of the status quo
During the term of this parliament, I have doubled the amount of days I have spent in Scotland during my lifetime. Besides the joys of Glasgow Central and Edinburgh Waverley railway stations, I have added the Far North and Kyle of Lochalsh lines to the numbers of lines I have travelled on in my time.
I love this part of the world. Every inch of it. And there’s still loads of Scotland I would love to see from the Shetland Islands right down to Kirkcudbright. Passport or not, Schwengen visa or otherwise, Ageing Auties’ Sassenach Bus Pass or not.
After two weeks in the Scottish Highlands (in 2011 and 2013), I noticed a sense of energy. A sense of ‘can do’ seemingly absent south of Gretna Green. The sense that Scotland could, one day, free itself from the strait jacket of Westminster. If England was going to fall further and further into its ready-fracked neoliberal sinkhole, a future place of refuge for yours truly, the writer of this piece (usual economic rules and prospects apply as ever).
I liked the communitarian approach. To me akin to being in parts of Northern England, particularly the former mill towns and mining communities in the West Riding of Yorkshire. Its warmth was far removed from some of the surly attitudes I have seen closer to home. I had noticed a similar pattern to Scotland and Northern England in Devon and Cornwall; in the West Country too. Likewise on a trip to Hastings in 2010: it felt a bit like home apart from the seafront, and Art Deco block of flats inspired by the Queen Mary. Its local buses were just as old as (and some were older than) some of Tameside’s examples!
Not long after my trip to Hastings (a 99 bus ride away from Eastbourne where I was staying at the time), I went to see The Mighty ‘Bridge® play Colwyn Bay on a Bank Holiday Monday. Both seaside resorts had lost their traditional tourist trade to overseas package holidays in the last 40 years and have the social problems which accompany such places. Another they had in common was a closed pier each – both ravaged by fire at one point of their lives. One is being restored whereas the other is on death row, under threat of demolition. On Bank Holiday Monday, you could hardly tell it was late August. It was quieter than a Sunday morning in Ashton-under-Lyne (and believe me, Uppermill is livelier at 11am on the Holy Day)!
Again, following The Mighty ‘Bridge® in what is laughably known as the Conference North football league, I had the joy of a trip to Oxford in Autumn 2012. It seemed unreal: bustling; not a single closed shop unit; smartly dressed, a packed Saturday scene that I had only witnessed in central Manchester, or in the Oldham town centre of 1983. I felt as if I was in a different country. I was still in Great Britain, but I had a System One Buscard on me instead of a passport (which is useless outside of Greater Manchester of course). Buses had leather seats, WiFi – not a single step entrance vehicle (Dukinfield still had Dennis Arrows and Volvo Olympians).
One doesn’t have to have the same sentiments of Yes Scotland’s nor Better Together’s campaigners to realise that Great Britain in its present form is well and truly… (Censored – Ed). The real problem, the panda in the room, is Westminster’s hold on the rest of the United Kingdom. Greater London could go it alone as a city state and remain one of the richest nations on the planet. Scotland as said by Messrs Salmond, Sheridan and McGowan (better known as Chunky Mark on Russia Today) could be a very rich nation in the Nordic vein.
Where does this leave the rest of England and Wales? The disillusioned, particularly in East Anglia, the Midlands and parts of the Hyde Werneth ward have found solace in the United Kingdom Independence Party. The argument is the same as Yes Scotland’s: Westminster (or rather Ashton, in the case of Hydonians) isn’t serving their locality very well. The difference is some are finding solace in right wing parties in England whereas both the pro and anti independence groups in Scotland are cross-party (as was the case with the EEC Referendum in 1975 where the No Campaign was represented by Labour and – then Ulster Unionist – Enoch Powell).
I have seen the disconnect and remoteness at local and national levels. The problem was, and remains, London’s overarching influence. Its share of the transport expenditure compared with Newcastle-upon-Tyne’s for instance. Its influence increased by the abolition of Metropolitan County Councils in West Yorkshire, Merseyside, South Yorkshire, West Midlands and Greater Manchester. Though Greater London regained its assembly thanks to Labour, its influence has continued unimpeded.
Then there’s the lack of a regional industrial policy. We used to woo companies to areas with good tax incentives or decentralise nationalised industries to areas otherwise starved of jobs. This wouldn’t have happened, and it isn’t happening at present as industrial policy seems to be outsourced to market forces or open to hydraulic fracturing prospectors. Ideologically targeted spending cuts by the present government has had a greater effect on the areas where businesses need a nudge to run local bus services – let alone build a new wind turbine factory.
With present company, are we surprised as to why 56% of Clactonians wish to vote UKIP? Should we be surprised if tomorrow’s referendum results provides us with more of a photo finish between Yes and No? Could Thursday’s results whatever the outcome be a harbinger of future devolution in Northern England? A Cornish Parliament? Home Rule for the Isle of Thanet even with a Parliament House next to The Shell Grotto?
Federalism: a more pragmatic step
The United Kingdom of Great Britain (whatever form it is now, or after March 2016) is too big and too complex to carry on in its centralised form. I am pretty much a fan of the federal system, in the sense it can be more responsive to local needs. There could be scope for national benchmarks with regions given more control of local budgets. The National Health Service, National Rail, Royal Mail plc and the BBC could remain national institutions and corporations.
Some may argue that Scotland could be part of a federal Britain along with Wales and Northern Ireland. There remains one question: how do we set the boundaries in England? Could they be congruent with European Union constituencies? Former ITV franchises? Traditional boundaries – the return of Wapentakes and the Kingdom of Mercia? Referendum anyone?
If a federal England is carved purely into regional boundaries, this will ignore the concerns of its major cities who need their own powers to run the buses to time or its public services (for instance Greater Manchester). Most importantly, powers should be given to each constituent and district councils under, for arguments sake, the Greater Manchester Combined Authority.
If Scotland votes ‘Yes’
A ‘yes’ vote could be the start of a new era, the biggest shake-up in British politics since the Great Reform Act. The people of Scotland could start afresh and turn their back on the neoliberal agenda beloved of its Westminster peers. South of the Border, it could be a rocket up the proverbial for Whitehall, given its duration between the 19 September 2014 and the next General Election on the 07 May 2015.
The Tories could choose to gloat about the possibility of England being a permanent Conservative/UKIP fiefdom. Whilst crying crocodile tears over the fact they need a passport to frequent their favoured grouse hunting grounds. Perhaps the reduced number of MPs in the Rest of UK in 2016 could mean the end of marginal seats, and a case for electoral reform.
Subject to the success of Scotland’s experience as an independent country, other parts of England, plus Wales and Northern Ireland, may choose to secede from Westminster. Don’t be surprised if a Yorkshire Parliament is up and running in the centre of Harrogate in the 2030s.
However, there could be some complications, particularly the issue of Trident. RotUK could own Faslane in the same way the US Army has a handful of air bases in England. NHS Scotland could answer to Holyrood; the British Broadcasting Corporation could keep a Scottish outpost in the same way it is possible to get RTÉ signals in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. First Scotrail could be nationalised as a subsidiary of Transport Scotland with Citylink and Caledonian MacBrayne following suit.
Recent reports have pointed towards a slender win for the No Campaign. It is reputed that turnouts are set to be the highest since the 1950 General Election with a solid working class vote in favour of the Yes Campaign.
If Scotland votes ‘No’
Better Together, which is supported by the main three political parties, insists that the retention of its union would be a better move for Scotland. Though the Conservative and Unionist, Labour and Liberal Democrats parties promise more powers, I can imagine it being more of the same. The Better Together team states how its political union ensures the retention of public services. That I have my doubts; I think that Scotland will continue to be shafted in the same way as the rest of the UK outside London. However, the retention of the Barnett Formula, could ensure some shelter from the worst excesses of NHS privatisation. Likewise with continued devolution, though I doubt as if Holyrood would have the same powers to scrap the Bedroom Tax and the Work Programme.
If Scotland votes for the status quo, expect to see decentralisation along with higher NHS spending pledges appear in the manifestoes. Expect to see Scotland suffering from the same cutbacks as its fellows in Northern England.
Besides averting any fears of showing a passport on the A74, bus and coach companies and rail franchises will be relieved. A ‘No’ vote would be the best option for incumbent businesses with fears of higher prices and relocations to London assuaged.
Anyone with more than half a brain would realise that both the Better Together and Yes Scotland campaigns cover more than one party in each of them. On the BBC, there seems to be greater focus on the Better Together campaign supported by the three major unionist parties. The representation of Yes Scotland seems to be less amicable with the mainstream media hitting out at some of its not so well behaved supporters.
Nationalism and the retention of the 1707 Union has been the main concern instead of democracy. Case in point with David Cameron’s plea to avoid voting ‘yes’ for the sake of kicking the Conservatives out. Also with the Liberal Democrats and Labour parties promising extra powers if Better Together win the referendum.
From the Yes Scotland campaign, the activity has focused on Alex Salmond which gives an impression that Yes Scotland is the sole preserve of the Scottish National Party. Far less coverage, though more eloquent arguments for independence have come from Patrick Harvie, leader of the Scottish Green Party, and Tommy Sheridan of the Scottish Socialist Party.
Both camps seem to be offering ‘jam tomorrow’, with the need for greater substance somewhat missed. The Better Together team has tried to add weight to their campaign with celebrity endorsements for the union. Yes Scotland seems to have had a more positive campaign, but press smears are trying to tar their campaigners with the same brush as far-right groups.
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East of the M60 Comment: Choose Wisely
Whether Scotland goes for independence or otherwise, I wish them the very best of luck. If they choose to go it alone, I hope they offer a real alternative to the 30 years of neoliberalism which has ruined the United Kingdom. I hope their actions would make for a more decentralised Britain, a more just British Isles.
If Scotland votes against independence, it is probably down to the mainstream media’s mixed messages and FUD more than cold feet. If so, I hope the devolved Scotland within the UK remains a success and takes on more powers within a federalised Britain. Perhaps there could be another independence referendum, but how can we guarantee that? Again I wish them well.
The real panda in the room is the UK’s democratic deficit which I feel is the source of its discord and disconnect with the political system. We had a chance to vote for electoral reform with a form of proportional representation, but the package on offer led to a ‘No’ vote and a low turnout. Tomorrow morning, Scotland could vote for more of the same or none of the same.
I hope democracy rather than nationalism rules their heads and hearts. Whether they vote ‘Yes’ or ‘No’, some people of Scotland may be just as likely to identify themselves as ‘British’ as well as ‘Scottish’. That we shouldn’t lose sight of at all.
In the long run, Britain needs to be an all-singing, all-dancing modern day federal country in whatever form it may be in 2016. Devolution should not be the sole preserve of our home nations, but also the regions within England. What was designed constitutionally for 40 million Britons is starting to creak at the seams with 62 million of us.
Interesting times, they say… in Dukinfield as well as Dunfermline.
S.V., 17 September 2014.