Friday, September 19, 2014

Vows, Powers and Federalism: Post-Referendum

So that’s a No vote in the referendum and I hear people from both sides of the debate already looking to the future, a future in which the Scottish Parliament is to be given greater powers. People in England too are talking about change. Everyone remarks on how the turnout was a great thing for democracy and involvement (I agree) and on how change is now inevitable. I suspect radical change is inevitable but these may not constitute the change voters in Scotland wanted or expected.

I think we have a massive problem. David Cameron, far craftier than he often appears, has immediately shifted talk of (unidentified) powers for Scotland to talk of federalism in England and to deny votes for Scottish MPs on English matters. Initially this sounds reasonable. It will form part of a populist agenda, delivering on those rather oblique ‘vows’ (isn’t it easy to deliver something when no one really understands what was promised in the first place?) and making out that the Scottish vote has galvanised support for radical change in England. However, this is a right-wing Conservative government, propped up by the dead-men-walking Liberal Democrats, and their sudden enthusiasm for constitutional change should be ringing alarm bells in our heads. Loudly. Conservatives do not tend to put power in the hands of the people. Naturally, they tend to consolidate the status quo and strengthen power in the hands of those who already have it i.e. people like themselves.

Let’s imagine the scenario of the next election being won by Labour with a small majority. However, they are unable to pass any laws on health, education etc because Scottish MPs cannot vote on these issues, which are devolved to the Scottish Parliament. Despite the Labour majority, the Conservatives would have enough MPs to pass a law effectively destroying what’s left of the NHS. This would slash state health funding throughout the UK. The Barnett formula, or whatever disadvantageous variation remains, would allocate a now much smaller sum to the Scottish Parliament health budget, and the NHS would therefore become unsustainable in Scotland even though Scottish MPs had no say in the matter at Westminster. Labour would find themselves unable to pass laws on all kinds of vital services. Only a very big majority for Labour could guarantee a stable Labour government. Whether New Labour would protect the health service even with a large majority is (shockingly!) open to question in any case.

Federalism in England may also give Conservative-held councils the ability to slash social services, while councils presiding over areas of significant deprivation will see their budgets proving even more inadequate than at present.

Many people in Scotland are suspicious that Westminster will not deliver the ‘powers’ they promised. I think they will deliver alright, with gusto, at terrible cost both for Scotland and for the cause of social justice in the rest of the UK. In Scotland, we will complain, of course, but we have no legs left to stand on. It’s what a majority of people voted for in the referendum, whether they realised they were voting for it or not.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Late Reflections on the Scottish Independence Referendum

1. We are asked whether we want to be an independent country. Someone from the Conservative Party says we’d be better with the UK’s “safety net”. He likes being safe and is very worried about all that... stuff out there. Like bewildering trapezes, perhaps. Really, how you vote may depend on how scared you feel. But the safety net is mythological. There is no real safety net.

2. It’s interesting to hear that some Conservatives appear to support a dependency culture when it comes to Scotland. They complain about subsidies we are supposedly being given and then do everything in their power to keep us, to make sure we keep receiving them. What’s the logic in that?

3. Actually Scotland isn’t being subsidised at all and the extent of currently untapped oil reserves are unclear. That could be one reason why the main British parties are keen to resist separation. Oil! Who would have thought?

4. Many friendly people from England say “Don’t go. Stay with us.” But we are with you. We’re not actually going anywhere.

5. One English person was saying, “But what about us if you become independent?” Well, that is up to you and the people of England and I hope you make positive choices. Some people have suggested the entire population of the UK should have had a vote in this referendum as it affects everyone. I presume they also believe that every citizen in the whole of Europe should have a vote in the proposed referendum to decide whether the UK should stay in the EU?

6. I am not a nationalist and dislike flag waving. I describe myself, when asked, as “Scottish” rather than “British”. It annoys me when people on TV talk about British culture when referring to aspects of English culture. It happens very often! But I do not “love” my country: neither Scotland nor the UK. Anyone like David Cameron, who feels “heartbroken” over a change in a country’s constitutional affairs, needs a psychiatrist.

7. I was watching that awful Better Together video with the patronising BT lady and then watching one of the versions with subtitles inserted by very witty, creative people from the Yes campaign. And I thought, “Who would I most like to have a pint of good Belgian lager with? The makers of the video or the makers of the subtitles?” The answer is easy.

8. Some people might think it rather glib that I'd consider voting Yes because of a campaign video, but I don’t think it is glib. It’s to do with vision. The people I’d like to hang about with are the people most likely to want to build the kind of nation I’d want to build. They get my vote.

9. The Yes campaign has been characterised by wit, creativity, artistic flair and positive vision. The No campaign has been negative, scaremongering and gloomy. It basically says, "We love Scotland. But we can't make decisions for ourselves." I find it depressing even to think about it.

10. Sometimes Yes propaganda has gone over the top. I don’t really believe we’re going to create this new society founded on peace, justice and solidarity, complete with unfathomable riches. But the alternative is the terrified, doom-laden purveyors of No, and, to that I say, No thanks!

11. Apparently we are the 14th or the 49th richest country in the world, depending on how you calculate it. Needless to say, a Yes supporter calculated 14 and a No supporter calculated 49, roughly equal to Ireland. That sounds OK to me, either way.

12. Supporters of the status quo are often concerned for what they might personally lose. They are especially worried about their property. I heard today of one couple who made an offer on a house but had a clause inserted in the contract that they could back out if there is a Yes majority on Thursday. What do they think is going to happen? Is Scotland due to slide into the sea?

13. Think of your pension, I am told. Think of your savings. What currency are you going to use anyway? Well I certainly don’t trust the UK Government to protect my pension or non-existent savings and anyone who does, post-financial-crisis, is a prize idiot. And I’ll use whatever currency we end up deciding on.

14. And that reminds me – Standard Life? Are you reading this? My pension scheme is with you. It’s not going to be with you for much longer. Cheers!

15. Various businesses and banks threaten to leave Scotland in the event of a Yes vote. Some No voters get hysterical and actually argue this as a reason to vote No. I have never witnessed such pathetic capitulation before power in my life. For goodness sake, let's show an ounce of courage here! An ounce of moral fibre, even! People who use threats clearly do not have the interests of Scotland, or you, at heart. In the unlikely event that they do move out, I’m sure someone will move in and take over all their customers.

16. “Vote Yes and get away from the Tories!” some urge. That has appeal, but wouldn’t swing it for me. The problem for me is that in the UK there is no visionary alternative. The Lib Dems have lost all credibility. The Labour Party in Westminster doesn’t stand for anything worthwhile. And then there’s UKIP whose racist, nationalist agenda I really find disturbing. I much prefer the Scottish Parliament. Even some of the Tories there don’t come over as horrible, obnoxious, uncaring people, unlike the entire Westminster cabinet. A recovery by the Tories in Scotland, which might even happen in an independent country, would be a good thing for democracy. Strong oppositions are always a useful check on those in charge.

17. I am still waiting for any serious political party to tackle the issue that 432 people own half the land in Scotland. However, as unlikely as anyone having the courage to tackle it might be, it’s more likely to happen within an independent Scotland than from the corrupt London parliamentary elite.

18. Why does anyone want to stay with a Parliament that lied to us to justify an illegal war at the cost of thousands of lives and billions of pounds; that stands accused of covering up an organised paedophile network within its own ranks; that fiddled ridiculous levels of expenses at our expense; that gives itself a 9% pay rise during a period of austerity and then tells us that “we’re all in this together”?

19. “Don’t build walls! Break them down!” say some of the more persuasive supporters of No. They are good, liberal people who believe in sticking together for the good of all. I see their point and it does make some sense. But there are walls all over British society and they are becoming higher every day. In an independent Scotland I hope we might at least have a shot at breaking down some of those.

20. Ed Miliband had an idea. He thought (very mistakenly) that it would really appeal to the Scottish electorate to have a Saltire flag hoisted above 10 Downing Street, currently the home of an extreme right-wing Conservative prime minister. The Saltire had other ideas. I’m with the Saltire.

21. What it comes down to: if you have the choice between making decisions for your life or allowing other people to make decisions for you, often not in your interest and often against your will, what do you choose? It’s not rocket science! At least if we as Scottish people make bad decisions on our own behalf, we’ll be able to blame ourselves rather than the English. Wouldn’t that be a refreshing change?