What kind of Scotland?
It’s a beautiful Saturday afternoon in Washington DC, blue cloudless skies, rowers on the river and a peaceful holiday feel to the streets. Around 100 yards from my hotel window is the Watergate complex, and it strikes me if I don’t start blogging about Scottish Independence now I probably never will.
Washington, of course, is the political town par excellence; it exists for no other reason, and one can’t deny the excitement as a presidential motorcade roars by, or Marine One and its shadow hover over the Ellipse. However, there have been specific reasons why, so far from home, the business of Scotland’s Independence has been worrying at me this week.
DC is a stunningly beautiful town, and I’ll blog on that at a later date, but one of the reasons for its beauty is that it was specifically built, from scratch, to be that way: the boulevards reminiscent of Paris, the classical buildings, the parks, the elegant groundplan – all came from a desire to make the capital an admirable town. It’s one of the benefits of starting over as a country.
Scotland will be in no position to do that if it re-gains its independence, though undoubtedly there are parts of the Capital where the chance to do so might be to everybody’s benefit. BUt it’s not really the architecture that’s the point here – it’s rather the desire to do things as well as possible – not for the glory of politicians, but out of respect to the people who vote for the government and who have a right to the best service from it.
It’s easy to point out that the USA has got many things wrong (there’s a building in the corner of my eye as I type which is proof of that) – maybe that’s the inevitable result of ideals clashing with reality, but the crux of the matter is that the country was founded on ideals and was brave enough to write them down in a Constitution.
If we look at the state of the Independence debate right now, we have to lower our gaze somewhat. The SNP seem to be keeping their powder dry and the unionist parties are finding it’s much easier to attack the unknown than it is to make a positive case that includes the line: we are better off depending on others.
Filling the vacuum, the media have decided they need details: how many ships and planes, whose head on the currency, who will open Parliament and sign bills into law, NATO, Euro, sterling, EU??????? These, of course, are not ‘details’ in that they are unimportant, far from it; but they are details inasmuchas the answers have to be based on a question far more crucial to the country’s future, which is “What kind of Scotland?”
What priority will be given to the welfare state and education? What is the vision for young and old? What role will Scotland play in world affairs? What approach to finance and economics is contemplated? These are philosophical questions which will underpin the kind of independent Scotland we will live in.
To take defence as an exemplar.
Perhaps more than any other item, the unionists’ line on defence has been blighted by an inability to take a post-British view. Comparisons are made to the current UK Forces in size and role, and anything less is seen as a measure of Scotland’s waning ‘influence’ in the world. The fact is, of course, that the UK’s role in the world is largely to follow US policy – although interestingly Obama has started to say that the US role as ‘world policeman’ is no longer tenable. The UK approach is left over from Empire days and second world war politics – which is why it clings to its nuclear power (no longer independent) and its seat on the UN Security Council. There are other ways of playing one’s part in the world and many countries follow a different route.
However, if we want details on Scotland’s defence after Independence, we surely need to start, not by a comparison with the old UK state, but by defining how Scotland would see itself in the world. I would suggest this should be to play a positive, neighbourly role which is compatible with our size and resources, and shows cooperation with our neighbours as long as that is in line with the will of the Scottish people.
So, based on that premise, taking population and geography into consideration, it is reasonable to assume that an Independent Scotland would have defence forces of around the following size:
An army of around 12000, with a similar sized reserve force.
An Air Corps of around 1200 with around 20 aircraft/helicopters
A Naval Service of around 2000 with maybe 14 vessels suited to differing roles.
These numbers are based on similar sized nations and an international role of peacekeeping support alongside home duties of basic defence, fishery protection, aid to the civil power in times of disaster, air ambulance and search and rescue duties and ceremonial requirements. This would depend on a decision being taken that Scotland’s role in the world would be non-belligerent but supportive of its neighbours. In respect of NATO, rather than full membership, signing up to the Partnership for Peace would allow Scotland to participate without being required to spend the vast amounts on armaments required of full members, and would obviate the need for participation in wars of dubious authenticity. Ireland has contributed to peacekeeping forces around the world more or less continuously for over fifty years; the idea would be that the country’s role would be reflective of its capacity but also of its agreed approach to world affairs; armed service would be in support of Scotland’s aims, rather than America’s.
I venture into these ‘details’, not because I am predicting what will happen, but to demonstrate that decisions on details must be based on a coherent philosophy: what kind of Scotland?
All of this, of course, is showing clearly that the discussion just now should not be about vote yes or no but on the constitution, the declaration, or whatever we call it, which will say, in effect: This is the kind of Scotland we envisage: do you want that too?
In a post Blair political milieu, winning and spinning has almost become acceptable as the basis for how a government operates. My various experiences this week in DC have reminded me that, in formulating a new country, we really should be thinking about by the people, and for the people. We need a sound philosophy of nationhood, we need informed political debate and we desperately need to disentangle ourselves from that horribly Scottish ‘wee angry man’ approach to all areas of our life.
The Library of Congress in Washington, a stunningly beautiful building, contains many gems, but the one that took my eye was the original first draft of the Declaration of Independence. This was written originally by Thomas Jefferson and then altered after discussion and input from Ben Franklin and John Adams. In places the scorings out are even more informative than the final choice of words.
In an earlier draft, the most famous line in the document: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal..’ has scored out at the end ‘and independent’.. Jefferson had originally written ‘equal and independent’. This fitted his philosophical anti-slavery stance, albeit it one which was practically at odds with his retention of more than 130 slaves on his plantations. However, Adams and Franklin had clearly pointed out that such a statement would not sit well in enlisting the support of the southern states who would be needed as supporters of the declaration. Basically the decision was: retain the phrase, retain the high ground and fail to gain support, or delete it, gain momentum towards independence and then deal with slavery as an autonomous country. Ultimately this is what happened – with a legacy of civil war and racial injustice blighting much of the new country’s first two centuries. The relevance to Scotland’s position is the process – the coming together to construct a vision of nationhood acceptable to all the people. Thankfully, Scotland has nothing as serious as the slavery question to address, though you could claim the levels of childhood poverty are serious enough – but it does show a way forward. There is some kind of comparison to be made with the retention of the Queen’s position in an independent Scotland. If such a guarantee comforts some who would otherwise be leerie of the change to independence, you could say it is justified. An independent country could soon decide if such an arrangement was perpetual or if, on the death of the current monarch a more suitable arrangement for titular head of state was put in place. Crucially the people, through their parliament, are sovereign.
If we wanted to be grown up about it and raise the whole tone of debate, political and civic leaders in Scotland would come together to draw up a declaration of ‘What kind of Scotland’. It would be a visionary document containing the kind of high ideals that have been sadly missing from political life in these islands these past few decades. It’s easy to imagine that the ideal Scotland envisioned by those of Nationalist, Green, Liberal and Labour mindsets would not be hugely different and I daresay a good few one nation Tories could and would contribute. Agreement on a text would not be impossible. It would be a country to aspire to and a vision to work towards.
The business of the parties and the referendum would then be the argument of whether that agreed Scotland was best achieved within or without the Union.
Scotland has suffered as part of a UK which has been rootless and without direction since the years after the second world war, a reactive state, unsure of its role, unable to look backward or forward, and as a result in a position of stasis: Empire? Commonwealth? Europe? North Atlantic? American satellite? Clearly some of the discomfort felt south of the border in terms of independence stems from this lack of clarity about the role rUK would find for itself – but, as much for England and Wales as for Scotland, there has to be a redefining of what we are about as countries, the role we play in the world and how we interact with our neighbours. We need to take responsibility for our own people and make decisions based on the common good rather than on the needs of a small minority. Government has lost contact with the people and Independence gives us a chance to form a Constitution to which we can hold our politicians, a vision to share, and standards to maintain. Can Scotland, for its people’s sake, afford to be separated from the world community any longer. There is a wonderful irony that unionism cannot use the word ‘independence’ and chooses instead to label nationalists as ‘separatists’. You would only have to look at that spot between Saudia Arabia and Senegal in the UN building to recognise how separated from the world community Scotland is under current arrangements.
For those who think that independence under a visionary constitution is a long shot, a risk and an impossibility, are you really happy to continue as we are?
If the Union is working for our people, why is one child in three living in poverty? Why does Scotland have such appalling health statisitics? Why are the elderly so badly cared for? Do we really want arms spending to outweigh welfare support and job generation? Isn’t it about time we took full responsibiltiy for our own affairs without blaming others or operating on a condescending Barnett formula?
And don’t we deserve political parties which are accountable to the people and to a consitution in a modern and forward looking nation?
Or does nobody care anymore?