David Martin spent a total of 33 years as a Member of the European Parliament, during which time he might as well (like all MEPs) have been digging the roads for all the political impact he had. But he did say something last week that deserves serious consideration: Mr Martin told the LabourList website that his party should back “independence within the UK” as a compromise solution to our constitutional crisis. If you think Nicola Sturgeon would have no truck with that, consider this: Mr Martin was co-convener of the Citizen’s Assembly which she set up two years ago to reach out beyond the independence movement. This, along with several other developments, makes me feel we’re being buttered up for Indy lite – especially now the egregious Angus Robertson has become Cabinet Secretary for the Constitution.
I was always highly suspicious of that strange initiative of hers. The First Minister hailed the assembly as a forum in which everyone in Scotland could have a say in our country’s constitutional future. Everyone? I didn’t participate in it. Did you? The only proper democratic way to ensure that all registered voters decide Scotland’s future is through a second independence referendum. But we have seen what level of commitment the SNP chieftain has to forcing indyref2. She can facilitate consensus-seeking gab fests but has failed repeatedly to march under one banner with supporters of her party’s supposed flagship policy. How long before Nicola comes out of the constitutional closet and admits she will settle for something short of full separation?
A leading member of the Unionist commentariat, Kenny Farquharson, declared in his column recently that “the future beings to us political softies”. He cited a YouGov opinion poll showing that even a fifth of those who voted SNP in the last general election would prefer more devolution over independence (an option his newspaper The Times has, quite tellingly, just started to insert into its surveys):
What this shows is that Softies who back the SNP, in conjunction with Softies in the unionist camp who reject the status quo, are a formidable force when they get together. They are the new power in the land. Soft power, if you will.
Softies are far from a new phenomenon within the upper echelons of the SNP. The previous Cabinet Secretary for the Constitution, Mike Russell, even co-authored a book in 2006 arguing that the party should abandon formal independence in favour of a “new Union”. Grasping The Thistle also floated the idea that foreign affairs and defence should become a shared responsibility with Westminster. This got nowhere at that time because Alex Salmond – whom Mr Russell dismissed as only a guerrilla leader – grasped him by the lapels and told him not to air his maverick opinions again.
But is it time for the thistle to be grasped again? I think some powerful people in our land think it is. Prepare yourselves, folks, for a New Union Treaty. That’s how those bent on preventing the break-up of Britain would hail “independence within the UK”. Others would present it as merely a slight postponement of the inevitable and find their own form of words for echoing Micheal Collins’ famous line about “the freedom to achieve freedom”.
But why would Boris Johnson ever sign up to any such thing? Because all his efforts to ensure the UK clings onto some kind of major power status post-Brexit will be seriously undermined so long as the rest of the world suspects the UK might not exist for much longer. The PM has more need and desire than anyone to put this matter to rest for the remainder of his premiership – which is all he really cares about. If he could simultaneously kill off the Barnett Formula to free up funds for levelling up the North of England that would be a big bonus. Also, never forget that Boris has an extremely low boredom threshold. What he would give to have the Scottish Question out of his messy blond mop.
He doesn’t even need to go to the bother of writing a prime ministerial speech for the inevitable treaty summit. Mr Martin has already crafted the key soundbite:
Such an arrangement would require goodwill on both sides, a robust institutional structure and constant dialogue – but it could work, and avoid a future with either an acrimonious and messy divorce or half of Scots feeling they are being held in the UK against their will. If it succeeds, it will demonstrate that the union is one based on consent, not compulsion.
The one and only thing no UK premier will never give ground on without a real struggle is Faslane. The Anglo-American Deep State won’t permit Boris or anybody else to surrender the nuclear submarine base to an anti-nuke government in Edinburgh. There would be a coup d’état in Downing Street before that ever occurred.
The Johnson regime now seems poised to brand anyone who doesn’t want to stay within the UK as the enemy within. The Defence Secretary, Ben Wallace, has declared that Scottish independence would undermine national security. Writing in today’s Sunday Times, he waxes lyrical about how the MoD directly supports 12,400 jobs and livelihoods north of the Border and thousands more in its extensive supply chain:
That shared military experience over the 314 years of the Union is not just history, it is a deep reservoir of knowledge that has earned us a place as one of the world’s foremost powers. A G7 power, a permanent member of the UN security council and a leading economy. That knowledge base can’t be unpicked with a slogan or political nationalism. That knowledge base is who we are. You can no more separate it than you can a strong Govan weld. To break it would be to weaken all our security.
They needn’t worry in Whitehall or Washington about any sudden or dramatic severing of the ties that bind whilst Ms Sturgeon is in Bute House. Under her pusillanimous leadership, the New Nats have drawn up no detailed plans for a separate Scottish defence and foreign policy. Nor have they given any serious consideration to the urgent economic regeneration efforts that would be needed in response to closure of the aircraft carrier construction yards at Govan, Scotstoun and Rosyth. Preventing the development of any such policies would be the primary aim of “independence in the UK” (an idea first floated by Donald Dewar, by the way). Here is Mr Martin’s explanation of how his “third way” would work:
Defence would remain a UK-wide function with Scotland making a contribution to this and other common services. The UK now representing more than one sovereign state would continue to hold the seat in the UN and on its security council. Scotland could, though, if it desired have direct representation in a number of international bodies – just as Taiwan does not have a seat at the UN but is a member of a plethora of international bodies.
I can all too easily imagine Nicola being tickled at the thought of looking like a real VIP in a plethora of international bodies, the purposeful expression on her ultra thin lips as she exited the long, black limousine with two wee Saltires fluttering on the front bonnet. Now undoubtedly in her final term of office, she must be looking for something significant to proudly point to as her lasting legacy (apart from seriously eroding rule of law in Scotland). She’d sell her self-aggrandisement to the Sturgeonistas by reeling off all she had gained for the nation they love so much. Mr Martin sums up how appetising Indy Lite could be for those who have given up on attainment of real independence:
Scotland would become a completely sovereign nation with total power over its domestic laws, services and taxation. There would be no border for goods, services, capital or labour (which would) provide a solution to the issues of currency, pensions and border posts.
My, wouldn’t that get quite a few things out of the FM’s expensively coiffed locks? It might even mollify some of her rudest critics – including, believe it or not, the most savagely anti-Sturgeon blogger over the last decade. Before its sudden disappearance, Wings over Scotland had been far more agitated about ‘trannies’ than Trident. When I pointed this up in my obituary for the site, its publisher the Rev Stuart Campbell replied:
Trident is one of the Yes movement’s biggest blind spots. It’s a distraction and a drag on our cause. We kid ourselves on that “Scotland” doesn’t want it, but polling regularly shows it’s near enough a 50/50 split… we kid ourselves on that we’d have any real negotiating leverage with the UK if we insisted on the immediate removal of Trident. It is BY MILES our biggest bargaining chip.
The Rev Stu’s stance on this is outlined at some length in the last of his below-the-line thoughts on my previous post titled ‘Wings No Longer Soar Over Scotland’. I suggest you scroll for it afterwards because it will give you a foretaste of the justification we might soon hear from Ms Sturgeon and Mr Robertson for keeping Faslane and other UK defence establishments under Whitehall control.
I reckon all too many supposed independence supporters could easily reconcile themselves to such ‘Realpolitik’. But, were the SNP chieftains ever to signed up to any sort of New Union Treaty, there might be a significant number of us siding with the anti-Treaty forces. In fact, I can think of no bigger booster for Alba than a cross-party embrace of ‘Independence within the UK’ – even more of an oxymoron than ‘Independence in Europe’.