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5 February 2013

George Robertson's
fear-mongering
over independence

Mike MacKenzie

It is perhaps apt that George Robertson's essay (22 January) should be accompanied by a cartoon appearing to show Alex Salmond holding Johann Lamont in what looks like a terminal headlock. Bob Smith has being paying attention. George Robertson most obviously has not, but that is hardly surprising given how remote most Westminster politicians have inevitably become from Scotland.

He has, for instance, not being paying attention to the Better Together Campaign's commitment to fighting a positive campaign and to making a positive argument for remaining in the union. This is hardly surprising but what did surprise me is that on reading the first few paragraphs I couldn't believe that this was the George Robertson. Only when I got to the last paragraph did I realise that it was indeed Lord Robertson of Port Ellen, former Labour MP for Hamilton, shadow Scottish secretary, UK defence secretary and secretary general of NATO.

I expected more of the George Robertson. I expected something approaching the standards that I have come to expect from the Scottish Review. Perhaps it is just the conditioning that I am still not immune to, but I expected more of someone who has held such high office. I didn't expect him to be trying to reinvent himself as a tabloid journalist. He succeeds in this in so far as he manages to drag the debate on independence down into the gutter of fear mongering. He fails in that his article lacks the necessary titillation.
He fails to say one single thing in favour of the union. He fails also to mention any of the many areas in which the union has failed Scotland.

He doesn't mention the deprivation that persists in many areas, most notably those still dominated by Labour, nor the ill-health that afflicts those same areas. He doesn't mention the joblessness or the failure to rebuild an economy devastated by Margaret Thatcher. He doesn't mention the huge disappointment with a Labour Party that under Blair and Brown actually increased inequality and dragged us into an illegal war in Iraq. He doesn't explain that in order to win a UK election the Labour Party has to position itself so close to the Tories that they are now incapable of representing the values and the people they once stood for.

He does say that many questions about independence can only reasonably be answered after detailed negotiations. He should tell this to Johann Lamont who persists in asking just these daft questions.

Much of the difficulties postulated around the technical questions associated with independence assume that the UK is a nasty and stupid state which will 'cut its nose off to spite its face', rather than reach reasonable and mutually advantageous agreement with its newly independent neighbour. If this is true then this is merely one more reason to leave. I would respectfully suggest to Lord Robertson that the RUK will not be as silly as that, but perhaps, having seen the British state from the inside, he has a more cynical view of this than I do. After a 'Yes' vote, I would suggest that the sheer pragmatism of dealing fairly with its energy-rich neighbour will trump any bad loser impulse on the part of the RUK.

Speaking of energy, we will take maximum advantage of our energy opportunities, seeking every ounce of value from the £1.5 trillion of remaining oil reserves and our very significant renewable energy capacity which will allow us ultimately to generate 10 times our own energy need. There is no rational reason, as Lord Robertson asserts, that our economic future must depend on either oil or renewables when in fact it can and will include both.

Indeed it is the inappropriate handling of these assets that creates part of the impetus for independence. The failure to set up an oil fund, as so many other countries have done, is inexcusable. Instead we have had taxation regimes imposed which threaten the viability of fields which could remain or become productive for many years. The potential of renewable energy is threatened by punitive transmission charges and a failure to invest properly and soon enough in upgrading the grid.

And as it has been for these major economic opportunities so it has also been for many others all of which can and should add up to a bright economic future for Scotland.

Lord Robertson may pin his hopes on a future UK Labour government, righting all the wrongs of the Blair and the Cameron years and no doubt makes the naked political calculation that without Scottish Labour MPs this will never happen. This is a short-term view. The question that the London Labour Party should ask itself is: how long will the Tory Party continue to dominate England, with an independent Scotland as a progressive left-of-centre neighbour, steadily moving to the position of greater equality and the greater prosperity that will go along with this?

Independence for Scotland will therefore also create the opportunity of liberation for the people of England and in this, the liberation of their talents and in shaking off a stultifying imperial mindset, still focussed on former importance and glory, lies their best hope of achieving greater equality and prosperity.

Mike MacKenzie is Scottish National Party MSP for the Highlands and Islands region