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22 January 2013

George Robertson
and his vision of
a tartan curtain

Alasdair Galloway

Lord Robertson of Port Ellen

In 'The Nation in the Global Era: Conflict and Transformation', Jerry Harris writes that 'separatist groups may seek nothing more than greater autonomy'.

Of course labelling one's political foes as separatists rather than merely seekers of greater autonomy might well be more effective for those of Lord Robertson's persuasion, conjuring up a vision of a 'tartan curtain' just north of Berwick on Tweed and Carlisle, with nothing but the White Heather Club on TV, a diet based on haggis and compulsory reading of the 'Thoughts of the Great Leader, Eck'. I believe this is sometimes described as 'monstering'.

However let's look at the list of institutions that will be broken should there be a 'yes' vote in 2014. Perhaps most hilariously, Lord Robertson (17 January) refers to Job Centres. Does he seriously mean that a UK government is going to come north and remove them – each brick and plastic chair – back down south of the Tartan Curtain? Given the part played by Scotland prior to 2014 in the UK and its development, would we not have an ownership claim to these? Or has Scotland been in the role of a 'kept woman' and we just didn't realise it?

But more seriously, he also works through a list of departments and institutions that would need to be set up, but which are simply essential for an independent Scotland to prosper. These are in two categories. One is institutions that we would indeed want to set up for ourselves because it would be in our interests to do so:

A DSS (as Lord Robertson describes it – I thought it was Work and Pensions these days?). I think we certainly would – or are we content to follow current UK government policy cutting payments to the disabled, the sick etc?

Our own HMRC with which to operate a different policy on taxation – one which didn't make our country a destination one for tax dodgers, maybe?

A Scottish Financial Services Authority which takes firm and effective action to ensure no repetition of the banking crash of 2008 – yes please.

A defence department which turned its face against nuclear weapons and kitting up for (possibly illegal) foreign wars, sounds good to me.

Many of the developments Lord Robertson regards as a terrible imposition are in fact merely devices for an independent Scotland to fulfil the wishes of the Scottish electorate and to support Scotland in achieving its full potential. Of course, there will have to be negotiation – something the present Scottish government seems anxious to get started sooner than their Westminster counterparts.

There will be uncertainty, as there always is when there is change. However, what certainties are there in remaining in the UK? Membership of the EU? A repetition of the banking crisis, given the mealy-mouthed 'reforms' supported by the present government? More cuts directed at the poor and the sick? Is the UK, on present policies, the kind of country we want to continue to be part of?

The second category concerns institutions which could be shared, by agreement. For instance why set up a new DVLA when this could easily be communal, with shared costs? A Passport Office might come into the same category, since the requirements for this document are dictated by international obligations, not freely determined by any state. Perhaps there might even be agreement about the BBC in Scotland, as otherwise it is going to lose all its Scottish licence revenue.

So, yes, Scotland would indeed be a separate state, but now invested with the powers to achieve its fullest potential, consistent with the aims of the Scottish people. No longer the afterthought of a parliament in which we are no more than a small minority, a situation Robertson seems unconcerned by since he considers Scotland currently has enough powers. However, set against that, we are still committed to a defence policy based on the availability of WMDs. We can still be taken into, whether or not we like it, illegal foreign wars.

The borrowing powers coming into force are limited and arguably (eg see the work of Jim and Margaret Cuthbertson) contrary to the interests of Scotland. There would still be limited powers to vary taxation to suit the Scottish economy. We would still be subject to UK social security policy. So, without the autonomy of independence the degree of change a Scottish Parliament could create would be severely circumscribed, and increasingly so as the Barnett Formula dictates lower Scottish spending as the UK government cuts its own expenditure, whether Scotland supports this or not (as at the moment, it does not).

What Lord Robertson fails to see is that independence is not about separatism, cutting Scotland off from the rest of the world, but about greater autonomy so that we in Scotland can take our own decisions about what is best for us, our future and the future of our children. One of those decisions will be how we participate as an independent state in the international community.

Alasdair Galloway is a senior lecturer in the University of the West of Scotland Business School