Anyone who may be unsure as to Alex Salmond’s integrity and proficiency as a responsible politician with serious ambition to lead an independent Scotland would hardly have been reassured by events of this past week. In comparing the SNP’s call for independence to the serious political violence in Ireland at the start of the 20th century, Salmond demonstrated not only his over exuberant, inflated ego but also his complete lack of touch with reality. It is highly surprising that his recent actions have not been consistent with his normally astute political reasoning. Instead he has alienated himself from the Westminster government, the press, and the British public. But to his credit, he is the one politician in Britain who has followed a consistent ideology throughout his career. No one can doubt Mr Salmond’s ability as a politician in winning a significant landslide majority in the most recent Scottish elections
But there is a point where he has to start meaning business, and for Salmond, it is a question of working out when this time has come. His election victory certainly suggests that his has the electoral legitimacy to call for a referendum on Scottish independence, but it is a question of timing, he will only get one opportunity. The problem is, while the SNP use their landslide victory significantly for propaganda and publicity, they privately realise that it doesn’t translate directly into support for independence. Many Scots who voted for the SNP in May did so because they had the best policies on welfare, education and energy. Scottish Labour and Conservatives were woefully below par in their policies and appeal, providing very little competition. Independence was not a significant factor in the vote.
…a bad move right now by anyone’s estimations…
So Salmond has given himself the opportunity to fulfil his lifelong ambition, it just appears that now the reality is far more problematic and complex than the beautiful theory. What does independence actually mean for Scotland, and for that matter the rest of the United Kingdom? Who will be allowed to vote in the referendum and what will they be voting for?
The issue that Salmond has seemingly bypassed is that Scottish independence is not a matter that solely concerns the Scottish people. The effects of a breakup of the Union would have profound effects on the rest of the United Kingdom. It would require a restructuring of government, parliament and the monarchy. Separate currencies would have to be established with Scotland presumably joining the Euro (a bad move right now by anyone’s estimations) or weirdly holding onto Sterling. The status of the armed forces have to be dramatically altered, significantly affecting foreign policy commitments and capability. Financial resources would have to be divided including an allocation of the national debt. Equally physical resources would require dividing with an never-ending conflict over ownership of the North Sea Oil a good bet by all accounts. Without Scotland, Britain’s position on the UN Security Council would surely be called into question as the United Kingdom would no longer be represented. These are issues that affect the English, Welsh and Northern Irish people, as much as they do the Scots. That should be reflected in the nature of the referendum.
…Scotland would become subject to billions of pounds of debt…
Furthermore, who do the SNP believe should be allowed to vote? Should it be everyone who lives in Scotland? But what of non-Scots living in Scotland? Those on the electoral roll? And what of Scots living abroad? Surely they deserve a right to vote on their country’s future as much as anyone.
The point in asking so many questions is to show how unanswered the whole concept of Scottish independence is currently. The SNP needs to define what it is they mean. Until this is established, the government in Westminster will have an easy job refuting such ambiguous desires.
As the convoluted reality of Scottish independence becomes more apparent, questions of whether Scotland could actually survive as an independent nation become more relevant. This week, George Osborne has questioned whether an independent Scotland would have had the ability to bail out RBS and HBOS in the same way the British government did. Indeed, the Chancellor suggested that were independence to occur, Scotland would become subject to billions of pounds of debt and liabilities incurred when the British taxpayer bailed out RBS. Payments such as this would cripple a country that has this week been dubbed by John Swinney, the Scottish financial secretary as potentially the 6th most prosperous in the world. The point missed of course is that such a scenario is perhaps possible when taken in the context of the United Kingdom, just like the prosperity of any major English county would figure highly. Independence is something quite different.
If Salmond is trying to create an anti-English sentiment about his campaign then he is going about it in the right way.
As the debate becomes significantly more complicated, the SNP are going to have to clarify their position and publish an independence manifesto. They have to realise their responsibility and create an open debate, not resorting to the pathetic slurs of Joan McAlpine who this week referred to those who seek to remain in the United Kingdom as ‘anti Scottish.’ It is rhetoric such as this that Alex Salmond can’t allow to develop if he wishes to be taken seriously. His dealings with Westminster, and especially the Chancellor and Prime Minister have this week been bordering on partisan. Indeed it is just pathetic that a reason given for the proposed date of the referendum in 2014 is that it falls during the 700th anniversary of the battle of Bannockburn. If Salmond is trying to create an anti-English sentiment about his campaign then he is going about it in the right way. The argument should be about whether Scotland would be better off as independent, it is not about creating a desperate juxtaposition with England.
It seems, that as the arguments are further developed, the majority of Scots will realise how practically unsustainable the notion of independence is. Salmond’s anti-English rhetoric will have to increase as he reaches out to the less educated elements within Scottish society, to people who can relate to Braveheart, but fail to see the bigger picture.
Image courtesy of BraveHeart