Michael Kelly: Salmond mantra ignores reality

First Minister Alex Salmond. Picture: Jane Barlow
First Minister Alex Salmond. Picture: Jane Barlow
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ONLY a Walter Mitty would fail to realise that independence is a bad deal which should and will be rejected, writes Michael Kelly

The vision of independence as promulgated by the SNP is no longer an illusion. It has become a cult. The one core belief – that independence is a good thing – is held with such religious fervour that any facts which appear to challenge it are dismissed without analysis as simply wrong. Just as creationists scoff at the scientific evidence that the Earth is 4.5 billion years old and affirm that its true age to be 6,000 years, so the blinded advocates of separation reject any evidence which threatens their case.

Thus it is part of the catechism that the new state of Scotland will be provided with easy, unimpeded entry to the European Union. When the leader of one of the existing member states who will actually have a vote in the matter casts doubt on this, the SNP replies that he is wrong. New Scotland will also join a currency union with England and have a voice on the committee determining Scotland’s monetary and fiscal policies is another mantra. When the British Treasury and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who would have to agree to this, reject it, their view is ignored and the policy blithely advocated with renewed vigour. There is also the conflict between these two policies which is never addressed. Entry to the European Union demands sacrificing the pound to join the euro. And imagining Scotland will join Nato, but Nato will allow it to remove its base from Faslane, is an act of faith equivalent to transubstantiation.

The teaching is that Scotland will walk unimpeded into a new golden age when, freed from the dead hand of the United Kingdom, Scots will enjoy a prosperity, justice and peace, unprecedented and unequalled in the civilised world. It’s fantasy. And it continues. The latest absurdity was contained in the First Minister’s New Year message. A free Scotland, he tells us with a straight face, will become the best place in the world to raise a family. A referendum Yes will wave a magic wand over Drumchapel, where many children do not even own a toothbrush much less use fluoride toothpaste, and transform it into a Bearsden of full employment and wealth. It’s just sheer nonsense. There are already many places in Scotland which are ideal for raising happy families, while even the richest nations have failed to eliminate significant pockets of poverty and deprivation. They are all independent.

In place of facts the cult falls back on unsubstantiated belief, unbounded, unfounded hope and the charitable acceptance of unreasonable aspirations by its acolytes. Confusion is encouraged between these aspirations and the facts. Mike Russell was faced with a series of broken promises over education when class sizes were shown to be growing in Scotland’s primary schools, while teacher numbers across all schools continued to fall. Taken through his department’s own report page by page and table by table on Newsnight Scotland, the education secretary simply ignored his record of failure. Instead, he substituted the question he wanted: “If you are asking me if I would like things to be better, then the answer is, of course, ‘yes’.” This avoidance of the reality and its substitution by the good intentions of a wish list of undeliverable promises is the unstable ground on to which the SNP has been forced to fight the referendum after a year in which it has lost every policy argument.

Those persuaded that the better way forward is expressed by a No vote can respond by examining the record of the Scottish Government to see whether, on past performance, it could credibly claim to be fit to deliver any of the good things it guarantees will happen in an independent Scotland. Already its failures in education have been exposed. Worse, in a bleak independent review of the safety and quality of care for acute adult patients in NHS Lanarkshire, health secretary Alex Neil was forced to defend the failure of the SNP to maintain standards of health.

If the SNP cannot defend its top priorities of education where standards continue to fall and health where there have been deep cuts in nursing staff and a failure of A&E departments to meet waiting time targets, its overblown promises of a fairer, more prosperous Scotland cannot be credible.

Add to that the huge cuts to local councils that are causing charges to rise for services which have to be met by the poorest people; the disarray caused in the judicial system with court closures, police front counter closures and other reforms that are making it difficult for people, again especially the poorest, to access justice; their failure to meet their own climate change targets; their slashing of housing budget at a time when more homes and construction jobs are needed. There is exposed a catalogue of mismanagement which undermines any claims to making Scotland better.

The recent white paper on Scotland’s future had not one suggestion of any problems associated with the task of dismantling a successful Union, no mention of any downside that might have to be accepted as negotiations with outside parties – from powerful multinationals to foreign states – are conducted, no recognition that there might be short-term economic suffering to be endured until the new state finds it feet. It is hard to counter unshakeable belief. But the leaders of the SNP are not uneducated fanatics. They are intelligent, able people who are cynically preaching this faith-based approach to avoid further confrontation with unpleasant facts that undermine their case. The misinformation which began with Alex Salmond denying to Andrew Neil the truth over the legal advice he did not receive over Europe continues with every proclamation from the synod of ministers. None of their claims that utopian nirvana will follow the referendum can disguise the fact that this is a bad offer which should and will be rejected. There are not enough Walter Mittys outside the SNP to swing it their way.