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The West Lothian Question

Almost a month has passed since Scotland voted for, and declined, independence. What have we learned, other than Alex Salmond is a poor loser and Call-Me-Dave thinks it is cool to brag about hobnobbing with the Queen (no it isn't, you prat, you're the PM, it is something you are expected to do as a part of your job!).

Well, let's look at it from the English perspective. HAHA - FAIL! LOSERS!

Now let's try it from the Scottish perspective. While we think the vote boiled down to a simple "Yes" or "No", as it turns out, Westminster panicked and made a number of promises to the Scottish people. This might have been instrumental in delivering a "crushing defeat" to the SNP and the cause of independence, but the funny thing is, at the same time, the goalposts moved. The choice became a choice between "Something not far from Devo-Max" and "Yes".
I said years ago that I felt that the best near-term option was Devo-Max which would permit Scotland a greater autonomy while not going through the tumultuous process of making a complete split. It may well be that Scotland could ditch the rest of the UK and go on its merry way, however the transition period would be messy and painful.
Anyway, it is somewhat deceptive of the "Better Together" campaign to claim a victory for "No" after changing the option and what it meant at the last minute.

Unfortunately for Westminster, this was a letter from all three parties and put into the Scottish newspaper. It is entirely possible that Westminster could welch on the promises, but this would be spectacularly stupid as in this day and age it would pretty much hand the victory to the SNP with seven words: remind us what you promised last time. All the SNP needs to do, if the promises are not upheld, is to base their entire campaign around repeating those seven words over and over.
England, of course, has shed its "Better Together" act and now wants a "Better deal for England", stating that The West Lothian Question must be answered. Gordon Brown, it should be noted, signed a petition stating that the promises should be kept without conditions being added afterwards, which is a worthy point, however the West Lothian Question will continue to haunt, so let's look at it.

For those not up on politics, the West Lothian Question asks whether or not MPs that are not English (namely: Welsh, Scottish, and Northern Irish) should be permitted to vote on matters that pertain only to England.
From the point of view of Scotland, at least, the correct response is simple. No. An English MP does not have the opportunity to vote in Holyrood on Scottish-only affairs, so why should a Scottish MP be permitted to vote on English-only affairs? If a vote can be demonstrated to not affect anything other than England, then English MPs should be the only MPs permitted to vote on it. I don't know why this has been causing trouble since 1977.

There are, however, three important issues that must be considered to make it work and prevent abuse:

  • Firstly, the outcome of any such vote is irrelevant to the other parts of the UK. If England decides to apply 15% tax on the basic state pension then this fact cannot be used as either argument or precedent if the same question arises in other parts of the UK; nor can it be used to strongarm a similar vote or legislation in other parts of the UK. Pertains to England means exactly that.
  • Secondly, a non-English MP shall be permitted to vote on English-only matters if he maintains a constituency within England. "English" is defined by politics, not birthplace.
  • Finally, the Prime Minister (and the Prime Minister alone) should be permitted to participate in any vote in any part of the UK. The SNP may be the party in power in Scotland, what is it, Nicola Sturgeon now? (what's with all the fish names?) However Call-Me-Dave is the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. This is a courtesy of politeness.
There. Problem solved. Why the hell have successive governments struggled with this for 37 years including dumb ideas like giving places (i.e. Scotland) greater ability to vote on things that don't pertain to them in return for reduced representation in general. Say what?

 

Now let's turn our attention to Mr. Salmond. Having been a few weeks since the referendum, he's probably had enough time to get over it and realise that he was a bit of a wally. Okay, granted, the current situation is not where he wanted to be, however the alternative way to look at this is to realise that ultimately it became a win-win situation for Scotland. Either the SNP would secure the beginnings of the road to becoming a proper country in its own right, or they would garner more powers to self-govern. The SNP itself saw its membership rise from 25k to 75k members, making it now the third largest political party in the UK (which given Scotland's population - approximately half that of Greater London alone - shows both how engaged the Scottish are becoming and how apathetic the English are...). Through all of this, the political activism hasn't died down. My Scottish friend still feels that the next independent country in Europe will be his own. That's a pretty bold statement, but gives you a feel for how the No result hasn't deflated the Yes campaign.
All of this said, Mr. Salmond can take heart also from two additional things. Back in 2010 I used to listen to podcasts of The World Tonight so I know that an independence referendum was a joke, a dumb idea, and wasn't going to have any legal weight whatsoever. A mere four years later, a binding and legitimate referendum was held. Not only that, but voter turnout was 84.59% - a phenomenal turnout, the highest since the UK General Election of 1910! To compare and contrast, the referendum for Welsh devolution in 1997 had a turnout of only 50.1% (where Yes won by a margin of ~6700 people, or 50.3% vs 49.7%).
In short, the SNP under the leadership of Mr. Salmond, gave Scotland the vote that they promised, and quite likely secured a better situation of self-governance. It's a smaller step, but it is a step in the right direction.

 

What now?

The SNP will need to realise that the ideas, the Plan Bs, the concepts, were all a bit wishy-washy. Every side accuses the other of lying, that's how modern politics works, but when you got down to it, the SNP's message was "An independent Scotland will be great! vote YES and....stuff will happen. We don't know what, really, but something. We think. We hope.".
These days, people are concerned for the economy. They are concerned for their jobs. They are concerned about feeding their family, keeping their home, having reasonable healthcare, and having an education available to their children. The SNP's campaign did not really answer any of this.
We don't want to see Mr. Salmond on TV listing his currency options in order of preference while Mr. Darling throws a wobbly. It was great TV but it sucked as a serious political debate. We want to know what currency will be used (and how it will work), we want to know Scotland's position in Europe, we want to know what will happen regarding border controls - will Scotland form its own army? What about security agencies? How readily will Scotland be willing to "take it like a man" (or perhaps "take it like the British"?) from the Americans? How would the change affect banking? The country's credit rating? International relations?
These questions need to be answered clearly prior to a vote, the questions already having been asked and the legwork and discussions held previously. That approximately 45% of the population would have said "Yes" with no definitive answers really ought to set alarm bells ringing all across London. How badly do they think of you, Westmister, that negativity from you and Europe and a wilderness to walk is their preferred option?

In response, as far as I can figure it out:

  • What currency will be used? Nobody knew what currency Scotland would use. Salmond said Sterling with the UK, Darling said "like hell you will". It is reprehensible that this had not been discussed and arranged as an "if the vote is Yes then..." option beforehand.
  • Scotland's position in Europe? Nobody but nobody could say anything whatsoever concrete regarding Scotland's position in Europe. We run the gamut of responses from "nothing will change, Scotland is already an EU member" to "this change will require both Scotland and the rest of the UK to reapply for membership" (at which point I reckon every UKIP member would wet themselves with excitement). Spain and Spain's leadership of the EU at that point in time threw around plenty of ominous warnings, but given the Catalonia situation, it is quite clear that Spain is thinking of the potential breakup of Spain and could give a flying you-know-what about Scotland's destiny.
  • Border controls? At this time, it appears as if Scotland would adopt UK-style checks and controls. Of course, if it should later decide to join the Schengen Area (freedom of movement without border controls or passport checks - most of mainland Europe is this) then I can see the UK absolutely freaking out. All those nasty skanky immigrants can pile into Scotland with no oversight whatsoever (as that would be a border control) and then walk across any part of the border into England where they will get free housing, free medical care, and an education for their eighteen children who don't speak a word of English - all things denied to native born English people. Ahem, spot the Daily Mail influences there. Actually, the failure of the UK to do much about illegal immigration is more a fault of the UK than of the EU, but you won't hear people like Nigel Farage quoting the actual EU legislation, other than cherry-picking the juicy bits to quote out of context. Anyway, I can sort of picture the English/Scottish border being like the American/Mexican border, with gatehouses and barbed wire fences and heavily armed plods.
  • Military? While debating on TV about the potential loss of the nuclear submarines and what that would mean to the Scottish dockers/workers, it seems to me that Mr. Salmond missed one hell of an opportunity. Let's face it, unless there are conditions of war, it is unlikely that the Royal Navy and British Army would concern themselves with Scotland's safety any more than is necessary to assure the relative safety of England. For this reason, Scotland will need to form its own defence force. They could take a pacifist approach and model themselves on Japan's JSDF and create a military designed to defend rather than attack, or they could try to organise a full operative army. Either way, military power of any kind requires machines, and machines require mechanics. The people looking after the nuke subs could be retrained in how to look after the apparatus of Scotland's army. Okay, it isn't the same job, but Scotland was pretty determined that as an indepedent state, it would be non-nuclear.
  • What about spooks? The SNPs thoughts about security agencies is, sadly, startlingly naive. Yes, you need spooks. You need spooks to do spook stuff. Go watch the first series of "24" and then watch the first series of "Homeland" and then read the documents released by Edward Snowden. There's your answer, and note that that is just the crap that America gets up to. Just as any unprotected connected computer is a sitting target for attackers, a country with money and status and pitiful intel-ops would be a lucrative target. You need spooks.
  • Compliancy with willingly getting reamed by the Yanks? I trust an independent Scotland would tell TTIP/TAFTA exactly which orifice it can insert itself into.
  • How would it affect banking? Nobody knows.
  • Credit rating? Nobody knows (but do people still listen to the likes of S&P these days?)
  • International relations? Spain would be pissed, that's pretty much a given. Norway figured that an independent Scotland could be....difficult. Of course, because if Scotland gets kicked out of the EU, they can gleefully give a middle finger to EU fishing quotas. More seriously, an oil-rich nation who is a fringe member of the EU at best perhaps ought to understand Scotland's position better than, say, Spain. So, go figure.
People need concrete answers to these sorts of questions. Independence and waving the flag of Scotland is a nice dream, but the reality is something a lot messier (dreams always are nicer than reality). So the way forward is to be able to provide solid answers.

 

Something the SNP must do right away

A law needs to be passed that if the UK should alter its world standing (for example, changing their EU membership), this would trigger an independence referendum in Scotland within one calendar week (I wanted to write "the next day" but that is not practicable). The UK dropping out of the EU would be utter madness. Scotland, at least, should reserve itself the right to choose to go along for the ride, or to say "that's it, next stop I'm outta here". Scotland perhaps cannot save the English from themselves, but Scotland can at least try to save itself from the English.

 

Fascinating fact - Scotland's official national animal is the Unicorn.

 

 

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