Monday, August 13, 2007

Bad Habits

Alex Salmond
Salmond: Early promise evaporating?
It's becoming a recurring theme since I've been writing this blog, that every time that I try to be open-minded about those with different political persuasions to my own and I give deserved credit where it is merited, that the unwitting recipient recipient of the praise immediately blots his or her copybook.

It's going to be hard to beat
Liam Byrne, who sadly followed up on his admirably swift action over the case of Tul Bahadur Pun VC with his ridiculous pronouncement about ID Cards becoming "A Great British Institution, but Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond seems to be having a damn good go.

I'm reasonably, but not obsessively pro-union, but some time ago I felt moved to pass favourable comment on the style with which the SNP and its supporters campaigned in the recent elections to the Scottish Parliament, much as I might be uncomfortable with some of its policies. After a week or two of Mr Salmond forming his government I was once again pleased to see the it was exercising its first real power in what seemed to be a reasonable, pragmatic manner.

Unfortunately in the last couple of weeks the train really does seem to have come off the rails, or perhaps it might be more accurate to say the train has gone very much back on to the rails that some like I may have always expected it to run down. There have been a sequence of stories suggesting that the nationalist hard core of the SNP's programme is starting to take centre stage.

They began with a number of fairly low key announcements about separations in the functions of elements of the British and Scottish Civil Services. Later on came a more headline grabbing, but perhaps less serious in many ways, demand for a much greater degree of autonomy in broadcasting, specifically the replacement of British (i.e. English as seen through SNP eyes) news coverage with specifically Scottish versions. Now, of course, we await the SNP proposal for a ballot on Independence, due out tomorrow.

The first element of this assault appears designed simply to be a move designed to promote a senses of 'separateness', unaccompanied as it was by any suggestions as how such separations of civil service functions would in any way offer better services or greater efficiency in their delivery to the Scottish people.

The proposal for a separate news service also seems somewhat suspect. I live in a region of the country that has a significantly larger population than the whole of Scotland, and originate from a different one, which though slightly smaller had just as strong a regional identity as Scotland. In neither case has the already significant amount of regional news programming ever really captured my imagination, compared to national coverage. In both cases the few really newsworthy stories always have to be supplemented with swathes of dull parochial dross even to fill half and hour. Scotland may have a little more to offer its viewers, especially with a whole distinct political system to cover, but I've got a feeling it wouldn't entirely escape the limitations of existing regional coverage.

The call for a referendum, is a trickier issue in my mind. Guido, who has also proved my rule in the reverse direction, by making a succession of interesting posts ever since I submitted my Top 20 blogs without him, has turned his mind to the same issue I have on the Scottish referendum question:
Is Guido the only one who thinks it hypocritical of the Tories to be against a referendum on Scottish constitutional affairs and for a referendum on UK independence from the European constitution?

Why is self determination good for the UK but not Scotland?

Source: Guido Fawkes

Well yes, it's a fair point, and one that has been an issue for me when I think about such a referendum. In the end though I really do believe that there is something in my discomfort with a Scottish independence referendum at this time that goes beyond the simple fact that in the case of Scotland I am content with the status quo, and in the other I am unhappy with what the status quo looks set to become.

It is, I think, simply this. In the case of the European ConstitutionTreaty, we have a fair idea of what the consequences of its adoption are likely to be, and were a referendum to take place we would have a precise document to vote for. I do not think that at this time the same applies in the case of Scottish Independence. It is clear that no politician on either side of the debate is fully certain of the consequences, especially the economic ones, to Scotland.

There are often a vague claims from SNP supporters that Scotland would either become like Ireland with its boom of the last decade and more, or like the Scandinavian countries. You can ignore the duplicity in claiming both to be germane to the case at hand and seriously worry if either of these models stand up to close scrutiny. In the former example will the EU be in a position to offer the type of funding to Scotland that it could, and still does to Ireland? I'm sure Brussels would be delighted to see a country opt for 'Independence in Europe' - but in the newly enlarged Europe with so many poorer countries in Eastern Europe, will such largess ever be possible again? In the latter case, are similar latitudes, populations and natural resources a guarantee of having similarly successful societies?

There are many issues beyond the simply economic, such as the voice Scotland might have in the EU as an independent nation, versus that as part of the United Kingdom whose voice would be little weaker without Scotland and may adopt very different positions without the necessity to consider consequences to Scotland. The economic issues alone though are enough, in my mind, to warrant further consideration before pressing for a referendum.

If the SNP were to propose a commission to consider these issues and report to the Scottish people after a year or so, possibly with a view to a subsequent referendum then I suspect, on the grounds of self-determination that Guido alludes to, it would have my support. The step into the unknown that the SNP are likely to propose to the Scottish people is something that I feel all opposition parties have the right to activly opposed, especially considering the limited mandate of the SNP administration.

No comments: