Lloyd Evans rounds up the highlights of this week’s Spectator debate on the future of the union. The motion was ‘It’s time to let Scotland go’.
Margo Macdonald, MSP, opened on a friendly note and declared that she had no plans to fall out with anyone. She wants to preserve Scotland’s ‘social union’ with England. But her country can no longer ‘shackle itself to the shell of a declining empire’. Nor should Scotland send ‘broad-kilted laddies’ to fight wars in foreign lands, ‘using armoured vehicles that are more dangerous to our servicemen than to the enemy.’
England, she claimed, uses Scotland to maintain its ‘magic seat’ on the Security Council. An independent Scotland would take control of its defence policy and scrap Trident. ‘Don’t need it. Can’t afford it.’ The savings would be spent on renewable energy, on social services, and on restoring Scotland’s built heritage which is ‘crumbling through neglect by the British.’ She disparaged the ‘confusing notion’ of Britishness.
‘I want Scots to know who they are. And it won’t matter what they call us.’
Malcolm Rifkind, MP for Kensington, called the SNP’s strategy ‘utterly depressing.’ They want Scotland to quit one supra-national union of countries – the UK – in order to join another – the EU. He sketched out a brief history of secession. Countries break up, he said, not by chance but because ‘people feel oppressed’ and because their yearnings for liberty are articulated by a great national leader. ‘India had Ghandi. South Africa had Mandela. But Scotland does not feel oppressed. That’s why they have Alex Salmond.’
He questioned Scotland’s financial viability and pointed out that 75 per cent of North Sea oil has already gone. The SNP’s vision of Scotland as an ‘arc of prosperity’, along with Ireland and Iceland, has been destroyed by the credit crunch. ‘It’s an arc of insolvency’. He warned us not to be ‘mesmerised by Alex Salmond’s popularity’. Support for independence has remained static, at about 30 per cent, since the 1970s. ‘If Salmond believed he could win the referendum he’d hold it in two days, not in two years.’
We should cherish the UK as world-class example of ‘ancient enemies living together’. For Britain to fragment, ‘like a schizophrenic amoeba’, would send a bad message to a troubled globe.
Kelvin MacKenzie, former editor of the Sun, outlined his vision for an independent South-East England ‘which would be the world’s sixth largest economy’. He praised Alex Salmond for sticking to one policy for over 40 years.
‘David Cameron would be lucky to stick to one policy for 40 seconds.’
He too questioned Scotland’s ability to survive on North Sea oil. ‘The English have plundered the best of it and left the dregs to others.’ Scotland would need to raise £30 billion to clean up the decommissioned oil rigs. So the SNP, he predicted, ‘would tax the living daylights out of its own people’. This would send Scottish financiers ‘heading south as fast as their fat hairy legs could carry them.’ But England should refuse them a warm welcome. He recommended ‘a seven-year moratorium’ on Scottish migrants escaping to England. ‘They come here to steal our jobs when they can’t even speak our language.’
‘Vote for the resolution!’ he shouted as he punched his fist in the air. ‘And remember, the Welsh are next!’
Iain Martin, former editor of the Scotsman, said that the debate had brought together the largest collection of Scots in one room since Tony Blair’s first cabinet. ‘But after what they did to the country, I can understand people wanting Scotland to secede.’ He argued that ‘the fusion of England and Scotland’ has been one of the most powerful political partnerships in history. Our unity would be a ‘potent proposition’ as we trade our way out of the recession in the years ahead. He identified the jubilee celebrations, and the Olympic Games, as sources of shared pride and mutual celebration. ‘We’re better together.’
Gary Hassan, a commentator on Scottish affairs, identified a chronic malaise in the politics of the UK. Deepening inequalities between London and the rest of Britain have fomented a loss of trust in our political institutions. An independent Scotland would correct this democratic deficit. Scotland would reject the ‘nationalistic’ dream of Britain. It would halt the right-ward drift of British politics over the last thirty years. It would oppose ‘Anglo-American hyper-capitalism’ and it would stand against Andrew Lansley’s NHS reforms which will lead to the health service ‘being run by Coca Cola.’ England needs its own parliament, said Hassan, and ‘we can be equals together.’
Rory Stewart, MP for Penrith in Cumbria, declared that the heart of the issue was division. It would mean splitting up countries, people, farms and families. ‘Everyone in the world sees the point of Great Britain except Great Britain.’
Alex Salmond may claim that independence is about equality and green energy but ‘it’s about history and culture,’ said Stewart. The historic culture of England makes no sense without the historic culture of Scotland. And vice versa. He attacked Salmond’s vision as ‘a strange fantasy’ borne out of the post-colonial imagination of the 1970s. It was a dream of ‘Scandinavian smallness’ in contrast to the ‘big vision’ of the UK. As an example, he cited Harold Macmillan, the grandson of a Scottish crofter, who became ‘a posh Tory MP’ and eventually prime minister.
‘We’re developing a very gloomy view of ourselves,’ he said, if we’re about to let free eye tests and free tuition fees lead to the destruction of a 300-year-old union. He predicted that an independent Scotland would become ‘parochial, prejudiced and chauvinistic.’ And Scots living outside Scotland would be be tainted with those qualities by association. The SNP’s argument ‘is a denial of history and of self’, he said.
‘We should be proud of ourselves and of the UK.’
The motion was heavily defeated.
Pre-vote For 52 Against 191 Undecided 58
End vote For 43 Against 254 Undecided 0Tags: Scotland, SNP, UK politics