Independence a distraction

NO DOUBT the interesting debate on your letters page on the pros and cons of Scottish independence will continue, as the Scottish Government officially launches its referendum campaign this week.

It seems that everyone who questions the idea of independence provokes a furious reaction the following week – it is obviously an issue that some people feel very sensitive about.

Our recent council elections saw the SNP increase their share of the vote and – deservedly – leading a ruling coalition. This was no great surprise considering their overwhelming victory in last year’s Holyrood elections.

Yet opinion polls consistently show that support for the SNP far outstrips support for an independent Scotland. One SNP candidate in the Borders admitted he did not support independence – and was elected regardless.

Many people like the SNP for its broadly left-of-centre, moderate, progressive approach to social and economic policy. Since 2007 it has built up a reasonably competent reputation at Holyrood, but it has also played down the independence issue in election campaigns, so it is a poor argument to claim that its electoral success reflects a national yearning for independence.

When I moved to Scotland in 1987, independence seemed to make much more sense, not so much because of Mrs Thatcher and her poll tax, but because Scotland had no parliament to administer devolved powers, and the European Union was more of an economic community than a political entity.

Since then, Scotland has won its own parliament with extensive devolved powers, which will hopefully be expanded to include tax-raising, the so-called devo-max initiative which was set to be introduced before the referendum proposal pushed it aside.

The United Kingdom has, since the 1980s, handed over some of its independence to the European Union, where more and more binding decisions are decided by majority vote with the UK unable to exercise a veto. Europe has moved on and so has Scotland.

For Scotland to achieve genuine national independence now, it would need to leave the European Union and also set up its own currency, neither of which – sensibly – are proposed by the Scottish Government. Staying in the European Union would leave a Scotland with no more control over its own affairs than a devo-max Scotland would have.

“Independence in Europe” would most probably require Scotland to adopt the euro and accept interest rates tailored to suit the major powers. If Scotland keeps sterling, it will be tied to a monetary policy set by Westminster and the Bank of England.

As part of the United Kingdom, Scotland has influence in Westminster: in the last 15 years Scotland has contributed two prime ministers, two chancellors, a foreign secretary and a home secretary to the Westminster government. The kind of national independence being proposed by the Scottish Government will end this influence and reduce Scotland’s control over its own future, rather than increase it.

As we find ourselves in an increasingly globalised society, there is a sense that the SNP leadership is clinging to a policy of national independence because this has traditionally been its signature policy. What is being proposed this week is such a watered-down form of independence that it hardly seems more than a devo-max proposal with a few more saltire flags and ceremonial roles for those holding office in the Scottish Government.

It would be much more worthwhile and in the interests of the Scottish people if our representatives focused on individual independence – the freedom that comes from finding work, financial security and a good education, from having access to justice, vital public services, affordable housing and a fair distribution of wealth.

National independence might once have been the route to individual independence, but this is no longer the case for Scotland in the 21st century. The SNP is making a valuable contribution to Scottish politics in many ways, but its independence campaign is a dinosaur, and a distraction from the issues that really matter.

Tim Clancey

Princes Street, Innerleithen