A post appeared yesterday within Lords of the Blog, (yes, that’s with an ‘l’), a place where the fair Lords and Ladies of this Great Land can impart their wisdom to us plebs, written by Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale, better known as ‘Jack’ it spells out why ‘Lord Jack’ thinks we are Better Together™ and should say No Thanks™ to independence. I decided not to do a line-by-line dissection this time (there was little of substance to dissect) but two paragraphs gave me something to work with, so here goes. Enjoy!
So, Lord Jack, what, exactly, is Home Rule? Other than the resurrection of a term out of the dark ages of British politics? Home Rule sounds suspiciously like ‘jam tomorrow’ because it is not on the ballot paper this September and there are NO guarantees of further devolved powers coming to the Scottish parliament if we reject independence. I will accept that various people within various parties, your own included, have made noises about Devo Max but similarly, several people from various parties have talked about clawing back powers from Holyrood and even suggested shutting it down completely. Nobody has guaranteed either but why should the electorate believe the lovely promises (which aren’t actually promises) over the scare stories? After all, as you point out, Better Together and Co. have been pushing us to believe the scare stories for the past two years.
The meat of your argument is within the two paragraphs quoted below, with the rest being made up of words that fill the page rather than anything of substance. You wrote;
“We are healthier with better health services and the ban on smoking in public places. We are cleaner, using powers on the environment to boost recycling and generate more renewable energy. We are more just, using powers to deliver victim’s rights, and other changes in our courts. And devolution has encouraged a cultural renaissance and created a new National Theatre for Scotland. We have more jobs, more people, more connections, more quality schools and colleges, more confidence. And we have the power to attract major events to Scotland like the Commonwealth Games and the Ryder Cup. And to deliver them well.
We have transformed rural communities: abolishing feudalism and developing community ownership. And we have reversed Scotland’s historic population decline, building a more secure foundation for the future.”
This is it? This is the positive case for the Union?
Our ban on smoking in public places is a great thing and one shared in many places around the world. If the devolved parliament showed Westminster the way then that is admirable, but it is hardly a reason for not becoming independent. Ireland introduced a smoking ban before we did; are you suggesting they would be better off under Home Rule than they are under full independence? As to our health services; yes they are doing relatively well under devolution – thanks to the SNP reversing many of the changes brought about when you and your party were in government, both in Westminster and in Holyrood – but you well know that the budget available to run these services is dependent on Westminster spending and they are busy decimating the NHS south of the border so the Scottish budget will be similarly slashed. The future of the health services in Scotland looks bleak should we remain in this Union. But this is to completely ignore that while health services in Scotland are doing well, the health of Scottish people is not. Scotland has some of the lowest life expectancy figures of anywhere in the world. I mean anywhere; men in Iraq, Afghanistan, Mali, North Korea and many other war-torn and poverty stricken places can expect to live longer than men born and residing in parts of the western Central Belt of Scotland. Their health is not linked to the health services, but to poverty, lack of work, low pay, crime and poor welfare funding. I write this as a person who is part way through a degree (my second – neither of them honorary) in health sciences.
Green energy and recycling are not a benefit the UK has delivered through Scottish devolution; it is largely through agreements with the EU that these things have come to the fore and many, much more powerful, pieces of legislation could have been written into law (as it has by many of our European neighbours) but the UK governments have too many vested interests to allow this to go ‘too far’. I write this from the perspective of someone who has a degree in Environmental Studies.
Our justice system is not the worst in the world but they fail many, many people on a daily basis (though the serve society well enough I suppose) but our separate systems are not as a result of Home Rule but are enshrined in the Act of Union and have been steadily eroded since then. How long before a Westminster government ensures that Scot’s Law is virtually indistinguishable from English Law to the point where our separate system becomes no more? Remain in the Union and there are no guarantees that won’t happen. Again, I write not as the, man in the street, but as a former police officer who saw the injustices within our justice system on a daily basis.
If devolution has revived the Scottish cultural identity, imagine what independence could do for it!
More schools and universities? Maybe we do in strict physical numbers but how is this in relation to Home Rule, pray tell? Former polytechnical colleges now boast university statuses – this process started in the early 1990s under Thatcher and was continued under your party prior to devolution – but we have lost these colleges as colleges and they have not been replaced. In many areas schools have been closed and amalgamated to good and ill effect but there is nothing to suggest the standard of education has increased since devolution. We can be justly proud of saying that Scotland’s youth are among the best educated in Europe but that is a relative measurement and it could be that our standards are simply slipping less quickly than theirs and that is little to crow about. Our separate schooling system is, again, a legacy of the Act of Union and it too has had to resist moves to make it more and more like the English system. Again, I am not the ‘average man’ as I am the son of a secondary school teacher and am now a student at my third institution for higher education in Scotland, in an education process spanning twenty years (ok, maybe I am a slow learner…).
More jobs? More people? Our population has stagnated over the past century and the tiny increase in population in recent years does little to redress the 30,000 people aged between 18 and 30 who emigrate from Scotland, many to England, annually. And these are often our best and brightest, ones with ‘get up and go’ (see, they ‘got up and went’), the ones we really want to keep living and working in Scotland if the country is to flourish. There has been an increase in jobs in the past year or so (according to government figures – though we all know how they can be manipulated, don’t we?) but under your party’s government Scotland lost in the region of 100,000 manufacturing jobs and the jobs which people are now doing, and which count towards your ‘more jobs’ claim (though I note you don’t offer figures or sources for this claim, or any other you make) are as likely to be self-employed sole traders who are scraping a living rather than people in well-paid jobs in industry. It would be insulting to suggest that this simply shows Scotland’s entrepreneurial spirit because, while it does show that many people are unwilling to simply sit on the dole, many self-employed people would much rather be working for a good employer than facing the uncertainty of going it alone.
That could be a metaphor for the independence campaign, couldn’t it? Many in Scotland would indeed remain within the UK if only there was a good system of government in place that allowed us to life happy, healthy and worthwhile lives but seeing as successive Westminster governments, your party included, have failed to be ‘good’ many of us think going it alone is a far better option than sitting on the UK’s side-lines and becoming increasingly marginalised.
And what about the ‘more poverty’ that has also increased during the devolved years? 100,000 more people this year, bringing the number up to 820,000 people, are now considered to be in poverty in Scotland. Next you will be claiming that the growth in the number of food banks shows how well Devolution is working for Scotland! Except those figures belong to Westminster’s tally, not Holyrood’s.
If we had a fully devolved government, with full control over all taxation and welfare, then Home Rule could tackle our appalling poverty levels. But we don’t and there are NO plans for this to change. I know, I know, there are ‘promises’ of ‘further powers’ but there are NO concrete plans and NO guarantees. What we are guaranteed under Westminster is more poverty and deprivation, dressed up as ‘austerity measures’, whether the Tories or your party take power in Westminster in 2015. This Home Rule you witter on about might come into being in five, ten or twenty years’ time, so what are you proposing to do about the people in poverty right now?
Land reform in Scotland is proceeding at a glacial slow pace and it is nothing to be proud of to say we have got rid of feudalism in recent years – many nations, England included! – achieved that decades ago. Rural poverty is an appalling reality in Scotland and has been for centuries in this grand Union of ours. Little is being done about it now and little will be done while Westminster holds the purse strings.
As to the Ryder cup! Pffffft. If the home nation of golf cannot attract the best golfers in the world we would be doing something terribly wrong. In fact, we have been for decades. If Scotland, under devolution, is now starting to come out from under the Great British shadow and become visible on the world stage, just imagine how much more we could achieve by standing proudly on our own two feet and shouting ‘come and visit us!’.
An finally, you are wrong to say that “[t]he vote is about how we choose to be governed: Independence outside the UK or Home Rule inside the UK” because that is not the case. The vote is to determine if Scotland should fully govern its own affairs or fully abdicate powers and responsibility to Westminster who may or may not allow us limited control of some of those affairs. Our current state of devolution (or Home Rule as you like to call it) is precarious as it can be withdrawn by an act of Parliament at any time Westminster feels like doing so and there are NO plans or guarantees – though plenty of vague ‘promises’ – to change this state of affairs.
But Jack, I do believe you are a patriot and a democrat – your membership of the non-democratic House of Lords not withstanding – and that you truly believe you have Scotland’s best interests at heart; I just think you are misguided is all. I will give you the benefit of the doubt (though many others may not) and say that I don’t think you are simply spouting these views because you want to preserve your personal gravy train but I do think you are completely disconnected to the reality facing the people of Scotland within this Union of ours. I don’t think you are stupid Jack, but I do think you are ignorant and believe that you might well be wilfully ignorant.
Tell me Jack, if this was a situation where Scotland was already independent, would you be advocating that we joined the rUK in a political Union right here and now? What evidence would you use to support such a move? I don’t think you would Jack, I think you would say we Scots are better off on our own two feet, fighting our own corner and there is no benefit to us to join any closer to our larger and less socially inclined southern neighbour. And if that is the case, why on earth would you advocate remaining tied to the behemoth that is Westminster? Tell me Jack, why?
Please tell me that is not a case of ‘I’m all right, Jack’?