Kenny Farquharson: Denying English what Scots want

NICOLA Sturgeon’s decision to let SNP MPs vote at Westminster on the future of English schools and hospitals is challenged by Kenny Farquharson

While Scots Nats identify with other independence movements, such as Catalans, our closest neighbours are denied the same. Picture: Getty
While Scots Nats identify with other independence movements, such as Catalans, our closest neighbours are denied the same. Picture: Getty

Self-determination. Home rule. The claim of right. You’d have thought Scottish Nationalists would be keen on this kind of thing. Enthusiastic, even. The independence referendum was full of this noble, stirring rhetoric. Self-determination was an inalienable right – almost a state of grace. It was the birthright of any self-respecting nation.

Scottish Nationalists wanted this not just for their own country but for all the other sub-state nations of the world. There was a sense of solidarity and fellow feeling with the Catalans, the Québécois, the Welsh.

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But not, it now seems clear, the English.

David Cameron at an English hospital, whose future can be hit by SNP MPs. Picture: Getty

Nicola Sturgeon has taken the bold step of allowing SNP MPs to vote on English health and education at Westminster – even though in Scotland these issues are fully devolved to MSPs at Holyrood.

So her Scottish MPs will vote on how English schools are run, even though English MPs cannot vote on how Scottish schools are run.

Ms Sturgeon says this is justified because changes to English health and education spending could have a knock-on effect on the amount of cash the Scottish Government is given by the Treasury, through the Barnett Formula.

This is technically correct, and when she first announced this policy I could see its logic. And yet I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s morally flawed. It simply does not stand up to scrutiny as the right thing to do.

The problem is simply put. In the SNP’s world view there are rights we demand for ourselves, while we deny them to others.

Think back to pre-devolution days, to the time ministers from a party rejected by Scots at the ballot box had the final say on Scottish health, education, justice, agriculture, culture and the environment.

We called this the democratic deficit. And after much blood, sweat and tears – the blood was thankfully metaphorical – we achieved a famous victory and won control of these things for ourselves.

And yet we are now apparently happy to impose the same kind of democratic deficit on our neighbours. A majority of English people may not be able to make the changes they want to schools and hospitals, because the leader of the SNP says so. She will be stopping them from exercising their right to self-determination.

And why? Because Ms Sturgeon thinks our right to wring every possible penny from the London Treasury trumps England’s right to self-government. The desire of the English to run their own affairs is somehow less legitimate, less noble, than our own wish for self-government.

I find this distasteful. It upsets me. And what I find particularly dispiriting is that many Nationalists reading this column will be genuinely puzzled at my reaction. They will see no dilemma here, no moral quandary to be wrestled with.

What they will see is a simplistic question of what is in the Scottish interest, and what isn’t. Black and white. Good for Scotland, bad for Scotland. Even if it means trampling on the rights of another nation.

Is this honourable? Is this the way a decent society should treat its closest neighbours?

I suggest it isn’t. I suggest it’s a mercenary stance that should shame us. It’s unworthy of us, and unworthy of the Scottish National Party.

Guys, you’re better than this.

Not for the first time, the SNP has opted for a reductive interpretation of nationalism, with no thought to unintended consequences.

I’ve written previously about how an inability to think strategically about Scotland’s place in the UK has led the SNP to misidentify what is in the Scottish interest, and put Scotland at a disadvantage as a result.

Well, this is another example. It can only increase English anger at Scotland and the Scots, with damage to the social union between our two peoples.

There will be more missteps unless Ms Sturgeon comes up with a coherent 21st-century philosophy of Scottish Nationalism within the UK. A more generous-spirited nationalism, more closely aligned with the communitarian values at the heart of the Yes campaign.

The moral logic of the SNP position is flimsy, to say the least. Yes, respecting England’s right to self-determination might mean Scotland getting marginally less money. But if cash is king, and we are determined to maximise the amount we have to spend on Scottish public services at all costs, then why not copy Ukip and slash spending on international aid?

The answer is that the aid budget says something about our values as a country, our decency as a society, our respect for others in the community of nations. We are more than a balance sheet.

And yet those values, that decency, that respect seem to be absent in the SNP’s attitude to the multinational union that shares these islands. The party pays lip service to the notion of social union. But its actions say otherwise. The party has no coherent sense of England, Wales and Northern Ireland as our siblings within a union of nations. It is less a case of moral relativism as moral blindness.

The SNP is riding a wave of public support the likes of which have never been seen in these islands in modern times.

It is an extraordinary change, with enormous power to shape both Scotland and the wider UK. It comes as that UK is already moving to a more federal form of government.

Which is why we have to be careful about some of the unexamined assumptions of this all-conquering SNP movement. A nationalism with its eyes fixed on independence is very different from a nationalism that seeks to promote and defend Scotland’s position within a UK that works.

For good or ill, Scotland voted to stay in the UK. We may be here for a while. It might be a good idea to think about how we make this relationship work.