Scottish Independence: Margo McDonald to be fighting fit for big debate
NEXT year will mark 40 years since Margo MacDonald was first elected to political office. Of that 1973 intake to Westminster, only six parliamentarians are still going strong and she is one of them.
And although trust in politicians has eroded since those days – partly due to a culture in politics in which fault is never admitted and partly as a result of an ever more aggressive media, she says – trustworthiness is one thing MacDonald, one of Scotland’s most popular and recognisable politicians, has never had to prove.
Now her aim for the next year is “to get fitter”, after 12 months of limiting her public role due to illness, to take part in the debate over Scotland’s constitutional future. The incentive, among other things, is the small matter of persuading her fellow Scots on the “Big One”; to back independence.
Today, the Yes campaign will unveil the “advisory team” it believes will unite the public behind a Yes vote in the 2014 referendum but in which MacDonald, 69, has declined to take part. Nevertheless, the Independent MSP who parted from Alex Salmond’s SNP in 2003, believes the case can be won, even though polls put backing for independence at 30-40 per cent, hardly a convincing majority. “I don’t believe these polls,” she says, arguing that culturally, Scotland is in a different place now than at any time during her life.
Growing up in the post-war 1940s and 1950s, she recalls her mother telling her independence would “take a while”, because people would have to get over the war. “She understood that the bonds that are forged during a time like that are probably never broken. They are still there but they are weakened now,” she says.
And while, in the 1970s, Scots felt it was “selfish” to be backing independence on the grounds that “it’s our oil”, that too has changed. “They know a hell of a lot of money went down [to London] and none of it came here,” she says. Plus, she thinks, the choice of independence looks brighter given the grimness of the status quo.
The conditions are ripe then. The problem, she believes, is the pro-independence campaign, which launched in May.
“Don’t ask me to defend it because I cannot,” she said. “The only thing they were concerned about was that they would be out before the No campaign.” There has been, she argues, “a lack of preparedness and a lack of planning” within the SNP. In her view, the party hasn’t come up with enough detail yet upon which the debate can be held. “It’s got no shape, no boundaries, no premise. In short, I don’t think we’ve had a debate, I think we have had a lot of noise.”
The SNP government plan – to publish a paper in the autumn of 2013 providing all the detail – has it the wrong way round. Now, she argues, is the time for the specifics to be provided. While it can’t be iron-clad, it can give people a good steer as to how the country would operate. “We should have had the information stage. We should be at the stage now of arguing what is the best way. But we don’t have an agreed premise.”
She adds: “I think if the SNP feel they can win the referendum without going into details, they’d prefer that. I don’t know why there has always been this secretive strain that runs through them. I don’t know whether it is Alex [Salmond] keeping it to himself. A lot of what the SNP is just now is as a result of Alex having such a hold over the party. I think that distorts things.”
As for the flirtation with a two-question referendum, offering both independence and more devolution, she dismisses it. “He [Salmond] cannot put a second question which involves the English people,” she says. The point is that a so-called devo-max option isn’t for Scots alone to decide. She adds: “I don’t think he can put it [devo-max] on the same ballot paper. Ditch the second question because you can’t deliver it. The only thing you can deliver is independence.”
Her advice to the pro-independence campaign is to “stop talking about winning or losing and start talking about what they would like to do” with independence. The SNP and the YesScotland campaign need to focus on showing how only independence would enable things to be done differently. “My argument is that we will end up with independence because if you want to change the welfare and tax systems and redistribute wealth, you cannot do so without getting your hands on all the money and power,” she argues.
Consequently, she has little truck with the SNP’s sudden conversion to keeping the pound and sticking with UK monetary policy. “We could shadow sterling for a wee while anyway. We’d have a Scottish pound… it shows that we are in the serious business.”
She compares a post-independence Britain to the West Indies. “They play cricket as the West Indies. People call them the West Indies. But they know Jamaica has got to go a different way to Barbados and their laws are different from Antigua’s. If you get the idea of the West Indies, then you begin to get the idea of Scotland.”
It will take England a while to stop “being hurt and bemused” by this change, she says, but, “once that happens, then you can say ‘look we have got a lot in common in policing this Border of ours, can we come to an arrangement’.”
She adds: “We can never be the equal of England but we can be the legal equal, so when we sit across the table, there is the ability for us to say ‘no’ when we absolutely have to. And that is the difference that divides independence from devo-max or whatever they call it.”
She hopes the debate over the next two years doesn’t get nasty. “I wouldn’t be surprised if it became bitter,” she adds. Given the stakes, and the need for people to work together whatever the result, she hopes the debate is kept “business-like” – something which may be more difficult for Unionists. “People always say the emotion is on the nationalist side. But there is great emotion on the other side as well.”
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Weather for Edinburgh
Monday 20 May 2013
Temperature: 8 C to 21 C
Wind Speed: 8 mph
Wind direction: North west
Temperature: 7 C to 17 C
Wind Speed: 10 mph
Wind direction: North west