A wealthier and fairer Scotland

John Osmond reports on Deputy First Minister Nicola Surgeon’s speech on Scottish independence in Cardiff yesterday

Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s Deputy First Minister, demonstrated once again in Cardiff yesterday why she is such an asset to her country’s independence campaign. Delivering the Welsh Governance Centre’s annual lecture in the Pierhead Building in Cardiff Bay she laid out a dispassionate, common sense line of reasoning that made you want to ask, “If this is so obvious, then why is anybody deciding to vote No in the referendum?”

Sturgeon’s great quality is that effortlessly she takes the argument beyond the nationalist discourse of ‘identity’ and ‘self determination’ to make you think about more immediate bread and butter choices concerning the economy, health, and social services.

Her pitch is simply to say that an independent Scotland would be fairer, more prosperous, and more democratic. It would be the fourteenth richest country in the OECD, compared with the UK’s eighteenth ranking. Indeed, Scotland is one of the top 20 most prosperous countries in the world. As Sturgeon said yesterday, “It’s not about whether we are wealthy enough to be independent. The great issue is why so many of our people do not share in the benefits.”

The question the Scottish Labour Party must be asking itself is why someone of Nicola Sturgeon’s background and instincts is not a leading figure in their party. I recall the first Secretary of State for Wales, Jim Griffiths, asking me the same question about the late Phil Williams, back in 1972. This is the answer Nicola Sturgeon herself gave in a lecture at Stirling University in 2012, quoted in an essential book for anyone wishing to understand what is happening in Scotland at the moment, David Torrance’s The Battle for Britain – Scotland and the Independence referendum:

“Down the years, many people have asked me why I ended up in the SNP and not the Labour Party. Why did a young girl, growing up in a working-class family in the west of Scotland – part of the country where in those days, they would joke that the Labour vote was weighed rather than counted; someone who was, just like Labour was in those days, anti-Trident and pro social justice and went on to work as a social justice lawyer in Drumchapel – why does that person end up in the SNP instead of Labour? The reason is simple. I joined the SNP because it was obvious to me then – as it still is today – that you cannot guarantee social justice unless you are in control of the delivery.”

Nicola Sturgeon was remarkably young at the time she reached this ‘obvious’ decision – aged just 16. But she was far sighted, if precocious politically. She told yesterday’s audience that she had joined CND even earlier, which was why her determination to rid Scotland of Trident was even more firmly embedded than her aspiration for independence though, of course, the latter would be the precursor of the former. Trident would have to go within the first term of the first government of an independent Scotland. That, she predicted, would be declared on 24 March 2016 which, as she pointed out, was exactly two year’s away from her speech yesterday.

In Wales the most pressing question is what Scottish independence might mean for us? As ever the question is framed first in terms of money. Yesterday Nicola Sturgeon was blunt and to the point. She acknowledged the accuracy of the Holtham Commission’s conclusion that under the present financial arrangements the Barnett formula hands Scotland about £4 billion a year more than it would receive if the amount were being calculated on the basis of need, while giving Wales about £300 million less.

As she put it, “Renegotiation of the Barnett formula after a No vote holds out real dangers for Scotland. I don’t want Scotland to have to lobby Westminster for fair shares of our own resources and I don’t want to be in a competition with Wales. Both would happen in the event of a No vote.”

On the other hand, she said, a Yes vote and an independent Scotland would present Wales with far better circumstances to negotiate its own new deal with the rest of the United Kingdom – that is to say, England. Certainly, she added, that would be better than Scotland and Wales arguing over the Barnett formula following a No vote on 18 September.

I’m not sure that anyone in Wales, barring a few far-sighted souls inside the Welsh Government’s constitution unit, have thought that far ahead. But if they haven’t they’d better start doing so. The gap in the opinion polls is closing, steadily if slowly. The latest ICM poll in Scotland on Sunday at the weekend put the No vote on 46 per cent (down three points on a month ago); the Yes vote was 39 per cent (up tw0); while the Don’t Knows were 15 per cent.

The trend in the polls is for Don’t Knows to move to Yes. Why otherwise would they still be Don’t Knows, given the fear campaign that has been waged by the No campaign for the last year? Other statistics from Sunday’s poll give you an idea of where the independence battle ground is being fought.

It’s the economy stupid. On this front the No side is still winning, but losing ground. On Sunday’s figures 43 per cent thought independence would be bad for the Scottish economy, 36 per cent thought it would be good, 6 per cent thought it would make no difference, and 13 per cent were Don’t Knows.

The other main question is over social justice and equality, which is where Nicola Sturgeon is coming from. Here she plainly has the decisive advantage.  The latest poll found 36 per cent saying there would be less inequality in an independent Scotland, 16 per cent more inequality, 30 per cent thinking it would make no difference, and 18 per cent Don’t Knows.

John Osmond is Editor of ClickconWales.

15 thoughts on “A wealthier and fairer Scotland

  1. Isn’t the real story in Scotland and Wales at the moment the lessons to be learnt from Ukraine. Here a vast number of people in a rather ill-defined territory of a rather poorly performing country have just voted en mass to join up with a rather more prosperous neighbour.

    What is to prevent a similar event occurring in Scotland after a ‘yes’ vote if the much vaunted economic or social benefits fail to materialise? And how should England react to such a public display of democratic self-determination?

    Achieving independence is but one one small step. Maintaining the integrity a new independent nation is the real journey.

  2. Nicola Sturgeon is an incredible politician – gutted I missed her speech.

    Points about not having social justice if you can’t control delivery – and nuclear weapons – hugely relevant in Wales.

    But most interesting point here is about Barnett…a yes vote could help break short term stalemate & give Wales fairer funding in the short term.

  3. Nicola Sturgeon’s vision of peace and harmony and a Barnett bonus for Wales after a Yes vote in Scotland was a clever way selling her proposition to her Cardiff audience. But the notion that Scotland’s departure would lead to better balanced relationships in these islands could just as easily turn out very differently, with England then making up well over the 90% of the rump state. It would need a psychologist to divine how traumatised power elites in London would react. Not always rationally is my guess. The loss of empire would be small beer compared with the loss of Scotland.

  4. Would this mean that Wales would even feel more reliant on England should we get better funding from the Barnett formula? We need to cut the apron strings and not be given more pocket money. Even if that money is magiced into existence by borrowing.

  5. I’m not sure that the loss of the British Empire wasn’t as traumatic as Scottish independence would be for the English. Many Welsh people, born a century ago, who spoke no or little English, described themselves as British only; it was clearly the spirit of the age. Rather like the Bretons and Corsicans who were far more enthusiastic about enlisting to fight for France when they couldn’t speak the national language! The 50% of France that turned up for de Gaulle’s Free French Army in London were from Ile de Sein, off Brittany and most had only rudimentary French. One of the tragedies for British and French unionists was how they destroyed the goodwill of those who didn’t speak the official language by advancing uniformity at all costs

    GTD is right that a Scottish vote for independence would fan the fires of English and Welsh separatism. The biggest boost for Welsh autonomy was of course Thatcher as support grew from 20% to 50%+ after her years in power and Welsh people increasingly adopted a Welsh only identity as opposed to British or British + Welsh. Maybe Kinnock helped too as the ridicule to which he was subjected by London media may have made some Welsh people feel that they weren’t welcome in the club they’d worked so hard to join.

    But I suppose the key question as Yvonne suggests is where does this all end or what process is acceptable to allow self-determination with a modicum of stability and order.

    My questions are :

    1. What % of the vote or the electorate has to support independence: 51%, 2/3? 51% of the electorate? A much higher percentage of Catalans (both electorate and actual votes) voted for the Spanish constitution in 1978 than for the additional autonomy of the Estatut in 2005. That constitution did not provide for self-determination. A constitution that does would be like saying “till things no longer work out for us” to your bride/bridegroom. Of course divorce is allowed but what sort of a wedding is one where you discuss divorce options?

    2. Reversibility or further change. Despite all the protests about the right to self-determination, I imagine that one of an independent Catalonia’s first measure would be to deny self-determination to say the Val d’Aran, just as Spain “denies” (not the right term) Catalonia’s free will. Can you vote to go back? Can your region then leave the newly created state?

    3. If the vote is no, how often can the exercise be repeated?. A vote is expensive, maybe we could just do it by mobile phone or via Facebook likes on an annual basis. If Quebec is anything to go on, referendum fatigue will soon set in. But flippancy aside, I think there is more room for direct democracy like in Switzerland even if some occasionally silly decisions, like not allowing qualified foreign workers in, are made

    4. Who gets to vote? The Catalans are keen on getting emigré Catalans to vote as this would solidify the majority for independence, but it is a sectarian measure. The poorer Catalonians (Spanish speakers) have a low turnout in what they see as “local” elections for a system where they are excluded and of course immigrants despite their contribution have no voice at all. As an expat Welshman I’d like to vote in any future independence referendum but I can see that some people think that is unfair.

    5. What happens with passports. Would all Catalans or Scots be issued Catalan and Scots passports only or could they have both? Russia was handing out passports in the Crimea long before they annexed it.

    6. Would it be possible to enter the EU after seceding from a member state. There is no precedent but it seems to me that admission will be neither immediate or in 30 years after Albania. A more pessimistic view is that any or all member state(s) with a potential secessionist reason will veto and it only takes one. Some say Spain but I think France would vote no on principle But even a fast-track process would be disruptive to say the least. However, given the majority jaundiced view towards Europe in the UK, leaving might even boost the independence vote, as most UK people are so anti euro they are happy thousands of extra pounds in interest on their mortgages rather than join the club

    and so the list of questions goes on…

    As someone with a strong but amateur interest in history and politics, I feel that most of the questions have not even begun to be addressed and as a Spanish resident, most of the noise from the Catalan nationalists revolves around “we’d be better off without the rest of Spain” with little discussion of the practicalities. These economic aspects are of course important but I think issues like passport, freedom of movement etc might help to focus the mind a bit more….

  6. The SNP are performing two tasks, getting rid of the Labour Party and freeing their country. The sames tasks must be undertaken in Wales so we too can live in a modern prosperous democracy.

  7. As a Scot I heard Nicola Sturgeon speak a few weeks ago in Dunblane. A truly inspiring woman and a very winning politician. The Press and TV would have you believe this is about money and the EU. However, it is about much much more and social justice is something Nicola Sturgeon talks about a lot. You hear Westminster politicians spouting lies and riddles on a daily basis. But when did you last hear ANY of them speak about social justice? They have no social conscience, because they are doing very well thanks. Here’s to a Scotland which will still be friends with the rest of the UK, when we have our self governance.

  8. If there is a better polititical double act in the UK than Nicola Sturgeon and Alec Salmond I certainly don’t know where it is. Why the positive YES campaign hasn’t destroyed the negative No campaign is beyond me. Given independence, Scotland will become the 14th richest Country in the world and at the same time it would be saying goodbye to the fourth most unequal state in the world. A “Double Whammy” by anyones standards. I do hope that the Yes vote will be the final nail in the British Empire’s coffin and we get our freedom by default!

    As far as new states are concerned I don’t see any great desire of those ex-members of the British Empire gagging at the bit to rejoin. Indeed, however bad they are now they are still a lot better off than when they were exploited by Britain.

  9. I lived for many years in Canada. Whenever Quebec appeared ready to separate Ottawa (i.e. the Canadian Parliament) rushed in to give many concessions in terms of jobs and money. Wales especially the Welsh Assembly lies down and says thank you for the scraps. Scotland is at least standing up for itself.

  10. Spot on Keith. Sadly, the British Nationalism of Labour is all-pervading, and Labour’s hegemony is comprehensive; note the Stephen Kinnock parachuting, in my home constituency of Aberafan, as an example of how Labour treat the electorate with utter contempt. Plaid Cymru, for whatever reason, don’t really challenge Labour’s attitude, and seem more interested in the sop of devolution than in political independence.

    But if you look across the European landscape you can visualise immense change in the years ahead. This is because so much is bubbling under the surface – not least in Catalunya, but also in areas like Veneto, where a recent survey showed 55% of residents in favour of independence from Italy. We are about to enter an epoch of constitutional and political change. The question remains as to how Wales will cope if it doesn’t grasp this spirit of change and renewal, above and beyond the tinkering of Silk and the machinations of the Bay.

  11. How many time should we allow democratic self-determination?

    The majority in Scotland may vote for independence. But, then again a smaller majority may, at a later date, wish to vote to leave this new independent Scotland for pastures anew. Similarly so with Wales. There cannot be a ‘country’ in Europe with a more fractured and dissolute society. Independence for Wales, yes. But how many ‘new countries’ will need to be created in order to satisfy the current population of Wales?

  12. What does Scotland share in common with Catalonia, The Basque Country and even the Crimea? They all believe they contribute more to their current National State than they receive in return. Wales was in that position in Lloyd George`s time but it no longer is. The Barnett formula is less generous to Wales than it is to Scotland but then again Wales does not have a large off shore oil industry.
    If Scotland becomes independent cushioned by its oil wealth it is possible that a new Barnett would give us more money but I share Geraint`s caution. Maybe it wont turn out that way.

  13. If Scotland votes Yes then what would be in it for a Westminster government that provided additional funding to Wales?

  14. Wales is a ‘dissolute society’? Really? I think I’m missing something. Where’s the party Yvonne? You bring the women, I’ll bring the gin.

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