I took part in an independence debate in Kirkcaldy last week. Allan Grogan of Labour for Independence and I, the champions of independence, versus Willie Rennie of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, Murdo Fraser of the Tories and Claire Baker of Labour, the axis of intransigence.
The audience, ready to listen and engage, found little to inspire them in the No message and, in the good Fife tradition, let them know it. It would appear, sadly, that Willie Rennie wasn’t listening and his European Union rant in Wednesday’s edition of The Scotsman suggests he hasn’t even noticed the hard lessons the Lib Dems need to learn from their sordid affair with the Tories.
The UK government, propped up by the Lib Dems, is doing considerable damage to our relationship with the rest of Europe. By pandering to Ukip in the vain hope they’ll go away, they are sleepwalking towards the edge of a cliff and, once over that edge, the way back will be nigh impossible. Scotland faces being dragged over that precipice, held in a deadly embrace as we fall, ending up sulking once more off the coast of Europe instead of being part of it.
The UK is left searching for relevance in a world that has moved on – that’s the reality of the Eurosceptic dream and it’s what the Lib Dems and now Labour have signed up to, bringing a new reality to Dean Acheson’s 1962 comment: “Great Britain has lost an empire and has not yet found a role.”
The attempt to play a separate power role – that is, a role apart from Europe, a role based on a “special relationship’” with the United States, a role based on being head of a “commonwealth” which has no political structure, or unity, or strength – this role is about played out.
London politicians of all stripes do not like or engage with the EU, still imagining the UK as an imposing world power. For entirely short-term political reasons, the UK government has set course for leaving the EU with no other destination in mind. Scotland’s interests clearly lie in getting away from this dithering foolishness and ploughing our own furrow in the world.
I like to think that the UK government will, at some point, see sense, that it cannot out-Ukip Ukip and instead of pandering to them we all need to face down their half-truths and misrepresentations. However, this cannot be taken for granted and we cannot dismiss the idea that the UK will leave the EU altogether. The UK leaving the EU will be bad for Europe in the short term and bad for Scotland, independent or not, in the short term; but it will be bad for the UK in the short and long-term. Scotland can escape that cul-de-sac with a simple Yes to independence next year – or we can stick with the UK and hope for the best.
Not that sticking with the UK has done us much good so far. I laughed at Willie Rennie saying independence would leave us without representation, and therefore no influence, in London. Scotland suffers the inadequacy of Lib Dem ministers playing lapdog to a Tory government driving an agenda that is damaging Scotland or, in some far-off year, the revival of a Labour Party promising to drive forward the current slash-and-burn policies.
That’s the kind of deficit that devolution was supposed to address; it hasn’t. The Scottish Government has achieved a lot but its efforts to protect Scotland from the worst effects of UK policy are thwarted because London still holds the purse strings and control of welfare and taxes. Then there’s European policy; foreign policy; defence; immigration; nuclear weapons; nuclear power; firearms; and so on. More importantly, how Scotland is presented to and engages with the world is out of our hands.
Independence is absolutely necessary so we can remake Scotland. I want to build a new nation that puts people back in control of their lives and has social justice at its core, a country where government’s natural instinct is to protect the weak not punish them for being weak, and where we collectively look to the future.
We can build that nation; build a better country and live a better life.
Independence is coming; we’ll vote for it next year and we’ll negotiate the details thereafter. Our opposition would be far better getting on board and helping deliver than carping from the sidelines.
We share a currency and it belongs as much to Scotland as to London; the negotiation will be over how it’s used after independence. The same goes for the Bank of England and all of the UK’s assets; they’re ours as much as rUK’s and we’ll negotiate over them. We’re not walking away from everything we own; we’re changing the rules of engagement.
There will be agreement because it’s in the interests of both nations – Scotland and rump UK – to agree, and pragmatism will mean that a deal gets done. Likewise, tired and stale doom-mongering aside, it is overwhelmingly in the EU’s interests to facilitate our new EU status.
Scotland will be standing up for herself and arguing her corner more effectively than it has been argued so far and we will be attracting new companies, new investment, and the financial-sector organisations that don’t want to be stranded outside of the EU.
Next year’s vote is a window of opportunity for Scotland and a chance to build the nation we want.
Milk and honey isn’t a certainty after independence but it definitely isn’t a certainty with the UK and the direction of travel in each case is quite clear.
So here’s advice to those on the No barricades; listen to the Fife audience and similar audiences across the country, step across, join the campaign for a brighter future for your country. Join us in saying Yes.
• Alyn Smith is an SNP member of the European Parliament.