If you haven’t read my previous post explaining what I’m trying to do here, feel free to take a look.
In this post I will set out the thinking behind my views on Scottish independence.
For what it’s worth, I think within a couple of decades the idea of the independent nation state will almost be completely alien. In a lot of ways, it already is. In an increasingly globalised world, countries are increasingly defined not in terms of their own peculiar characteristics but in terms of their relationships with other countries.
For instance, we think of countries as being members of transnational organisations. Countries are usually members of organisations such as the EU, Nato, the UN, the Commonwealth, any number of free trade blocs, special relationships… I could go on.
I have never heard it suggested that the SNP, or supporters of independence as a whole, would wish to do away with Scotland’s membership and / or use of such transnational institutions and agreements (though I’m aware that the SNP is opposed to membership of Nato — just making the point that it’s not the principle of such institutions that the SNP objects to). Nor should they. But unquestionably each of these in some way limits the independence of any country that signs up to it.
So what makes these institutions good (or at least tolerable) while Westminster is so bad? What I struggle to understand about the independence supporter’s position is why there is seemingly no part for Westminster to play in any plans for Scotland’s future.
To bring us back on to common ground, I should point out that my views are almost certainly driven by the same motivations that drive the feelings behind support for independence. Notably this would be the principle of subsidiarity, which means that decisions should be taken at as local a level as feasibly possible. As such, I would support an extension of the Scottish Parliament’s powers in many areas.
But it seems to me unreal to believe that there can be no role for Westminster; that there should be no reserved matters. One thing that is pretty neat about the UK is that most of it is made up of Great Britain, a relatively conveniently-sized island. It is certainly not too big to be adequately governed. It would seem quite silly not to take advantage of this geographical reality.
There are surely areas where the economies of scale trump subsidiarity. Foreign policy and defence might be one area, although I understand that many supporters of independence would find this difficult to swallow after the Iraq War (though a lot of people in the rest of the UK find the Iraq War difficult to swallow as well.)
National disasters could be another area. For instance, the 2001 foot-and-mouth outbreak which affected both Scotland and England with Cumbria, right on the border, especially hit hard. In such a crisis situation, if the government had to place certain restrictions, or even emergency legislation had to be passed, it would be more efficient (and less costly) for there to be just one government involved rather than have to set up meetings so that you could get multiple governments to agree to a solution.
I’m not saying that it would be impossible for multiple governments to agree. But it would surely be efficient enough to make it worthwhile for there to be a UK-wide system in place. And having two governments involved would only double the chances of there being a cock-up, there is the danger that there will be crossed wires and so forth.
Of course, we are in a bit of a crisis at the moment. Alex Salmond has made much about what an independent Scotland maybe might have possibly been able to achieve. This is mostly fantasy talk though, because we have no way of knowing how an independent Scotland would have coped (meanwhile one of an independent Scotland’s blueprints, Iceland, is facing quite acute difficulty at the moment — sorry for straying off the fluffy consensus-seeking territory there!). I suspect Salmond is only using the crisis to advocate independence, but as leader of the SNP that’s his job.
But there has been plenty of hand-wringing among commentators about how difficult it has been to get world leaders to agree on the best way to tackle this global crisis. What if some kind of major crisis hit the former members of the UK and the leaders got into a stalemate? You can say we have that in this globalised world anyway and there’s nothing we can do about it. But creating even more failure points is hardly a constructive way to approach this.
So that is, in brief, the thinking behind my view on the constitution — how I see powers being distributed between Westminster and Holyrood. I’m delighted to see that Adopted Domain has already written his take on this, and I think our viewpoints are quite similar. A good start!