Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Tories have done enough damage to the UK: time they shut up

Alex Salmond may be a very successful politician. He may be an astute leader. He is also, however, wrong. Despite the recent failures of administration by London, Salmond's vision of Scotland is one that reduces Scotland's vision and diminishes its opportunities.

The policy of the Scottish National Party is to separate Scotland from the rest of the United Kingdom. In this way, the SNP contends,  the Scottish people can achieve more prosperity and have a louder global voice than Scotland has as a full part of the United Kingdom. It is a view routed in the world that has emerged over the past twenty years- a world of fragmenting states and diminished great power rivalries. Put in that context, the SNP suggests that the break-up of the British Empire should now be followed by the break up of the British State.

This thesis is based on the false idea that Scotland was an unwilling junior partner in an essentially imperialist enterprise. The implication is that Scotland was, like other parts of the former Empire in some way occupied. Yet, as the long list of Scottish Prime Ministers and business and cultural leaders in Britain shows, Scotland was not the junior partner in anything. The ability of Scots to make their way in the wider state may have reduced the pull of Edinburgh, or Glasgow as political centres but it massively increased the opportunities available to Scottish individuals, who have taken those opportunities with both hands. From politicians to comedians, artists to inventors, the Scottish people gain hugely from the possibilities that the much larger British state has offered to them. Salmond's vision of a Scotland separate from the rest of the UK offers diminished opportunities to the Scottish people away from Scotland and condemns the Scottish economy to a limited market and limited growth.

The basis of the renewal of Scottish Nationalism has been that Scotland can function just as well within the European Union as in can within the British Union. Superficially it is an attractive prospect- the EU is a market of over 300 million. However, as the experience of the other smaller countries shows, there are significant limits to the influence of 5 million voters, against the determination of the Franco-German motor. Although Scots have been frustrated by the election of Conservative governments in London, they should note that virtually all the governments of the EU are out of the same mould. Furthermore, the resurgence of the right wing Front National could easily see far more conservative governments dictating terms to a government in Edinburgh.

The loathing of England and the English in large parts of Scotland is a bitter and unfortunate legacy of Margaret Thatcher's hectoring and suburban style of leadership. She impose the poll tax on an unwilling Scotland and when the experiment failed, refused to listen. Although the poll tax was the ultimate occasion of the end of her leadership, the sense that Scotland was unimportant and disqualified by the Conservatives led to a rebellion that continues to this day.

For that reason, the emergence of another voice which is equally suburban and hectoring, in the shape of George Osborne could hardly be designed to irritate Scots more. His accent grates, his attitude grates and his determination to force Scotland into an early referendum could hardly have more than one outcome: the break up of the very Union that Mr. Osborne purports to defend.

The Conservatives, having failed in their unyielding defence of the unitary United Kingdom, seem to have defected en bloc to the separatist camp. Yet as Germany, Spain, France and several other countries have shown, there is another alternative, in the shape of a federal or confederal Britain. That maintains the benefits of the common state- including the sharing of armed forces which is of such benefit to NATO and the wider security architecture of Europe- while allowing Scottish affairs to be controlled at home.

For the regions of Scotland, the emergence of centralized power in Edinburgh is possibly even worse than centralized power in more distant London. The SNP is so determined to create a rival power centre to Westminster that it has sucked the life blood out of Scottish provincial cities- and that will be damage that will continue even if the referendum to separate is defeated.

The SNP is dangerous, but they continue to benefit from the tin ear that Conservatives still have for Scottish politics. Osborne should butt out and shut up. If the common state falls I for one would be quite happy to put Osborne's head on a spike.

No comments: