As Scotland’s minister for the Constitution, Mike Russell’s job is to deliver a successful independence referendum in late 2010. This will not be easy. In the second part of this series, we look at what he will be up against, and what tactics PM-to-be David Cameron might use to hold together what’s left of the remnant of Empire we call the UK of GB & NI.
Over the next two years, the fate of Scotland will be decided in the following three polls:
A. The next British General Election on or before June 3rd, 2010.
B. The planned referendum on Scottish independence, planned for late 2010, and
C. The next Scottish parliamentary elections on May 5th 2011 - if indeed there is still a devolved Scottish parliament by that date: if the above referendum goes ahead and is successful, there won’t be any more elections for a devolved Scottish parliament. The electoral cycle for a newly independent free and democratic Scotland will have begun.
Getting a referendum bill through the Scottish Parliament will be no easy matter. It will be met by the full arsenal of British Unionist resistance: the combined opposition of the British Unionist parties in Edinburgh (Labour, Tory and LibDem), the relentless pro-Union bias of the foreign-owned Scottish media, the death throws of the out-going Labour administration in London, the continued surreptitious spoiling tactics of Britain’s faceless minions in Whitehall, and the full might of the next Tory government at Westminster with its massive English majority.
But now that Labour is facing annihilation at the next British election, surely the task facing Scottish nationalists becomes simpler? Won’t there be a Scottish backlash against the Tories, once they take power at Westminster?
You would think so, but we can’t write off Labour yet. Their plan is to hang on long enough to fire off their last deadly Parthian shot: proportional representation in UK elections. With the prospect of at least a dozen years in power, the Tories will oppose it, but Gordon Brown (or his unelected Labour successor) will push it through as the only thing standing between his party and utter oblivion.
How will this affect Scotland? The referendum is the key, but with an impotent Tory administration in Westminster (as a result of a new PR system), there might not be the backlash against the Union that the SNP is counting on in the coming referendum.
The signs are indeed ominous, and Scottish nationalists might be getting a strong sense of déjà vu. Haven’t we been here before? For those too young to remember, current events bear more than a passing resemblance to 1979, with the SNP calling for the dissolution of the British parliament, Scotland being dragged down by the UK’s increasingly precarious finances, the IMF breathing down the British Government's neck, the Labour Party on the ropes, the Tories waiting in the wings of Westminster, and a referendum on Scottish nationalism in the pipeline.
When the '79 referendum was finally held, Scotland voted YES in a contrived question that would have granted an almost meaningless form of devolution, only to be told the answer was NO on a trumped-up technicality.
It was Europe that eventually forced London to concede real devolution to Scotland via another referendum in 1997 after – despite Tony Blair’s claims of spontaneous generosity – a secret group of Scottish nationalists had pointed out to Council of Europe diplomats that Brussels was in no position to dictate forms of democracy to Eastern Europe when those self-same forms were being denied within Scotland. London was promptly told to get its house in order. Quickly.
It was the supreme irony of Margaret Thatcher’s legacy. Having lobbied for full EU membership for the emerging democratic states of Eastern Europe (to counter attempts by the French-German axis to create a ‘United States of Europe’) her actions led to Scottish nationalists then using her success to seek the same levels of democracy, levels she had been so instrumental in preventing in Scotland.
So what can we expect this time around? Another loaded question in a fixed-up referendum? Twenty more wasted years? What tactics will the combined might of the British establishment use this time to hang on to Scotland for the few remaining years it needs to extract the last of her oil?
To answer this question, and to anticipate the desperate Unionist rearguard action about to be unleashed on Scotland, I’ve decided to put myself in David Cameron’s shoes - assuming he wins the next election. What follows is a step-by-step battle plan, ready to roll for the newly elected Prime Minister of this morally and financially bankrupt British state:
1. Announce English votes for English laws. This should head off English demands for devolution and act as a good band-aid for the inherent unfairness of England not having her own parliament.
2. Make ‘Respect for Scotland’ the Tory mantra north of the border. Buy off the Scottish elites and nationalist-leaning Scottish entrepreneurs with knighthoods and peerages. Move some of the nuclear subs from Scotland to ports in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Re-form the Scottish regiments. Divide et impere.
3. Strict Scottish media management. Control the flow of all non-internet information. Pull the plug on award-winning Newsnight Scotland. Encourage pseudo-intellectual Scottish writers to attack the idea of Alex Salmond’s ‘arc of prosperity’ while ignoring the stunning success story of Norway (1), the closest match to Scotland, and the complete meltdown that is UK Inc. Continue to support blanket pro-Union media coverage via the BBC and the Scottish press. Spoon-feed ‘lobby journalists’ with inside stories, ostracising any journalist – English or Scots – with nationalist leanings. Increase funding to BBC Scotland for pro-Union news and current affairs programming. This could never happen in England, but with Scotland’s well-established, anti-SNP, rabidly pro-Union press and media, it would be business as usual, with a new piper calling the tune.
4. Derail economic arguments for full Scottish independence. Avoid granting full fiscal autonomy, allowing instead the Calman Commission recommendations on Scottish government borrowing. Then go further and announce a fair share of all taxes raised on oil revenues will now be paid directly to Scotland, proportional to its current ratio of the UK population: 8.5%. (2) The nationalist Scottish Government will appear greedy as it condemns the niggardliness of the windfall while spending it on hospitals, roads and schools. The Scottish people will probably settle for this as an acceptable result, allowing the British Government keep the rest for IMF repayments, more London infrastructure, the Olympics and the replacement of Trident.
5. Form an unholy alliance with Labour in Scotland to get access to its up-and-running electoral fraud machine. They too will be playing an end game for their survival as a party, just as you will be for the British state. They will hope to stage a comeback from their old Scottish heartland, and will be willing to try almost anything. Imaginary Scottish Labour supporters voting for the Union in a referendum are better than real ones.
6. Once all this is in place, announce a British-run referendum on Scottish independence to take place before the Scottish Government one, with the pretext that you want to make sure it is run fairly, being such an important issue.
7. Make the referendum question loaded, something along the lines of: ‘Should Scotland break all ties and separate from the rest of Great Britain, or remain within the United Kingdom?’ YES – break all ties; NO – remain in the United Kingdom. The psychology of this is that most referendums tend to vote ‘No’, regardless of the issue, when it is contrived as a vote for the status quo. (3)
8. Hold the referendum on a work day or, even better, a holiday weekend so that the aged and unemployed – those currently dependent on British government handouts – will be over-represented, and more independent professional people will be too busy to vote, or away on holiday. (4)
9. Once the NO vote occurs – as it surely will if all these steps are taken – declare the matter of Scottish independence closed for a generation, at least until well past peak oil, when an asset-stripped Scotland can finally be cut loose.
In this way, despite the unprecedented levels of autonomy granted to Scotland, you, David Cameron, will still be able to claim that you are Prime Minister of a UK that includes the land and seas of Scotland. The UK will then retain its relative importance within Europe, its geopolitical importance in the world, and its seats on the UN Security Council, G8, and NATO, allowing you to continue with the myth that Britain is still a world power.(5)
This will also give your government continued access to 91.5% of Scotland’s oil revenues, essential if bankrupt Britain is to have any chance at all of paying off the unprecedented levels of debt accrued on the watch of your predecessor, the unelected Scottish Unionist Prime Minister, James Gordon Brown.
(1) “On the government's estimates, the [2009 Norwegian Government] surplus will more than halve as a share of GDP from 18.9% to 7.4%. That would still be a remarkably good outcome in comparison with the budgetary problems being faced in other European countries, although it is also dependent to some extent on the revised macroeconomic assumptions underlying the forecast.” http://www.economist.com/displayStory.cfm?story_id=13709932
(3) This has been the case in Australia, where the option for change has always been tied to the YES choice in any referendum. In this way only 8 out of 44 referendums have been carried since Federation in 1901. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Referendums_in_Australia
(5) Jack Straw revealed the true value of Scotland to the UK during BBC Question Time, September 28 2006: “A broken-up United Kingdom would not be in the interests of Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, but especially not England. Our voting power in the European Union would diminish. We'd slip down in the world league GDP tables. Our case for staying in the G8 would diminish and there could easily be an assault on our permanent seat in the UN Security Council.” http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/question_time/5388078.stm