Why Scotland must be independent
Studying the Union is bad for your unionism. I can say this with confidence after researching the subject for the past four years so that I could write a book to mark its 300th anniversary on May 1.
I have chased up original material from Perth to Paris, London to Los Angeles. And, at the end of it, have come out a nationalist — quite a journey for someone who was a Conservative candidate for the British and the Scottish parliaments.
Those familiar with my previous writing will be surprised by this conversion. After all, I’ve penned a biography of Henry Dundas, who consolidated the Union in the 18th century, in part by persecuting radicals. I’ve also written The Scottish Empire, chronicling the Scots’ fervour for imperialism, a subject not often dwelt on in the modern nation. And my book Wild Scots is notorious for its alleged Clearance denial.
Yet now I’ve changed my mind. I believe in an independent Scotland and I will do what I can to bring it about — although I have enough intellectual scruples to see it won’t be easy. My change of heart has been brought on by devolution. It has proved completely hopeless, if anything making Scotland a worse rather than a better country, so I think we have to do something different. We cannot go back, so we have to go forward.
A small country, of course, is not completely in control of its economic environment — that’s why the policies of sky-high expenditure advocated by the SNP will never work — but within fairly narrow parameters you can do sensible things. You can still do more, and better, under independence than you can by rattling the begging bowl at the British government.
I have been pondering how devolution has served, or might serve, my yet more fundamental political beliefs. What I believe in is liberal democracy under a limited state kept prosperous by the capitalist system. I had hoped devolution would bring Scotland closer to that ideal — at least in its political aspect, although the economic aspect was always going to take a little longer.
Instead, devolved Scotland has gone in the opposite direction. It is not liberal but illiberal. Its government is not limited but rampant. Its economics are not capitalist but statist — neither is it bringing prosperity.
How Scotland has gone off the rails might be illustrated by the evolution of the old Conservative party, even in its resolve to remain undefiled by devolution. It is an outsider to the new order, shunned by other parties, yet conforms in all main respects to it.
In 1997 the Tories still stood for liberal democracy, limited state and the capitalist system. Today the party does not seem to stand for anything but a harder line on crime (and even that is identical to new Labour’s). The Scottish Conservatives merely try to compete with other parties in dreaming up more ways for the government of Scotland to spend our money. They continue to flatline, as they have since 1997.
By the 2010 election, the Scottish Conservatives may not be here. They have had seven years to sort themselves out and adapt to the new political environment. They have done nothing. I have had enough of them.
That said, I am not rushing off to join the SNP. In terms of belief in liberal democracy, a limited state and capitalist system, I find the nationalists almost as deficient as the Tories, or indeed as any other party in Scotland. SNP policies would be disastrous. They would quickly ruin Scotland if they came in on that programme. As a floating voter maybe I can help — I’m not going to join them but I will try to bring them to a more sensible frame of mind.
All these parties are the products of a clapped-out, corrupt Scottish political system, the result of a century of dependency culture. None has the imagination or bravery to break free. Their response to every problem is to demand more intervention by the state, more public expenditure and more power to bureaucrats.
To mention a radical agenda at this point may appear a trifle glib. Yet there are countries comparable in size to Scotland, some with political and economic histories a great deal unhappier, that have been able to cast off their shackles and make a leap to a better future.
A prime example is Estonia, which emerged in 1989 from half a century of communist thralldom and has since become a beacon of democracy and capitalism to the rest of the old Soviet bloc. The Estonians have a long way to go, but already they are getting richer far faster than the Scots.
Looking closer to home, Ireland spent the first 50 years of independence trying to encourage peasant agriculture in the same way as we are doing with our land reform, but 50 years was enough to get into Irish skulls that it was possible for governments, even of small countries, to have the freedom of action to introduce sensible policies and prosper.
So a couple of decades ago they too turned to capitalism — and created a boom that Scots can only envy. I hope it will not take Scotland 50 years.
Once I would have argued that political independence is not a necessary condition for their kind of economic success, now I take the opposite view. The Estonians and the Irish cannot ask anybody for money, which is the Scots’ first reaction to any crisis. They have to work out what to do for themselves and get on with it.
This is why I have concluded that independence is the prerequisite for Scottish prosperity. In an independent Scotland, I do not expect the ridiculous social and economic programme of the SNP to last five minutes. I don’t think there will ever be four taps to every Scottish sink — hot, cold, oil and whisky.
Independence is not a pain-free option. The withdrawal of UK public expenditure would be unfortunate in certain respects. But in the end it would be better for Scotland to face the reality of its situation and try to devise sensible policies to deal with it. One way or another, the addiction to subsidy and the whining supplication it induces would have to be broken before a new life could begin.
History suggests the requisite qualities of enterprise and initiative are present in the Scottish people. It will be a matter of getting to grips with some serious and uncomfortable issues, rather than with the pork barrel or the political correctness that offers such a pathetic substitute today.
The cause of independence now is much like the cause of independence in 1707. Scots then were like Scots now: they agonised, they changed their minds, they did not know what to do. They tried to look forward, but they could not see far. None of the choices before them seemed palatable.
I wonder whether the present generation can ever match the courage of its forefathers.
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