Leaders’ debates highlight need for Scottish independence
- Paul Henderson Scott has written numerous books on Scottish history, literature and affairs, including ‘A 20th Century Life’ and its sequel, ‘The New Scotland’. He has been Rector of Dundee University, President of the Saltire Society and of Scottish PEN and a Vice-President of the Scottish National Party. The opinions expressed are his own -
The television coverage of the forthcoming election has hardly mentioned Scottish issues and Alex Salmond, the leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP), which forms the Scottish government, has not been included in the televised leaders’ debates.
In fact, you might suppose that this election does not concern Scotland at all, but of course it does. Many important issues are reserved to the British parliament, in which Scottish members are outnumbered 10 to one. These issues include taxation, foreign affairs, defence and even broadcasting. This, as well as the format of the leaders’ debates, is so obviously undemocratic.
So is the ability of the Scottish members at Westminster to vote on issues such as education and the health service in England, even though English members have no say in such matters in Scotland. To add to the confusion, the first of these televised debates was on domestic affairs. Brown, Cameron and Clegg were asked about education and the health service — issues where Westminster policy does not apply to Scotland.
The SNP is, of course, in favour of restoring Scottish independence and this is a matter in which Britain has fallen behind developments in the rest of the world. All the empires and most of the multinational states have been liberated into independent countries and they are much more contented and prosperous in consequence. In Europe many of these newly liberated states are now members of the European Union and most of them are smaller than Scotland.
Scottish independence would benefit England as well as Scotland. It would be better for England to have Scotland as a friendly neighbour than as a discontented subordinate. On most international questions we would support one another in the Council of Europe and the United Nations.
Labour, Conservatives and Liberal Democrats are, of course, contesting every Scottish seat. Labour has a traditional following in industrial constituencies in Scotland, but the SNP is a strong challenge in many of them. Labour was originally in favour of Scottish independence but it changed to outright opposition decades ago. It supported devolution only because they thought that it would “kill the SNP stone dead”. In fact the effect has been the opposite.
Many years ago the Conservatives had strong support in many Scottish constituencies but this was destroyed by Margaret Thatcher whose policies were deeply unpopular in Scotland. After Thatcher they lost all their Scottish seats and still have only one. They oppose Scottish devolution but paradoxically it has benefited them. The proportional element in the Scottish electoral system has made them the third largest party in the Scottish Parliament, but they are unlikely to win many seats in the forthcoming Westminster elections.
The Liberal Democrats, meanwhile, are in a curious self-contradictory attitude over the Scottish constitutional question. Traditionally they are in favour of greater democracy, but in the Scottish case they argue for federalism and oppose independence. This is illogical because England is so much larger than Scotland or Wales and has no desire to dissolve itself into component parts. Also, federalism would leave Westminster in charge of foreign affairs and defence. These are matters in which a majority of Scottish opinion take a different view from the English, for example on nuclear submarines and the Iraq war.
For all these reasons, it is difficult to predict the outcome of the Westminster election. Television coverage, especially the leaders’ debates, has favoured the three major British parties, but if the result leaves none with a clear majority, the SNP and Plaid Cymru may hold the balance in the new Parliament.