If the independence debate was over, we’d all be talking about the political intervention going on, writes Brian Monteith
AS THE end of 2012 approaches, I am drawn to look back on the generally lamentable quality of political discourse in Scotland and ask what would we discuss if the issue of independence did not dominate the landscape so much?
Sadly, it is difficult to answer this question with any excitement or anticipation because it is becoming clearer by the day that were Scotland to be independent, little would change within the existing consensus of our political elite or its corpulent supplicants that form so much of what is called our civic society.
It is occasionally suggested that out of the SNP, and following the collapse of the unionist Scottish Conservatives suddenly left without a purpose, a new right-of-centre party will rise up and that Scotland will instead move towards a more economically liberal, regulatory permissive state with a smaller, nimbler government. While I have no doubt some such new grouping would emerge, if only to fill the obvious vacuum, to expect any short- or medium-term electoral renaissance is currently, I believe, wishful thinking, such is the scale and invasiveness of the Scottish state.
If the SNP was to continue – and it is a racing certainty that it would, as its politicians will surely look to hoover-up votes from a Scottish public they expect to be grateful for delivering the nation from English subjugation – we can see from the nature of its statements and current behaviour that it will be fighting on the same terrain as any new Labour Party that reforms from the existing organisation. Do not expect any new policies from either. Both will seek to become the natural inheritors of Old Labour’s dirgisme, lifestyle control and social intervention. It will be claimed that such policies provide the solutions to all our ills, ignoring conveniently that they have been tried in Scotland by parties of all colours for the last 60 years and have, if anything, perpetuated our problems or caused new ones – that have in turn invited yet more intervention.
Anyone who doubts that Scotland is destined to be more centralised, endure greater public intervention and have more of the state in the face of its citizens need only ask my original question: what politics would we be discussing if independence was not the raison d’etre of the SNP and thus attracting the focus of our attention?
The answer is provided by the SNP’s domestic policy approach, and Labour’s general acceptance of its opponent’s direction of travel, that – despite a wide variety of credible evidence suggesting we have enough laws that are working – we will have yet more laws, more intervention and punitive levies or taxes designed to change our behaviour. The latest example that our Bullying Braveheart State will continue to grow is the announcement that the state police will introduce armed patrols across Scotland that have hitherto been limited to urban centres.
The claim is made that rural parts of Scotland deserve the same armed response that our towns and cities already have available so that any armed crime, such as the Cumbria massacre in 2010, when taxi driver Derrick Bird killed 12 people and injured 11 more, can be dealt with. The horrific killings at Dunblane Primary School are also cited without any explanation of how armed police would have made any difference to either tragedy. The fact that all police officers in Newtown, Connecticut, were armed but unable to prevent the killing spree by Adam Lanza is conveniently ignored.
So too is the unhelpful evidence that the 514 firearms offences in Scotland for 2011-12 represented a 21 per cent fall over the previous year and was the lowest number in a decade. That we should be considering arming permanently some 400 police officers when we know all too well of examples of mistaken extra-judicial executions in the past, such as Brazilian Jean Charles de Menezes who was restrained and then shot seven times in the head on the London tube, or Harry Stanley who was carrying a table leg thought to be a rifle, again in London, suggests our politicians have learnt nothing and have no fear of mission creep creating an armed police state. And all this when the police are coming under scrutiny for cover-ups at Hillsborough, stitch-ups at Downing Street and charges brought against police officers in Scotland.
Can our politicians not address the laws that are being broken and provide the resources to assist in areas of real need rather than plan for those where armed crime is minimal, if not imaginary?
The same propensity to introduce further laws on Scottish citizens when evidence suggesters there is no need can be seen with Justice Secretary Kenny McAskill’s move to tighten the drink-drive restrictions when convictions for drink driving have already fallen substantially, drink driving related accidents have more than halved since 1979 and in the same period “serious casualties” have declined five-fold from 8,300 to 1,630. Likewise the push to have a minimum price for alcohol is being proposed when we know that the consumption of alcohol is falling. The fact that there are fewer alcohol-related crimes or illnesses in England or other European countries where the prices are cheaper continues to be an inconvenient truth the political elite simply sidestep.
It would be easy to blame the SNP’s propensity for greater centralisation and state intervention but that would be to ignore that the party’s political DNA was inherited from the Scottish Labour Party, which it wishes to replace on a permanent basis. Thus the next logical step of proposing to force Scotland to be “smoke free” by 2030 when smoking rates are already in a long term decline and have not accelerated as a result of recent smoking bans and restrictions.
In the absence of any public service reforms the SNP’s extension, strengthening, centralising and even arming of the state and its institutions is what would be dominating political discourse if independence were not so dominant.
If we are to aspire to a more open, tolerant and harmonious society then the quicker the independence issue is settled – whatever the outcome – the more able we will be to hold our politicians in all parties to account for their incessant bullying abuse of power.