Independence, fact or fancy?

Independence for all, or just some?

Holyrood, government, or regional office?Holyrood, government, or regional office?

The report on the elections held in May this year for the Scottish Parliament and local councils has just been published. On the one hand 49% of those eligible to vote in these elections did so, which may be regarded as a good turnout. On the other hand, about 140,000 ballot papers were 'lost', for a variety of reasons, and this number is high enough to reduce the value of the results for all parties. Also, the report's author, Bryan Gould, suggested that all the Scottish political parties have to shoulder the blame for the outcome, he says that they treated the voters as, "an afterthought", and were too "partisan". As a Labour MP under the former Labour Leader John Smith, who, as a Scot, was very sympathetic towards more power for Scotland, we may conclude that Gould would know about these things. The report makes many suggestion for the future, so what of the future?

Scotland's First Minister, Alex Salmond, gained his position in these elections with the narrowest of margins, one seat, and leads a minority government. It has been Salmond's dream, and that of his party, the Scottish National Party, to gain independence for Scotland. This dream has for other Scots been a nightmare, but the SNP would say Scotland has to awake and be responsible for its own affairs. At the root of these passions lies the very soul of the United Kingdom. And, following the creation of The Welsh Assembly, it was clear that there would soon be talk of an English Parliament. Usually any talk of independence is only in the context of the Welsh or the Scots, but to put it bluntly, if they are keen to be rid of us, should the English reciprocate, and we seek to be rid of them? And anyway what is independence?

Partner or ogre?Partner or ogre?The Act of Union between England and Scotland was 300 years ago, a long time past, and perhaps this is how the more level-headed members of the SNP, and others seeking independence within the present UK feel. More driven by modern practical considerations than history, who can blame them? Perhaps it is also practical to have a look at the SNP's own history; formed in 1934 from an amalgamation of political enthusiasts, it contained a broad mixture, with many former Liberal and Labour party members, some of whom were besotted by Irish politics and in awe of Sinn Féin. Unsuccessful in the early years of its life it eventually evolved into a left of centre party, and had to wait until 1967 and the victory of Winifred Ewing before gaining more general recognition. The modern SNP now finds itself on the threshold of real power, to go forward it must deal with the past. But what of its own past?

The SNP has a republican base, thinks well of the EU, and would sign up to the euro. Like many parties when firmly stuck with an opposition role they kept the pot boiling with rousing promises and their supporters grew to depend on this. Now Alex Salmond tells them he puts Scotland first, independence is still on the list of things to do, but not top of the list. This may not satisfy some of the hearty supporters spoiling for a fight. But Salmond is reflecting evidence showing independence for Scotland among some of the population as high on passion, but not quite as high on priority. Like many Scots before him Salmond knows that he has a problem with playing both home and away. In his case, home is the Scottish Parliament at Holyrood, whilst away is the House of Commons in London. For Gordon Brown, as an example, it is the other way around. So too for yet another Scot, Alistair Darling, who as Chancellor sends a lot of money north of the border, but not too much, otherwise how are all those Labour voting English Heartlands to be rewarded?

Élysée, role model?Élysée, role model?

At the SNP conference,26th to the 28th of October, delegates we told that they seek control over 'their' fishing grounds, and good luck to them. Also that they are in favour of a referendum on the 'new' constitution. I would imagine the two could be related, in so far as if someone from the EU could offer Scotland a ray of hope on fishing, then the SNP would back away from a referendum on the constitution. This would then weaken the UK position on a referendum, wrong-footing the English, who are never popular with the EU. You may think this a mean thought of mine, but I imagine Salmond would jump at the chance, realpolitiks was ever thus.

An independent Scotland, free from the English, but in fact dependent on the EU would be pseudo-independence, do the Scottish voters want that; what is the point of Holyrood sending out letters from the 'Scottish Parliament' with the Saltire in one top corner and the EU ring of stars in the other? It is as silly as the Tory party chant of 'in Europe but not ruled by Europe', or that other daft notion of re-negotiating the treaty signed by their man Edward Heath. Membership of the EU has all the simplicity of a light switch, on or off, in or out. When Salmond became First Minister those wishing to hold the UK together at any cost got a bit of a fright, while English eurosceptics willed him onto independence on the 'after you' principle. Unlike fellow Scot Gordon Brown, who shyed away from holding a general election, Alex Salmond in his first conference speech as First Minister says he is promising a referendum on independence before his term is up. This may sound gutsy and dynamic, but is still a long way off. Are both Brown and Salmond whistling "things can only get better"? Maybe, but obviously not in harmony! Now imagine Salmond gets what he wants, when asked, the voters say YES to independence. The SNP is left of centre in a way that, if given the opportunity, might create a Berlaymont and the EU, benign or Big brother?Berlaymont and the EU, benign or Big brother?regime comparable to France in the power and position of the state. However, the French sensing the game was up on this sort of political style elected Nicolas Sarkozy to 'decouple', in other words to reduce the size of the state. The French realise that the old way of working is too costly, they cannot afford it any more. So how would the SNP pay for generous state provision, and reduce the size of the public sector? Surely an independent country responsible for its own affairs is also responsible for its own revenue? Relying on taxpayers from abroad, the English, would not be an option.

Now let us imagine that Salmond and the SNP do not get what they want. Would they, like the Irish government in 2002 for example, be forced to give the voters a second chance. I refer to the NO result from the voters of Ireland in 2001, when given the opportunity to vote on the Nice Treaty. The Irish government had to wait another year before, cap in hand, they went back to their voters and got a YES. All a bit shaming, how would the SNP cope with that? But back to the conference speech by Salmond, he claimed that, if independent, Scotland could have a super-rich 'tiger' economy. Again I wish him well with his dream, but it is hard to see how Scotland is held back by being part of the UK, and why it is not richer now. In other words is it just a 'jam tomorrow' promise, the sort of thing that Gordon Brown is good at? Perhaps they, Brown and Salmond, get on better than we think, in which case despite all the talk, Scottish independence will go ahead at a glacial speed. So those of you in England who seek independence should not wait for the SNP to go first, start now and give the Scots a lead.