Monday, 18 August 2014

Would we be "diminished" by independence?

Danny Alexander gave an interview in yesterday's Sunday Telegraph - that upholder of liberal principles - in which he claimed that "we would all be diminished by Scottish independence", suggested that English and Welsh people should attempt to convince their Scottish friends and family members to vote "no", and went to lengths to emphasise that the referendum decision is irreversible.

The full interview can be found here. I won't repeat it in full, but the principal points he made are as follows:

“Like millions of people in Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland I would be desperately sad if the UK broke up,”

“I believe that our campaign has the momentum now – we are winning the argument."

“I hope that it will motivate people in England, Wales and Northern Ireland as well as in Scotland to have their say. One of the things that we have got to get across to people is that this is a decision that is irreversible.” 

“If Sunday Telegraph readers want to pick up the phone or send emails to their friends, family, colleagues workmates, I think that can only add to the quality of the debate...people should express their views and if they have got friends, family, relatives in Scotland then they having those conversations is also important.” 

“Those 300 years of shared history, those bonds of family and friendship and economic bonds are something that are important to everyone in the UK and whichever part of the UK you live in, we would all be diminished by independence.” 

It's hard to feel that Alexander has not missed an opportunity here. This interview is suggestive of desperation on his part, when he could have made a strong case for the Union and, indeed, the Liberal Democrat position for post-referendum Scotland. Why appeal to non Scottish British residents when (as a Scot) he should presumably know how we react to the suggestion that we should be told how to behave by English people - and especially the kind of people who are likely to read the Daily Telegraph!

The assertion that Better Together is winning the argument is open to question, and certainly the most recent polls would suggest that the momentum is not necessarily with the "no" camp. The fact that polls show a lead for "no" should not be taken as an indication of the effectiveness of Better Together, and certainly not its arguments. Actually, the quality of “the argument” itself has been poor, being generally obscured by media obsession with polls and personalities, and characterised by the unnecessary and undignified spat over currency union. Dismissing the claims made for independence by Yes Scotland do not in themselves amount to a robust case in support of the Union either.

“It is an irreversible decision” – of course it is. That only adds to the attraction of it for those Scots who feel that Westminster has historically taken too many decisions for them. We know how important a decision it is – please do not patronise us, Mr Alexander. No-one imagines for a minute the decision will be anything other than lasting. No-one thinks they can try out independence for a few years and then, if they don't like it, rejoin the rest of the UK.

Alexander also fails to address, aside from appeals to the emotional bond to 300 years of history (much of which should not be over-romanticised), what is so special about the Union - not least from the Liberal Democrat federalist perspective. Better Together had it right when they created the “UK-OK” slogan. That succinctly sums it up – the UK is OK; that’s all. It's not perfect. It's certainly not everything it could be. In some ways the Union is highly dysfunctional. It’s a marriage of co-dependency. But some divorces can be both amicable and profitable, and the debate isn’t about whether Scotland CAN be independent, but whether Scotland SHOULD be. In this context, I'd like to know more about why Danny believes in the Union because he gives no real reasons in this interview other than that it would make him “desperately sad”. Sorry Danny, your personal sadness isn’t going to convince me. The positive case for the Union might have, however, but there hasn't been enough of it.

I'm sure there is actually a lot Danny Alexander and myself may agree on, but I do not share his faith in the Union's capacity to regenerate and reform itself. For all the talk of "increased powers" post-referendum, no solid proposals have been forthcoming and Alexander tellingly omitted to refer to them in his Telegraph interview. Unless what is being proposed goes beyond mere devolutionist tinkering it would be as attractive a prospect to me as an evening with Ann Widdecombe.

Better Together criticises Yes Scotland and Alex Salmond in particular for failing to provide answers, for being patronising or for appealing predominantly to the emotional. Danny Alexander has personally been guilty of all three on this occasion.

As for whether we would all be "diminished" by independence - of course we wouldn't. Rather, we are all diminished when our intelligence is insulted by what masquerades as political argument but is merely bombastic rhetoric; we are diminished when we become pawns in political games; we are diminished when we are instructed rather than empowered to make democratic decisions; we are diminished when we are told to believe rather than question. In this respect, much that has passed for dialogue in the last two years has been deeply diminishing - but independence itself cannot be assumed to have diminishing consequences.

The nature of an independent Scotland will not be determined by the referendum vote, however "final" and "irreversible" a Yes vote would be. This would, instead, be forged in subsequent negotiations and by the actions of future governments. It is therefore with some truth that the only certainty, irrespective of the referendum outcome, is more uncertainty. Some level of detail, therefore, as to what constitutional and political reforms can be expected would be more effective in convincing waverers of the need to vote "no" than coercion from Telegraph readers in Truro or Tunbridge Wells.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I have asked on numerous occasions for unionist politicians to give me a positive case for the union, instead of a negative case for Scotland.

Apart from David Cameron who talked about how important the UK was in the world; how much clout it had in the EU (something that has yet to be demonstrated); how much clout it had at the UN (as long as it never steps out of line with what the USA wants); about how much clout it has a G20 and G7 meeting (this despite being broke); about how much clout it has in the world, with Embassies and Consulates in every corner of all continents apart from Antarctica (which cost a ridiculous amount of money and serve us dubiously...I have used the French consulate for preference to the snotty British one); about how we have the fourth largest military spend in the world behind China, Russia and the USA (Why, we are a small broke country); about how our enemies fear us (no they don't; they fear America) and our friends envy us (no they don't, we're the most unequal country in the Western world. What's to envy?).

If it floats your boat, that is the argument FOR the UK.

It sinks my boat, I'm afraid. I've always thought how nice it would be to live in a country which looked after its own business first. Where the government really occupied itself with roads and schools and hospitals and paying pensions... and all the things that governments are supposed to do, instead of spending most of its time interfering in other countries' business.

As for Danny being sad... Not sure I care. Not sure anyone would, apart from his friends.

I suspect it would mean the end of his job and the disappearance of his elevation to the house of Lords, a title and £300 a day for life. I suppose that might make me sad (at least the £300 a day, although I'd settle of £300 a week!)