by Alex Porter
News this week that the Conservatives in Scotland must hand over their management and their money to their London headquarters is yet another indication that the Unionist parties face an identity crisis in Scotland.
A growing membership means their SNP rival can now claim, with validity, to be not merely Scotland’s largest party but Scotland’s party.
As Unionist measures to control the Scottish political landscape become increasingly bizarre, the issue is not about whether Scots can be persuaded to remain within the Union but rather whether Britain’s current economic, social and political crises are signals that the Union’s end is imminent and irreversible.
The story of how the Conservatives in Scotland have been brought to heel by their London bosses broke in yesterday’s Telegraph in an article by Simon Johnson:
“Senior insiders told the Daily Telegraph that money raised by the Scottish Tories is being passed to the UK party along with ultimate oversight over a radical restructuring of their operations.”
Ahead of the Holyrood elections Scottish party chiefs are to be sidelined according to Johnson and applicants for three new regional campaign manager posts in Scotland must apply to the Conservatives’ Millbank headquarters in London.
The London party is not happy that the party in Scotland managed to secure only a single MP in Scotland in the Westminster election last year. After a review by Lord Sanderson of Bowden senior party insiders, who have expressed the view that the party in Scotland is not trusted to deliver desired changes in terms of leadership, financing and membership recruitment, are quoted as saying that London has “taken control” and, “Every penny we raise now has to go to London.”
An advert, announcing the campaign manager posts, has been placed on the Conservative website and states that the successful applicants will be based respectively in the east, north and west of Scotland. The job description says: “Reporting directly to the Scottish Field Director the Regional Campaign Manager will be responsible for front-line campaigning in all constituencies in their area.”
The party will now face ridicule as it seeks to examine the economic prospectus of the other parties during the Holyrood election campaign as their adversaries will simply point out that if they themselves are not trusted with their own money then how can they be taken seriously with Scotland’s money. More serious though is the historical significance of this development. It can be seen as another sign of Unionist parties losing control in Scotland.
There is perhaps no clearer a sign of this crisis of Unionism in Scotland than the fact that Labour simply never accepted that they lost the Holyrood election to the SNP in 2007. Having assumed for generations that Scotland was their natural fiefdom their loss was traumatic and in opposition Labour have exhibited symptoms of denial.
Failure to come to terms with losing to the SNP has meant Scotland has missed having a constructive parliamentary opposition. Instead, the parliament and public debate have been trivialised by the use of abusive procedural tactics against the SNP minority government.
The motivation for this is merely to wreck legislation and disrupt ministerial activities in accordance with an overarching plan to undermine everything the Scottish government tries to achieve. Labour’s Holyrood strategy team is not concentrating on improving the lives of Scots families or the long term health of Scottish institutions but purely and simply on getting elected.
This weekend the press is carrying a story that internationally renowned academics have lodged a formal complaint to the Scottish Parliamentary Standards Commissioner over their treatment after having agreed to give evidence to the Scotland Bill Committee. Expert economists Professors Andrew Hughes-Hallet of George Mason University in Virginia and Drew Scott of Edinburgh University prepared, in advance and as requested, to give evidence in relation to Westminster’s Scotland Bill. The professors are known to hold views favouring the Scottish parliament having the powers of fiscal autonomy. The committee, chaired by Labour MSP Wendy Alexander, ‘ambushed’ the academics on that subject showing no interest in their evidence in relation to the Scotland Bill.
Scotland’s parliament has had a good relationship with experts who over the years have offered up their time freely to help its committees improve legislation before becoming law. This latest furore will undoubtedly undermine the parliament’s committee system. One academic and constitutional expert who does not support the SNP, Alan Trench, has already cancelled his visit to a hearing by the same committee describing its treatment of fellow academics as an ‘inquisition’.
The issue has drawn attention internationally as a senior colleague of Professor Hughes-Hallett from Virginia, Professor A Lee Fritschler, who served in the sub-Cabinets of Presidents Clinton and Carter, has written to Presiding Officer Alex Fergusson expressing his “dismay” at the way the two witnesses were “harassed in mean, petty and non-germane ways”.
Sadly this is only too indicative of how Labour in Scotland have behaved as an opposition. It is only a few weeks since Iain Gray, in his visceral desire to undermine the idea of small countries gaining independence, inadvertantly insulted Montenegro resulting in incensed diplomatic communiques from the Montenegrin chargé d’affaires, Marijana Živković.
The reason that the opposition parties are in such a pathologically oppositionalist mode is because they really are not allowed to offer anything more to Scotland. With no real scope to offer increased powers or an alternative agenda to what’s currently on offer from London, Labour can offer no vision nor even a better managerial team. It is therefore reduced to carping and insulting and the net effect is that the Scottish electorate switches off.
Lib Dems branch
And the last of this oppositionalist triumverate are the LibDems. Many of their voters were angered that they didn’t form a coalition with the SNP to create a majority governement for the good governance of Scotland. Their move into opposition was seen as a result of interference from London. Against this backdrop their forming a UK coalition government with the Tories in London has discredited the party in the eyes of many Scots voters and a mauling at the Holyrood elections is expected by political commentators.
Centralisation of a failed state
Scotland is being pulled in rival directions. Both London and the Scots want more control over Scotland.
The forces which are at work run deep. Britain PLC is running deficits which are spiralling out of control. In the month of November government borrowing reached £23.3 billion and total UK government debt is approaching £1trillion. If you think about this in terms of the grant given to Edinburgh from Westminster it amounts to over 30 Scotlands.
This year North Sea oil receipts will represent 25% of UK government revenues from corporation tax and that ignores tax revenues from the pumps. Without North Sea oil the UK would not be able to offer repayment guarantees to creditors. In that scenario the current planned UK austerity cuts would seem like a walk in the park in a late spring morning.
When the City imploded, Gordon Brown, advised by current shadow chancellor Ed Balls, bailed them out with tax payers’ money. The mighty merchants of the City of London failed as capitalists and begged for state benefits in the form of bail outs from hard working citizens. People who were conned into believing that the bail outs saved their jobs and savings.
That wasn’t enough for the bondholders and shareholders, so the Bank of England and Brown and now Cameron turned on the money printing machine. The new money diluted the wealth of the people and was given to financial institutions so they could continue trading fraudulent financial packages with each other and draw down large bonuses which properly reflect their skillsets as preeminent scammers. The population is continually threatened that if the bankers don’t receive large bonuses they’ll leave.
Yes, the supine British media presents that as a threat rather than a promise.
In recent weeks some of the Icelandic bankers who caused their own financial system to collapse have been arrested as has former Prime Minister Geir Haardie who faces charges of gross economic negligence – a crime which carries a two year jail sentence. It is perhaps stretching credulity to compare Britain to a European democracy.
There’s never going to be enough for the City. Bail outs are a guarantee that no matter how much risk you take you can’t lose and so they go gambling away with impunity. That’s why the austerity cuts are coming. Bankers know that another round of bail outs are in the pipeline and are making sure that there’s enough cash around for them to go back to the public trough. The citizens are being squeezing in anticipation.
This is the real reason that Scottish economic independence is being resisted. London City needs its next fix and the surplus in Scotland’s national accounts is ripe for the plucking. However the real threat to Britain’s kleptocratic rulers is that if Scotland demands economic independence the oil money will be next and then you can forget about the ballooning deficit. No-one will lend to Britain PLC. The IMF will come knocking on the door and demand austerity cuts that will relegate Britain from the league of first-world countries.
Right now Mexico is declining as an economic power and the accelerating trend is towards centralisation. When states go into a death spiral they suck capital into the centre from the peripheries in a desperate attempt to shore up the apparatus.
The result is rapid economic decline around the peripheries leading to the dramatic drop in tax revenues we are now witnessing. The centre can buy a little more time but it has increased the unsustainability of its hegemony. When the penny drops the state experiences capital flight and the population is fed to the dogs. Ask Argentina.
Failed states are typically characterised by social, political and economic crises and the rapid process of centralisation of resources just in advance of the tipping point where the state seizes up, fractures and then awkward pieces start breaking off. The Soviet Union is a case in point.
This is why Scots are not being offered a referendum on the Scotland Bill. The alternative is far too attractive but for Westminster far too dangerous.
The Conservatives may not like having their money controlled by their London bosses. Pondering the Tory membership of the Calman Commission in light of this turn of events would make you laugh at the irony of it all if it didn’t underline and highlight an unedifying Scottish trait.
For some reason Unionist parties can effectively argue that Scots can’t trust their own Parliament with the powers needed to improve Scotland’s economy even at a time when London is technically bankrupt. That deep-rooted insecurity in my fellow Scots concerns me.
Read previous essays written by Alex Porter for Newsnet Scotland: