Dear Alex Salmond,
You have played an absolute blinder today. Well done. Anyone who knew anything about Scottish politics warned David Cameron not to interfere in the referendum but he just couldn't help himself. And now he looks to everyone in Scotland like an arrogant fool who thought he could dictate the terms and timing of the referendum on Scottish independence to the Scottish Government. Does he not realise that the Scottish people are sovereign; and that they elected a government to deliver them a referendum; and that the government they chose was yours not his? The Scottish Government may not have the legal authority to hold a binding referendum but it has the moral authority.
Ignore the critics who say that you are frit, those same people deny England a referendum on an English parliament because they know they will lose. You are quite right to wait until 2014 so that Scotland can have a full debate on the pros and cons of independence; so that the Scottish people can see that the Calman proposals in the Scotland Bill are inadequate; so that the Scottish people can see what effect the West Lothian Commission will have on the ability of their MPs to represent them at Westminster; and so that the Scottish people can experience life under austerity Britain, caused by the economic incompetence of Westminster politicians (albeit Scottish ones).
Autumn 2014 is a good date for the independence referendum because in 2014 Scotland plays host to the Ryder Cup and the Commonwealth Games, and celebrates the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn, and in all likelihood the Scots will be complaining about the British media's biased coverage of England's World Cup campaign. .
You are also right to prevent Westminster from insisting that the referendum should be a straight YES/NO question on Scottish independence. We all know that the Scottish people would prefer Independence Lite (or Independence in Britain as I prefer to call it) and so, as a party of the people, you should do what you can to ensure that Independence Lite is an option.
Gerry Hassan suggests that Scottish Government should use the following wording for the independence referendum:
Do you authorise the Scottish Government to begin negotiations with the UK Government on Scottish independence?
These are words, according to Hassan, that are easily understood by everyone, with no doubts about what it means that is open to claim or counter-claim. I think he is right, no reasonable person could object. But having secured a mandate from the people to enter into negotiations with Westminster over Scottish independence, it is then possible for the two governments to come up with a bipartisan middle-way that can be put to the Scottish people in a legally binding referendum.
Independence (as was pointed out by DougtheDug on this blog) can be declared by Scotland on a unilateral basis, and there's not a great deal that Westminster can do about it. Whereas the problem with Independence Lite is that it has to come about bilaterally: it has to be offered by Westminster and accepted by Scotland. By using Hassan's suggested question you are more likely to engineer a situation in which both Independence and Independence Lite are on the ballot paper.
I would like you to know that there are a great number of people in England that are cheering you on. It's not only the Scots who feel trapped under the weight of the Imperial Parliament, an increasing number of English people do too. England is not a democracy and it lacks the basic trappings of nationhood: Parliament, Government, anthem, national holiday, etc. The government that we're lumbered with - the UK Government - is incapable of speaking for England; it can speak of England but not for England, the English question is ignored and we're left without a vision of an English future - England unimagined. Regrettably there is no English version of Alex Salmond, there is no politician for whom the interests of England are paramount. It doesn't matter how often we express a desire for an English dimension to governance, we are ignored, and it is the multi-national nature of the UK and the Unionists' desire to retain absolute sovereignty at Westminster that is the main reason preventing them from recognising English popular sovereignty. As an Englishman it makes me ashamed to say that you are the greatest hope for England, but at present you are. And not just England, you have the opportunity to shape the democratic future of the entire UK for the better.
Not that I want to put any greater pressure on you.
Good luck and God speed.
There's an interesting piece in today's Scotsman from David Torrence:
The political scientist Michael Billig identified a phenomenon he called "banal nationalism", where nationhood is so deeply and subconsciously taken for granted that it does not require coherent articulation. But the same critique can be applied to the contrary constitutional position. Indeed, it is "banal unionism" which now pervades British political discourse, from Gordon Brown's woolly push for "Britishness", to David Cameron's bland assurances that he is Prime Minister "of the whole United Kingdom".
This is surely inadequate, and simply betrays the incoherence of Mr Cameron's constitutional narrative, or indeed the lack of any narrative at all. Despite a degree of legwork in opposition he has, in common with most UK governments, adopted a suck-it-and-see approach in office. So now the coalition takes one position on Wales (parity with Scotland), another on Northern Ireland (a consultation on corporation tax), and yet another for Scotland (some new powers). Such inconsistency allows Alex Salmond to challenge and exploit, not least over corporation tax. But if Mr Cameron is serious about campaigning "to keep our United Kingdom together with every single fibre I have", as he said in the wake of the election, then he and others need to start thinking holistically, strategically and, in the short term, tactically. The response from the Scotland Office over last week demonstrates that none of these things is presently the case.
If I was being unfair I would point out that David Torrence himself is guilty of non-holistic thinking because he fails to mention England in his list of inconsistencies. The real glaring constitutional inconsistency is the status (or non-status) of England in our multi-national union. If Cameron wants to take on Salmond he needs to articulate a new understanding of Britishness that allows the different nations of Britain to sit comfortably in Union.
To address the lack of holistic thinking, David Torrence suggests a UK-wide constitutional convention. This is something that I would support, but not if it is simply a means for Westminster to silence "what Iain McLean called the "two mad men in the attic", the West Lothian Question and the Barnett Formula." The people of England must be consulted over their answer to the wider English Question, we should not be denied what was offered to Scotland, namely a national parliament and government that is accountable solely to us and governs in our name.
I thought that Alex Salmond's victory speech was very good, it showed humility and avoided triumphalism, by which method he managed to make Cameron's Unionist grandstanding seem rather shallow:
I believe the SNP won this election because Scotland wants to travel in hope and to aim high. Scotland has chosen to believe in itself and our shared capacity to build a fair society. The nation can be better, it wants to be better, and I will do all I can as First Minister to make it better. We have given ourselves the permission to be bold and we will govern fairly and wisely, with an eye to the future but a heart to forgive. - Alex Salmond's victory speech
Which stands in contrast to the bullish Bullingdon Boy.
“I know you [Mr Salmond] think a Conservative government at Westminster will ignore what Scotland wants and needs and that you will use such claims to promote your separatist agenda.
"Well, think again. We've got the vision. We've got the ideas And we've got the ambition. And to the people of Scotland, I make this guarantee. Whatever the outcome in Scotland of the next General Election, a Conservative Government will govern the whole of the United Kingdom, including Scotland, with respect. Whoever is Scotland's First Minister, I would be a Prime Minister who acts on the voice of the Scottish people, and will work tirelessly for consent and consensus so we strengthen the Union....We can be the force that delivers on progressive ideals. - David Cameron's Stronger Together, Weaker Apart speech to the Scottish Conservative Party
David Cameron is now being urged to live up to his pledge to 'act on the voice of the Scottish people' by ignoring the wishes of the SNP Government that the people elected in order to stage an immediate referendum on independence, with government ministers hinting that the timing of the referendum may be taken out of the Scottish Government's hands despite Salmond's insistence that David Cameron promised not to interfere on the vote.
To complicate matters further, Prof Hazell of the Constitution Unit has reiterated his view that Scottish independence requires two referendums:
The final step is the second referendum, asking the people of Scotland if they want independence on the terms which have been negotiated. The first referendum, if passed, would give the Scottish government authority to demand independence, and compel the UK government to enter into negotiations. The SNP have said a second referendum would not be necessary.
Negotiations between the Scottish Government and the UK Government (acting on behalf of England) on how to end the Treaty of Union between England and Scotland, and how to divide the spoils (and debts) of Union, would no doubt raise a few English eyebrows. Given that David Cameron has ruled himself out of being PM of England with the words "I don't want to be prime minister of England", we in England can only hope that there is someone in office who does want that role come the negotiations. Heaven forbid that we have some Unionist buffoon dishing out sweeties in return for Scottish concessions.
In Our Kingdom's excellent Scottish Spring series, Gerry Hassan said that a referendum on Scottish independence 'will have many unintended consequences'. One consequence will be the rise of English nationalism, and for a political strategist like Alex Salmond that prospect should be an intended consequence because it is likely to be the biggest prize. The very nature of the United Kingdom will be irrevocably changed by a Scottish referendum because the English will become intensely aware of the multi-national-ism of Britain and their own Englishness. Scales will fall from English eyes. The old anglo-centric, Anglo-British, post-imperial imperialist idea of the British state, which sees England as the centre and Scotland as a satellite rather than a partner, will be shaken to its core. And I think that a new English understanding of Britain as a multinational, consensual, union of partner nations, will emerge. This is what is needed if the nations of Britain are ever to sit comfortably and flourish in union; the monotheistic British nationalism of the political establishment in England must be replaced with a unionism based on pragmatism and mutual respect.
I agree with Brian Barder that the adoption of federalism by one of the Unionist parties would change the context of the debate.
The mere adoption by a major political party of federalism as a long-term aim for the whole of the United Kingdom would transform forever the whole context in which a Scottish independence referendum would be held. What alternative is there, other than the disintegration of our country?
But I think, and hope, that the Scottish referendum and the step-change in attitudes that follow will be the catalyst for the adoption of a federal model: the referendum itself, rather than the result, being the event that opens the way for constitutional reform.
Whatever the outcome, I'm fairly confident that we will never again see an incumbent of Number Ten saying that he doesn't want to be prime minister of England and referring to English nationalists as "sour little Englanders". Bring it on.
Alex Salmond's speech, upon the occasion of winning an SNP majority in the 2011 Scottish general election, 6th May 2011.
KIRKCALDY is my kind of town. It gave us Adam Smith, Jack Vettriano and Gordon Brown. And earlier today, it gave the SNP our 65th and winning seat in the Scottish parliamentary elections. I am, therefore, delighted to confirm that I will be seeking re-election by the Scottish Parliament as the First Minister of Scotland.
Earlier today, in a very gracious phone call, Iain Gray conceded defeat and also assured me that he would see that the Labour Party would work constructively with the SNP. I wish Iain well with the future, since I understand he is standing down as Labour Party leader.
Before I left Aberdeenshire, Tavish Scott also phoned me to also assure me that the Liberal Democrats would seek to work constructively as an opposition in the Scots parliament.
Later this evening, I will be speaking to the Prime Minister and laying down markers as to what this result and this mandate means in terms of Scotland's relationship with the United Kingdom.
I welcome the declarations from the opposition parties about constructive opposition because, although the SNP has a majority of the seats, we don't have a monopoly of wisdom.
And the areas that we want to pursue as an immediate priority in terms of reinforcing the parliament's economic teeth, with the legislation going through the Scottish Parliament, are areas which carry not just the support of the SNP but the support of other parties.
In identifying borrowing powers to keep the revival in the construction industry moving and the recovery of Scotland, we have the support of the Labour Party. In identifying the control of the Crown Estate Commission, so as Scotland gets the benefit of its vast renewable wealth of offshore resources in the way we never did in terms of our vast oil and gas resources, we have the support of the Liberal Democrats.
And, of course, in identifying the need to devolve corporation tax, it was a committee of the entire parliament that made the point that that power would have to be devolved to keep Scotland's industry competitive with elements elsewhere. We have a majority of seats but no monopoly on wisdom and we will welcome the support across the parliament as we seek to pursue these powers for the benefit of our people and secure jobs for our people.
I believe the SNP won this election because Scotland wants to travel in hope and to aim high. Scotland has chosen to believe in itself and our shared capacity to build a fair society. The nation can be better, it wants to be better, and I will do all I can as First Minister to make it better. We have given ourselves the permission to be bold and we will govern fairly and wisely, with an eye to the future but a heart to forgive.
This is not just a victory for a single political party. I believe it is a victory for a society of people and a nation. To make this historic breakthrough required more than the hard work of the SNP faithful. It needed the trust of the people; all the people. When our movement began, it called itself the National Party of Scotland. And that is what it is today again. A party for all the people; a national party. Team Scotland has won this election – the job creators, carers, the nurses, the small businesses, the ambitious and the aspirational; they have all won.
We are not fixed on the past in all its great colour – our eyes are on the future and the dreams that can be realised. I will govern for all of the ambitions of Scotland and all the people who imagine we can live in a better land.
This party, the Scottish party, the national party, carries your hope and we shall carry it carefully and make the nation proud.
Responding to George Osborne's offer to defer 'swingeing cuts' in Scotland for a year, Alex Salmond has complained that it would only mean "double the pain" in 2011/2012.
At least you have the option Alex. The rest of the UK has to start cutting now and will probably have to shoulder the cost of Scotland's deferment.
Meanwhile, John Swinney warned that Scotland could no longer afford to be a part of 'bankrupt Britain'
"Throughout the 1970s and 80s and 90s and the early part of the 21st century, Scotland has been contributing into the UK more than we have been getting back.
"Scotland is a strong and prosperous economy, we can afford to be independent. In fact, we cannot afford to remain part of bankrupt Britain."
The nerve of these people. Is this a deliberate ploy to wind up the English taxpayer, or are they for real? Wasn't it the Scots who played a large part in bankrupting Britain. One such who jumps immediately to mind is the 'spiv and speculator' Fred the Shred, formerly chief executive of the Royal Bank of Scotland, one of two Scottish banks now effectively nationalised. And the other who springs to mind is Scotland's own Gordon Brown, Chancellor of the Exchequer and latterly Prime Minister, the man who encouraged the credit bubble and financial deregulation that led to the crash, and the man who the Scots voted for in their droves and whose party is far more popular in Scotland than England.
If you want to claim the UK's oil riches as Scottish and by doing so claim that Scotland is in surplus, then fine, by all means vote for independence and take your oil. But take with it Scotland's share of the blame for bankrupt Britain, and the Scottish Labour Party, and Scotland's share of the public debt too.
There's an excellent letter to the Glasgow Herald, in response to Iain MacWhirter, in which Hugh Andrew describes the wearying 'British constitutional fudge' of the Scottish Parliament's legitimacy. You should read both.
The British political class are in a real mess over the question of Scottish sovereignty. In his speech to the English Constitutional Convention, Canon Kenyon Wright told us that the Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs that signed the Scottish Claim of Right "didn’t know what they were signing!" because "they were signing something which was a direct contradiction of the claim of Westminster to absolute sovereignty". Those MPs included Jim Wallace, now a member of the Calman Commission, and Gordon Brown, our glorious leader down in England.
Tom Nairn, not surprisingly, takes a similar view.
In 1988—the 300th anniversary of William’s accession— it [Scottish Constitutional Convention] also published a Scottish Claim of Right signed by most Labour and Liberal-Democrat MPs, which attributed all sovereign rights in Scotland to the Scottish people, rather than to the Crown in Westminster. Did they mean it? Well, presumably the signatories did mean it, at least while their pens were scratching the Declaration paper. Some of them may now be telling themselves it is irrelevant, or has been superseded by the newly Glorious & Bloodless Accession of 1997. If so, they are mistaken. - Tom Nairn, Sovereignty After the Election, New Left Review I/224, July-August 1997
And the SNP too, know that they can call upon the idea of popular sovereignty to win the referendum argument, as this old press release demonstrates.
Friday 4 April 1997 - For Immediate Release
"SOVEREIGNTY REVERSAL AT HEART OF LABOUR RETREAT"
SNP PUBLISH KEY CONVENTION QUOTES
Following the extraordinary remarks by Tony Blair in The Scotsman this morning - in which he proclaims the sovereignty of English MPs over Scotland - the Scottish National Party published a series of quotes which illustrate New Labour's retreat over the "Claim of Right" (the foundation document of the Constitutional Convention, which every Scottish Labour MP signed in 1989, proclaiming the sovereignty of the Scottish people), and Tony Blair's likening of the revenue raising powers of the proposed assembly to those of local authorities:
"We gathered as the Scottish Constitutional Convention, do hereby acknowledge the sovereign right of the Scottish people" ("Claim of Right", 30 March 1989 - signed by every Scottish Labour MP, except Tam Dalyell).
The purpose of the 'Claim of Right', "was to root the Convention solidly in the historical and historic Scottish constitutional principle that power is . . . derived from the people" ("Scotland's Parliament, Scotland's Right", Constitutional Convention, 30 November 1995).
"Sovereignty rests with me as an English MP, and that's the way it will stay" (Tony Blair, Scotsman, 4 April 1997).
Referring to an assembly's tax powers, Blair said: "The powers are like those of any local authority . . . it's like any parish council" (Scotsman, 4 April 1997).
Speaking in Stornoway, SNP leader Mr Alex Salmond MP said:
"Tony Blair's reversal of Scottish sovereignty goes to the very heart of New Labour's retreat on the Scottish constitution. And likening the powers of an assembly to those of a local authority gives the game away about the weakness of devolution. The average local authority controls 15 per cent of its revenue - and is being squeezed dry of resources by the Tories at Westminster - and yet New Labour's proposed assembly could control only 3 per cent of its budget.
"Blair has blown the Scottish election wide open with these devastating remarks."
The latest YouGov poll (16.03.09) for the Sunday Times puts support for the principle of a referendum on Scottish independence at 57% (with 29% against), yet Tavish Scott has put the Liberal Democrats in a ludicrous position by calling on the SNP to cancel their planned referendum - even though the separatists would most probably lose. As MacWhirter points out the Lib Dems are in favour of referendums on Westminster reform, English regional government and over the question of the EU, so why not Scotland; why go against the principle of popular sovereignty that all your Scottish MPs put their names to in 1988?
A Scottish independence referendum would be great theatre, a real TV extraveganza. It would envigorate politics, which is so boring at present. And the debate on English self-governance, which Westminster is so keen to keep a lid on, would be uncontainable - and it's for this reason more than any other that I'm so keen to see a referendum for Scotland (the SNP might like to factor that into their equation).
The Conservatives have called for Alex Salmond to step down as a Westminster MP, highlighting his poor Westminster record.
They claimed the First Minister was now one of the poorest performers among Scottish MPs, attending fewer votes, tabling fewer motions and asking fewer questions than almost all the other Scottish MPs.
One reason for Alex Salmond's 'poor record' is that, as an MP elected in Scotland, he rightly abstains from English and Welsh legislation. David Mundell, the lone Scottish Tory at Westminster, does not abstain. Does this make David Mundell a more effective voice for Scotland? No. It just makes him a nuisance.
Under the proposed Conservative reforms all Scottish MPs will in future have poorer Westminster records. That, surely, is the way that it should be.
Gordon Brown, you have been weighed on the scales and found wanting. The results from Glasgow East are in.
- SNP: 11,277
- Labour: 10,912
"Alex Salmond is the Marmite of Scottish politics", said David Cairns on Wednesday, "There are people who genuinely love him but there are huge numbers of people who simply can't abide the sight of the man."
The seismic result in Glasgow East means that Gordon Brown is the dog shit of British politics, not even a solid Labour constituency in Scotland will endorse him. Gordon Brown may not have visited Glasgow East, because people hate the sight of him, but even so it was him that lost it for Labour.
Congrats to the SNP, mine's a Scotch on the rocks
The Conservative vote dropped by 22% so the British voters must have stayed at home, eh Dave?
The Telegraph reports that Tony Blair, architect in chief of the break-up of Britain, has warned against petty nationalism:
He also challenged the unappealing "false patriotism" of the SNP case, and said England needed to take on the "little Englanders" who thought it clever to be anti-Scottish.
I've always liked Alex Salmond. It's astonishing that a politician can hold a consistent position for 30 minutes let alone 30 years, as Salmond has done.
All his life he has believed that Scotland should be an independent state. He has fought for it when it was hugely unfashionable and a liability to his career. To his credit he stayed with it, often lampooned but never dissuaded. I share Salmonds views, but for entirely different reasons.
At last his time has come. On May 3 the Scots will vote in their local elections and if his SNP are victorious they will hold a referendum in less than three years that will decide if the Scots will quit the United Kingdom.
It's a massive moment. The SNP is six points ahead of labour in the polls and with those clapped-out tartan tosspots Blair and brown campaigning north of the border, expect that gap to widen. For the English it's a big moment too. With a bit of luck we will soon be seeing the day when we stop writing a cheque for £34billion every year to prop up a country that consists almost entirely of golf courses and call centres.
We will also stop hearing foreign accents with foreign thoughts running our nation. I don't want Gordon Brown or Des "money for sailors" Browne deciding how much tax I should pay or where we should be fighting in the world I see myself as English, not British. I want English people to run my country. I hope and believe they will do it better. They certainly couldn't do worse than the shower that have been in charge for the past ten years.
Good luck to you, Alex. The English are right behind you.
That wasn't written by me by the way. I just received it via email, along with information that it was published in the paper edition of Wednesday's Sun newspaper. I have no way of checking that fact but it doesn't surprise me in the slightest. Readers in Scotland - who get Scottish versions of papers like the Sun - probably have little idea of the mood down here in England, so this is my wake up call to them.
Populist rags like the Sun - often referred to as barometers of public opinion - frequently go in for a spot of Jock bashing these days. I'm reminded of this, also from the Sun:
Tom Nairn warned of this in 2000:
Blair’s Project makes it likely that England will return on the street corner, rather than via a maternity room with appropriate care and facilities. Croaking tabloids, saloon-bar resentment and back-bench populism are likely to attend the birth and to have their say. Democracy is constitutional or nothing.
We have the croaking tabloids, and the saloon-bar resentment has been apparent for years, so all we need now is a back-bench revolt against the Scottish Raj - and that will surely follow from what occurs in the tabloids and the pubs of England. The people in power are always the last to know, and the pro-Scottish, Unionist, tub-thumping antics of comedy Dave and dour Broon will only make things worse before they can get better.
So, to the people of Scotland, I can only apologise for the Jock bashing that's goes on down here before we get our parliament. It's not heartfelt, so don't worry. The greatest compliment that we can bestow upon Scotland is in adopting your techniques; bitching and moaning got Scotland where it is today, and we in England can only aspire to emulate your achievements.
I shall be up in Scotland at the end of May as it happens. I'm looking forward to it enormously.
The Scotsman reports on the Scottish Nationalists drive to ramp up the campaign:
Mr Salmond acknowledged that there might be some athletes who preferred to compete in a British team but that is why he wanted to consult the sports administrators, to find a way through. And he argued that more Scots would have the chance to compete at the highest level with a Scottish team. He claimed that polls had shown that 78 per cent of the population backed a Scottish team.
Mr Salmond claimed that, at the last Olympics Scotland sent one athlete for every 210,000 citizens while New Zealand sent one for every 26,000 citizens.
He said: "The key thing in an Olympics is about participation and allowing a maximum amount of Scots to participate at the highest level."
Mr Salmond's plan amounts to a warning shot, fired across the bows of the BOA, showing that it that it might end up in a much worse position if it continues in its attempts to field a British football team in 2012.
Do I detect a teensy bit of bias in the Scotsman's reporting:
"Mr Salmond claimed"
"He claimed that"
Well he's correct isn't he?