Life in an Independent Scotland
The question on everyone’s lips is, What would life be like in an independent Scotland? At least, that’s what the political and chattering classes think is on everyone’s lips.
But for many of us, it certainly is not. We have a whole raft of much more urgent questions for Mr. Salmond, such as: What would you do about the barbaric Islamic State? What would be your policy on Scottish jihadists returning home and boldly claiming their civil rights? What have you to say on Mr. Putin’s illegal invasion of the Ukraine? What will you do to ensure that Israeli theatre companies feel safe in Edinburgh? What will you do about banks fined millions for malpractice, and then forking out millions more in bonuses for those who got them into the mess in the first place? What have you to say about the possibility of armed police at shinty matches in Portree; about overcrowded jails; and about abolishing the need for corroboration in criminal trials? What are your answers to the problem of fuel poverty and to the hardship faced by the thousands who are in work but receive no living wage? And what do you propose to do with the religious provisions of the Union of 1707?
And could you, please, tell me what life would be like in an independent Scotland?
Well, nothing will change, really. We will still drive on the left side of the road, we’ll still have the Queen, the pound, the EU and NATO; and pot-holes in Morningside.
And, of course, we’ll cling to all the rights and privileges we’ve enjoyed under the Union. We’ll still have universal franchise, the NHS (devolved), free schooling, free university tuition, old age pensions, and maternity benefit. Crofters will still have security of tenure, unions will have the right to strike, Christians the right to worship (except during the Edinburgh Festival), gays the right to be gays, Pakistanis the right to be Pakistanis, and Buchan fishermen the right to plunder the waters north-west of the Butt of Lewis. Gaels will still enjoy the Gaelic TV-funding granted by Margaret Thatcher, they’ll still be able to organise community buy-outs, and bailiffs will still patrol salmon-fisheries. The A9 will still have average-speed cameras, mail-order companies will still charge an excess for deliveries to the Western Isles, CalMac ferries will still break down on Wednesdays, and cailleachs in Trotternish will still have to speak to someone in Perth (or Delhi) if a bulb blows and she thinks there’s been a power-cut.
What? Mr. Salmond, do you mean to tell me that we’ve suffered all we’ve suffered over the past year – the boredom, the stagnation, the intimidation – just to make sure that nothing changes?
Well (every answer must begin with, ‘Well’), we will be independent.
Will we indeed! And what, exactly, does that mean?
Well, it means that we will be in control of our own affairs.
Yes, yes, yes! but that’s just like telling me it’s always wet when it rains. I know that independence means being in control of our own affairs! But what’s the difference between an elected dictator in Edinburgh and an elected dictator in London?
Well, if we had control of our own affairs (I mean, if I had control of your affairs) we could control our own taxes.
Perhaps we’ll have no taxes, then?
Well, George Osborne is hatching dark plans for savage cuts in public services, but there’ll be none of that in Scotland; nor will there be any rise in taxes.
Isn’t that wonderful! Scotland the only country in the world exempt from austerity. Spain has it and Greece and Australia and the United States and England and even Germany, but not Scotland. Instead, we’ll be able to introduce universal free child-care and enhanced old-age pensions without any increase in taxes.
End of conversation, but if the idea is that independence will usher in a new kind of politics, honesty would be a good start. Whether the Chancellor is in London or in Edinburgh he cannot, unless he is a wizard, simultaneously improve services and reduce taxes. And I’m not prepared to vote for a wizard.
But perhaps I’m being naïve. A Scotland in control of its own affairs would still have its pot of black gold.
I’ve no real interest in the number of barrels still out there. What worries me is the idea of Scotland having such a strong vested interest in perpetuating a world economy based on oil. That is madness: first, because oil is the greatest pollutant on the planet; and, secondly, so long as the world depends on oil, the war-torn, hatred-driven countries of the Middle East will continue to enmesh the whole world in their own crises. We desperately need to divert human brains from the search for oil to the search for alternatives; and that means building Scotland’s future on something other than her stock of highly pollutant fuels.
But haven’t I forgotten something? We’re assured that in the event of independence we would never again be governed by a Tory party with no mandate from the Scottish people?
Those who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. Whatever Alex Salmond is not good at, he is good at his sums, and he knows full well how these add up with regard to the electoral mandate of his own party. I wasn’t the only Scot who didn’t vote for them at the last election. Half of us didn’t bother to vote at all; and of those who did vote, only forty-five per-cent voted for Mr. Salmond. That appears to me to mean (though I’m not good at sums) that the present Scottish Government governs with the consent of only twenty-three per-cent of the population. The mere fact of independence will not protect us from minority governments.
The Referendum, I fear, will be decided not by facts, but by rhetoric. There was a fine example in last week’s Free Press, which reported that a distinguished Highland gentleman had pledged his support for independence because it held out the prospect of a ‘radical, progressive and confident’ Scotland.
Isn’t that lovely! But what does it mean? What roots is the radical going back to, what goal is he progressing to, and what is his confidence based on?
After a year of adversarial politics at their worst, we still don’t know how life in an independent Scotland would differ from life as we know it.
This article first appeared in the West Highland Free Press, 5 September, 2014.