The AV Result and Scottish Independence

First Minister Alex Salmond
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Alex Salmond, Leader of the Scottish National Party

After the SNP triumph in the Scottish elections, David Cameron has pledged to save the Union:

If they want to hold a referendum, I will campaign to keep our United Kingdom together with every single fibre that I have.

We got a taste of what that means by the dirty campaign the Tories waged to keep the First Past the Post voting system. When the SNP holds the referendum on Scottish independence, the same sort of tactics will be waged by the Tories against that.

The full resources of the Conservative Party, and of the UK itself, will be plunged into a campaign against Mr Salmond and the SNP. Half truths and even downright lies will be told about the implications of Scottish independence.

If there were ever a referendum on British membership of the European Union, the same thing would happen on that. Millions of euros of European Union money would be devoted to ensuring a vote to stay in. The British establishment would weigh in with lies about the impact of getting out. And the Tories would be campaigning for a vote to stay in – make no mistake about that.

It was the Tories who first took Britain into the EU (which was then the Common Market). It was the Tories who passed the Single European Act, creating the federal European State. It was the Tories who rammed the Maastricht Treaty through the British parliament, creating the single European currency.

Being a Tory Eurosceptic is a contradiction in terms.

Back to that Scottish vote, though. Just as the EU would weigh in to ensure a vote for Britain to stay in the EU, so the British government will weigh in against Scottish independence.

The SNP need to be extremely careful how they wage the campaign. They need to be very clear before they start what the benefits of independence would be and communicate them in simple terms – something the “Yes to AV” campaign really failed to do. A romantic view of a brave and bonny Scotland striding proudly on the world stage won’t be enough to win the vote.

They need to anticipate the tactics and arguments of the “No” campaign that will be waged by the likes of Mr Cameron against independence, and counter those arguments before they’re made. Again, the Yes to AV campaign failed to do that.

Above all, the SNP and others who want Scottish independence should not underestimate the willingness of the other side to fight dirty. David Cameron continuously pretends to be a “nice” man. He is not, and neither are the others who will campaign against Scottish independence.

The SNP do have one powerful card in their hand, of course, which is Alex Salmond. He will lead the campaign when it comes. The “Yes to AV” campaign did not really have a leader, still less one as formidable as Mr Salmond.

It is worth mentioning, by the way, that Scottish independence is actually strongly in the interests of the Conservative Party. Annabel Goldie’s Scottish Conservatives and Unionists were again comprehensively trounced in the Scottish elections this week. They received 13.9% of the vote, down a further 2.7% on their performance last time. They will have only 15 seats in the 129 seat Scottish Parliament.

There is no prospect at all of Scotland electing significant numbers of Tory MPs. Scotland will continue sending a big block of Labour MPs to the House of Commons, driving English politics to the Left.

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Meanwhile in Scotland…

Debating chamber in Scottish Parliament building
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The Scottish Parliament

…the march towards independence continues.

The British Government today published a bill to transfer significant tax-raising powers to the Scottish Government. (This time, note the lack of apostrophes around the word “Government”.)

Basically, one third of the grant that Scotland receives from the British government will be removed, but the Scottish government will be given the power to raise part of Scottish income tax itself. In other words, around one third of the tax raising powers for Scotland are being transferred to the Scottish Parliament.

The Scottish government will also, for the first time, have the right to borrow a significant amount of money (£2.7 billion) in its own right.

Along with that, other less significant powers like control over drink driving laws and speed limits, landfill tax and stamp duty, will be transferred.

And finally, the Scottish Government will henceforth be officially called exactly that – rather than the current “Scottish Executive”.

It all adds up to a big step towards full Scottish independence.

Of course, the SNP were not satisfied, calling it a “missed opportunity”. But the Scottish Labour, Liberal Democrat and Conservative parties all are in favour.

Conservatives have traditionally been Unionists, opposed to both Welsh and Scottish independence or even devolution. In the case of Wales, I judge that traditional Conservative approach to be absolutely right – I do not believe there is any real appetite in Wales for independence, and the union between England and Wales seems very comfortable and accepted by both sides. The two countries are heavily intertwined, with a common legal system and very great cultural overlap.

In the case of Scotland, though, I believe it is time for Conservatives to re-assess. Scottish independence would, I believe, really work, for both Scotland and England. Of course the two countries would remain allies and friendly, just as the Czech Republic and Slovakia have following their separation.

Scotland already has its own legal system. It has a Government worthy of the name, and a really significant pro-independence Party. And the cultural and political assumptions of the Scottish people are very different from those of the English.

Scotland and England would both be happier apart, in my judgement.

And it will not have escaped the attention of Conservatives everywhere that removal of the Scottish Labour bloc in the British Parliament would be a setback from which English Labour might never recover.

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