Leaders: Scots reveal a preference for a rather British settlement
BAD news for the bravehearts, good news, up to a point, for Alex Salmond. That, in a nutshell, is the conclusion to be drawn from the YouGov poll we publish today, which gives an up-to-date shapshot of the Scottish electorate’s view of the constutitional debate which has dominated politics north of the Border since the SNP won its unprecedented Holyrood majority last May.
The poll reveals that Scots want greater control over their own destiny, while their support for institutions which are the bedrock of Britain – the monarchy, the BBC, the pound, the armed forces and even the UK having an Olympic team – has increased over the past five years.
Yet at the same time, the survey, which YouGov president Peter Kellner will cite to MPs at Westminster today, shows that Scottish residents are growing increasingly enthusiastic about Holyrood running its own financial affairs, under a system of “fiscal autonomy”, which is favoured over public services being funded by a grant from Westminster.
There will be some, including right-wing Conservative MPs, who see these findings as perfidious Caledonia wishing to have her constitutional cake and eat it: taking substantial powers to themselves over all taxation, while at the same time retaining what might be called the best of British; those things which Scots recognise as the legacy of more than three centuries of Union.
Such a view would be wrong, for the poll clearly asks voters north of the Border about “devo-max”, the system under which Scotland would have control of all taxes, including from North Sea oil, but which would mean Scotland would have to stand on her own two feet financially, without subsidy from the rest of the UK – something the SNP maintains would make us wealthier, though others take a contrary view.
For Mr Salmond the poll will be a welcome confirmation of his careful gradualist strategy of working towards greater autonomy for Scotland, which will, as he has often said, retain the benefits of what the First Minister has described as the “social union” which has at its heart the symbolic presence of the monarchy.
We can be sure that the well- resourced SNP party machine has been doing its own polling and consulting focus groups which will have delivered very similar results, showing Scots do not want the kind of independence the remaining fundamentalists, inside and outside the nationalist movement, dream about, which is why senior SNP strategists have talked of Scotland remaining one of the “British nations”.
However, this poll also poses questions for Mr Salmond. If, as it appears to be, it is the settled will of Scottish people to retain the pound (for good reason rejecting the euro), the armed forces, UK diplomatic representation and a British broadcaster, even Mr Salmond would be hard-pressed to describe a constitutional settlement along those lines as independence.
Cable shows a loss of vision on RBS
There is much in the letter Business Secretary Vince Cable sent to the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister which makes sense. Mr Cable argues that the coalition lacks a compelling vision beyond deficit reduction, laments piecemeal policy initiatives and calls for better support for “trade services” like law, accountancy, architecture and education. So far, so reasonable.
However, what was most striking about the leaked letter is the call for the government to admit that Royal Bank of Scotland “will not return to the market in its current shape” and for it to be turned into what Mr Cable calls a “British Business Bank with a clean balance sheet and a mandate to expand lending rapidly to sound business”. He adds that such an institution would “support our other industrial objectives, such as supporting exports and sectors identified as of strategic importance”.
Mr Cable refused to elaborate much on this last night beyond saying ministers wanted to give better financial support for small and medium-sized enterprises, so we are left to speculate on the details. While he is right in identifying the problem of a lack of loans to business, it is hard to see how running RBS like a fully nationalised state-run bank would help.
While business should be supported, Mr Cable appears to have lost which he might call the compelling vision of what ministers should be doing with RBS. Put simply, the government’s central task must be to turn it back into a private business and to get back, or hopefully even make a profit on, the £45 billion of taxpayers’ money which had to be pumped into it.
A bridge by any other name
With breathtaking bureaucratic dullness it was to be called the Forth Replacement Crossing, but after an outcry over this failure of imagination ministers changed their minds. Scotland’s new bridge was to have a proper name after all. Yesterday, SNP transport minister Keith Brown announced the people would have a vote – sooner than that other referendum – after a short list is drawn up by an expert panel.
Mr Brown implored the people of Scotland to come up with ideas and our readers on the scotsman.com website were quick to come up with a large number of (mostly) helpful suggestions like the Third Forth Bridge or the Fifth Forth Bridge, as there are two crossings upstream. More tongue in cheek came the Back & Forth Bridge, the Made in China Bridge, Salmond’s Leap or, reflecting the times, the Freedom Bridge. We wondered about the L-ife Bridge, as it links the Lothians and Fife. Perhaps it could be sponsored: the Nike or the Rebok Bridge anyone?
So far no-one has offered the Queen Elizabeth I and II Jubilee Bridge, but that has to be an option even if we are independent, as the the monarchy will remain of course. More serious suggestions include St Margaret’s Bridge, the Kingdom Bridge and the simple and geographically accurate, Queensferry Bridge. Maybe simplicity is best.