Dennis Canavan makes a remark about the monarchy and the media are on to it like flies on to shit - “splits in YES campaign” etc.
Let me try to help our feeble media, assuming that they are not just shills for Better Together – a big assumption admittedly – and are simply badly informed and not actively hostile to independence.
1. YES Scotland is a loose coalition of all parties committed to an independent Scotland – SNP, Greens, SSP etc. – and individuals and groups committed to independence, including those who are committed despite the policy of their main party or organisation, e.g. Labour for Independence, trades unionists for independence, union branches who have come out for indy, e.g. CWU and those of no party affiliation whatsoever. It includes artists, Women for Independence and many other ad hoc groups formed to support YES.
2. By definition, such a disparate grouping can have no manifesto for government in an independent Scotland.
Its members and groups have different visions for indy Scotland in every aspect of government policy, economic, social, cultural etc. This reflects the same range of opinions on almost every topic as those held by the wider electorate.
Their only unifying beliefs are that Scotland is capable of running its own affairs, has the natural resources, talents and economic competence to run its own affairs, and should run its own affairs. They therefore believe that Scots should vote YES in 2014 to independence.
3. Across the United Kingdom, opinion on the monarchy is divided in every sector of society and within sectors, and that includes significant numbers of voters within the three major Unionist parties and the trade union movement. It should be no surprise to anyone that such differing views exist within the YES campaign.
Nonetheless, the media give every appearance of being astonished by such a revelation – or maintain the pretence that they are.
WHAT’S THE PROBLEM?
In one sense, there is no problem. For example, I am an SNP supporter (not a party member), committed to independence, and I am a republican. I believe the monarchy is the heart of the British Establishment, that both are inherently undemocratic and that they are inimical to the welfare of the people in a democracy.
But the SNP is committed to a constitutional monarchy, to retaining the Queen as constitutional monarch – and her lawful successors – in an independent Scotland. How do I know this? Because Alex Salmond has said so repeatedly, and also states that this has been SNP policy since 1934. (There seems to be some division of opinion on just when and how this came to be SNP policy right now, and some voices have challenged it.)
So what, say some strident republicans – the SNP may not form the government of an independent Scotland – there’s an election in May 2016, and if another party, or coalition of parties is in government, then things may change.
But there’s an inconvenient additional fact to be considered – the SNP are the current government of Scotland, the SNP delivered a legal referendum, and the SNP Government has a full range of policies for independent Scotland.
And crucially, the SNP Government will negotiate with the UK Government the terms of the independent Scotland that will be born in 2016 if there is a YES vote in 2014. They will doubtless consult fully – including with YES Scotland - and respect the rights and privileges of the Holyrood Parliament – but they – and no one else - will ultimately decide the content of the negotiating agenda, the composition of the Scottish negotiating team, and the entry and exits point on every substantive issue - and the deal breakers.
(The autumn White Paper due in a few weeks will set down fundamental policies and principles that will underpin that negotiation.)
These political realities are all too easily forgotten in the heady atmosphere of the YES campaign, but there is no easy way round them. The strength of the campaign lies in the fact that it is a very broad church and can embrace just about any political belief and none, providing its members subscribe to the two core beliefs – Scotland can be fully independent and will be fully independent. But let me leave the monarchy for a moment and look at another reality – the nuclear issue …
Most commentators accept as a fact that an independent Scotland will reject nuclear weapons and ensure that they are decommissioned speedily and removed from Scotland as soon after independence as possible. But this is not a YES policy, it is an SNP party policy. There is nothing that debars a pro-nuclear individual or group from affiliating to YES (as far as I know) since YES has no such policy or indeed any policy. They would probably feel more than a little uncomfortable in the near consensus of anti-nuclear views in YES, and might well be regarded as flat-earthers by their colleagues, but if they are prepared to knock on doors, canvass, stuff leaflets and generally contribute to a YES vote, who is going to say nay to them?
And they would have to accept the reality of the SNP Government incorporating its anti-nuclear policy as a prime, deal breaking objective in the negotiations. And so it is with the monarchy, although for me - and I would hope for most - the monarchy is by no means as fundamental a position as the No to Nuclear policy.
However, if social media and traditional media are any guide to YES opinions, there is more than a little ‘magical’ thinking going on – a kind of “with one bound we’ll be free and can do anything” mindset over what happens after indy.
I am of the left in politics, a lifelong Labour supporter and voter up to the 2007 Holyrood election, and for much of my life I would have - perhaps a little reluctantly latterly - have acknowledged that I was a socialist. But these days I would describe myself as a social democrat loosely on the Scandinavian model, and I don’t expect the old ideal of a socialist state ever to be realised, nor do I expect renationalisation of the commanding heights of the economy or a total abandonment of the concept of the market, although I would like to see a radical change in the way we structure our economy, our banks, our health service, our public services, our society and the values we live by.
But we have more than enough to do to first win the referendum, then negotiate our exit from UK, hold an election and begin the complex process of wriggling out of an old, stale chrysalis of the Union and tentatively flexing our new wings.
So, on the monarchy and on a vast range of issues, I accept that the SNP Government will determine the shape of the new Scotland by negotiation, by reaching agreement on the mind-boggling range of things that come with un-entangling Scotland from a three centuries- long union. That will involve making legally-binding commitments with long-term ramifications, not just for Scotland and rUK, but for our relationships with Europe, America and indeed the entire world community.
If we are to have any credibility as a new state, we cannot be seen to enter this new era in a mood of “well, we can renege on any deal we make or agreement we reach after independence” – one, because such a position would be contemptible, and two, because it just ain’t practicable …
Of course, no government can bind its successors politically, but there are practical realities that mean that, on the very big issues, there is little likelihood of short to medium term change. We can’t go holding referendums every other quarter to determine the will of the Scottish electorate.
However, we are already committed to one post-independence referendum, on adoption of the euro - if that ever becomes an option again - so perhaps it is feasible to commit to one on retention of the monarchy. If we are going to go down that route, we had better announce it pretty damn quick, since the Scottish electorate has a right to know before the vote on September 18th 2014.
Saor Alba, but maybe not Vivat Regina?