08 March 2009

Independence: more important now than ever

My patience is getting somewhat worn having to listen to Unionist politicians complaining that a global recession is not the time to talk about independence. The irony of them taking time - and whole debates - to explain why this is the case is apparently lost on them, but that irony has been a perverse aspect of Scottish politics since, well, 1707, so we'll leave that to one side.

There's also a further irony in some of the people saying there shouldn't be a referendum - which would be used to determine how and from where we're governed - have also suggested that there should be a General Election - which would be used to determine how and by whom we're governed.

Add to that the irony in maintaining the Calman Commission: if independence is off-limits during a time of economic crisis, why is it OK to spend time and money tinkering around the edges of the constitution?

Anyway, that's by the by. The fact is, it's more important to think about independence at a time of crisis as it makes us think about how Scotland could be reacting: I've always described independence as a toolkit of powers, and right now, we're trying to fix a major leak with nothing more than a screwdriver and a small scrap of sandpaper.

Think about it: what powers does John Swinney actually have? The power to set spending priorities from a fixed (and declining) budget. Business rates. Scottish Enterprise (not necessarily a byword in generating capital). The Income Tax varying power at a time when its use would blow a massive hole in the Budget. He can't borrow money - so that's major capital projects on ice - and while Labour keep saying he should use PFI, that would entail a massive reliance on private consortia, which would doubtless include banks if previous PFI projects are anything to go by - and they're too busy doling out pensions to disgraced former executives to pay for a bridge.

And when Labour say that Alex Salmond should appoint a Minister for Economic Recovery, two questions spring to mind: firstly, with the complete lack of meaningful powers available to the Scottish Government, what would he or she do? And secondly, would anyone in Scottish Labour care to tell me who Gordon Brown's Minister for Economic Recovery is?

Does he have one?

No?

Right, well appoint one first, then tell us how wonderful it is to have one in place.

And of course, there's that old chestnut about how an independent Scotland couldn't have saved the banks - and I thought we weren't supposed to be talking about independence, but Unionist politicians will make an exception for one-way traffic - but even those two much derided countries Iceland and Ireland have managed to take action to keep their banks going, while Alastair Darling's forced merger of HBOS and Lloyds TSB has succeeded only in dragging the latter down into the former's mess. Meanwhile, RBS has become a black hole into which millions of pounds of taxpayers money falls - though in fairness, it's difficult to see what else could be done here, but again, Iceland and Ireland managed to do similar things even in their economic state - Add to that the EU's assurance that help will be made available for Eurozone countries in trouble and you get a growing sign that independence isn't necessarily the barrier to economic recovery that Labour et al suggest.

Meanwhile, the grim financial signs show that the Union hasn't exactly insulated Scotland from trouble - nor did it protect Scotland from the dot.com bubble burst in the earlier part of this decade - while the £500million cut in the Scottish Budget isn't going to help much either, and the only ways around that under devolution are to raise Income Tax (which would really screw everyone over), or cut public spending resulting in a collapse of public services and major job losses just when we need them the least.

In short, we need the full toolkit. And we need it soon.

But it's not just the economy: take Local Income Tax. The Council Tax is massively regressive, so the Government proposes a solution, which HMRC rule out as illegal under the devolution settlement. Labour's proposal: we'll get back to you.

Scotland has a drinking problem, and amongst a range of possible solutions, the Government proposes a minimum price on alcohol, which the Government complains would be illegal in the current constitutional landscape. Labour's proposal: silence.

So when devolution was meant to deliver Scottish solutions to Scottish problems, the reality is that Scottish Ministers are powerless to deliver real, radical change where it's needed. On Scotland's booze culture, the Government's hands may be tied. On local taxation, the Government's hands would have been tied had a so called democratic socialist party got on board for a progressive form of taxation. On public spending, the Government's hands are tied. On the economy, the Government's hands are very much tied.

So Iain Gray, Annabel Goldie, Tavish Scott et al, listen up: now is exactly the time to discuss cutting the rope.

5 comments:

Mark McDonald said...

I will say it again.

Why could you never argue this coherently and cogently when you debated at uni?

;-)

Will said...

Oh, I had my moments.

But mostly, I was either trying not to upstage Diana or having to duck something that Barney had thrown at me. :p

Ted Harvey said...

Yes, it is extraordinary how Unionist politicians are lecturing us on how this is not the time to debate further devolution (never mind independence) or on how Scotland on its own could not have weathered the recession – when in reality it is the Union that has brought Scotland along with the rest of the U.K. to the present dire situation. A situation that is dire in absolute and internationally comparative terms.

Regardless of where we each are coming from in Scottish politics, we are entitled to criticize and decry the continuing abysmal lack of honesty, credibility, coherence or intellect from Labour in Scotland.

Just one instance on the lack of honesty, is the continued Scottish Labour claim that the Smoking Ban was ‘their’ example of progressive legislation. This is pure rot. The truth is that it was an SNP MSP who initiated the parliamentary process on the ban. Oor Jack only jumped on the bandwagon after he had been to Ireland and saw that the future worked (and remember, that’s the same Ireland that Scottish Labour cite as a bogeyman on independence). There was always a natural majority in the Scottish parliament for the ban whenever opportunistic Labour choose to come on board.

The vacuity of Scottish Labour was almost embarrassingly advertised in Iain Gray’s conference speech. I mean, we mostly want to refute the PR and personality type politics that focus on personality rather than policy. But sometimes we can legitimately look at the person when it is something in the shape of the deeply uninspiring and lightweight Gray who seems set to endlessly succumb to Gordon’s Brown’s Westminster-centric wishes (as annunciated via the local Viceroy Murphy… did you notice the high physical prominence he was given at the conference top table, in preference to the Scottish party alternatives?).

Still in this vein, I have to admit that I honestly struggled to keep my attention on what Grey was droning on about.

But I was soon enough shook out of my doziness when Margaret Curran declared on BBC afterwords that Scottish Labour (yet again) is listening and (yet again)is reaching out to others (i.e. Scottish Labour fellow travelers in academia, the press and business to sit on meaningless advisory groups) and has (yet again) learned the lessons of defeat (like what she said in her risible Glasgow East by election campaign?).

They claim we are safer with the Unionists in a global recession with one time financial system architect and Chancellor Brown at the helm? Aye right... they couldnae run a menage in Shettleston.

Holyrood Patter said...

one thing i thought that was tragically missing from the SNP counter attack (and maybe it wasnt, i didnt see all of the debate) was that Gray kept talking about the economnic crisis and the referendum, and yet if we are to believe his chancellor, everything will be hunky dory by the autumn, long before the referendum

Anonymous said...

Ted-agree totally!

When I see the liebourites performing on TV at Holyrood, I squirm in utter embarrassment in the knowledge that these tenth rate quisling numpties are (ostensibly) of the same species as myself, and were born in the same country!