JIM McCOLL is a decent man and a fine businessman, a rare beast in modern Scotland, but his comments today on independence do reveal the fatal contradictions at the heart of the pro-independence movement.
Essentially Jim supports independence as he believes that the economic policies pursued by the SNP are better than those pursued by the Coalition. He further adds that the current settlement hamstrings the current Scottish government in going further along a path of which he clearly approves. He notes too that while he is in favour of much greater fiscal autonomy, since this is not on offer then he prefers independence
Jim is of course entitled to his views. I disagree with them but there we are. But what I really do have a problem with is ‘I want to be independent because I disagree with the Westminster government’ line of argument. Will Jim then switch to requesting readmission to the Union if a Scottish government pursues policies he dislikes and a Westminster one, pursues those that he approves of? Or will he seek independence for Glasgow?
It seems to me that the most dangerous of paths for Scotland to tread is to create a permanent settlement based on a temporary grievance. It also seems a most perverse lens with which to view the world. ‘Scotland should be independent because I favour more infrastructure spending’. There are many arguments for independence but that is indeed a new one on me!
To tackle his second argument it seems to me perfectly open to point out that it is precisely the flexibility of the current settlement that has allowed the SNP to take a different line from the UK government. I might even observe that if the SNP had not been so determined on an independence referendum it might have been that the Calman changes could have been even more radical. We are now, however, frozen in constitutional aspic until the referendum.
To his final point I would state that certainly the Liberal Democrats, and I think the other parties too, are well aware that if the result of the referendum is a ‘No’ then it would be an act of supreme folly to pretend that the weaknesses in the current settlement need not be addressed. Moreover, such consideration would require some urgency given that it is precisely those weaknesses that have enabled the SNP to gain and hold power.
Self interest alone means that the UK parties require a rethink. We are, however, having a ‘straight choice’ referendum which is indeed how it must be, given the amorphous nature of any third question.
It seems to me that arguments such as Jim's will be stripped ruthlessly away as the day of destiny approaches. Independence is not a quick fix for a particular problem, not a method of rejection of a government you don’t like but a permanent and fundamental change in the nature of your country.
To take such a step implies that one wishes to make changes to the governance of ones country impossible under any union or federal settlement. And this has always been a fundamental weakness of the Nationalist case.
They have full control over domestic policy. They are not constrained in any way. Yet they have chosen no path of fundamental reform, nothing that disturbs vested interest or the status quo. With regard to economic policy too no great ideas have been propounded, no new economic order suggested. Indeed Nationlism seems noted precisely for its institutional and economic conservatism.
To me this of course is the fatal flaw at the heart of the modern SNP. They wish not to create a new country but to maintain an old one. They are the last defenders of a state and its public sector that is clearly no longer economically tenable. For any real radical, for any real reformer it is only within the union that a new Scotland can be created.
There are many within the SNP who privately bemoan this state of affairs and would agree wholeheartedly that an argument from independence follows from the desire to fundamentally change the course of their country. It is their loss that it is their party which has betrayed them, a party which wraps itself in the flag of nationalism while being the last defender of North Britain.