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.