The possibility of Scottish independence: is the ‘One Nation’ notion in peril?

Alex Salmond’s white paper, entitled ‘Scotland’s Future’, seems to have attracted a lot of media coverage – but it whiffs of both (self-)importance and an sense of underwhelming implausibility.

There are two issues that Salmon has tackled in this white paper. Firstly he tackles the elephant in the room, Scottish independence from the UK. He is not, by any means, fully supported by the Scottish people in this regard. The second argument seems to be about the significance of social democracy. And this is where Salmond’s strength lies.

Voters are not persuaded about independence, and polls consistently indicate that; the forecasts average out at 39% expected to vote ‘yes’ and 61% to vote ‘no’. To gain a significant amount of ground, Salmond needs to make independence a safe option, and not try to aim for a drastic amount of cultural change, by including the monarchy and the pound sterling in a prospective, newly independent Scotland.

The gist of the paper was that independence would not pose any risk or danger. His actions have met with antipathy, most prominently from Alistair Darling, who responded by saying that keeping the pound, endless oil-wealth and EU membership might not be so easily safeguarded.

But far less opposition has been met from the perspective of the purported benefits of independence. Salmon advertised three advantages: firstly, an independent Scotland would establish a better and more efficient welfare benefits system (including the omission of the ghastly bedroom tax). Secondly, there would be an immediate counter-attack on privatisation; Royal Mail would be re-nationalised, public service broadcasting would be safe, and the NHS and (higher) education would remain state-controlled and state-funded. The third is the end of Trident, which, post-Iran talks, is actually quite a clever move.

Now these arguments are both water-tight and convincing. The mainstream parties are obviously backing the independence campaign. However, Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives are hindered by  huge rifts, sometimes within each party. It demonstrates that the UK might not actually be ‘One Nation’, and also that the benefits of Scottish independence are actually quite tantalising to the Scots.

The fractious nature of the British public means Salmond can capitalise on the rhetoric referring to the Scottish social democratic tendencies to inspire unity behind his independence campaign. His claim is that independence can ensure Scotland’s social solidarity for nationalisation, anti-austerity measures, and anti-nuclear measures. This is undoubtedly inspiring to many Scots.

Whether the Scots are entirely socially democratic is debatable. For example, it is a general point of agreement amongst the general Scottish public that the unemployed need to earn benefits, which can be hard to reconcile with their social democratic pride.

The SNP, spearheaded by Alex Salmond, have declared just how realistic it is that Scotland could cut the umbilical cord from London. However, he did convincingly put forward the possibility that independence is the best way to safeguard social democracy, especially if tax rises and further austerity face Scotland post-independence, when their increasingly scarce oil wealth will decrease and they have an increasingly ageing population.

In Westminster, particularly amongst the Labour party, politicians need to take more of a social democratic stance to counter what was generally a success for Salmond at the conference. Using this basis as a springboard, Westminster needs to advertise the benefits of a collective Union – including Scotland.

There’s particular pressure on Ed Miliband to make his ‘One Nation’ concept a reality, especially if he wants to gain more ground before 2015. Labour, with cooperation from the Liberal Democrats and Tories, needs to outline the parameters of a United Kingdom . One idea would be to do away with Trident, and other social democratic actions to lure the Scottish back to the ‘no’ camp.

If politicians in London allow the dust to settle after the revelry of the white paper launch, there is a risk that any undecided voters could start to support the idea of independence, and this is a risk that Miliband, Clegg, and Cameron cannot take. It has finally become abundantly clear that social democracy needs to become a more prominent banner for the whole of the United Kingdom.

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Categories: Global Political Insight, Opinion

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