Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Scottish independence: the spin and the reality. The difference.

There’s lots of talk in the media these days about independence. There has been such an abundance of scare stories one might think that Scotland is heading for some sort of international pariah-hood rather than statehood; that the ship of state is being launched full of holes.

Recently there was an article in the Guardian, “Scottish Independence: all you need to know” and credit should be given to that journal as it somewhat condensed the popularised view of Union supporters, the uninformed and the dependency inclined towards Scotland’s future. It was also extraordinarily useful as a tool for comparing the revisionist, highly selective Union view of history and a cosy London-centric reality against the actual historical facts and most likely future outcomes.

The media would have us believe that Devo-max, full independence, or greater fiscal responsibility are all on offer. Interestingly none are recently advocating the status quo.

The following may help people understand the differences between myth and reality surrounding Scotland’s potentials, as proposed by her elected government and the incessant scare stories/personal attacks thrown forward, shotgun effect, in opposition by adherents to the Union cause. This is an examination of the difference, if any, between balanced argument and reality, between propaganda and historical or present fact.

1. The independence issue at a glance

The Union perspective: Around a third of Scotland's 4 million voters believe that Scotland should leave the UK and become independent, ending the 305-year-old political union with England. These individuals say Scotland's economy, its social policies and its creativity would flourish if it had much greater autonomy. A majority of Scots disagree. They believe Scotland is more secure within the UK.

The reality: The 305 year old Union was forced upon Scotland, there were English troops massed at the border together with foreign conscripts in 1706. The members of parliament were bribed, the signing was in secret, and there were riots for years afterwards. The majority of Scots do not disagree with independence being resumed by Scotland, they’ve simply never had it properly debated and are therefore unable to form a balanced opinion in our current circumstances.

Scots, as a nation, have never been asked the question after full, balanced and unbiased disclosure of all relevant facts. Scots have never yet failed to demand, petition or vote for more power / home rule, since the Second World War alone this happened in 1952, 1979 and 1997, the latter two in the face of virulent unionist campaigns.

2. Why is independence being talked about now?

The Unionist perspective: The argument is now very real after the Scottish National party won an overall majority in the devolved parliament elections in May 2011, allowing it to stage an independence referendum. Alex Salmond, the first minister and SNP leader, plans to hold it in autumn 2014.

The reality: It has been on the table since the act of Union was introduced, in 1712 it was defeated only by a parliamentary filibuster; 1715 and 1745 saw loosely related rebellions; Gladstone toyed with the idea; it was to the fore in 1912 but WW1 intruded. In 1952 the home rule petition gained 2 million signatures.

In 1974 the Scots were lied to again through suppression of facts about the true status of their nation (McCrone etc). In 1979 Scots voted for a devolved parliament, the Tories were elected after Labour changed the rules of democracy and Scotland was again denied.

There were the civil movements of the late 1980’s and 1990’s, leading to the referendum in 1997, again Scots voted yes. This is simply another step in Scotland’s story, one which without Unionist fears and subversion of democratic right would have been available sometime, perhaps many times during the last three centuries. The action was inevitable, only the timing was in question.

3. A brief history, pre Union, around Union and post Union.


The Unionist perspective: Pre-Union. Scotland's relations with its larger neighbour have often been difficult, none more so than in the "wars of independence" 700 years ago led by William Wallace and then Robert the Bruce who defeated Edward II, ending attempts to subjugate Scotland, at Bannockburn in 1314. After other cross border disputes and invasions the Scottish and English crowns were unified in 1603 when King James VI of Scotland became overall monarch of the British Isles.

The reality: There was no union of the crowns in 1603, there was no act of either parliament to ratify James VI assuming the English throne and enshrine his heirs as future UK monarchs. James simply became a single figurehead for both nations; nothing prevented the English or Scots from independently selecting their own monarch afterwards. Both in fact did remove a monarch at a later time, England was forced into buying an abdication while the Scots simply threw out the offending individual.

Around the time of Union:
The Unionist Perspective: Union creation and immediately post Union. In 1707, that union was cemented by Scotland and England's political union, forced on Scotland in part by a financial crisis following the abject failure of its colony in Panama, the so-called Darien adventure. All political power moved to London, but Scotland retained its own legal system, churches and universities. In 1745, the pretender to the British throne, Bonnie Prince Charlie, led the Jacobite revolt against Hanoverian rule by London. Despite reaching as far south as Derby, that ended in crushing defeat at Culloden in 1746.

The reality: Scotland’s most influential lords were bankrupt after funding Darien and looking at asset seizure by her burghs and merchants after the debacle. Darien was brought about after King William permitted his trusted friend and founder of the Bank of England, William Patterson, to go north and tout the idea. The failure of Darien came about through two causes, a Spanish blockade of the colony with English instigation support and collusion, and disease.

The Scots towns and burghs were wealthy in 1706; there was substantial trading taking place between Scotland and mainland Europe. England gained domination of a wealthy nation at a single stroke. The Union was engineered by less than fifty indebted nobles who later were remembered as “a parcel ‘o rouges in a nation”. These nobles worked to bring about the Union for personal gain and to avoid individual bankruptcy. Scotland retained not only law, religion and constitution, but her mints, taxation centres, burghs and much more. The last have since been eroded.

As William I’s chief paymaster to the nobles of Scotland, Daniel Defoe, commented in his memoirs, this was certainly a Union that Scotland’s people did not want.

Post Union:
The Union Perspective: the period of Union: In the 1800s, Scotland's economy strengthened, its cities boomed and its citizens took a leading role in the British empire. But proposals to give Scotland some form of "home rule" within the UK have been alive since William Gladstone's era as Liberal leader in the 1880s. After several failed attempts at Westminster, notably in 1913 and 1979, a Scottish parliament was finally reestablished in 1999 in Edinburgh with wide-ranging policy making and legal powers but dependent on a direct grant from London.

The reality: It took more than a century for Scotland’s economy, ravished by 1707’s Union, civil strife, uprisings, and multiple rounds of clearances and deprivation to even partially recover.

Scots became the empire’s cannon fodder, largely in part because the military offered an alternative to the mines, deportation, emigration or starvation.

Right through to the 1979 referendum the term “brain drain” was in common use as our best and brightest left our shores, shores which held no perceived hope for their future.

Scotland still has amongst the most deprived and poorest areas in Europe with some of the lowest projected life spans on earth, in spite of being one of the world’s most resource rich countries. A valid comment about Scotland under the Union is that it is the only nation to discover substantial reserves of oil and get poorer, now suffering austerity.

4. What happens next?

The Union perspective: Alex Salmond is in talks with David Cameron, the prime minister, about securing the legal powers that Holyrood needs to set up the referendum. Mr. Salmond wants to pass legislation in November 2013 but laws affecting the UK's constitution are reserved to the UK parliament. Without that power Holyrood will face lengthy battles over the legality of the poll.

David Cameron insists it can be held in September 2013; meanwhile the two men are in dispute over whether the referendum can include a second question on more powers for Holyrood within the UK, an option known as "devolution plus" or "devo max". The Tories, Liberal Democrats and Labour are offering to give Holyrood greater powers after the 2015 general election but insist the referendum has just one yes or no question on independence. Both sides need to strike a deal or risk a major confrontation.

The reality: Scotland and England exist under a treaty, the UK is not in fact a country, though commonly viewed as such by Union proponents; it is in fact a unitary state now made up of four countries, two of which, Scotland and England may choose to terminate their bilateral treaty of 1707 at any time. There is no such thing as a treaty which can’t be terminated by proper notice, as the Vienna Convention on treaty law makes clear.

Alex Salmond, Scotland, Holyrood or the Scots people need no permission from David Cameron, Westminster et al. The charter of the United Nations, to which the UK is signatory is very clear on this. What is often referred to as the UK’s constitution is actually England’s unwritten constitution. As noted in the Union perspective earlier, Scotland’s laws were protected; this also means Scotland’s ancient constitution. A recent example of this is the illegality of wheel clamping in Scotland while it remains rampant elsewhere.

There is no “requirement” for a referendum deal to be struck, however it would be an improvement if all sides could agree and move forward to present a full, fair and completely unbiased argument of their perceived relative strengths. This would ensure we have properly informed voters making what will be a highly significant decision.

5. The options – and key arguments

Option: Status quo - the UK government in charge of most taxation, welfare and economy.

Arguments for the status quo: 
The Union Perspective: The UK is the most successful economic and political union of modern times – change needs to be slow and careful. The UK brings security and shared risk, and common values.

The reality: The Union has not been successful for Scotland, a net contributor for almost her entire existence. Scotland has seen consistently higher deprivation, lower GDP and poorer life quality indices across the board. The Union has been successful for Westminster who has systematically asset stripped Scotland of people and resources for over three centuries. None with intelligence fights to keep a millstone, yet Westminster is fighting for retention of Scotland and states Scots are just that. London therefore either lacks intelligence or is lying. Termination is overdue for something that should never have been conceived.

Every Scots vote is diluted in worth by approximately 90%. That is a poor excuse for democracy.

Arguments Against Independence:

The Union Perspective: The Union is a living entity, it needs to grow, but it needs to do so under the direction of Westminster alone. It could do better in recognising Scotland's unique needs, values and aspirations; a little more devolution, such as the Scotland bill will fix any lingering problems.

The Reality: History shows it [the Union] should not have happened anyway, excluding this both parties agree. Scotland's interests are always secondary to England's. The UK is often run by parties which Scotland rejects. Under devolution there’s always the probability of Scotland’s needs and desires being trampled by Westminster’s wishes, as in Iraq, fisheries, agriculture, nuclear armaments and power policy. What London gives it can take.

This ensures that Scotland has to raise the taxes it spends while keeping defence and foreign affairs at UK level with the welfare state open to question or negotiation.

The Union Perspective: Some believe Scotland needs to take responsibility for the taxes it spends, and mould policies to its needs and raise the taxes to match its spending. Giving Scotland control over taxation and welfare would heavily impact all parts of the UK, require reform of the UK parliament and undermine internal unity.

The Reality: There would be agreement on this, excluding the fact it would not go far enough. Scotland could still find herself in wars that are not of her choice, at increased risk of terror attacks on her peaceful nation and she’d have no option on nuclear weapons. There is also the issue that in the probability Westminster becomes insolvent any funds Scots have, welfare, pensions et al will vanish leaving untold numbers of hard working Scots destitute.


The Union Perspective: giving Scotland full control over all taxes, laws and North Sea oil while keeping sterling and the Queen. Scotland would face greater financial risks, lose the security of UK, and gain little that further devolution would give. It would rely on a foreign bank and be in damaging competition with its closest, larger neighbour. The Union believes this would be a disaster for both parties and fights vehemently against it.

The reality: It is not the Union’s gift, its Scotland’s natural right. There is no reason why Scotland cannot resume her proper place in the community of nations. Scots can take back control of her own destiny; e.g. taxes, how she raises and spends them, and upon whom. The pursuit and furtherance of a fairer society would be within our power - without the uncertainty of an outside authority influencing our goals and achievements. This would mean dissolution of the Treaty of Union with BOTH Scotland and England taking their full place in the world. Scotland and England would remain firm friends. Wales and Northern Ireland would then have their own choices to make which appears also to be of great concern to Westminster.

Part 2 to come: Frequently Asked Questions [FAQ] and probable nationality/identity issues.


  1. First-class as ever, Hazel. It's an absolute sin that you're not a major media columnist in Scotland. A wee pedantic point: Section 2, "Tory's" should be "Tories"
    Doctor Bob

    1. Excellent stuff as usual Hazel ;o)

      Particularly liked the way you expressed this 'Every Scots vote is diluted in worth by approximately 90%. That is a poor excuse for democracy.'

      First time I have heard it put like that...

      Mair poo'er tae yer elba

  2. Excellent must post this everywhere I can,Bob,I would have written TOXICS not Tories.(lol)

  3. A fine post, informative, a great read, thank you.

  4. Another great contribution, Hazel. I agree with Bobelix that you should have your own column in the media!

  5. Fantastic .. Now, how can I get my 'not interested in politics' or my 'in denial' friends to read it?

  6. As with Charles I shall post this everywhere I can. Keep up the good work.
    PS I also agree with Bobelix about your abilities to write for the media.

  7. Hazel, you were making regular appearances in the Newsnet Scotland blog and all to great acclaim - what has happened to you - all has gone quiet? I have never come across a disappointing article and I hope you keep it going, big guns!

    1. Newsnet Scotland has had the last dozen or so blogs/articles - but they have obviously other fish to fry when it comes to publishing. I shall continue submitting them for now - and perhaps they might use one or so.

    2. Here's hoping!! I was going to ask you the same question Hazel

  8. Excellent article ... many, if not the majority of the population, accept as fact the Unionist perspective on the country's history. I would like to see the SNP leadership, 2 years out from the referendum, take up the narrative you highlight Hazel & get folk really thinking about the nature of the English/British Union whilst slaughtering the Unionist sacred cows on Darien/Empire/'partnership' whilst bolstering Scottish pride in the possibilities of a modern forward looking future.

  9. Shared on Facebook

  10. Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant - you are a star ;-)))