Having done our bit
Let us consider the left wing cop-out on independence: the one Douglas Alexander pedals about our need to keep solidarity with the working class in England. We cannot, he says, leave the poorer regions of England and look after our own interests. We need to exercise solidarity. Superficially ideologically attractive, it is actually emotional blackmail. There are sound answers to Alexander.
First, it doesn’t work. The Scottish working class has demonstrated solidarity for generations. In return, we saw the demolition of our steel industry in order to protect plants in the south. We sent down our big contingent of Labour MPs, at one time 50… and got Thatcher who destroyed our manufacturing base. We were knowingly lied to about the value of North Sea oil by Labour and Tory ministers for whom Scotland’s needs didn’t count. We helped keep Labour from collapsing as a parliamentary force in the Michael Foot, Neil Kinnock years – and got Blair as our reward. Scottish Labour had to toe his line on war when the majority up here opposed it.
Second, for all our gestures of solidarity, life has got harder for many thousands of Scots who earn their bread in a low wage, part-time jobs, high unemployment economy. As Alexander preaches solidarity, his leader writes in the Daily Telegraph about his angst over the condition of the English middle class, promising to make them his priority. As appeals are made for Scottish working class commitment to south of the border, Labour’s intention is to pander to Middle England. Solidarity talk is for us fools up here so that we will listen spellbound while our pockets are picked politically.
Third, if that much vaunted solidarity worked, Scotland would be awash with good paying jobs. Poverty would be something for historians to write about, not for children and single pensioners to experience now. We can tell Alexander that we’ve responded time after time to cries like his, but it just doesn’t work for us. Go dig into the appalling statistics of deprivation in Johann Lamont’s constituency and see just how right I am about it not working. And, by the way, it is not as if we have not had Labour governments in recent years, the experience of which makes Margaret Curran’s mantra of getting a Labour Government sound like someone who believes in fairies.
I am sorry for working class folk in Geordieland and Merseyside. But as the facts have shown, we have done our bit in election after election. However, we are not able to anything for them given the imbalances in the geographic spread of power in England, where London and its south east has assumed the status of a mini-state, sucking the life blood out of every other region. No political party down there has any realistic policy of how to reverse that slide to the south, which has been gathering pace for years. Attempts by John Prescott, when deputy prime minister, to have regional devolution through creating assemblies, were rebuffed by people in the north and elsewhere. So they are stuck.
Should we remain stuck with them is the question for Scots. We are like a person on the deck of a sinking ship. We can jump to safety, while others, because of their circumstances, cannot. Do we, in solidarity with them go down into the ocean depth? Of course not.
Scotland is different from Durham and Merseyside. They are regions of a nation and so have limited ability to act. We are a nation and we can act in our own interest to escape the failures of the UK. Continuing to do ourselves in – children paying the price of poverty, men and women in parts of Glasgow with life expectancy lower than in some third world countries, unemployment – is daft when we can break out of that cycle of deprivation with independence.
It has been a long, long time since Scots thought in terms of Scottish state interests. It is time we did so. If you look at past cabinet minutes in the twentieth century and the memoirs and biographies, you will find that when British statesmen, and women, talked of state interests, they meant those of England.
On 9 February 1871, 164 years after the Union was created, Disraeli told the House of Commons that the proclamation of the German empire had altered the balance of power in Europe and the country that “that feels the effects of this change most, is England”. In March 1897, Sir Francis Bertie of the Foreign Office told the German Ambassador that: “Should it come to a war with Germany, the entire English nation would be behind it.” In March 1907 Sir Edward Grey told Russia’s ambassador that “England would no longer make it a settled object” of policy to block the Straits.
Fast forward to 1948 – 241 years since 1707 – and Churchill’s six volumes “The Second World War”. Vol 1, p 195 referring to the Baldwin years: “At this time there was a great drawing together of men and women of all parties in England who saw the perils of the future.“ Referring to Neville Chamberlain’s broadcast on 27 September 1938: “While the Fuerhrer was at grips with his generals, Mr Chamberlain was preparing to broadcast to the English nation.“ He also quotes from the famous 2 September debate when “Mr Amery from the Conservative benches” cried out to Labour’s Arthur Greenwood “Speak for England”.
In Vol. III, Churchill as Prime Minister to the Foreign Secretary, 9 July 1941: “1. England has no interest in Syria except to win the war.” These statements are too consistent down the years to be slips of the tongue. They represent a state of mind, reflecting the reality that some Scots hide from: the UK is fiction. It is the English state with, what they used to say in my days in Westminster, a Celtic fringe.
Scottish solidarity with those in south in the context of that reality is plain stupid.