Even to a unionist like me, an Alex Salmond-led government is preferable to one that rewards greed and corruption
Kevin McKenna (The Observer, Sunday 20 January 2013)
Alex Salmond has said that everyone in an independent Scotland would have the right to a home and a free education. Photograph: David Moir/Reuters
Those among my friends who have lost their religious faith have described it as a desolate process. Rather than experiencing a rush of euphoria at liberation from a restrictive credo, they speak of their sadness as, one by one, the illuminations on their once cherished pillars are extinguished. It may be approaching apostasy to equate separation from the divine with the dawning of scepticism about the union of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Yet when it becomes increasingly more difficult to find good reasons why Scotland should remain in the union you begin to wonder if your crisis of faith is curable or terminal.
The champions of the union these days have curiously little to say that is positive about their cherished political nirvana beyond the Queen, some shared former glories and a nebulous “stability”. When their anti-nationalist invective outweighs their pro-union adulation, you realise that they are not convinced either. Indeed, it seems now that the loudest supporters of the union are UK ministerial salarymen such as Douglas Alexander and Jim Murphy or old Scottish Labour stalwarts such as Michael Kelly and Brian Wilson.
Alexander and Murphy would suffer most in the anti-Scottish backlash following independence while the other two have such an implacable hatred of Scottish nationalism that it might lead you reasonably to conclude that they would sooner accept the Taliban than the SNP. Indeed, the good Dr Kelly in his entertaining columns for the Scotsman states that the result of the referendum is already in the bag and thus the campaign is “boring”. Even now, nationalist strategists ought to be trying out Kelly’s words in an 84pt sans serif face across six columns in their campaign leaflets.
Last year, over coffee in Glasgow, I was discussing the strategy of the Better Together camp with a prominent Labour politician. I suggested to him that Labour’s problem in Scotland is that they had to develop a narrative that says good things about the union rather than simply parrot the predictable and scientifically questionable surveys of purple-faced and gin-soaked CBI types that claim we’ll be a developing country if we become independent.
One year later and, despite Douglas Alexander’s best efforts, Labour has still failed to sell the union on its own merits. Events since then may even have rendered the task impossible. Unionists, me included, have talked loftily about dangers of break-up and separation in a world that is thirsting for continuity and stability.
Yet we conveniently overlook the fact that London has already broken away from the United Kingdom and now exists as a world super-state governed by the greed of unhindered capitalism and recognisable as British only by its taxis and bad service. As the world’s most newly minted oligarchs continue to colonise the independent state of London, it becomes almost impossible for families on less than £250k to live decently there. Poor London families made homeless by the coalition benefit cuts are being evacuated as far north as Middlesbrough.
Last week, Goldman Sachs, one of the banks with its fingers in the till when global economic meltdown occurred, awarded an average bonus of £250,000 to each of its employees. The gap between the richest in our society and the poorest stretched a little more and we were reminded yet again that the UK government, despite its promises, allows greed, incompetence and corruption to be rewarded. (How many people do you think will go to jail for the Libor rate-fixing scandal?) Meanwhile, Westminster politicians are dividing the poor into categories marked “deserving” and “scum”.
The most common wet dream of every Bullingdon Tory is the national lottery. And what a jolly wheeze it is: get the poor to fund our biggest capital projects in exchange for a cruel fairy story. Now they’ve doubled the stake to £2, confident that the benefit cuts are increasing their customer base daily. In Glasgow, the boss of a council-run regeneration agency was given a £500k pay-off at a time when the Citizens Advice Bureau is reporting almost 1,000 calls a day from people whose families have been impoverished by the benefit cuts. Life for millions of people under the most rapacious and reactionary government in 150 years has diminished. To prevent the peasants revolting, however, they have been treated to exaggerated displays of unity euphoria such as the Olympics and assorted royal jubilees.
Labour in the UK long ago gave up any pretence at being the party of the marginalised and the vulnerable. Instead, it throws rotten fruit at the SNP when it says what Labour should be saying. Alex Salmond last week painted a handsome picture of what a new Scottish constitution following independence would look like. Every Scot, he said, would have a right to a home and free education. There will be no nuclear weapons. And we’ll decide who we’re fighting and who we’re not. Until Blair, Mandelson, Balls and Miliband hijacked the party, that was what I thought Labour stood for. Now they simply boo and hiss with the Tories and say it can’t be done.
Earlier this month, the UK Treasury declared that, following a period of intense and prolonged analysis of the economic numbers, each of us would be £1 a year worse off in an independent Scotland. Put another way, for £1 a year you will never have to endure the economic privations of a Conservative government ever again. You will not be penalised for being poor or old and nor will you suffer the pain of watching your young boys being killed in illegal wars or occupations.
We won’t be lacking friends, either. Of matters concerning oil and Europe in an independent Scotland, the Norwegian government officials I met in Oslo last month were very upbeat. “Come and talk to us before you commit to the EU,” they said, “and let us advise you how to manage your oil fund and how to negotiate with the oil companies.”
With each passing week, it becomes more difficult to support a union that doesn’t really exist anyway. Morally, it may soon become indefensible to remain in a state that rewards corruption and promotes inequality when you have an opportunity to leave it behind.