So they’re under starter’s orders!
For three Party Leaders it will get personal, and will certainly be career-defining.
For the United Kingdom it will shape the Union for lifetimes to come.
For Scotland it will ask just as many questions as it answers.
Yes dear readers; it’s The Referendum!
Cameron will fight for the preservation of the Union; yet a Scot-free UK will virtually guarantee the election of a Conservative Government, given the dependence on Scotland of the Labour Party for a decent showing at Westminster.
Milliband has a chance to shine; to display some mature statesmanship, which, given his appalling poll ratings could just be the saving of him. It will be fascinating to watch two mortal enemies in bed together when just six months after the Referendum they will be slugging it out in a General Election.
And then there is Mr Salmond. Playing a blinder so far. But then, given the paucity of domestic political talent north of the border, that has not been the most difficult thing in the World.
He has got away with insisting on choosing The Date by saying that any input from the democratically-elected Government which represents a country of which Scotland is part is “arrogant English interference” when really he wants to hold it when he feels Scottish Nationalistic fervour will be at its highest (the 700th anniversary of a rare victory by some Scottish Scots over some English Scots plus the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow plus exploitation of anti-Westminster sentiment after three more years of cuts and taxes will, he hopes, do the trick).
He knows that the election of a Scottish Nationalist Government in Scotland in 2010 was not a vote for independence but a sign of huge dissatisfaction with Labour and the Liberals. He knows he would lose a straight yes/no referendum in the next year or so.
Cutting through Alex Salmond’s “hard-done-by cheeky chappie” demeanour, I would welcome from him some clear answers to some serious issues. The people of Scotland (let alone the citizens of Wales or England or Northern Ireland) are entitled to these in short order; the SNP cause has been low on detail and high on soaring “poor little us being bullied by big nasty London” rhetoric.
So, Mr Salmond:
1. Given Scottish secession will dramatically affect every person in the UK shouldn’t all those in the entire United Kingdom over 18 and registered to vote be able to do so? Mr Salmond need not fear this; polling shows that a majority of the English want Scottish independence too!
2. What constitutes a Scottish person entitled to vote? A resident there? For how long? Will permanent residence be required or will a Sir Sean Connery-like holiday home suffice? Would the UK’s former Prime Minister and Chancellor have been entitled to vote when Messrs Brown and Darling were clearly resident in London and (along with many others) had turned their backs on Scotland to further their careers “down South”. (Note to Douglas Alexander: watch the reply to that one carefully!)
3. There are just over five million inhabitants of Scotland. (There are more people living in the West Midlands incidentally). So would they start an independent life with five sixtieths of the UK deficit? Given that the one word that the two banks which nearly brought our Country to its knees have in common is “Scotland” I think this is the least they could do. Alex Salmond actually wrote to Sir Fred Goodwin and congratulated him on the disastrous acquisition of ABN Amro! It was an open secret in the City that the new Chairman of RBS after Sir George Mathieson’s retirement had to be Scottish come what may.
4. Independence would presumably mean exactly that. No more cash from England. Presumably “devolution-max” (or “independence light”: not full independence but full taxing and spending powers leaving all the other expensive and tricky stuff to Westminster) would also mean that there would be an end to Scotland being able to spend money not earned in Scotland.
5. What gives Mr Salmond the right to say that an independent Scotland would still have the Queen as its Head of State? What if she (or other countries in the Union) doesn’t want to be? Ireland isn’t part of the Commonwealth. Scotland is assuming they can have independence on their terms.
6. Ditto the retention of sterling. Why should the SNP assume a fully independent Scotland could continue to use the currency of the rest of the UK? And if they do, presumably someone has told them that their interest rates and any quantitive easing programme would be set (as to timing and quantum) by the Bank of England in … er … London to suit the then smaller UK not Scotland. That’s what you get if you sign up to another (and larger) country’s currency; just ask Greece!
7. Given that the vast majority of Scottish goods for export will need to use England’s roads to get to the major ports and market, presumably road tolls will have to be introduced in England to ensure that the independent Scots pay their fair share of the cost of using England’s road network.
8. Scotland will lose its permanent seat on the UN Security Council and have the voting power in other World bodies, and also round the table in Brussels, of Denmark or Hungary. I presume Mr Salmond has told the people of Scotland this.
9. In 1977 the then Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Joel Barnett, came up with a formula to ensure that the per capita spend by central Government in London on Scotland was (and still is) automatically always greater than the maximum any part of England receives. In return, the Callaghan Administration secured the votes of two SNP MPs in the Commons and stayed in office for two more years. The Barnett Formula would presumably be abolished on independence and the income from diminishing oil fields and whisky would have to do the job in paying for a bloated public sector and welfare benefit give-aways currently denied to, but paid for by, England.
10. Lastly Mr Salmond, I presume there would be no going back. It would not be a politically indulgent experiment that, if it didn’t work out, could be reversed by a new administration in Scotland. The answer to “can we go back to how things were please?” would be “no” Mr Salmond.
The detail is so very important. High rhetoric should no longer suffice. Can we now have some answers to the questions which will affect all the people of the United Kingdom for ever? Then they can be asked what they think and reply from a view based on answers of fact not ideology. Supporting the grotesquely inaccurate “Braveheart” view of Scotland is no way upon which to base a decision that will affect us all tremendously.