Tomorrow I’ll be in Edinburgh to join the march and rally for Scottish independence, ending with the traditional speeches on Calton Hill after one o’clock. Last year’s march took place in bright sunshine and was cheerful, energetic and positive. This year, the weather forecast is cloudy, and that includes the opinion polls. These have not moved in the past 12 months, with a plurality of those intending to vote saying No, and about a third saying Yes. So why am I marching?
Firstly, because I was born into a nation without a state to run its own affairs or cure its own ills – economic and social. Ills there were and still are. My parent’s generation had to emigrate to survive as Scotland’s heavy industries collapsed from lack of investment and nationalisation of their management in far-off London. Even in the 1960s more than 100,000 people a year – mostly the young and skilled – had to leave to find work. Today, youth unemployment in Scotland, though marginally lower than the UK average, is back to an unacceptable 21.6 per cent.
The Unionist camp will reply: with devolution, Scotland can run its own internal affairs and still enjoy the benefits of collective solidarity with the rest of the UK. Could these be the same Unionists – Tories and Labour – who opposed devolution every step of the political way? Like the Labour back-benchers who sabotaged the 1979 devolution referendum with their bogus 40 per cent rule, leaving Scotland naked before Thatcher?
True, Scotland now has a modicum of devolution but every scrap of local democracy was conceded grudgingly in an attempt to thwart the SNP and delay genuine political autonomy. Nothing has changed in this regard. The big three Unionist parties are each offering vague promises of greater devolution of tax and economic powers if there is a No vote next September. But they pointedly refused to put Devo Max on the referendum ballot. Don’t they trust the Scottish people?
Of course they don’t, which is why we need to rid ourselves of being run from Westminster with its MPs who fiddle their expenses and its silly pantomime debates – debates made pointless because the Downing Street executive has seized all power and reduced the House of Commons to a talking shop. Even if you want more devolution rather than independence, the only way to get it is to vote Yes next September. This is the only thing that will get London’s attention.
I’ll also be marching tomorrow because I know, even with devolution, economic power is still concentrated in London – with disastrous effect. I listened to former Chancellor Alistair Darling on the radio this week telling us that an independent Scotland could not have bailed out RBS in 2009. Is this the same Alistair Darling (along with Gordon Brown) on whose watch RBS was allowed to fail because of lax regulation? It was the UK that imploded economically in 2009 under Labour and Westminster control – not Scotland. And Darling was chancellor when it happened.
I’ll be marching tomorrow to remind Scots that as an independent nation they could have responded to the financial crisis like tiny Iceland, which jailed its errant bankers, refused to use taxpayer’s cash to repay private investors (which is what Darling did when he “saved” the banks), and rebooted its economy successfully because it had control over its own economic destiny.
I’ll be marching because – trapped inside the UK – Scottish economic growth has been consistently below the UK average since the Second World War. As a result, we have been denied the correct taxation policy and interest rates needed to encourage local investment and entrepreneurship. Scotland requires freedom to set its own tax and interest rates Not to engage in a beggar-thy-neighbour race to the bottom against England, but to ensure fiscal and monetary policies fit domestic needs.
I’ll be marching because I’m fed up being told Scotland will fail on its own and needs the “insurance” of being part of the UK. Open your eyes: the traditional social democratic community beloved by Scots of all classes is being dismantled piece by piece in England by the Tory-Lib Dem coalition. The old UK welfare state – itself a result of mass pressure from below after Second World War – is a thing of the past.
The NHS in England is already semi-privatised. The introduction of student fees down south will marketise university education, splitting it between upper class finishing schools and working class polytechnics – the antithesis of Scotland’s egalitarian approach to education. The ideal of universal welfare benefits was destroyed by New Labour. But the worst spending cuts are pencilled in for after the 2015 UK general election: the only way for the next Westminster government to make the books balance is to savage what’s left of welfare entitlements. If you want to retain a social democratic community in Scotland then you had better march with me on Saturday.
I’ll also be marching to Calton Hill – rain, hail or shine – because I’m an internationalist and want Scotland to join the world. The Unionists argue that Scotland is more influential as part of the UK? Really? UK governments have isolated themselves inside the EU by their constant negativity yet have not had the courage to withdraw from membership. How is this influence? Besides, invading Iraq effectively destroyed Britain’s diplomatic credibility in the world.
Finally, I’ll be marching because I want Scotland to grow up and take responsibility for its own destiny. Do I have an answer to every last question about what might happen if Scotland becomes independent? Grow up: no one has. If you want a comfort blanket, hang on to London.
Except that, by the decade’s end, Westminster will have taken away that welfare comfort blanket entirely. Instead, you will be living in a dog-eat-dog Britain still dominated by rich London bankers. And mendacious Westminster politicians who give not a fig for Scotland except as voting fodder for Labour’s invisible back-bench MPs.