As I sit here starting my initial forays into the fraught world of blogging the sun is shining although, as should not be too great a surprise for a Scottish summer, some dark clouds are looming. The Olympics are on the television and whilst, it is early days, Team GB are showing a lot of promise although a medal is still to come their way.
The name for this blog is taken from the title of a Scottish song, the original version of which is largely attributed to James Hogg (1770-1835). The song was reworked and given a new tune by Dick Gaughan and featured on his Handful of Earth album. The song is both an attack on the 1707 Act of Union as well as a recognition of the bonds of friendship that should exist on both sides of the border.
There is currently an attempt from the Unionist camp to polarise people’s views in the Independence debate and to paint those campaigning for Independence as “separatists” and “isolationists”, “narrow nationalists” who want to bring an end to the centuries old bonds that link the peoples of these islands together. In truth though it is beyond the scope of politicians to dictate the social links that exist, many of which were around prior to the 1707 Act of Union and indeed prior to the 1603 Union of the Crowns as well.
The campaign for Scottish Independence is a campaign based on the political sovereignty of the Scottish people. It is, quite simply a belief that decisions on the future of Scotland are best taken by those who care most about Scotland, that is those who live in Scotland. It is a positive vision that recognises the great potential that is within Scotland to grow as a nation. Far from being “separatists” or “isolationists” most other Scottish Nationalists that I have met have a very outward looking vision for the future of Scotland and look forward to the day when Scotland can take its place as an equal in the community of Nations.
Scotland is a nation of limitless potential. We have the economic strength in our share of North Sea oil and gas that any country would crave but we are also blessed with great natural resources to develop our renewable energy sources for the future. Already the Scottish Government has shown great ambition in these areas and in tackling climate change. We have a highly educated and skilled populace and some of the world greatest inventions and discoveries have come at the hands of Scots. We have an opportunity, with Independence, to build a greener, fairer and more prosperous society.
Independence would also give us an opportunity to develop a new “social union” between the nations of the island of Britain, a partnership based on equality and on the strong social and cultural links that there already are between us. A new political settlement does not mean an ending to social ties. In the case of Ireland, for example, the Irish Free State was established in 1922 and this went on to become the Republic in 1937. There are still social ties between the Irish Republic and the UK however and, in particular with Scotland with has such a strong shared linguistic and musical history.
Today’s Scotland on Sunday front page carried a story where Douglas Alexander and other Unionist politicians argued that the Olympics, and in particular the opening ceremony, represented a threat to Independence. It argues that the success of the inspirational opening ceremony will drive support away from Independence. It does not need to be so though. I, as as a committed Scottish Nationalist, was very impressed by the opening ceremony and I am similarly cheering on Team GB over the competition whether the competitors are Scottish or not. Indeed, since I started writing this blog we now have our first medal, with Lizzie Armitstead getting silver in the Women’s cycling roadrace. Many congratulations to her.
Scotland’s Olympians, or Scolympians as the First Minister has christened them have also been making their mark and I am sure medals will be coming soon. Indeed Scotland’s Kim Little has been very impressive on the football field along with the rest of her team following some very scathing comments in the Daily Mail. Little’s personal choice not to sing God Save the Queen due to her own beliefs is, in my view, to be commended and demonstrates her strength of character. It does not, however, prevent her from feeling able to be a part of Team GB (or Team UK as they should more properly be called, given that they also include representatives from Northern Ireland). I look forward to 2016 when Scotland is able to field its own Olympics team.
Returning, briefly to the Olympics opening ceremony, Danny Boyle managed to create an impressive visual display highlighting some of the achievements and significant events within the history of these isles. One of the most obvious of these was his section on the National Health Service. This is an area that is already devolved to the Scottish Parliament and we can see, quite clearly, the different approach that is being taken here in contrast to that of Westminster. The NHS is an achievement to be rightly proud of. Angry conservative Americans seem to believe that the section was designed as a message to them about socialised medicine in the wake of Obamacare but it could equally have been a message to David Cameron and Andrew Lansley following the privatising reforms that are being introduced down south.
Given the current makeup of the UK Government it is little wonder that there are those who believe in Independence, myself included, that have argued that Independence will free us from Tory rule. It is indeed the case that Scotland has not voted for the Conservative Party in any great numbers for a very long time now and repeatedly Westminster elections highlight the differing political vision between Scotland and England and, in particular, the South East of England. Whether it is the NHS or Welfare reform or a host of other areas the difference in approach between the two Parliaments is stark.
The Unionist camp argues, and with some merit, that a decision on Independence should not just be based on a dislike of any individual government. It is certainly true that a vote for Independence should involve more long-term considerations than that. Where Johann Lamont and Scottish Labour’s case fails though is arguing that we would all be better served should a Labour government be re-elected to Westminster and that is a better option than Independence.
It is not simply the case that Tory rule is not in the interests of Scotland. It is that Westminster rule is not in its interest, regardless of what party is in charge. The UK political system is a very centre-driven set up, even post-Devolution. The economic levers of power are all still within the control of the UK Government and, as long as that is the case, the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Government is constrained in what it can do to tackle financial crises such as the one we currently face.
I well remember the words of Eddie George in 1998 when, as Governor of the Bank of England, he said that job losses in the north were acceptable price to pay for prosperity in the south. As shocking has his comments were, he was right about one thing, that “monetary policy can only target the economy as a whole, not particular regions or sectors”. That highlights the very problem with the current set up. The UK economy is too reliant on the City of London and too much of the Union’s prosperity is dependent on prosperity in the South East, with the rest of us reliant on a “trickle-down” effect from the centre. This is a situation that needs to change. Scotland needs the financial controls in the Scottish Parliament that would allow us to tackle the economy directly and to tailor policy to better suit Scotland’s unique situation.
There is a strong financial case for Independence. The Government and Expenditure Revenue Scotland figures for 2010 – 11 (GERS), as released in March, demonstrate the relative financial strength of Scotland in contrast to the UK at large. Economic statistics only give a snapshot of where we are as a nation however. They can tell us whether we would or wouldn’t be better off as an Independent nation as things presently stand. When you are talking about the future of the nation for the next 20, 100 or 500 years however then your decision needs to be based on more than current economic trends. It has to be based on a vision of what you want Scotland to look like. Increasingly over the coming months the people of Scotland are going to be asking themselves a simple question – Where should decisions that affect the people of Scotland be made? Holyrood or Westminster?
Currently, on the Yes Scotland website, you can read a range of different reasons from people from across Scotland about why they are supporting Independence. I would certainly encourage you to log on and to submit your own views. If you have not yet signed up to the Independence Declaration you can do so here. As a nation we have grown in confidence and stature and we are ready to take our place at the top table.