One of my favourite facets of modern politics is cross-dressing, outperforming your rivals at the polls by stealing (or more likely borrowing for a very short period) their policies and their voters. One could argue that the SNP is succeeding at the polls because it is out-Labouring Labour, and long may it continue while the latter attempts to uncomfortably straddle the right and left wings of Scottish and British politics.
As the independence timeline continues (I refuse to call it a ‘debate’ until it actually is one) and while the unionist side continues to dominate, in no small part due to its particularly positive and nifty catchphrase ‘Better Together’, I can’t help but wonder if the SNP shouldn’t, well, nick it.
Scotland can, after all, be better if it chooses to pull together. The UK also can, but only to a limited extent, for perfectly logical reasons.
Scotland’s solo political journey has already started from the smoking ban through minimum pricing at 50p to keeping university tuition free in the face of £9k fees down south. We can, and should, be doing a lot, lot more and still suffer from a poverty of ambition but, irrespective of how short or far we choose to set our sights, a distinctly Scottish constitutional setup is best placed to deliver that for us.
That’s easy to say and harder to prove but here are several inter-connected reasons why I believe Scotland can be better together in a way that would be unthinkable across the UK.
- No Nuclear Weapons.
It is said so often that the potency of the argument becomes diluted, which is a shame. Nuclear weapons, so costly to build, maintain and replace are so particularly wasteful as they will quite simply never be deliberately fired. There is no enemy, real or imagined, that any right-thinking Scot would wish a nuclear weapon on and that alone is reason enough to stop holding and paying for them.
Indeed, decreased defence spending, a prospect so patently unpalatable across most of England, would free up at least £2bn a year for Scotland to spend in other areas. That is a direction that the UK will unfortunately not take for as long as those at Westminster wish to try keeping up with the USA and retain their permanent seat at the United Nations.
- Green Energy
A nation cannot invest simultaneously in nuclear power and renewable energy to the level necessary for both to be world leading. We have dilapidated stations of the former and the greatest potential in Europe, if not the world, for the latter, and that marginal pound can only go to one or the other.
Chris Huhne, the (former) Environment Minister, whose well-meaning principles were ultimately stymied by coalition pragmatism, sold the Lib Dems out on their promise of opposition to nuclear and the facts are, despite Huhne’s assurances of no public subsidy (now abandoned), that all nuclear power has cost the taxpayer eye watering sums in the past and will cost even more in the future. The British tax payer has already spent £100bn on nuclear clean up costs already. £100bn. And we’re building eight more of them south of the border.
rUK has hitherto had minimal appetite to facilitate Scotland’s renewables revolution, so freeing up Defence spending to invest in green energy at this crucial, crucial juncture seems like an opportunity Scotland can ill afford to ignore. It is considerably less likely to happen inside a UK context.
- The End to Boom and Bust
A Scot may have made this hollow promise before but I firmly believe that of the constituent nations of the UK, it is Scotland that has the right size, sentiment and steadiness to deliver an economy that is sustainable for the long term.
The Scottish subsample of UK polls regularly show that Scotland is the region with the lowest support for George Osborne’s economic policies but also the region with the highest level of ‘Don’t knows’. In other words, we know something is wrong but can’t seem to work out what to do about it.
An answer may lie not in GDP tables but in the many ‘Happiness Indices‘ that consider life expectancy, literacy, standard of living, quality of life and child welfare. Scotland is, of course, not included but the top 10 in Europe is dominated by countries such as Norway (1st), Ireland (3rd), Sweden (6th), Iceland (8th) and Denmark (9th). Indeed, if you strip out Germany as an outlier (5th, population 82m), then the average population size of the remaining nine countries that are the happiest according to the UN is 6.6m. Smaller is better is the clear message.
The UK, incidentally, is 19th, one place ahead of Greece, and what does “Better Together” mean if not ‘happier together’?
- International Relations
The Iraq War is old news and not, in itself, a reason to want to distance ourselves from the UK, but there is no denying that Scotland could hold its head up higher in a global context if it had a distinctly Scottish viewpoint that it was able to get across from the EU to the UN or, dare I say it, NATO. The Chinese words for England and the United Kingdom are the same. If that’s not enough to put a bit of fire into wanting the world to know that Scotland exists, then I don’t know what would.
Scotland’s view of the world is too often at odds with the rest of the UK’s view of the world for the assurance that we, as the UK, are better together to hold much weight and, furthermore, who is more likely to win business for Scotland on trade missions, David Cameron, Boris Johnson or A.N. Other Tory Prime Minister who can only ever expect to win a few Scottish seats at election time or the First Minister, be it Alex Salmond or whoever is next in line. The ship, perhaps, has already sailed on who is fighting Scotland’s corner abroad.
Would a Scottish Gary McKinnon still be facing extradition to the US? Would a Scottish Richard O’Dwyer? I can’t help but think that a nation that unflinchingly grasped the Megrahi nettle would come to a similarly civilised and correct decision in the more open and shut cases that it faced, rather than meekly abiding to a one-way extradition treaty with the US.
I accept that the unionists will not be knocking my door down here in leafy London but I don’t know what the specifics of the Better Together case is and can’t really imagine what it could be. From the Economy, through Defence, to Power Production, and given that the NHS and Education are already separate and diverging, in what context is the UK going to improve Scotland moreso than a separate Scotland making its own decisions would? Even Team GB at our ‘home’ Olympics for our national sport didn’t have the good grace to include a Scot in the squad, let alone the lineup.
‘Better Together’ is a persuasive phrase, but it’s more up for grabs than many on both sides of the independence discussion bargain for.