March 26, 2007

We’re running rather close to the upcoming Scottish Parliament election in May. I find myself torn over who to vote for.

I’ve spoken before about how I’m proud of my nationality. I’m very proud of the fact that I’m Scottish, was brought up in Scotland, and still live in Scotland. I enjoy wearing a kilt and chasing haggis whenever possible. If someone asks me where I’m from, I’ll say Scotland. I write “Scottish” under “nationality” on any form. I’m Scottish before I’m British.

But I’m torn. There are only two serious candidates in the upcoming election: Labour and the SNP.

Labour, in the red corner, are currently in power but don’t seem to have any teeth any more. Jack McConnell is fairly bland as politicians go, the novelty of somebody-other-than-the-Tories being in power has long since worn off, and enough people dislike Blair’s Iraq war, the Trident “nuclear deterrent” (just a few miles from here), Labour’s stab at promoting “Britishness” (though I wonder what our friends in Northern Ireland think of that), and Brown’s recent budget forcing the lowest earners to pay twice as much income tax, that Labour are on very shaky ground. The Tories, in the blue corner, will never gain power in Scotland, not in my lifetime. They did enough damage to their reputation during their last gazillion years in power in Westminster. The Lib Dems, bless ’em, never seem to have anything of their own to say. They don’t have any balls as a political party, so have often been viewed as a ‘default’ vote whenever the voting public couldn’t figure out if they preferred red or blue (ironic, then, that the Lib Dems are a nice shade of yellow).

The only other real option I see up here is the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP). I’ll ignore the fact that their colour is also yellow for the purposes of this blog post.

The SNP have been around for a good long while, always shouting for an independent Scotland. Their stance since the discovery of North Sea Oil is that England has been taking most of our money away from us, and that Scotland will be a rich nation if only we can make money out of the last of the oil, and that we can only do that by freeing ourselves from Westminster. I’m pretty sure using oil as one of your biggest bargaining chips these eco-friendly days isn’t the best way to win votes, but their bigger message is that of an independent Scotland. That’s the part people will listen to.

Yesterday, the papers ran the following story: The SNP revealed their intended timing and cost of a referendum on independence. If they win power this time around, they intend to ask the following in 2010:

The Scottish parliament should negotiate a new settlement with the British government, based on the proposals set out in the white paper, so that Scotland becomes a sovereign and independent state. Do you agree of disagree?”

The timing is such that they’ll have enough time in power to prove themselves in the eye of the public. I’ve not read in enough detail to find out if the white paper they refer to is available yet.

So, should Scotland be independent? Perhaps. There are certainly lots of other small nations who get on just fine by themselves, so why can’t we? I certainly don’t want to poo-poo the Union, as it’s served both Scotland and England very well over the years. But is it still relevant in 2007? I’m not so sure. So much stuff gets outsourced to business these days that Government is left merely to shape the rules within which business must play, and offer basic services such as pensions, healthcare, armies, etc. If that’s the case, then a more localised, more lightweight, Government makes sense.

Further, with more and more of the Big Power moving over to the EU, and Europe becoming more of an entity to be reckoned with, it seems that it makes sense for Scotland to sit independently on the EU Parliament, and to speak as a nation of its own

Scotland is an advanced nation. Glasgow is still, in many ways, the second city of the Empire (well, if the Empire existed any more). In the UK, we have the biggest suburban rail network outside of London, and the biggest shopping area outside of London. Lots of people, and lots of cash, flow through the two primary cities of Glasgow and Edinburgh. The ship building industry in Glasgow is nothing compared to what it once was, but what little is left is arguably at the top of its game. The cities, and the Highlands, are steeped in history that brings endless streams of Tartan-clad Americans to our shores in search of their great-great-grandfather’s friend’s Auntie’s cat. All over Scotland, lots of money is being pumped into updating infrastructure, building new buildings, renovating old areas, and generally keeping things as up to date as seems possible. We’re way ahead of the rest of the UK in terms of utilising renewable power sources. We have a lot of expertise to make a go of things, particularly in the technology and software market.

To me, it looks like we as a nation stand in good stead to have a go at it. But it’s possibly now or never. The only problem I have is that the media is always vague on what the SNP really intends to do. What does the above question really mean? Do we attach ourselves to the Euro, split out our armies, NHS services, etc, from the UK, and hope for the best? Or would Scotland be an independent nation, with, say, joint membership of the British Army? Would we/should we still trade in Pounds Sterling? Or is the Bank of England (set up, by the way, by a Scotsman) too English to deal with our country? Would we have a Scottish Pound? (And would English retailers then finally have a valid reason to refuse Scottish notes?) There are still too many questions surrounding independence that I long for transparency from political parties and the media.

So who do I vote for? I don’t know. Labour, Tory, Lib Dem … they don’t offer me anything different, so far as I can see. All politicians are afraid to do much these days for fear of the backlash they might receive. The political parties really vary very little, apart from the SNP, who actually want to do something radical. I’m tempted to vote SNP and be very quick to be very vocal should they try anything that doesn’t sound good for the nation. And I don’t yet see independence as being bad for the nation…