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Showing posts with label Scotland's nuclear policy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Scotland's nuclear policy. Show all posts

Monday, 29 July 2013

Kings and queens – 2016 and all that: the Monarchy, YES and the SNP

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 Togethera 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.


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?

Monday, 22 August 2011

The Referendum – and a Trojan Horse

The independence referendum is now the defining issue in virtually all Scottish political discussion, and a significant one in UK politics. Political points are made on a range of issues, but with the independence question always explicit or implicit. UK politicians and media commentators have been wrenched on to the Scottish narrative, whether they like it or not – and they clearly don’t.

Michael Moore is reported today as demanding that Holyrood stop being negative about issues and cheer up. While the office of Secretary of State for Scotland still exists, we have something to be negative about, and as for cheering up – why not resign, Michael, and give us all an excuse for a party?

Tuition fees rears its head again as the reality bites for England. Sir Malcolm Rifkind, KCMG says the Scottish Government’s position is unfair. This archetypal Scottish Tory, who served as a minister under Major and Thatcher, a former Secretary of State for Scotland, and a failed Scottish politician - dumped twice by the Scottish voters - found a safe haven as MP for Kensington and Chelsea, which is about as far from the realities of Scotland as one can get. He has nothing of value to say to Scotland. He is exactly the kind of Scottish product of the Union and the British Establishment that Scotland can do without – a decision that Scots have already made, about him and his party.

John Redwood, the man who had trouble with the words of the Welsh national anthem, thinks that the Scottish Government is using the tuition fees issue “to radicalise the English”. They are not, John – they are living up to their manifesto commitment to maintain a key Scottish value – free education for all – and they have used their powers legally and properly in a devolved Parliament to do so. Dare I suggest that, on this issue and many others, it appears to be the Coalition Government – and before them the Labour Government – who are trying to radicalise the English by their disastrous policies, greed, and venality.

But let me comfort you, John,  by saying that I am trying to radicalise the English, at every opportunity I get, to recognise that the root of their problems is not the Scots or the Welsh but the Union – a failed, corrupt political system. I plead guilty as charged.

Radicalise, England – regain your country and your self respect – dump the Union, and with it the Lords, the knights, the barons and the whole corrupt mechanism of patronage, wealth and undemocratic institutions. You have nothing to lose but your Garters!


I have requested many times that the Scottish National Party, the Government of Scotland, clarify their position on, what for me, are the fundamental issues on Scotland’s independence – nuclear weapons, nuclear bases, foreign policy and fiscal control. To try and focus the debate on these fundamentals, I wrote my own little credo of two key principles and three core objectives, and offered it for consideration and downloading where appropriate.

The referendum on Scotland's independence

I have no idea how many people share these views, inside or outside the Scottish National Party. I do know that if you are a supporter of the Labour Party, the Tory Party or the Liberal Democrat party that, either you do not support these views – since all three are opposed to Scotland independence, committed to the Union and to the nuclear deterrent – or you are in a state of doublethink, entertaining two or more contradictory beliefs at the same time.

So I feel it is reasonable to ask the Scottish Government to be clear on its stance on these vital issues. But I do not believe that the Scottish Government must – or should – respond to clamorous demands from those diametrically opposed to independence to spell out every detail of policy and procedure and the exact structure of the independence agreement before the referendum and before the detailed negotiations on the terms – assuming a YES vote to independence.

The demand for more detail comes also from other voices and groups, who range from those fully committed in Scotland’s independence, through those as yet undecided trying to evaluate the pros and cons, to business, financial and commercial groups, and the main religious groups. I accept fully the rights of these groups to express their views on what kind of independence they want to see, and to use the media and whatever direct lobbying clout they may have to influence the Scottish Government.

But I do not accept their right to try to force the Scottish Government, a government with a secure and decisive mandate from the Scottish people, to give a blow-by-blow account of their policy debates and the minutiae of policy in every area that could possibly arise, at a time when the date for a referendum has not been set, and may be two or even three years away.

No country seeking its independence has ever behaved in this way. They have either seized their independence by revolution or by velvet means, e.g. America, by a war of independence and Slovenia, by a non-violent secession – a velvet revolution, by a long period of passive resistance – India – or by a longer process of gradualism and evolution.

I reiterate two of the paragraphs from my little downloadable credo -

I am prepared to trust the elected government of Scotland and the team it selects to negotiate all matters relating to these principles and objectives. I expect them to consult with the Scottish people on detailed measures only to the degree that it does not prematurely show their negotiating hand or constrain the necessary flexibility that all negotiators must have.

I do not require a second referendum to ratify the agreement reached on the detailed terms of the independence agreement, providing none of the deal breakers above are compromised.

The reality is that the outcome of the referendum, one that will fundamentally affect Scotland’s future for many years, perhaps decades, and which will have a significant influence on UK and European politics and Western alliances, will be determined, not by politicised interest groups, nor by the chattering classes (of whom I am one) but by ordinary Scottish voters, at all levels of Scottish society, voters who have little knowledge of the detail, but a good grasp of the main arguments and issues. Their decisions, like all decisions, will be influenced in part rationally, to the degree that the media, politicians and commentators give them accurate, unbiased facts, but also by emotional factors.

In a democracy, the people decide, as the Scottish people did on May 5th 2011, in defiance of the distorted information being pumped relentlessly at them by unionist politicians and their media and celebrity mouthpieces. The new media played a vital role in this, as they will in the referendum lead-up. Those in favour of Scotland’s independence need to exercise caution in how they discharge this vital duty and beware of being sucked into the agenda of those diametrically opposed to independence.

And the objective of their communications should be to persuade the voters, and to counter the torrent of misinformation, distortions and just plain lies that emanate from the unionist camp. Trying to influence politicians in the Scottish unionist parties is at best a marginal and probably fruitless endeavour, in my view, especially under the mistaken belief that bridges can be built across party lines. Bridges can be built with ordinary people – the electorate – but the only bridge that unionist politicians can cross is the one that leads from their own failed parties to one that unequivocally supports the independence of Scotland – and there is more than one – e.g. the Green Party - although only one that can deliver independence.

Any attempt to secure a common agenda with unionist politicians runs the obvious risk of a dilution of the very heart of the concept of independence, e.g. Independence Lite, fatal compromises that would keep Scotland in thrall to the UK. Bloodied and confused by their election rout, the unionist parties are making conciliatory noise about independence.

Be careful – I hear the creaking of a large Trojan horse entering the gate in these initiatives.