The Lie at the Heart of the No Campaign

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By Bob Duncan

There is a theme developing in the unionist camp(aign).  A leitmotif with an irresoluable contradiction at its core. An ambiguity so fundamental to unionist thinking that it underpins almost every question to which they demand an answer, every dubious objection they pose, even every scare they monger.

I would like to propose the following hypotheses which can be used to test each pronouncement made by the no campaign and its media associates as we approach the referendum on Independence in 2014.

1. The national hypothesis

On the one hand the union is presented as a partnership. A marriage between two nations (or four regions). An arrangement between equals which enhances the stability, the security, the prestige and the economies of its participants. The very antithesis of “too wee, too poor, too stupid”.

This is the view implicit when perceived benefits of the union are expressed. The seat on the UN security council. The big stick in Europe. The world’s sixth or seventh largest economy.

In practice these are normally phrased, not as benefits of membership of the union, but as disbenefits of leaving. “You will lose your veto in the UN. You will lose your influence in Europe. You will lose access to the UK economy.”

The assumption is that not only are these things of tangible benefit to Scotland (as opposed to the UK or England), but also that we have influence over these matters to the same degree as others in the union.

2. The regional hypothesis

On the other hand, we are told the ending of the union would inevitably result in both a new Scottish state and the continuation of the United Kingdom, the rest of the UK, the rUK. In this scenario, Scotland is a junior partner at best and its exit leaves the UK diminished but intact.

In this ‘them and us’ scenario, Scotland is merely a region of Britain which, Quebec-like, proposes to cut itself a slice of the motherland. We are now no longer a nation but are reduced to an autonomous region.

The assumption here is that the rUK, as the senior partner, would inherit all of the ‘properties’ of the UK, and consequently that we would not. Thus the rUK keeps its seat on the UN security council and we do not. The rUK remains in the EU clutching it’s rebate, and we are kicked out. The rUK keeps the pound and we do not.

3. The combined hypothesis (national/regional duality)

The hypotheses above, although mutually contradictory, are routinely combined in the form of an assertion such as:

  • Inside the union you have influence over the foreign policy of a world power (The UK) with a veto in the UN but, if you separate, this veto will remain with the rUK and you will lose all influence and status in the world.
  • Inside the union you have a voice in Europe as part of a large and influential member but, if you separate, you will need to reapply for membership and lose your influence, your rebate etc.
  • Inside the union you can use the pound and the Bank of England but, if you separate, these will belong to the rUK and you will either be denied them, or you will lose your influence over them.

Hypothesis number three, by virtue of its internal contradiction, allows us to reject any statement in which it is implicit. Each of the three examples fall on that criterion alone. National/regional duality is thus a useful tool with which to winnow out the chaff of unionist arguments. It essentially says, “you can’t have it both ways”.

This national/regional duality is the ‘big lie’ at the centre of the anti-independence case.

4. The unequal partner hypothesis

The reality is that Scotland’s relationship with the UK lies somewhere between hypotheses 1 and 2.

Scotland is, indeed, a partner in the union. A partner with England. At the time the union was formed in 1707/08, Wales was part of England and Northern Ireland was part of Ireland, which in turn was not part of the union. It was a union of two, previously independent nations.

Consequently, when Scotland leaves the union, England will also, de facto, leave the union. Like the Pythonian parrot, the union will be no more. There will be no rUK. There will be Scotland and England, independent nations once more.

There will also be the principality of Wales, which is administratively so tied to England that it will effectively remain part of it, for now. And there will be the province of Northern Ireland whose constitutional position, as former enclave of a state (the UK) which will no longer exist, is much more ambiguous.

That these three will decide, almost automatically, to stay together in some form of union is certain. At least in the short term. They may well decide to name this union the United Kingdom, although there will be but one kingdom in it. But it will not be the successor state to the current United kingdom. There will not be a successor state. Two brand new states will be constituted, or reconstituted in the case of Scotland.

For convenience, and with no disrespect to the other members, I will refer to this new union of England, Wales and Northern Ireland as Greater England.

The state of the union

We did not choose to be part of the UK. The manner of our abduction into the union is largely responsible for the gross inequality of the partnership which has ensued. Indeed, this may help to explain the “Stockholm syndrome” of many Scottish unionists from 1707 to the present day. Though we are undoubtedly a partner, it is clear that some partners are more equal than others.

It is this asymmetry which gives the lie to the national hypothesis above. We are much too far from Westminster for out voice to be audible there. At best, our aspirations are only met when they randomly coincide with those of the ‘senior’ partner. And this is happening less frequently as neo-liberalism and insularity prevail at Westminster.

As viewed by the international community, our opinions and aspirations are distorted by the dark lens of the Westminster bubble, through which they must always pass.

But symmetry will be restored by our secession from the union, as both of the resultant states will be starting afresh. The ending of the United Kingdom, and the (presumably) two new states which emerge phoenix-like to face the world alone, give the lie to the regional hypothesis.

Not only can hypotheses 1 and 2 not both be true, being contradictory, but now we see that neither is true. The unequal partner hypothesis is the only one of the four which survives even the most cursory scrutiny, and its resolution through independence gives us a useful tool with which to examine, and hopefully refute, the protestations and assertions of the unionists.

Let us examine each of our three examples of unionist doublespeak from above.

Example 1 – The UN

Inside the union you have influence over the foreign policy of a world power (The UK) with a veto in the UN but, if you separate, this veto will remain with the rUK and you will lose all influence and status in the world.

Scotland has no influence over UK foreign or defence policy. We cannot move trident from our shores, despite that being the policy of the Scottish Government and the view of a large majority of Scots. The Scottish parliament, under a Lib/Lab coalition, voted against the illegal invasion of Iraq, and was ignored by a Labour Uk government. We are even charged (uniquely) when our own embassies are used to promote whisky sales. The national hypothesis fails this test.

While an independent Scotland will certainly not gain a permanent seat on the UN security council, it is by no means clear that Greater England will gain one either. They will need to renegotiate this with other members, using trident as a lever, and they may well be unsuccessful. The regional hypothesis thus fails too.

While it is difficult to see why an independent Scotland would miss it’s proxy UN veto, or would even notice it’s loss, it is likely that Greater England will attempt to keep and replace trident, and will lobby to regain the now vacant seat in the security council. But they will not have it by right.

Australia is currently speaking of a constitutional crisis because their head of state, the Queen, is such by virtue of first being the head of state for the UK, the old colonial power. Since the UK will be dissolved, and the Queen will become the head of state separately for both Scotland and Greater England, where does that leave Australians and all of the other commonwealth countries and dependencies which have a similar arrangement?

Example 2 – The EU

Inside the union you have a voice in Europe as part of a large and influential member but, if you separate, you will need to reapply for membership and lose your influence, your rebate etc.

As in matters of defence, Scotland has little say in UK policy on Europe. For decades, Scottish fishing rights have been used as a bargaining chip to secure better deals for English dairy farmers. EU regional development funds are stripped of their match funding before they cross the border, reducing their value by half. Again, it is only by chance that the UK policy ever corresponds with Scottish aspirations.

As the UK is currently a member of the EU, both Scotland and Greater England will remain members, and both will inherit the rights and responsibilities of the old UK. There is no mechanism for either to be expelled, and since neither is a successor state, so there is no asymmetry to the membership of the two new states.

The details of the relationship between each of the new states and the EU will be a matter of negotiation but, crucially, both states will need to negotiate.

Example 3 – The Pound

Inside the union you can use the pound and the Bank of England but, if you separate, these will belong to the rUK and you will either be denied them, or you will lose your influence over them.

Clearly, the first assertion is true, the use of the currency and the right to print banknotes are enshrined in the acts of union, but this ignores the reality of how little influence we have on monetary or fiscal policy at present. Inflation targets and interest rates are set entirely for the benefit of the city of London and we have no representation whatever on the Monetary Policy Committee.

UK economic policy takes no account of national differences, never mind of regional factors within Scotland. With the exception of the 8% of Scottish tax income which is currently devolved, we have no real influence in the one-size-fits-all solutions which emanate from Westminster.

A fine example of this is that, although we are the country with the richest energy reserves in Europe, we also have the most expensive energy prices and the highest rate of fuel poverty, and as a direct result of taxes and duties set in London.

The assertion that an independent Scotland in monetary union with Greater England would lose influence over both monetary and fiscal policy is ludicrous.

While it is correct that the MPC would control monetary policy, and that restrictions would be placed on Scotland’s fiscal freedom by Greater England, Scotland would equally apply the same restrictions to the Fiscal Policy of Greater England, and would have direct representation on the MPC itself.

Each partner would have some fiscal control over the other, for the protection of the currency. A sterling zone could not work in any other way, particularly if both parties wished to remain in the EU. In addition, Neither Scotland nor Greater England would “own” either the currency or the (unfortunately named) Bank of England.

So, the next time you encounter a scare story, an objection to independence or an assertion of a union benefit, apply the tests above to see what is really going on.