By Stephen Bowman
Dan Snow annoys me on multiple levels. For one, he is a TV presenter masquerading as an historian. I’ve still not recovered from reading his article on the BBC website back in February in which he set out to ‘debunk’ ten ‘myths’ about the First World War, and in which he made the mundane and mildly offensive argument that some soldiers enjoyed taking part in the conflict. I’m sure some did, but presumably not those who were cut to pieces by machine-gun fire.
Be that as it may, he’s annoyed me this week by leading a love-bombing campaign of Scotland by some well-known and not-so-well-known celebrities opposed to Scottish independence. Don’t go, they tell us in an open letter published on Thursday. They love us too much. We’ve achieved so much together (presumably including fighting and dying in imperialistic wars). The signatories of this letter include such Scottophiles as David Starkey, who loves the country so much that he’s previously labelled it – along with Wales and Ireland – as ‘feeble.’
In fairness, I’m sure other of the signatories of the open letter – most of whom appear to be based in England, including Scots like Ronnie Corbett – are genuine enough in their affection for Scotland. My main problem with their letter, then, is that it entirely misses the point. Scotland doesn’t feel unloved or disrespected. It doesn’t want to be told how much it will be missed by other parts of the UK (as if it’s actually going anywhere after independence). Despite the content of an article written by the Telegraph’s Tom Chivers, Scotland doesn’t need to be reminded that it has impressive scenery (which most people can’t afford to work or live near to in any case) or a good ferry network. This is all mundane, trivial and platitudinous.
No, the rest of Britain needs to realise that the referendum is not about identity nor about how we want other parts of the UK to think about us. Nor is it really about Anglo-Scottish relations, even if the UK Government and the main Westminster parties seem intent on making it about that through their intransigence on the currency union question. No matter what the Unionist press say, Salmond is correct to argue – as he did in last week’s televised debate with Alistair Darling – that the pound belongs to Scotland as much as it does to the rest of the UK. Scotland can and will use it as it pleases. To argue differently is to argue for a very one-sided conception of Anglo-Scottish union.
Moreover, to argue against a currency union is to argue against economic stability in both England and Scotland post-independence. While I fear that some in the English electorate will welcome the UK Government playing hardball with an independent Scotland, it would be in nobody’s interests if it did so. Not only would Scotland refuse to take a share of the UK debt, but the disruption caused by cross-border transaction costs in the event of a veto on a currency union would damage businesses in England and in Scotland. In which case, the UK Government would be entirely to blame.
So the time may yet come when Scotland does indeed feel unloved by the UK, though I hope it doesn’t come to that. It remains likely that the UK’s opposition to a currency union will disappear in the event of independence. Regardless, the real essence of the independence debate is about policy and democracy. Scottish independence is about how Scots want Scotland to be run. For me, this comes down to three things.
Firstly, the UK Government’s ideological assault on the welfare state. This is something that has resulted in a massive increase in the use of foodbanks and is not something that Labour will reverse if (and it is a big ‘if’) it forms the next UK Government. Scotland needs to leave a Union that is failing utterly to help the poor.
Secondly, Trident. Independence will mean that these weapons of mass destruction will be removed from Scottish waters, and will force the UK to rethink its commitment to keeping nuclear weapons.
Thirdly, EU membership. If Scotland stays part of the UK it will be voted out of Europe against its will when the UK holds a referendum on EU membership in 2017. This will be a disaster for Scotland, as it would threaten its ability to trade with, and receive investment from, Europe. It would also make it more difficult for Scots to travel freely across the continent.
We’re now very close to the referendum. The Yes campaign has had to compete with a hostile and biased press, yet increasing numbers of Scots support independence. The press on Wednesday morning was never going to report that Salmond ‘won’ the debate with Darling. The mainstream media doesn’t like Salmond and it doesn’t like independence. That’s why it totally ignored the snap poll taken after the STV debate which showed a 4% swing to Yes.
Independence will not be won by newspaper editorials, press releases, celebrity letters or TV debates, but by the very real grassroots movement that is leafleting, canvassing and discussing its away across Scotland every day of the week. If you’re undecided, and I know some of you are, please really try and question what’s being written in the press. Chances like this don’t come around very often. Vote Yes.