The Unionists are on to a winner – why not put it to the test?

It is time to put to the test the positive, progressive alternative to Alex Salmond’s independence bandwagon Scotland so desperately needs, writes Ed Jacobs.

Davey boy and wee Alec, Murdoch’s friends reunited


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For weeks Alex Salmond has been marching around studios, lecture theatres, the Scottish Parliament and everywhere else that is prepared to listen to him acting, as some have dubbed him, the King of Scotland, master of all he surveys.

Having been successful in keeping his minority government in tact over the course of the last Scottish Parliament, last year saw not only his party achieving what the electoral system was not supposed to allow – namely majority single party government in Edinburgh – but saw off also the leaders of all three of his main rival parties.

And according to the polling the SNP remain by far the most popular political force in Scotland, streets ahead of their rivals for power.

But all is not lost. Having seen Salmond dominating the news agenda and leading the debate over Scotland’s future, at last the pro-union parties have grasped the threat posed by the SNP, with this weekend seeing both Labour and Lib Dems in Scotland using their respective conferences to take on Alex Salmond.

This follows David Cameron’s commitment just a few weeks ago to look at further powers for Scotland. Good news for those committed to the union.

But it’s not just the fact the pro-union parties are at last recognising the importance of the issue which should be heartening for those opposed to the concept of an independent Scotland. The plan put forward by a cross-party group in Scotland for “Devo-Plus” taps into the will of the 71% of Scots who, in recent polling by Ipsos Mori, support further powers being devolved to Holyrood.

In my recent contribution to Holyrood magazine, I called on Labour and those supporting the Union to fight independence by outlining a credible, progressive alternative. Having agreed the principle of further powers being given to Scotland, it is time for those supporting this option to take the bull by the horns and seek its inclusion on the ballot paper when Scots vote on their future.

If the argument, as made by the Scottish secretary, Michael Moore, on Sunday’s Andrew Marr programme, is that the uncertainty over Scotland’s future is creating economic and business uncertainty, what then would it do for the economy for possibly two years of debate over independence to then be followed by further uncertainty over what extra powers could be devolved to Scotland if it rejected the idea of going it alone? It simply doesn’t stack up.

The Union will be saved based on a positive alternative to independence. At present though, the ‘Save the Union’ campaign finds itself in a half-way house, making a case against independence by pledging further powers for Scotland without revealing what that would look like and what further powers Holyrood should have.

Having been so strident in calling for Alex Salmond to outline the exact details of what an independent Scotland would look like, it is time the Conservatives, Lib Dems and Labour did the same and established a consensus over what further powers, short of independence, would look like and mean and have it put to the people.

With Ipsos Mori reporting that 59% of Scots would like “devo max” as an option when they vote, it cannot be tenable for the pro-Union campaign to turn its back on the will of the people who have consistently in polling called for a genuine choice over Scotland’s future constitutional settlement.

Following the Scotland Office’s calls for a referendum a year earlier than the autumn 2014 date set by the Scottish government there is a danger, one academic has now claimed, that Scots could find themselves “annoyed” into voting for independence out of opposition to being told when to vote and what to vote on in the face of the will of both the people or Scottish government.

As Dr Paul Cairney, head of politics at Aberdeen University, has concluded:

“We make different decisions when we are annoyed. We make different decisions when we feel that we are being pressured or told what to do… That is why David Cameron’s recent strategy seems so off the mark.”

For the pro-Union campaign the prospect of further powers for the Scottish Parliament and government is a winning formula. It is time to put it to the test as the positive, progressive alternative to Alex Salmond’s independence bandwagon that Scotland so desperately needs.

See also:

Sign up to receive our weekly summary of the news from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, The Week Outside Westminster

Salmond courts Murdoch as pro-union dream team finally begins to emergeEd Jacobs, February 28th 2012

Cameron heads north, Salmond heads south and Mervyn’s living in the futureEd Jacobs, February 16th 2012

Miliband to outline vision of a fairer UnionEd Jacobs, January 30th 2012

Salmond’s Scottish referendum is a textbook example of a leading questionAlex Hern, January 27th 2012

Progressives need a positive vision for ScotlandEd Jacobs, January 26th 2012

The 25 questions over the SNP’s Murdoch linksEd Jacobs, July 19th 2011

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  • Frederick Caledonia

    When you say “put it to the test” you can only mean at the ballot box. So yes, lets see them put something forward that can be democratically tested by voters.

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  • Rob8urcakes

    Given that Scotland has predominantly returned so many Labour MP’s to Westminster I can understand why Labour is so pro-Unionist but hearing the Tories support non-independence for Scotland is surprising and apparently self-defeating.

    So why would the Tories be in favour of Scotland remaining dependent upon Westminster when it’s cost them many times in failing to achieve becoming an elected government? Is it really just because of the dwindling and crap quality crude oil available off-shore? I dunno, but am open to suggestions.

    One thing that bothers me though is that if the Scottish people do vote for independence (and Westminster sees fit to grant it), is England going to start getting nasty and vindictive by imposing trade etc sanctions just as the USA has done to Cuba and many other independent Nation-States that upsets their sense of self-righteous greed for natural resources and power?

    I’d certainly hope not, but divorced couples can have a tremendous capacity for venom and hatred if not dealt with in a properly adult attitude by all affected parties.

  • Jim Thompson

    Any chance of the government allowing the people of England a little bit of democracy every now and then? After all, we have the same citizenship (for all that’s worth) as everybody else in this kingdom, and we pay the same taxes. Democracy should be for 100% of the population, not just 15%.

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  • Gorka Sillero

    can’t understand progressive people so against people deciding their future by themselves. That’s 100% conservative.

    Jim Thompson, I guess the fair way would be to give English people (the 80%,70%?) the chance to decide if Scottish people have to feel like a colony or not. That’s democracy for you. Right, same shit in Spain, old story.

  • Bill Bedford

    Any federal system where one partner is ten times the size of the nest is going to be unstable in the long term. The only way to give the Union a long term future is for the English to bite the bullet and devolve all the domestic powers that have been given to Hollyrood to their own regional assemblies.

  • ChickAddison

    Labour and the LibDems have now joined Cameron in the “Jam Tomorrow” gambit: leaving them open to the charge that it is undemocratic to expect people to vote on undisclosed powers (as No = a new undisclosed settlement NOT status quo). This is further undermined by divergent messages from Lamont and Alexander as to what is being offered. None of these parties can tough it out for two and a half years, refusing to give details to the electorate while presenting a nice large target for the nationalists to attack. Insisting that no debate can happen till independence is defeated is already falling apart.

    Separately, I’d say to Jim that English people must be involved in this debate as it is not going to be parked till the assembled dream team or rainbow coallition (or whatever the unionists are calling themselves this week) defeat the nats for all time. Any solution other than Independence must involve powers being offered across the UK to resolve the democratic defecit that currently exists as a result of asymetric devolution (although in England’s case that means none at all outside of London) and it should reasonably require a ballot, or multiple ballots. I can’t see many nationalists in Scotland disagreeing with that in principle but I see little sign of the UK parties offering it presently. You are going to have to resort to the time honoured tradition of campaining for your rights.

  • Gregor

    Now we have Lib Dems Tavish Scott and Jeremy Purvis supporting Devo-Plus, while their boss Willie Rennie has asked Menzies Campbell to begin a commission into further devolution. At the same time, ex-presiding officer Alex Fergusson has signed up to Devo-Plus, blurring the line in the sand that his new boss Ruth Davidson may or may not be sticking to. And what will be the delivery mechanism for Devo-Plus? Tavish Scott says there will be no referendum question, so are we to assume it will be delivered in the same way as Calman and the Scotland Bill? Namely, a piece of legislation described as the most significant constitutional change in the history of the union is to be finessed through parliament without being subject to any democratic process. And while all of this goes on, Johann Lamont has decided that if Willie Rennie can have his commission, if Tavish and Jeremy can have their Devo-Plus and Henry McLeish and Kenyon Wright their Devo-Max, then Johann will oversee her own commission. Will all of these positions cohere into one position? It’s clear now that there is no longer a status quo. Sadly, what is also clear is that the unionist parties are determined not to allow voters ownership of the constitutional issue, and certainly have little intention of allowing the electorate to vote on the matter.

  • Gregor

    The problem with all of the unionist options is they frame the debate in terms of powers for Scotland alone; for example, Lib Dems seem to see Home Rule as an issue for Scotland, not for England. Scotland is problematised as the politically curmudgeonly part of the UK, wanting more than it deserves. But why should Scotland not have further powers? If there was a federal solution (as in Spain, Germany, or Canada), then some of the current imbalances in the UK may disappear. England is the real elephant in the room. Perhaps England is just too big for devolution or even federalism to work in the UK. Many people in England see federalism as an attempt to “balkanise” England and weaken it. So, if any of the unionist solutions are to work, they have to a) satisfy the wishes of the Scottish electorate for further powers, and b) end the English electorate’s sense of greivance that Scotland gets too much and has too much influence. The question is, by focussing on Scotland alone, can the unionist parties achieve both outcomes?

  • Gregor

    The problem with all of the unionist options is that they frame the debate in terms of further powers for Scotland alone. The reason they do this is because Scotland is problematised as the politically curmudgeonly part of the UK, always wanting powers beyond its size. In fact, there is no reason why Scotland should not have further powers. Other countries have more extensive devolution, or federalism: Germany, Spain, Canada. Indeed, an extension of devolution to England, or a federal solution, could tackle the problem at the heart of the UK: namely, that England is too big and renders the other constituent parts of the UK political minorities.

    England is the elephant in the room. But many in England see devolved and federal options as an attempt to “balkanise” England. So, if any of the unionist solutions are to work for Scotland, how will they go down with voters in England? The unionists surely have to come up with solutions that will a) satisfy the wishes of the Scottish electorate for further powers, and b) end the English electorate’s sense of greivance and convince many critics that Scotland is deserving. The question is, by focussing on Scotland alone, can the unionist parties achieve both?

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  • Anonymous

    We have the following shambles from the anti-independence parties:

    1) Independence: This is clear-cut as Scotland will be an independent country and sovereign state. Scotland decides its future.

    – Fully supported by the SNP, Scottish Green Party, SSP, SDA and the independent MSP (Margo MacDonald)

    2) Devo-Max: Supported by Civic Scotland etc.

    – No political party support

    3) Devo-Plus: Reform Scotland (mixed ex-party members).
    – Supported by themselves

    4) Devo-other:
    – Supported by Labour

    5) Devo-maybe:
    – Supported by Conservatives

    6) No idea: (starting a commission 100 years after opting for home rule)
    – Supported by Liberal Democrats

    7) No change:
    – Only supported by having a second question on the ballot sheet!!!!