Wednesday, 17 January 2007

On the State of the Union

Yesterday marked the 300th anniversary of the signing of the document which brought the Union into being. The Union itself officially followed on 1 May 1707.

The unavoidable timing of the anniversaries is cruelly ironic. Our elections to Holyrood are on 3 May 2007, and the electioneering is well underway.

Thus, on the one hand we have the ostensibly unionist administrations at Westminster and Holyrood playing up the benefits the last 3 centuries have brought to all parts of the Union, while simultaneously frightened of a high profile (and no doubt expensive) commemoration because it would align them too closely with the largely discredited bunch of Scottish aristos who signed us up. Equally the more the likes of Brown, Blair and Douglas Alexander come up with convoluted pro-union speeches and soundbites the more embarrassing they are to that very cause. Strangely, as the polls cool in enthusiasm for independence the SNP have slightly distanced themselves from the I-word preferring the c-word (choice, in the context of a referendum) as the stress in a poster campaign revealed yesterday. It's a subtle but cynical shift in order to maximise votes at this May's Holyrood elections where they currently seem to face being the largest party but hogtied in a 3-party coalition. As the official opposition at Holyrood even they must know that a vote for the SNP is just as likely an anti-Labour protest and not an endorsement of independence - they don't equate. Of course independence is not the only SNP policy and indeed they recently hawked a questionnaire which basically boiled down to "if you agree with a majority of these policies then you you should be voting SNP". Reasonable at face value, but many of these same policies are shared by the smaller parties and often even by Labour and Lib-Dems. Basically unless you were some sort of twinset Tory or a UKIP supporter it would have been difficult not to qualify as one of these obvious 'SNP voters'. And of course even within the SNP there's a confusion over which political philosophy they follow. There's a huge potential split always going to be chipping away at any SNP government. Could MSPs from the same party have initiated the smoking ban AND supported the firefighters who refused to leaflet a gay pride event? The SNP managed. If you believe in that amorphous concept of political correctness (I don't) then these seem to be taking diametrically opposed positions. This is the result of a party whose roots are basically still in uniting elements from left and right who basically hate the English and strive for the purely romantic goal of independence. The fact that they're sticking the same two fingers up at the Welsh and Irish (off radar when you're so wedded to bipolar 'us and them' of course) never seems to dawn. Unless of course Independence actually means 'expelling' England alone and setting up a commune with our celtic cousins ...

I watched the special "Newsnight" programme last night and was no more convinced to change my independence-sceptic opinion.

In the 90s during his first stint as SNP leader I did regard Alex Salmond as statesmanlike and pragmatic. He appears neither nowadays and last night, under a Paxo grill, matched Douglas Alexander for blather. Most clumsy was the revelation that an 'independent' Scotland would keep currency as pounds sterling until such a time it was deemed wise to join the Euro - not that it's been confirmed we'd automically stay within the EU without re-applying seperately, but that's another story. This pounds sterling controlled by the already independent Bank of England would not be obliged to take heed of any specifically Scottish circumstances any more than now. It would be a complete liability.

The SNP are not known for working things through and attending to those pesky details though - why should they when they are consumed by the sheer romance of it all and the whiff of power? They make David Cameron look thorough.

Now I'm not going to bang on about the old 'could we support ourselves without the disproportionate rebate from the Barnett Formula?' versus 'it's Scotland's oil and we wuz robbed' arguements. Frankly economics is not my forte and I've heard persuasive arguements on both sides.

But I work for a government department that hasn't been devolved and isn't likely to be as long as the Union stands. But if it doesn't what happens to my colleagues and I (there's a fair number of us by the way) ? Is it like an amicable divorce and we're neatly parcelled up by location to the ex-partner - the ex-partner who incedentally doesn't really know what to do with us? Or are we all recalled to head office and the SNP administration have to make their own mirror department from scratch? I think the latter is more likely, more logical but hugely scary. There's no obligation for us to be gifted to a technically 'foreign' country.

Then there's broadcasting - curiously always brought up as some sort of 'killer punch' in favour of independence a la "The Scottish Six" arguement. Actually it's no such thing on closer examination - there's no correlation for starters. BBC Scotland and the other Scottish broadcasting brands did not emerge as a result of any political devolution, but rather as strategic constructs at various times, not knee-jerk huffs, referenda or parliamentary decree at yet another report on the England cricket team. If anything the balance at the moment means that terrestrial viewers (analogue or digital) are getting sold short by BBC TV Scotland by their imposition of huge opt-outs for Scottish football matches, gaelic programming, Newsnight Scotland etc without providing us the network alternative, unlike the more sensible radio set-up. Unless the BBC is going to be paying my Sky or cable subscription that's not good enough as we're still paying for the programmes we miss out on. Anyway, the licence fee settlement is a minefield now but can you imagine some sort of imposed break-up of the BBC and sunsequent re-accounting of what fee will need to be levied even to sustain current Scottish programming? Hey, that's goodbye football at least! Meanwhile Sky and cable and any new fangled internet or mobile based broadcasting is just completely beyond most boundaries other than the technical (that's how it should be) and will surely carry more clout than any Scottish government that tries to lecture them. Their genie just does not go back in the bottle. Someone on DigitalSpy this week put it very well.

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