Brian Monteith: Let’s not found nation on prejudice

The pound, the eurozone, austerity and the Tories – Brian Monteith takes issue with the SNP’s assertions

Foodbanks are likely to disappear south of the Border before anyone in the SNP has made up their mind about the pound. Picture: Johnston Press

Well here we are, exactly a month before the day some Scots decide if they wish to make the country separate from the United Kingdom. The franchise is wrong, the question is loaded and the timing has left Scotland ungoverned for too long – but I have written about these issues before and what is more important now is that we are coming down to the basic issues. This is not good news for the Nationalists.

The other day I came across two professional PR companies that did not wish to become involved in an event that involved No supporters because they happened to have Scottish Government contracts; better to keep above the fray and not let their income be threatened. Fair enough, I thought, it was their call, but it says much about how so many Scottish businesses feel intimidated even when they don’t have a corporate view and will have employees voting for either side. Hardly the mark of a mature and adult debate from a tolerant and open society.

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Also last week, a friend of mine, highly active in Scottish civic society, and neither a natural conservative or a comfortable unionist, commented to me about how the debate has resorted to people shouting at each other. He cannot wait for it all to be over and he can return to discussing real policy matters that will make a difference to the lives of Scots. Policies that the Scottish Parliament already has enough powers to deal with and could be inventive enough to supplant if it were bothered. He bears no ill towards either campaign but would prefer to keep his counsel as to whether or not he will vote Yes or No and is tired of being Janus-faced, trying to keep the protagonists on-side towards his campaign for better government.

He is not wrong about the screaming match; we are hearing a great deal about currency, the European Union – and a Scotland free from austerity, food banks and Tories, as if the last three are umbilically linked. I think this is bad news for the Nationalists, for while they feel they can scream from the rooftops and at their many public meetings, speaking to primarily their own supporters, they must be beginning to scare the horses. Where is the positive case that they so often claim is their monopoly? Why has the nationalist message become so shrill?

Writing at the weekend on, Murdo Fraser claimed the Nationalists are becoming desperate and that it will only get worse. It is hard to disagree with him.

Take austerity, which Nationalists suggest with a mixture of arrogance and chutzpah can be removed from Scotland by simply voting Yes. How would an independent Scotland dependent on the fiscal and monetary oversight of the UK Treasury and the Bank of England be able to deviate to any great degree without it being reined back in? Or how would the strictures of the EU Commission, the influence of the eurozone and the arm-twisting of the IMF be resisted – especially when the SNP is so keen to be good Europeans? By their own hands, the SNP has tied the Yes campaign up inside two straitjackets that would make leaving so-called austerity impossible.

And then there are food banks – which are presented by nationalists as representative of Tory state architecture – even though they started out in the years of the last Labour government. Even redefining them as an examples of the failure of Westminster-organised welfare does not ring true, for they are not state institutions, nor are they peculiar to the UK – they exist in one form or another in all societies I have seen around the world.

The truth is that they have blossomed as a source of personal charity and private giving at a time of greater want, and while they prompt a justifiable critique about the failure of past economic policies, an independent Scotland would be no more able to abolish them than it would be able to stop the Sally Army’s food kitchens or prevent secondhand furniture or white goods being passed on to families in need.

The reason food banks are so despised by collectivists is because they are a private answer to state welfare failure that cannot cope with the results of government deficits and debt that fed the economic crash. It is not Scottish-controlled welfare that will be the death of food banks but real jobs established on sound economic policies with a currency that is reliable and universal.

On those grounds alone, the United Kingdom is more likely to see the end of food banks before an independent Scotland that does not know which currency it will have or how its financial services industry will survive the alienating disconnect from its main market.

Then there’s the issue of the Tories – on which I find the Nationalist attitude morally repugnant. I have never wished a Scotland free from nationalists, socialists or any other political creed. I am quite content that in a pluralist democracy there will be people holding all sorts of views that I shall disagree with but that they shall be entitled to say their piece and ask for public support. After that it’s up to the electorate.

To argue that Scotland not only might – but should – become a Tory-free zone is not a mark of political maturity but a scar on the face of our natural democratic tolerance. There are over 400,000 Scots who regularly vote Conservative – do their views count for nothing, should we take the Tory-free idea to its logical conclusion and deny them a voice, a vote or representation?

Some nationalists shout it is just English Tories they are against – as if adding a racial slur to the political prejudice is some sort of improvement. In my time at the Scottish Parliament I made many friends amongst all parties and I would always want their views represented – for to suggest that one democratic group should never be allowed to govern Scotland is the antithesis of the Scottish enlightenment that gave us the age of reason.

A new Scotland founded on such negative prejudices would get off to a dark beginning and is not one I would be proud to call my own country.