24 February 2007

A Case for Independence Part 2

Part two of three. This time around I'm looking at the political structures of Scotland in the UK.

Politics and Interests in Inverhypothesis

Duncan (of doctorvee fame) has argued, "The main reason why I don’t support nationalist movements of any form is that I just don’t believe that it matters where you are governed from. What matters is how you are governed." There's a logic to that argument. I believe, though, that even when the Union was founded, Scotland kept its own legal, ecclesiastical and civic structures, and even under direct rule, there was a recognition that Scotland was a distinct entity: this is why the UK Government created the Scottish Office to oversee government policy in certain areas north of the Border. In this post, I'm going to argue that while where we are governed shouldn't be the be-all-and-end-all of politics, it has a direct impact on how we are governed.

One of the principal arguments against independence challenges the notion that it will bring government closer to the people. As far as people in remote Highland or Island communities are concerned, how will government from Edinburgh be different from government from London?

Under the Scottish Office system, and under the present constitutional set-up, such a hypothetical community - let's call it Inverhypothesis - has to jump through two hoops. To be listened to, they need to get the Scottish arm of government on their side. If they manage that, they then have ot hope that the Scotland Office and the Scottish Executive get enough funding from the UK government, or persuade them to act, in order for anything to be done. If you take out one of the levels, you streamline the process. So, we can improve things by taking out a level. But which?

Having accepted the premise, as Westminster has done, that Scotland is a distinct entity, let's discuss politics using the key word in all foreign policy decisions: interests. You have the entity England with its interests, and the entity Scotland with its interests. When these interests co-incide, things are OK. When they don't, there's a defect in the Union: rather than both sides benefitting from mutual co-operation, one has to succeed in its goals at the expense of the other, unless a compromise can be found. When interests differ, Scotland's interests come to the fore if English opinion is so sharply divided (and Scottish opinion is clearly on one side or another) that Scotland has a 'casting vote'. So the good people of Inverhypothesis can only have a prayer of getting their way if they happen to want what the English want, or the English are too busy squabbling about what they want that Scottish MPs make the decision for them.

That's the problem with the Union: it only works if both sides are singing from the same hymnsheet. When they aren't, one side pays for it. A separate Edinburgh government cuts out that element of chance, and reduces the need to rely on a favourable political landscape in England. It also means that Scotland can't blame that landscape when things go wrong. When there's a problem, an independent Scotland's government can and must find the solution. In the Union, it's all too easy (and sometimes there's no other option) to leave it to London to sort out. And if London doesn't, then the problem doesn't just go away by itself.

(Update: Part Three is available here)

1 comment:

Richard Thomson said...

Well said sir.