He who pays the piper calls the tune

The chatter around independence and what it might mean this week has reached a crescendo this weekend.  The debate, as the Scotland on Sunday has styled it, appears to be between independence-lite and full fat independence.  Others have rehearsed the arguments more effectively than I might, particularly the irascible Jim Sillars (of all people, advocating indie-lite) in Saturday’s Scotsman and Pat Kane with his excellent piece making the case for full independence on his blog, Thoughtland.

People have tried to rationalise Jim Sillars’ offering – he was paid to write it, he’s playing devil’s advocate, he’s acting as an outlier – but it seems for once he is completely on message.  Stephen Noon, the SNP’s supremely talented policy strategist, blogged on 10 May, reminding people that in 2007, Alex Salmond described the redefinition of our constitutional relationship with England to being one of “equal partners, not surly lodgers”.  It was a great phrase and sums up the aspiration of many SNP members and supporters, but it was a remark in an interview, not a policy platform the party had voted for.

From yesterday’s witterings, a reader might surmise that the burd is in tune with these new times.  In truth, I wrote that piece before I had read either Sillars’ or Kane’s piece thoroughly, or more than glanced at Stephen Noon’s blogpost.  So I was offering my thoughts blind.  And I find myself returning to this subject much sooner than intended.

Essentially, in this debate, I’m with Pat.  It’s full fat independence for me but with caveats.  In a world where everyone is linked through their shopping, work and holiday habits; to events, tragedies and celebrations through a rolling 24 hour news agenda; and to family and friends scattered across the four nations on these islands but also across the globe – the truth is that Scotland is never actually going to be completely separate from its neighbours.  People working for global companies in Dunfermline will still have links with their colleagues in the branches in Dartford and Darlington.  They’ll still get Balamory, we’ll still get Eastenders.  The supermarkets will continue to dominate our shopping habits whether we live in Wales, Northern Ireland or Scotland.  And no, Zara and Santander wouldn’t be expected to close up shop and head back to Europe.  We need to consider carefully how to ensure this message is articulated and how such activity is embedded in the constitutional framework foran independent but inter-dependent Scotland  if we are to avoid unintended consequences and scare stories.

Moreover, with a bigger role to play in the European Union, Scotland will be contributing more fully and effectively to policy that will apply equally in Caithness as it does Cordoba, in Edinburgh as it does Prague.  This is a good thing.  It is also the reality of a world with few boundaries but it does not and should not prevent us having the normal trappings of member statehood.  We are not talking isolationist independence, no matter how opponents might wish to frame it, but a re-alignment of established relationships.  Yes, an equal partnership but one in which we truly determine our sense of self and our direction of travel.  And as a nation, we need all the levers of government to do that.

There are some institutions and structures on these islands where it would make no sense to divide them, certainly not in the early days: the DVLA might indeed be one of these.  With others, however, there is a necessity and urgency with which decoupling must occur, particularly to exert and assert the will and values of the Scottish people: Trident is one such.

But all of this is really for another day and frankly, another place.  These are big, meaty issues for the SNP and indeed, Scotland, to resolve and that cannot be done through hints and tints in newspaper articles, interviews and blogs.  The membership of the SNP, not its leadership, must decide these matters.  On this, the raison d’etre for all members of the SNP, he who pays the piper calls – and must call – the tune.

This is not to doubt nor denigrate Alex Salmond’s leadership.  There is no better politician in Scotland, has not been for a very long time and there is unlikely to be another who will come close.  If ever a man was built for greatness, it is our First Minister.  His vision in determining the gradualist direction of travel has been the right one.  He knows where Scotland is headed and knows exactly what needs to happen to get the country there.  And he knows his party will follow him whatever line he decides to take.

Which is why he must step back from this and allow his party to make this most vital of decisions.  It is for the party and its membership – and indeed, others who support independence – to determine the shape, scope and feel of independence and the proposal that is presented to the Scottish people.  Success depends on a party and a movement united on its cause and its call.  Asking, nay expecting members, some with a lifetime of graft behind them for this moment, to take a case to the people that has been flipped on the back of some comments Alex Salmond made in a media interview in 2007, would be desultory.

The SNP members are not stupid, they know what needs to be done to take the Scottish people with them on the final steps of this journey.  But Alex Salmond and the leadership would be doing them a huge disservice, if what emerges as the independence platform is not informed and most crucially of all, agreed by the party membership.  The Scottish Independence Convention has a big role to play in making this happen and in impressing upon the SNP leadership the need to include, not exclude, members and supporters from decision-making.  Because there will be no bigger decision for the independence movement.

Because this is our one big chance to achieve normalcy (a terrible phrase, I know) for our nation.  Because the Scottish people have invested their trust in the SNP to lead the debate and to allow them to have their say.  Because this is a once-in-a-generational opportunity to turn Scotland the nation and Scotland the brand into Scotland the state.

Because I have lived all my life listening to my parents dream of living in an independent Scotland and because time does not stand still, now the dream is to be buried in an independent Scotland.

Alex Salmond had the canny forethought, insight and decency to hold a National Conversation with the Scottish people;  the least he can do is hold a similar one with his ain folk.

12 thoughts on “He who pays the piper calls the tune

  1. I don’t see the Scottish electorate ever voting for “full fat” independence. The issue was fought out in microcosm in Dumbarton at the Scottish election. It was one of the few constituencies where Labour successfully held the SNP at bay (No 9 on the Nats hit list). The reason? in the most difficult place to get a job in the UK (officially), thousands of jobs rely on the continuation of Faslane and Coulport.

    Getting rid of Trident is something I’m sure we’d all have as an aspiration but when it comes down to deciding how you do that, and how to re-employ thousands who’d be immediately out of work in a newly independent country, well it’s a challenge indeed. However, as I say that won’t arise because whatever form of independence the electorate is asked to decide on, it won’t entail the complete demise of the United Kindom. If I’m wrong and it does, it’ll almost certainly fail. No amount of Hue and Cry can alter that.

    • That doesn’t really make sense. Trident may be the reason that Labour has held onto Dumbarton but that thinking would certainly not apply across the whole of Scotland. Indeed Labour’s support for Trident and its replacement is part of the reason why it has lost a good chunk of the progressive vote.

  2. I think there is absolutely nothing new in anything that the SNP is actually saying about the options for independence. It is all contained in the various documents associated with the National Conversation. Possibly this is the first time that some journalists have read up on what the SNP is proposing of course and you wonder how many of them still haven’t read any of it but are just reporting what other journalists have said.

    Looking at it from a media management point of view it’s no bad thing if the press punt the line that the party is softening the line on independence and no longer wants to dig a trench along the border and sail away from England with the SNP. But the reality is that we have not wanted to do that since the 1970s!

    This is just about the media catching up with a conversation on independence they couldn’t be bothered listening to three or four years ago because they didn’t think we would ever be in a position to deliver a referendum.

    I was quite annoyed when I read that Pat Kane was accusing the SNP of suffering from the Scottish cringe but when I read his blog he was taking issue mainly with what Jim Sillars has said. That’s not surprising, what Jim has been saying is fairly preposterous, but he has not been a representative of the SNP for a very long time, far less part of the leadership! Indeed you can pretty well guarantee that if he supports something it means the SNP leadership doesn’t.

    In my view Jim is basically just trying to get a piece of the action now that we have arrived at the position he always told us was impossible to achieve.

  3. Those wishing Independence sit back and watch the Unionists make a spectacle of themselves from all mainstream newsprint. One link of many as they are falling over themselves daily.

    Tim Lott: Good riddance to this unequal Union

  4. The nonsense printed in the SOS and the Sunday Herald today is just that. Nonsense.
    It is designed to create division in the SNP and to damage morale.
    You will note there is no party officer of any standing indicated in any of it.
    We were assured by a high ranking party figure at a meeting today that as far as he could see the suggestions have been invented by journalists as there has been no discussion of any sort on this issue in the party.
    So I would calm down.

    • That probably is good advice Dave. But I don’t think it is entirely unfounded. There are no names attached to it but there are briefings etc going on. I think what I object to most is there not being a debate within the party first and these drips and hints in media interviews. It’s a clever game being played here and party members may yet find themselves backing indie lite, unsure of how they got there. It’s happened before! Just think there are several years for this debate, it should be done internally and then presented with all the ifs, buts and maybes thought through and ironed out.

  5. We need to be very careful about where this debate is going.

    There is only one defintion of Independence and that is the soveriegn right of those living in Scotland to decide. That is what the fight is about.

    The position surely has to be that we make the transition as straightforward as possible by sharing any and all institutions and services that it makes sense to. The critical thing is that, at any time through the will of the Scottish people, we can choose to do something different if it suits us.

    There is absolutely no reason why we have to have all the trappings that much more mature states have on Day 1. There is plenty of time to sort all that out. The important thing is that Scottish revenues flow to the Scottish treasury from the taxes that it sets.

    The debeate about Independence has to be aspirational from the Yes side and that can only happen if it is articulated in terms of the freedoms and choices that it offers.

    As soon as the debate descends into whats and whens the debate will be overtaken by arguements on costs and operations. That is the only hope the No camp have of winning this debate. After all, who on earth would vote against having the right to decide their own future.

    Independence is defined as the right to decide and should not be described by the result of the decisions that it allows to be made.

    • I agree. And my article makes that clear. Gradualism is the only approach but the what and the when of that is for the party to decide not the leadership and certainly not the media. The debate needs to be taken internally until sorted which was the main point of the post.

      And there is plenty of time to sort it out but it has to be done this side of the vote, and not expect folk to leap without knowing or understanding. It’s what independence can achieve for people in Scotland that willl persuade and there is scant policy detail on this at present. That should be the starting point ie the outcomes then what powers and levers are needed to achieve that.

      And aspirational does not preclude offering a vision as well as some detail!

  6. Great post and I agree with pretty much everything. My take on all this is that it is more of a Unionist attempt to muddy the waters than anything else. Stephen Noon in his piece talks about the opportunities that independence will bring. Exactly, but first we need independence. It was always likely that an independent Scotland and England would look at what things they could share or co-operate, but the decision would in the end be ours. The good thing about all this is that people are beginning to think about an independent Scotland would do.

  7. One thing I think we can guarantee is that if we do arrive at independence we won’t get everything right first time. It will take years to properly develop and establish our institutions. There will be a lot of tinkering with basic regulations and, especially, with aspects of the financial relationship between the constituent parts of what is now the UK. The crucial thing is that we acknowledge this ongoing process as a natural and healthy thing on which we can all work together, not a sign of weakness or a justification for petty cross-party sniping.

  8. I’ll take as much as I can get. the rest will follow eventually. Ccountries always end up doing what is in their national interest anyway, thus eventually rejecting or adopting measures that they have to deal with.

    It is a little early however to be surrendering powers before the First Minister is even officially elected in a 5 year term. It’s all just some folk acting a little excitedly at the moment.

    First Minister = an odd name. Irrelevant but why not ‘Scottish Prime Minister’
    or Scottish Premier. Minister Elect (not so sur about that one) but first Minister is a Brit nat obfuscation.

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