The Scottish media is full today of Gordon Brown’s latest attempted intervention in the independence debate. Scotland on Sunday and the Sunday Herald both report that the former Prime Minister will urge Scots to “ditch the Tories, not the Union” (as the original SoS headline put it before being changed online to the rather more sober “Brown urges Scots not to give up on UK”, presumably out of respect for the gentle sensibilities of the paper’s Conservative-leaning readership).
(We’d like to take a brief moment here to appreciate a couple of beautifully acidic, deadpan lines from the Herald’s piece, written by Paul Hutcheon. Our emphasis.)
“Brown, who led his party to defeat at the last General Election, will be the special guest at an event in Glasgow. Although Labour has a dominant role in the cross-party Better Together campaign, senior party sources last year pushed for a separation to convey Labour’s distinctive message.”
The substance of Brown’s argument, in so far as it can be said to have any, is founded on a lie that was comprehensively disproved on this very website well over a year ago – namely that “if Scottish Labour supporters vote to leave the UK it would mean abandoning colleagues in England to years of Tory rule”.
That proposition is demonstrably untrue (not to mention a remarkably defeatist assertion that Labour can’t now defeat the Tories in England, despite having done so in 1997, 2001 and 2005). But even if it wasn’t, what then?
Yesterday we were reading an engrossing article by Peter Kellner, the president of YouGov. It's only available in PDF form as far as we can tell, and in terms of formatting it's a bit of a trial to get through, but the information within is fascinating.
It's a study of the difficulties faced by Labour in their attempt to win the 2015 election, and without wanting to spoil it for you, Kellner's conclusion is that it's going to be extremely difficult. That won't be news to Wings Over Scotland readers, of course, but the depth of detail is well worth getting into if you've a head for that sort of thing.
We gleaned something different from the piece, though.
In an intervention that could in time-worn political terms be described as “brave”, the Secretary of State for Scotland insisted yesterday that recent legal advice to the UK government means an independent Scotland would not inherit the UK’s existing international treaties but would still nonetheless inherit a share of the UK national debt.
The UK Government’s understanding of new legal analysis on the implications of Scottish independence is in their view proof that the most likely outcome of Scottish independence would be the continuation of the UK as the existing state under international law and the creation of a new state of Scotland.
However, the report’s authors declined to rule out the creation of two completely new states or the resurrection of the Scottish state that existed prior to 1707 – although both outcomes were deemed unlikely by Westminster. But just in case anyone wasn’t yet adequately confused, the report’s authors went on to say this (our emphasis):
“Assuming that Scotland would be recognised as a new state, albeit a successor state to the UK, it is difficult to see how Scotland could evade the accession process for new states in the EU treaties.”
So this new “definitive” legal advice doesn’t in fact rule out any of the only three options available, and in fact defines Scotland as both a “new” and a “successor” state, seemingly contradictorily. But what does all this mean? To try to shed some light, let’s look at what international law says on the subject of borders, treaties and debts.
In all the time I’ve lived in Bath, it’s snowed on average about once every five years. A combination of its south-west location and sitting in a big natural bowl means that there’s almost never a flake of the stuff in sight, let alone a drift. It’s always a welcome sight when it does arrive, because without it winter can really drag – six long months of grey, cold, dark and drizzle, whereas at least back home in Scotland you get a sense of time passing as the distinctive seasons change.
Well, today it snowed – a solid three or four inches. It’s lovely, and I’ve just been for a stroll in the city’s biggest park to enjoy it. It’s not going to be easy to turn a bit of chilly weather into a piece of searing polemic about Scottish independence, but dammit, where would the fun be in it if it was?
John Harris in the Guardian today:
“[six years ago] to be living on an estate, and in receipt of benefits, and possibly out of work, was to not just to be fair game for Oxford undergraduates, the future king and a certain kind of TV comedian, but the butt of a huge national joke. Some of us wondered where exactly what was briefly known as ‘The New Snobbery’ was headed.
We now know. Its cultural aspects were merely the tip of the iceberg – as the Labour party engaged in the rebranding of social security as ‘welfare’ and its ministers raged against ‘benefit cheats’, something poisonous was being embedded at the core of our national life.
While the Conservative party grimaced through a fleeting modernisation, it sat there, ready to be picked up by a Tory-led administration and taken to its logical conclusion.”
And, of course, by Scottish Labour.
On Friday, the Guardian reported Ed Miliband’s New Year message to the people of Britain. The key passage was one in which he promised this would be the year his party actually came up with some policies:
“One nation Labour is about reaching out to every part of Britain, it’s about a party that is as much the party of the private sector as the public sector, a party of south as well as north, a party determined to fight for the future of the United Kingdom, and a party rooted in every community of our land.
I’ve set out a vision of what this county [sic] can be, one nation, and in 2013 we will be setting out concrete steps on making that vision a reality from business to education to welfare.”
There’s a pretty big hint there to Scottish voters about the consequences of a No vote in the independence referendum. But in case anyone needs it spelling out: you don’t create “one nation” by letting the different parts of it have powers to create their own individual approaches to business, education and welfare, which is why this year Johann Lamont started the job of softening the Scottish people up and getting them used to the idea of Holyrood obediently following London policies.
We’d be getting a little nervous at the moment if we were citizens of Northern Ireland who wanted to stay part of the United Kingdom. Because over recent weeks and months, the concept of the UK has been increasingly pushed aside, in favour of that of Great Britain. (A construct which, of course, excludes the entire island of Ireland.)
The home team at the London Olympics, lavishly celebrated at the Labour conference yesterday, was branded “Team GB”, rather than “Team UK”, and although there are three devolved administrations and parliaments within the UK, only two of them were featured at the same conference’s “Better Together” session.
The situation in Northern Ireland is none of this site’s concern. But it’s not just the Unionists across the sea who ought to be worried. Because on the strength of what Ed Miliband said in his keynote speech yesterday afternoon, Scotland and Wales face a future of being absorbed, in every practical sense, into a Greater England.
So we’re told that Scottish Labour are to launch yet another devolution commission, which will report on which new governmental powers Labour has suddenly realised the Scottish Parliament needs since the Calman Commission closed down in 2009.
(We like to imagine that as they proudly published their last report, someone at the press conference casually asked what they’d concluded about fiscal autonomy, and the Commission board all slapped their foreheads and wailed “Doh! We knew there was something we’d forgotten to talk about!”)
We’ve already examined the commission’s yawning credibility gap ourselves, but over the weekend we digested a couple of articles from more impartial sources that make it even clearer just how hollow and meaningless any Labour promises of greater devolution to come after a No vote in 2014 will be.