By Ken McNeil
I was interested to read about Gordon Brown’s Donald Dewar lecture at the Edinburgh book festival.
Let me say straight away I have not seen the full text of his speech and this article is based on the video and reported comments I have seen.
Delivering the Donald Dewar lecture on Monday, Mr Brown said the debate about Scotland’s future “must rise to a new level”.
He added: “The future of Scotland – and the fate and fortune of the Scottish people – is too serious, the jobs of too many people, the livelihoods of too many families, the prospects for too many young people too important – for the arguments of the next two years to be anything other than substantive.”
Well he’ll get no argument from me there. Perhaps he could remind other Unionists and the representatives of his party in particular of the importance of the seriousness of the debate.
On the substantive I beg to differ. On virtually every point his arguments seem not to support the continuation of the Union but to argue for an independent Scotland.
According to Mr Brown: “the ‘modern union’ is based on the pooling and sharing of risks and resources, allowing the UK to support all citizens and allowing everyone to be more equal.”
The reality is that Scottish resources e.g. our ocean and mineral riches, are squandered or used as negotiating weapons with the EU when they could infinitely enrich an independent Scotland.
Successive UK governments have used our oil reserves to prop up the pound, finance destructive de-industrialisation policies or to fund tax hand outs.
We are the only oil rich country I know of which has failed to establish a government body to preserve and manage those resources. As to equality, the gap between the haves and have nots is the widest it has been in 60 years.
Mr Brown also says: “Pooling and sharing our resources – through a national insurance and taxation system – has made possible a National Health Service where, while we have distinctive forms of local management, the risks of expensive health care are pooled and shared across the UK.”
The NHS has always been separately managed in Scotland and since devolution and an SNP Government the differences have become marked. Free prescriptions, not building hospitals on PFI, not privatising services and even abolishing parking charges in NHS hospitals all highlight the more socially responsible policies adopted in Scotland.
Health care is expensive of course but the fact that Scotland contributes more than her fair share of revenue to the Treasury shows that there is no transfer of resources from the UK.
“We can point also to the armed forces where we are clearly better protected because we pool our expertise and resources.” says Brown.
That unfortunately is laughable. The UK government is slashing the number of our forces, closing bases across Scotland and would have cancelled the aircraft carriers being built largely in Scotland if getting out of the contract if cancellation penalties hadn’t been more than the cost of completion.
Their response to a Russian fleet appearing in the Moray Firth recently was to send a single destroyer from Portsmouth which took 36 hours to get there. The Vikings in longboats could have sacked Inverness and been half way home before the Royal Navy turned up.
He went on to say that if Scotland were to become independent, “social ties would be broken and the country would suffer.”
This is standard Unionist scaremongering. Social ties will remain. Family will still be family wherever they are in Britain’s landmass. No passports, no border posts and your granny won’t become a ‘foreigner’.
Mr Brown said: “I suggest that if through some version of independence we break this apart and set nationally or regionally varied minimum pay rates, nationally varied corporation tax rates and nationally varied social security rates we will start a race to the bottom under which the good provider in one area would be undercut by the bad and the bad would be undercut by the worst.
“Because the whole purpose of the break up would be to end the pooling and sharing of resources and legislate for different social and economic rights, the equal rights of citizenship we have built from values we hold in common would come to an end.”
Of course if Scotland is an independent country its Parliament and government will decide pay rates, corporation tax rates etc. A race to the bottom? I don’t think so.
The UK government has cut and is committed to cutting further, corporation tax rates. The UK government is prepared to devolve the setting of corporation tax rates to Northern Ireland (but not Scotland) to help them better compete with Eire.
A free Scotland would, like any other nation, set these rates at a level to encourage business whilst ensuring an appropriate tax take. The Scottish Government and some councils like Glasgow already provide minimum pay rates for their workers which are above those set down in UK statute. So who is racing to the bottom?
Equal rights of citizenship? I’m all for that. Electors in an independent Scotland would be able to vote for a parliament of their choice and a government of their choice, a right denied them by a parliamentary system where their representatives number only 59 out of 650.
Welcome to the debate Gordon.