If there is a case for remaining in the Union, a hard-headed case based on economics and judgement about the future, it certainly hasn’t been made by those Westminster Tories, led by Cameron, trying the ‘British patriot’ game on us. Of course there is a British dimension in almost every Scot. There are relatives scattered all over England, there are cultural interests in common, sporting interests, old military connections. I am ex-Royal Navy, and still have a lingering affection for that very British institution and its white ensign, despite Nelson’s signal at Trafalgar, and owe it a great deal in respect of my personal development.
But these are in the realm of sentiment.
Sentiment does not a breakfast produce for any Scottish family. If, as Cameron would wish, Scots vote in the referendum with their hearts rather than their heads, then the nation will cut its economic throat – there is nothing ahead as part of the United Kingdom except going downwards, permanent heavy unemployment, and cuts, cuts, cuts that will rend our social fabric.
Here’s a sobering fact. The Budget cut another £10bn from public expenditure. For every £10 of cuts the Treasury aims to impose, we have only suffered one so far. There are a further nine to go. As Nick Brown the Labour MP pointed out in the Budget debate, as well as the additional £10bn cuts in this Budget, there will be an additional £8bn in 2015-16, and another additional £15bn in 2016-17.
The way unionists talk about the benefits of being part of a big G20 country, you would think we were living in a successful paradise. The brutal reality is that Osborne will have to borrow at least £120bn this coming year, and the total national debt already tops £1trn. In England the Government is stealthily privatising the health service because the economy cannot sustain the cost from the public purse; the Royal Navy is a laughing stock across the world, the only one with an aircraft carrier that has no aircraft, due to an inability to fund the service. The same deep cuts are imposed on the army and air force. Cuts in police spending mean, incredibly, private security companies carrying out some of their functions. If ever there was a prescription for rampant corruption in the forces of law and order it is that one. All around local government in England, the social support services for the community are crumbling. There is no public money for new roads. There is a clear pattern of decline.
The question for Scots, the hard-headed question, is whether we want to continue being part of that steep decline? When we are told about the benefits of the Union, just look at them. If we have been subsidised for all these years, with southern money apparently pouring all over us, how come we are in the state we are?
How is it that we have become the only nation to discover oil, lots and lots of it, and suffered the destruction of our manufacturing and engineering base, and experienced a rising level of poverty? Does it never cross the collective Scottish mind that on our own, we could do better than this? We didn’t want to destroy our steel industry, or destroy mining jobs without alternatives being produced. But destruction came. We didn’t create a ‘North Sea’ financial region so that the oil would not be credited to Scotland’s economy (unlike the fish caught in the same waters), so that we could be constantly paraded as ungrateful scroungers. But that ‘new’ region was created.
Lord Carrington, when Thatcher’s foreign secretary, was once asked why Norway was doing so well. He replied, it was a small country with an awful lot of oil. I once heard the head man at Shell, in the 1970s, angrily describe the Norwegians as “blue-eyed Arabs”, meaning they wanted the benefits for themselves. How have we Scots, in sticking to this Union, allowed ourselves to be robbed of a fortune? Sentiment?
Falling for black propaganda that the oil would soon run out, is volatile in price and therefore not to be relied upon for budgetary purposes?
Or accepting the ridiculous self-loathing argument that we are too small a country, with not enough talent to run our own affairs with success?
I have my differences with Alex Salmond, but he is a far more able politician than any that sits in the UK cabinet today. Alex Neil is among the best political economists in Europe.
Mike Russell may not be in the right post at education, but in sheer intellectual ability he is the equal of anyone. Nicola Sturgeon is the most competent government department minister in the whole of the UK. Derek Mackay is a great talent, yet to be fully discovered. Can’t run our own affairs? Don’t be daft.
There’s something else us sentiment-blinded Scots should acknowledge: that the United Kingdom is a fiction. It has always been the English state with Celtic appendages. I watched a history programme a couple of weeks ago, about Churchill and Roosevelt. There was Churchill on film talking about – not the UK – but England. Here is Churchill in January 1941 hoping that Harry Hopkins, Roosevelt’s special envoy, would fully understand “the exact state of England’s need…” Or take this official document of July 1941, from Churchill: “England has no interest in Syria except to win the war.” These are not slips of the tongue. They demonstrate a state of mind, that English state interests are paramount.
What else would we expect from a country ten times the size of ours in population? Of course, quite rightly, the political elite of the English state will put that state’s interest first. We Scots would do the same if the positions were reversed.
Thanks to the SNP victory last May, we can for once, decisively act in our interests. Have we the gumption to do so?