Blair McDougall: SNP conference and independence

Alex Salmond at the SNP conference. Picture: Jane Barlow
Alex Salmond at the SNP conference. Picture: Jane Barlow
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LISTENING to the speeches at SNP conference over the past couple of days I have been struck by how much of their worldview rests on the idea that us Scots who have made the judgment that Scotland’s interests are better served as part of a bigger Union somehow think less of Scotland.

Alex Salmond told us that a vote to leave the United Kingdom would be “an act of self-confidence and self-belief”. His suggestion that the millions who are intending to vote to remain in the UK are lacking in either or both of these qualities says far more about his political worldview than it does about the Scottish ­people.

But the shortcoming isn’t within the hearts and minds of Scots, it is with the SNP’s independence offer. None of us feels any less proudly Scottish today just because we are part of something bigger. Our sense of Scottishness does not depend on agreeing with Salmond. Belief in Scotland does not equal political nationalism.

In fact, over the course of the campaign it has become clear that those things that make Scotland special and distinctive are better nurtured as part of the UK. We can be more strongly Scottish within the Union. There are roles we play within the UK, Scottish specialisms we bring to a collective ten times our size that simply cannot be replicated if we were to go it alone.

Today Scotland is leading the UK’s green-energy growth. We offer untapped renewable potential and in return the rest of the UK invests in the wind and wave projects sustaining thousands of highly skilled jobs across Scotland. The source of that investment is the energy bills of more than 20 million homes across Britain, with around a third of that British green energy investment going to Scottish projects. In the current debate on energy costs we would do well to consider the choice leaving the UK would present here: higher energy bills for Scots or fewer green energy jobs.

Scotland has an academic and scientific excellence in our universities unmatched by any other small country. As ever, we are the scientists and inventors of the United Kingdom. In return for the contribution laboratories in Scottish Universities make to providing cures and treatments for the UK NHS, the UK invests well above our population share of research and science funding in Scotland. As senior academics asked earlier this week, why would we risk undermining something we are so good at?

As part of the UK we make the most of our reputation as prudent managers of money. Tens of thousands of Scots manage the pensions, mortgages and investments of people across the UK. With as many as nine out of ten of their customers in the home market of the rest of the UK, being part of a market ten times the size of our own allows that Scottish specialism to flourish.

As part of the UK we continue our heritage as highly skilled engineers. Thousands of shipbuilders produce world-class vessels for the Royal Navy. Each Type 45 destroyer launched from the slipway at Glasgow represented a £650 million investment in Scottish engineering that simply couldn’t be matched by a separate navy with a total budget predicted to be £651 million.

These are investments rather than subsidies. They are a result of Scottish confidence inside the UK and of the UK’s confidence in Scotland. But they are part of a deal, a benefit of UK membership and it is dishonest to pretend they would continue after we left the club.

On issue after issue, it has become clear that our natural and human resources are better unlocked as part of the UK. We are even winning the argument over the best way to unlock the resource which has been the basis of political nationalism for decades, North Sea oil.

John Swinney has finally admitted that for a generation all the taxes generated from oil have been needed to fund Scottish public services. The consequence of this shift into reality by the SNP is that the debate on North Sea oil can no longer be about how we spend imaginary oil surpluses. Rather it is about how we best squeeze out every last drop and generate as many jobs as possible before the oil runs out. Key to that is the guarantee UK taxpayers give to the oil sector to provide £20 billion of support towards the cost of decommissioning; surely it is better that everyone in the UK pays £300 towards this than Scots pay £3,800 per head ourselves?

Sharing risks, rewards and resources is good for Scotland.

A big part of the independence argument is about keeping the security of the UK and avoiding risks of independence. The cost of losing the UK central bank as the guarantor of our mortgages and pensions. The cuts to public services or tax rises that would result from oil volatility. But being in the UK also represents opportunity for Scotland.

We can be more proudly, more confidently, more successfully Scottish as part of a bigger United Kingdom. «

Blair McDougall is campaign director of Better Together Twitter: @blairmcdougall