Ewan Crawford: This time there’s much ado about something
THE No campaigners may query the worth of a referendum, perhaps they fear the inevitable call for UK devolution writes Ewan Crawford
The musician and songwriter Elvis Costello is perhaps not the most obvious source of inspiration for the question to be asked in the independence referendum, but the simplicity of one of his famous lyrics captures the essence of the debate better than most.
“Is it worth it?” he asks in the opening line of Shipbuilding (a song about the Falklands war).
In the context of Scottish independence although there has been a great deal of energy expended on what the exact wording of the question or questions should be, this is basically what it all boils down to.
After two years and more of campaigning the precise words used on the ballot paper will be less important than whether or not the Yes campaign has convinced a majority of people in Scotland that becoming an independent country is worth it.
It is in this regard that the initial skirmishing over the monarchy, the currency and now Nato should be considered.
When the former Australian cricket captain, Allan Border, was hauling his side up to becoming the best in the world, it was reported that he took decisions on the basis of what his opponents would least like him to do.
It is a fair bet that those in charge of the No campaign would be happy to face an opposition which could be characterised as wanting to get rid of The Queen, sterling and Nato.
“All this bother, just to abolish the monarchy, the pound and to cut ourselves off from a military alliance,” they might have said shaking their heads in sorrow.
The comments from the SNP’s opponents on these issues now resemble something of a tantrum. It’s not fair, would be a reasonable summary of the response. The new argument seems to be that Scotland would be something of a pariah and, for reasons that are not entirely clear, would not be allowed to use sterling or join Nato or exercise the range of choices available to other independent nations. So there.
On the issue of defence I, like many other supporters of independence, will be keen to hear the arguments on both sides.
One thing should be clear though. Taking a decision to stay in Nato is no less or more compatible with independence than deciding to withdraw.
Norway, for example, as an independent country that many in the SNP and beyond admire, clearly believes that its goal of helping to achieve a nuclear-free world is best served through Nato membership.
Others will disagree but the point is that these are decisions – to join or not to join - that can be made by independent countries.
It is this idea of decision-making that leaders of the Yes campaign believe is particularly strong, summed up by the phrase they are setting a great deal of store by: that decisions about Scotland are best taken by the people who care most about Scotland: the people who live here.
I share the view that decision-making is a powerful argument but this key phrase it seems to me is useful in so much that it gives advocates of independence a hearing. On its own it will be sufficient for committed Scottish nationalists but for many others, more will be required before they can answer yes to Elvis’s question.
Before breaking up for their holidays one of the last acts of MPs at Westminster was to announce yet another inquiry into “Scottish separation”, this time to be carried out by the House of Commons foreign affairs committee.
No fewer than three Commons inquiries are now up and running with the sole aim of attacking independence. There is only so much that can be done to counter such a concerted campaign.
Some of the issues raised are bound to resonate.
But for the Yes side in the independence campaign an important, external circumstance is opening up: growing geographical economic inequality between different parts of the United Kingdom, aided by Westminster government policy.
The start this week of the Olympics will once again showcase London to the rest of the world.
Having been one of the few to buy tickets for the football at Hampden I hope the whole event is a success.
But it is clearly the British capital that will enjoy most of any economic benefits with other parts of the UK being left to hope for a trickle-down effect.
This is a useful example of a wider trend in the UK economy – where the gap is growing ever-larger between, in particular, London and the South East of England and northern English regions.
In Scotland we have specific advantages in terms of natural resources, a brilliant university sector, huge food and drink exports and a range of other benefits.
But we still don’t create enough private sector jobs and there is still scandalous inequality within Scotland itself.
Last week for example, the media regulator, Ofcom, in a report on broadband take-up said six out of ten people in Glasgow were classified as “hard-pressed”.
Given the direction of current economic and social policy at Westminster these powerful trends of inequality between different parts of the UK and within Scotland are surely going to become even more pronounced.
Without the powers associated with independence there is little that can be done arrest this situation. Even within England, such is the disparity in growth and employment rates between regions, a renewed debate over political devolution is surely likely to happen.
This then is the backdrop to the question of whether independence is worth all the trouble – that MPs on the various Westminster committees will soon set out: the certainty of growing regional inequality within the current UK constitutional arrangements and the prospect of something better by changing them.
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Wednesday 19 June 2013
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