Scottish special 2: Manoeuvres ahead of the Scottish independence referendum

Isobel Lindsay suggests that developments in Scotland could open up unforeseen opportunities for Wales

In the next few years Scotland can offer some real opportunities to Wales if it chooses to take them up. The worse thing for Wales would be if there is a No vote in the Scottish referendum on independence in autumn 2014. The metropolitan political system would breathe a collective sigh of relief. It would be business as usual, and the Celtic periphery could be put on the back burner.

On the other hand, a Yes vote would open up all manner of opportunities for Wales. The Barnett mechanism for determining the block grant would go and a new funding formula would have to be found. There would probably be an enhanced desire by England to keep Wales and Northern Ireland within the fold, with an increased willingness to make concessions. The Welsh bargaining position would be stronger as it will be in any case in the next two years leading up to the referendum.

Wales and the Changing Union

This article is an edited extract from a presentation Isobel Lindsay gave to the Wales and the Changing Union conference organised by the IWA together with the Wales Governance Centre and Cymru Yfory/Tomorrow’s Wales at the end of March. A full report on the conference can be downloaded here

However, a bargaining position is only of any use if you know what your position is. Wales could lose the opportunities being presented to it if it is not clear about what it wants.

In Scotland the opposition parties have refused the offer of a second question in the independence referendum, which I think is tactically bad from their perspective. If there was a second question on the ballot paper, the prospects for a high independence vote would diminish.

What Salmond has successfully done is to manoeuvre his opponents into saying that the choice in this referendum is between independence or the union with nothing in between. This gambles on the assumption that the Yes has no chance of winning.

However, a Yes vote in the referendum is possible, though undoubtedly difficult to achieve. At the moment the Yes camp is scoring between 35-40 per cent in the polls. There are a lot of ‘Don’t Knows, especially among women. So there is a long way to go.

Certainly, the Yes side is in a stronger position in terms of putting a campaign together. It is unified and has access through the SNP Government to the skills of a Constitution Unit able to produce high quality factual material especially in terms of the economic benefits that would accrue to an independent Scotland.

The Yes side will also have a more powerful team to campaign on the ground and it has plenty of money. The SNP was left £1 million by the poet Edwin Morgan specifically to spend on an independence campaign and more recently has been given a further £1 million from a couple (SNP members) who won £168 million in the Euro lottery.

In contrast the No side has much greater difficulty in putting together a coherent campaign, linking together the three unionist parties and the CBI. The trade unions are clearly unenthusiastic at the prospect of working with a No campaign. No substantial  leadership figures have yet to emerge.

On the themes of the campaign it looks as though:

  • The Yes side will emphasise Values and Opportunities.
  • The No side the security of being within a larger unit and fear of change.

The Yes side has the advantage that there is evidence, in terms of values, of a policy gulf opening upwith England over such issues as:

  • No university fees in Scotland and commitment to comprehensive education within local authorities.
  • Free personal care for the elderly.
  • No marketisation of the NHS in Scotland.
  • Scotland retaining the water industry within public control.
  • Rejection of PFI in Scotland for funding capital projects.

In these policy areas Scotland is maintaining a social democratic approach and establishing positions that are moving further and further away from those in England. These growing policy gaps reflect a very real difference in values between the Governments of the two countries, including when Labour was in power at Westminster.

Of course, from an SNP point of view a major factor is that only indendence will deliver nuclear disarmament for the UK. It could happen within the first year of independence since Scotland could follow New Zealand in prohibiting nuclear warheads in Scottish waters or land.

The implications do not seem to have been fully taken on board by policy-makers in London. All UK nuclear capacity is based at Faslane-Coulport and there are no other suitable sites.  Even if a greenfield site was found, it would take many years and many billions to create the substantial infrastructure required.

So, on the yes side there will be essentially two moral themes built around the values of strengthening Scotland’s identity as a social democratic society and insisting that the country becomes nuclear free and does not participate in foreign wars unless this has been the decision of the Scottish Parliament. These are red line issues.

It won’t be easy and compromisies will have to made. The SNP has already compromised on the monarchy, acceding that the Queen will remain Head of State in an independent Scotland. There will also be a ready willingness to co-operate across the British Isles, with one option being to strengthen the already existing Council of the Isles in which Scotland would join theRepublic of Ireland as an independent member state.

Alex Salmond has also said he would keep the pound sterling as Scotland’s currency following independence with a longer-term option remaining of joining the Euro if the situation in the Euro-zone stabilises. If the Bank of England was retained as a central bank, this would of course have implications for monetary policy.

The outcome of the referendum will depend to a great extent on whether the Scottish Government can generate confidence on the economy.  A lotof work has been undertaken on Scotland’s future economic strategy, focusing on:

  • Scotland’s resource base – oil (on tap for another 30 to 40 years with the prospect of building up a modest sovereign wealth fund for Scotland), a very high ratio of land to population, and good fresh and sea water resources.
  • Large-scale investment in renewable energy.
  • Substantial higher education resources.
  • Good export opportunities.

Of course, all kinds of events and problems can crop up which could derail the campaign. Nevertheless, the Scottish Government is banking on the creation of a ‘feel-good’ factor influencing the outcome, with the Commonwealth Games taking place in Glasgow just ahead of the referendum, with a wide range of associated cultural events. The autumn 2014 date has been carefully selected.

Meanwhile, the position of the unionist parties should be challenged:

  • Most Scottish Labour MPs at Westminster are against any more powers for the Scottish Parliament, regarding what has already been devolved as too much of a threat to their status.
  • The Conservatives don’t appear to be interested or engaged.
  • As for the Liberal Democrats, it may be that their Scottish and Welsh components are committed to federalism, but there is no coherent line being put forward on federalism by their leadership in England. They are willing to go along with devolution for Wales and Scotland, but are unwilling to address the issue so far as England is concerned.

Isobel Lindsay is a member of the Scottish Independence Convention.

Comments are closed.

Also within Politics and Policy