THE goal of independence is not to weaken our partnership but to distribute power in the UK more equally , writes George Kerevan
Yesterday the Prime Minister went to the Olympic Stadium in east London to fly the Union Flag and appeal to the English, Welsh and Northern Irish to keep Scotland in the Imperial fold. The choice of venue was deliberate. He said: “It was the summer that patriotism came out of the shadows and into the sun, everyone cheering as one for Team GB.”
North of the Border, Cameron will be criticised (rightly) for using sport as a prop for patriotism, and for doing so from the safety of London rather than debating face-to-face with Alex Salmond. However, it would be wrong for the Yes campaign to dismiss the genuine up-swell of British patriotism that the Olympics generated in 2012. After all, that is what the £9billion of UK taxpayers’ money spent on the Games, plus the invocation of “British” cultural icons in the opening TV extravaganza, were meant to achieve.
Cameron’s emotional call to defend the flag was redolent of 1914 and the jingoism of the Boer War. He might reject such a characterisation as unfair but just imagine the outcry if Alex Salmond used the Glasgow Commonwealth Games in similar vein, or if the Yes campaign ventured away from economics towards the politics of identity.
The truth is that a Yes vote is not about identity but about reforming the moribund, over-centralised British state which hoardes power at Westminster long after other industrial nations have embraced genuine devolution. Result: the last 20 years has seen a marked reduction in social mobility, as the metropolitan power elite has used the British state to promote the pecuniary interests of the City of London, wrecking the manufacturing economy and creating the worst recession since the 1930s.
Every nation that composes the UK has a vested interest in dismantling the existing status quo, starting with England. As each morsel of devolution in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland has been wrestled from Westminster, the people of England have become increasingly disenfranchised and subject to policies decided by the votes of backbench MPs from the Celtic fringes. The metropolitan elite – scornful of what they see as the racism of the English hinterland – steadfastly refuse an elected English Parliament, thereby creating the very conditions for such a populist groundswell.
The metropolitan elite is very good at playing the fear card. In the Financial Times, Jonathan Powell (Tony Blair’s chief of staff) warned that a Yes vote will “open up the constitutional question in Northern Ireland at a very delicate time”. Powell went on, with true Project Fear histrionics, to invoke the spectre that “dissident Republicans are likely to take full advantage of the chance to foment violence” if Scots leave the Union.
For a start, as Mr Powell concedes, polls show far fewer people in the North willing to vote for Irish unity (22 per cent) than support Scottish independence – a Yes vote will not undermine the Peace Agreement. Powell fails to mention the fact that there is growing support in Northern Ireland for more powers to be transferred to Stormont, especially over tax – aka devo-max. Indeed, a new political party – NI21 – has just been formed in the North to campaign for income tax powers. A Yes vote in Scotland will add pressure to give Stormont control over Northern Ireland’s finances.
In Wales, with its own Celtic social democracy, the tide towards re-shaping the creaking UK state is also gathering pace. Polls show a majority want more powers for the Welsh Assembly, including control over borrowing (59 per cent) and welfare (51 per cent). An independent Scotland, sitting in a Council of the Isles, will only add to the political clout of Wales in its quest for greater autonomy. Scottish independence also tips the tide against the remorseless economic pull of London – a change that is bound to help the Welsh economy too.
Re-configuring the over-centralised UK into a more relaxed alliance of nations could also be the model for Europe. Back in the 1980s, when disenchantment with rule by the EU bureaucrats in Brussels was on the rise, there was much talk of a Europe of the Regions. The notion was that greater European integration at the top would be balanced by devolving more power to the 230 distinct regions and nationalities of Europe. In 1994, a Committee of the Regions was established to give devolved parliaments and stateless nations direct representation within EU institutions.
Alas, this project was strangled at birth – though without putting anything in its place to limit the alienation felt by ordinary Europeans. It was killed by the politicians of the big European states who have began to exert more dominance over the direction of the EU – which is now a club run from Berlin. This reduced the overall influence of Europe’s regions and nationalities, explaining the recent upsurge of nationalism in Scotland and Catalonia.
Scottish independence, with the emergence of a strong family of sovereign nations in the British Isles, could be the impetus for re-founding a genuine Europe of the Regions. Far from Balkanising Europe, the independence movements in Scotland and Catalonia are the best route to overcoming the EU’s democratic deficit. Alternatively, a No vote on 18 September will only reinforce English antipathy towards Europe.
One might ask why all this can’t be achieved through greater devolution within the UK, avoiding the risks in full Scottish independence?
The answer lies in David Cameron’s speech. He waved the emotional flag, like a good imperialist, but signally failed to use the moment to offer any concrete new partnership of equals for the nations of Britain. Genuine reform will only come when Scotland recovers sovereignty – this is the heart of the 18 September vote.
Scottish independence is not the end of the partnership between the peoples of the British Isles, as David Cameron infers. Rather it is the door to returning sovereignty to each and all the nations of the UK, allowing them to participate in a new, confederal arrangement as equal partners. Unfurl the flags – all of them together.