When the independence campaign started some time ago, I must admit I was full of enthusiasm. I started a blog, joined a facebook group, tweeted on twitter. I thought hard about the issues, debated with nationalists, sometimes acrimoniously, sometimes as friends. I learned something too. I gained a degree of respect for the nationalist argument. I heard some good arguments from sincere people. Many of these people were really good at politics. These people could win.
But after a year of blogging I became sick to death of the whole thing. All of the arguments had been said. No one was really changing their mind. The result anyway does not depend on people who write or read blogs, but on those millions who do not follow politics. I had other subjects that I had been neglecting, other topics to study. So I’ve been silent for some time. But I doubt that the nationalists have been silent. They don’t seem so sick of the campaign. As I said these people are good at politics. These people could win.
Where are we now? There’s less that a year to go and what we have is simply claim and counterclaim. The nationalist case for independence can be summed up as the claim that we would retain nearly all of the benefits of remaining in the UK. Moreover we would retain all of the benefits of being part of the EU. The process of achieving independence would make Scotland a part of the EU on the same terms as we have at present. The negotiations by which we achieved these positions with regard to the EU and the rest of the UK (rUK), would be straightforward and would be finished in 18 months. There would be no difficulties whatsoever. After independence, we’d keep the pound. The Bank of England would bail out the Scottish banks in the event that that should become again necessary. All of the things we like and nearly all of the rights that we have now by virtue of being citizens of the UK, we’d retain. On top of that Scotland would be better off economically and fairer too. What’s not to like? I told you these people were clever and were putting forward some good arguments. Most people get bored with political debate. One person says one thing, someone else says something different. It all becomes very tiresome, very quickly. In the end you give up on the arguments and focus on what each side is promising.
All these nice things could happen to me if only I just put a little cross in the yes box. And if that nice Mr Salmond keeps promising and promising and repeating and repeating over and over again that these things really will take place, then surely it must be true. You see these people really are good. No one wants to listen to the negativity of counterarguments. Those awful people who talk Scotland down. Indeed these people are good. Really good. These people could win.
Shall I add to the pointless counterarguments? Why bother? Each of the points in the SNP wishlist has been questioned, but a proportion of the Scottish population will keep the faith anyway. It’s just a question of what proportion it turns out to be. But let’s try to look outside Scotland. After all what would happen after a vote for independence would depend quite a lot on those living south of the border. What strikes me is that the mood there has changed. I haven’t spent much time in England recently, but I read comments on the newspaper comment pages and it seems to me that a fair proportion of the English have begun to loathe us. The attitude of many of the English is good riddance. They think that English taxpayers subsidise us. They think that we get our free prescriptions and free tuition on the backs of them. They long for Mr Salmond to win. Well if they hate us so much, wouldn’t it be better if we were independent? Do you see once more how clever the SNP have been? The English used to think of themselves as British and there was hardly any antipathy towards Scotland. But somehow that mood has changed. Its almost as if that nice anglophile Mr Salmond set out with a master plan to make the English feel more English and to hate us in the same way that we hate them. The politics of nationalism in Scotland has contributed to the politics of nationalism in England and by doing so has set one part of Britain against another. Now the English would cheer as we left, while before they would have felt a sense of loss like bereavement. They really have been clever haven’t they? These people could win. If not now, then the next time.
Personally I think the English are foolish to regard the loss of Scotland with such enthusiasm. But that’s what devolution and nationalism in Scotland has achieved. It’s divided us in a way that would hardly have seemed possible some years ago, when people could still remember how once we fought together alone against what seemed like the whole world. The foolishness of this rancour is that it fails to see the long term strategic value of keeping a territory intact. Why would Japan and China be arguing so vigorously over some uninhabited rocks if maintaining territorial integrity were not vital matter of national interest. Britain would lose a good chunk of territory if Scotland became independent, yet this is treated with delight. Why then are the Spanish so keen to get back tiny Gibraltar? It seems perverse for the Spanish to want so much to gain a tiny bit of territory, what the English treat the loss of perhaps a third of the territory of the UK with something approaching delight. But that’s the measure of the SNP’s achievement. As I keep repeating, rather like Paul Newman in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance KId: “Who are those guys?” Those guys are good. They keep on chasing. They’re relentless. Those guys are the SNP. Those guys could win.
But here’s the difficulty. England is now full of little Englanders who vote for that nasty Nigel Farage and UKIP. They don’t seem to be in any mood to cooperate with Mr Salmond’s independence wish list. As they cheer us to the door on leaving the UK, they also have a mood of asking “Well let’s see how they do on their own.” They would prefer to see an independent Scotland struggle even if that meant that England were worse off too. The mood in England is not to let Scotland keep the pound, nor to allow the Bank of England to act as our lender of last resort. The mood in England sometimes seems so bad that they would like to rebuild Hadrian’s wall and put barbed wire on the top. The English don’t want to help us. If we become independent they’d rather see us fail.
Could Scotland force them to let us keep the pound and the Bank of England? We can threaten to not take our share of the national debt, we can say that their nuclear submarines have to leave right now. We could use whatever leverage we have to get what we want. But what do you think? Would this increase or decrease their hostility?
The trouble with the SNP’s wishlist is that it really does depend on the cooperation and goodwill of others. The difficulty is that England could get on very well without us, but we might find it rather difficult if we were to lose their goodwill. Take an example. When a large country withdraws cooperation from a smaller one things can rapidly get rather ugly. Take the example of Ukraine and Russia. The relationship between these places, which had been together for centuries has deteriorated to the extent that Russians often feel uncomfortable visiting Ukraine and vice versa. The Russians set out to make life as economically difficult as possible for their former fellow countrymen. They’ve turned off the gas supplies. They’ve put restrictions on trade and applied silly, spurious rules to make life harder for their neighbours. They’ve sabotaged the recent Ukrainian trade deal with the EU by threatening dire economic consequences. You can do quite a lot with soft power and a bad attitude especially if the relationship is between one big powerful country and its smaller neighbour. Of course we’re lucky that it is unlikely that Mr Putin will become prime minister in Westminster, but the mood in England is such while the rUK Government would no doubt fulfil its promise to cooperate with an independent Scotland, while relations would no doubt remain civil, it seems unlikely that the English would be overly anxious to be generous.
Mr Salmond’s wishlist might well happen. I have no way of knowing one way or the other. Everything he wants is possible if only the EU and rUK agree. After all Britain let Ireland keep the pound and the Bank of England. Where there is a will there’s a way. The EU make the rules up as they go along. They broke any number of treaties to bale out Greece. They could let Scotland in with a nod. But will they? I don’t know. But I do know that the EU is against secession and that countries like Spain don’t want to encourage secession in their own backyard. If Mr Salmond achieved all of his wishlist, there’s no reason to suppose that Scotland would be worse off than now. Perhaps we would be a little more prosperous, perhaps a little less. I don’t know. The economic advantages and disadvantages of independence are complex. You can make a case either way. I’ve always thought it would come out about even, but that’s just a guess.
But none of this matters. So long as Scots continue to believe the SNP’s promises they have a chance of winning. It doesn’t matter what happens after the event, whether the promises come true, for independence would have already been achieved. The trick is to just keep promising, just keep repeating a simple message of all the good things that independence will bring. A proportion of the Scottish population will believe. It’s just a question of what proportion. And so they will say anything and do anything, promise anything to get that percentage up. It’s politically masterful, for its not as if we will have another chance. It’s not like a normal election where we can hold them to account for their broken promises. There won’t be another go in five years. This is like an election where you elect a Government for ever. The more I’ve been following the SNP tactics the more I admire them. These guys are good. These people could win.
But let’s just imagine. What if it turns out that the SNP’s wishlist does not come to pass? What if we don’t get to keep the pound? What if we need to set up our own central bank? What if we have to apply to join the EU and it takes us a number of years? What if we simply couldn't afford some of the nice things that are promised us, like free child care? There must at least be a possibility that Mr Salmond does not get all that he wants. But then this means that rationally if I were to consider voting for independence, I should do so only if I were willing to accept that some or all of the SNP wishlist would not occur. If I would still vote for independence even if we lost the pound and were not in the EU, then that would show that I am a true supporter of independence come what may. If we were to debate in this way in Scotland this would be to strip the debate down to its essence. I cannot possibly know whether we will keep the pound or remain in the EU if we become independent, so I cannot reasonably use these as a basis for a rational choice. But no there naturally there is no chance of such a debate. These guys are far too good for that. The SNP know that the vast majority of the population will not choose on the basis of rationality. They will choose because they are promised that everything will stay the same and they will get some more freebies. It’s masterly politics and has been since the Romans were offered “panem et circenses [bread and circuses]” But then the Romans were good politicians too. Bread and circuses is about the best argument in the history of politics. As I keep saying reiterating with regard to the SNP. As I keep watching as their polls seem to rise, I continue to reflect the obvious fact that these people are good. These people could win.