Brian Monteith: Mean spirit is no foundation for independence

The unionist case has been boosted by a week in which the nationalists came across as selfish, bullying and absurd in their campaign for separation

THE past week should be judged as a good one for New Unionists who argue why Scotland should remain in the United Kingdom while the nationalists suddenly appear bullying, carping and mean-spirited.

I first wrote about the need for a New Unionism in these columns back in 2006, calling for unionists to argue how it is in Scotland’s interests to be in the UK whether we are net beneficiaries or contributors to its economic and social life. We should proclaim ourselves unionists by choice, more than happy to help out impoverished people in Kent, Clwyd or County Down – and humble enough to take help from them when we might need it ourselves.

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New Unionists should accept that an independent Scotland could, after a period of adjustment, be a prosperous and attractive country to be proud of. It is not, however, doing your country down by asserting that there is much that is good about Scotland that exists because, from 1707, we had open access to English and then world markets through our forging of Great Britain – and that some of these benefits would be at serious risk of disappearing forever were we to be independent.

Scotland’s ability to build large ships such as aircraft carriers and destroyers, which employs thousands, cannot be assured if Scotland chooses to be independent and thus outside the Royal Navy. It is not negative to identify the economic benefits that come from a common approach to defending not just our own shores but our trade routes, such as the Straight of Hormuz. Indeed, unionist politicians would be negligent if they did not do so.

What is mean-spirited is to suggest, as the First Minister did in Ireland, that Westminster-based politicians are bullying the Scottish Government over the timing and terms of the independence referendum. No one doubts David Cameron, Nick Clegg and George Osborne have their own political agendas – as, of course, does the First Minister – but it is a serious misrepresentation just short of lying to suggest it is only party politics that drives their actions. UK leaders have a duty to defend the interests of all Brits whether or not they have a vote in the referendum, as anyone in the UK could see their livelihood and security threatened by its outcome.

An example of British interests came to light last week when it was argued that if the UK lost access to Faslane it could not procure a suitable alternative anywhere else in Britain and would have to give up its submarine-based nuclear deterrent or cut a deal with a future Scottish Government to allow its capability to continue – an unlikely outcome for it would neutralise the benefit of a nuclear-free Scotland, which the SNP claims independence would bestow.

Likewise, the claim made by the First Minister that the share of UK debt which an independent Scotland would inherit should not include the costs associated with saving the Royal Bank of Scotland, as its problems were caused by the incompetence of the London-based Financial Services Authority, is not simply absurd but shows the selfish attitude expected of a spoilt brat.

In his Saturday column, Alf Young exposed Alex Salmond’s forgetfulness when on many occasions he wrote encouragingly to RBS, not least over its takeover of ABN-Amro. I would add that it will not be lost on the people of Britain that the Chancellor who removed the Bank of England’s regulatory role was Scotsman Gordon Brown and the Cabinet that agreed to much of Blair and Brown’s reforms was heavily populated by Scots – enough for Jeremy Paxman to talk of the Scottish Raj.

Be it to protect the strategic defence interests of the rest of the UK by opening issues for debate or simply making sure the arrangements for the referendum are beyond doubt, Westminster politicians have a legitimate role to play. They won their mandate in 2010 when the unionist parties thrashed the nationalists and Scotland chose the party most responsible for supporting the misguided judgements of the RBS.

Salmond intimidates Labour about siding with the Tories to defend the union but it was he who looked to Annabel Goldie for succour through supportive Tory votes when he led a minority administration. Now shorn of the need to cosy-up to the Tories, Salmond’s mask has dropped and all pretence of mild-mannered nationalism has dissolved before us.

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Just in case we might think the First Minister’s bullying behaviour is an aberration, the mean streak was given further display by the novice MSP but experienced journalist Joan McAlpine alleging that unionist parties must by definition be judged as anti-Scottish. Being a close adviser of the First Minister it is hard to countenance that he was unaware of McAlpine’s thoughts and he has not rushed to say she is wrong.

Although the Scottish National Party is full of nationalists who are, in the main, socialists, this does not make the SNP a National Socialist or Nazi party, or even a fascistic one. Similarly, the unionist Labour, Liberal Democrat and Conservative parties cannot be described as anti-Scottish simply because they do not call themselves nationalists and wish to pool Scotland’s sovereignty with England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The benefits to be had from sharing risks and opportunities with neighbourly soul-mates makes practical and strategic sense to the benefit of our economic, social and cultural well-being. Some of these benefits have been lost or eroded through the UK joining the European Union – and yet anyone saying a political party that advocated pooling sovereignty with EU nations was somehow anti-British or even anti-Scottish would be thought of as extreme and beyond the pale.

Indeed the fact that the SNP policy is for an independent Scotland to join the EU shows that it understands the benefits of sharing risks and opportunities with other countries, which is why its refusal to accept that there cannot be any benefits from being within the United Kingdom is dogmatic and partisan.

Just as the First Minister sought to assure the majority of Scots who did not vote for him or his party that the SNP has no monopoly of wisdom, so too is it not the only party that can speak for Scotland’s interests.