A reply to an open letter from three former Conservative Scottish Secretaries.
Three former Conservative Secretaries of State for Scotland, Malcolm Rifkind, Ian Lang and Michael Forsyth, have sent an open letter to the press outlaying their reasons against Scottish independence. They respectively held the post 1986-1990, 1990-1995 and 1995-1997, in governments Scotland never voted for but had foisted upon us against our wishes. In what is an empassioned plea without any real substance, they reject the idea of a free Scotland in favour of remaining in the union. In this article I shall examine their words and reply to them.
“We believe that the value and the emotional appeal of the present Union is far more compelling than the mirage of Independence. The one has stood the test of three centuries. The other is built on a myth that sees Scotland as a deprived country, exploited by an uncaring neighbour.”
If Scotland is not deprived, then perhaps they would like to explain the high number of food banks in the country, why Scotland has a lower life expentancy than the rest of the UK, and why Glasgow has a life expectancy of 72.6 years while for girls it is 78.5. Scotland is the only country in the world to have discovered oil, and become poorer as a direct result of that.
“From our knowledge gained in government, we maintain that the economic and financial case against breaking up the United Kingdom is so clear as to be unarguable; that any hope that with Independence Scotland could achieve material or social objectives unavailable within the Union is vain”
And yet they fail to go into any detail or offer any evidence to back up that claim.
“and that the chance of Scotland maintaining in isolation the wealth and strength she enjoys as part of Britain is non-existent.”
Except that Scotland shall not be in isolation. We shall be in the community of nations, both in the European Union and the United Nations, and spending our wealth to improve the lot for all who live in Scotland, rather than handing it over to Westminster, then handing out the begging bowl for scraps from the rich man’s table.
“We hold that the constitutional, financial and legal difficulties of unscrambling so integrated and successful a Union as ours would be as complicated, damaging and heart-rending as breaking up any marriage can be.”
Again, no evidence offered for this. However, what they are referring to is the claim that Scotland would have to renegotiate a great number of treaties. This has been completely overplayed and a great number of these “treaties” go back to past wars, including those against Napoleon and in the Crimea. As to setting up new constitutional matters, the white paper, Scotland’s Future, already outlays that vision, and if other countries can do it, there is no reason why Scotland cannot.
“Divorce is always painful”
Yes, but we all know any battered wife who goes back for more, believing the husband can change, is being a fool to herself.
“We warn that separation of Scotland from England, Wales and Northern Ireland after so long together would lead to pain and blame: that decades of aggravation would follow, to the detriment of all.”
On the contrary, I have a vision of Scotland and England (and the rest of the UK) living side by side as good neighbours, offering and accepting assistance where required, but with neither interfering in the government of the other. That in fact will remove all resentment, of both countries claiming that the other is to blame. It also for once and for all answers Tam Dalyell’s “West Lothian Question”; of why Scots MPs should have the power to vote on legislation not affecting Scotland.
“We must remind ourselves that we Scots have achieved much in the world because of Britain. No less has Britain prospered because of Scotland. We have helped each other to make our United Kingdom one of the richest, most successful and most influential powers on Earth. None can doubt the Scottish contribution to this achievement, on a scale that being part of Britain opened up for us. Far from being fettered by the Union, Scotland has been liberated by it.”
This is the claim that anything positive about Scotland must have emnated from the Union. And I recall well enough that when this three were in power, they were all too ready to follow that line, and of course being the toadying lapdogs to their respective Prime Ministers (Margaret Thatcher and John Major) they were, they also followed the line that anything negative about Scotland must be our own fault. Not only is this a falsehood, but to claim that Scotland could not have progressed without the Union is an unknown quantity. Certainly, the Union helped to open up the 18th century Scottish Enlightenment but there is no proof if would not have happened without the Unon either. The Royal College of Surgeons in Edinburgh was founded in 1505, 202 years before the Union, and free education can be traced back to an idea by John Knox during the Reformation. The French Enlightenment ran roughly concurrent with that of Scotland, but I do not recall France being in any political union with England.
“Our contribution to Britain’s industry, engineering, science, medicine, philosophy, literature, the arts and sport has been incalculable.”
See point above about the enlightenment – plus there is no proof that James Watt would not have developed the steam engine to make it reciprocating, which kicked off the industrial revolution, in an independent Scotland.
“We have run Scotland, run Britain, run the Empire and Commonwealth over the centuries.”
Yes, we Scots bear part of the responsibilty for the raping and ravaging one quarter of the globe, and destroying entire native cultures. I see absolutely nothing to be proud of in that shameful fact.
“We have fought tyranny alongside the rest of the British peoples.”
And alongside the rest of the world. Given that we could not have won against the Nazis in World War II without US help, does that mean we should all be American? Or given the fact that the Red Army were first into Berlin and took the surrender, should we all be Russian?
“Our shared commitment to freedom and the rule of law has been a beacon of light for the world.”
And all too often has been the symbol of imperialism, conquer, and lawlessness.
“Nor has Scotland’s own identity suffered in this partnership. On the contrary, the Scottish character has worldwide recognition.”
When the Union was formulated, there was a move that Scotland should be known as North Britain (there was no such stipulation for England to be called South Britain). This resulted in some companies giving their address as in North Britain (such as Young’s Parrafin works in Philpstoun, West Lothian), whilst other companies used the term, such as the North British Railway, the North British Locomotive Company and the North British Rubber Mill. After the Jacobite Rebellion of 1744-46, laws were instituted banning Highland culture on pain of death. It is due to this that no Scot has their native language of Gaelic as their first language, and even the Scots language is not even officially recognised. It is only through the sheer determination of Scots that we still have these things today, and certainly with no thanks to the Union or Westminster.
“Whether as missionaries or merchants, explorers or administrators, we Scots have won respect and friendship wherever we have ventured. Scottish enterprise and drive have enabled us to prosper, taking advantage of the global reach of the United Kingdom.”
Firstly, see point above about our shameful legacy of the British Empire. Secondly, in modern terms, in an increasingly shrinking world, there is no proof Scotland would not have had the same or even greater influence outwith the Union.
“We contend that nationalism and patriotism are different forces. Patriotism is positive. It is open, forward-looking. It allows pride in Scotland and in the United Kingdom. Nationalism is negative. It has to be against something. It is narrow, resentful. While nationalism seeks to blame others for the grievances of an imagined past, patriotism seeks to share with others the challenges of a promising future.”
When these three men were in power, they served UK governments which were insular and jingoistic. I recall all too well Margaret Thatcher and her “No, No, NO!” to Europe, which her successsor, John Major, agreed with all too well. They did not seek to share with the EU but to rule and bully it, along with much of the rest of the world. Nationalism and patriotism are indeed too different things, and the civic nationalism of the Yes Scotland campaign is one of an independent Scotland in the community of nations, sharing with the world. Certainly, many of us are patriots and are very proud of our nation. Largely however, it is not Yes who are bringing the national identity argument into the independence debate; it is the unionists who are doing that. And if we stay in the Union, come 2017 when the majority of the UK electorate votes to withdraw from the EU, just how outward-looking is that, and what voice would Scotland have in Europe then?
“We believe that for the young Scots of today the United Kingdom still offers, as it has always done, real opportunities that we should not reject.”
Do they mean like the the entire generation of young Scots they threw on the economic scrapheap with the mass unemployment they created when they were in power? Some of us have longer memories than others. And the same is happening today, with many young Scots being offered poorly-paid jobs with temporary and/or zero-hours employment contracts, with little to no workers rights.
“England is still by far our largest market; and being part of Britain still offers a strong springboard to the wider world.”
As England shall remain our largest market. But being independent, we shall trade with whom we wish, and revenue raised from trade shall be spent in Scotland to benefit all who live here.
“That was why, over three hundred years ago, our forbears decided to join the Union with England.”
314 years ago a handful of rich and self-seeking merchants, against the wishes of the majority of the majority of the Scottish people, were bribed to vote to save their own backs and become richer still. 313 years ago, the same merchants, seeing what a mess they had got Scotland into, tabled a motion in the House of Commons for the Act of Union to be rescinded. The motion was voted down by the English members, and the Speaker of the House of Commons stated “We have catched Scotland, and we shall bind her tight.”
“Their decision has been triumphantly vindicated; and the same arguments hold good today.”
If that were even remotely true, there would not even be a call for an independent Scotland. But certainly, there are still rich, greedy and self-seeking people who would sell the majority of us down the river for their own financial gain.
“The Union led to a marriage of nations so successful that it has shaped the modern world. It can continue to do so.”
Again, there is no proof Scotland would not similarily have shaped the world outwith the Union. Apart from which, have these guys had a look at the state of the world? Particularly have they looked to the Middle East, which their blessed British Empire holds a huge amount of responsibility for?
“Scotland has evolved within the United Kingdom. Scots have always had our own Church, our own law, our own local government system and much of our own parliamentary legislation – first at Westminster, now in Edinburgh.”
Correct. It is also true that whilst we have our own church, and the Church of England is a minority faith in Scotland, 26 unelected Church of England bishops in the House of Lords, the Lords Spiritual, nonetheless have the power to vote upon and thereby influence and effect legislation visited upon Scotland. If that were Islamic Imans or Jewish Rabbis with the same power, there would be a bloody outcry, and quite rightly so. That is why I am supporting an independent and secular Scotland, where a written constitution will ensure religion is largely kept out of government.
“The Scottish Parliament now has more powers than the provinces of Canada or the States of Australia. We can still have all that, as well as the comfort of a sense of family, with the added security of a home within the United Kingdom. “
The first call for a devolved parliament for Scotland was in the 1970s and led to our first devolution referendum in 1978. That failed due to a low voter turnout and ridiculous stipulations whereby there had to be more than 40% of the vote, and any spoiled paper was taken as No vote. What followed during the years of Conservative government was a growing campaign for devolution, which fell on deaf ears at Westminster, including those of successive Secretaries of State for Scotland, the three signatories of this letter among them. Under Margaret Thatcher, Malcolm Rifkind steadfastly ignored these calls, as did Ian Lang under John Major. The Scottish Constitutional Convention had been set up in 1989; a coalition of political parties, churches, and civic groups to discuss devolution. The Conservatives utterly refused to join or become involved in it. On the evening of 9 April 1992, the day of the Conservative’s fourth election victory, a vigil started next to the Old Royal High School, Edinburgh – which had long been earmarked as for a possible Scottish Parliament building – calling for devolution. Still Ian Lang and John Major ignored the calls of the Scottish people, just as Michael “the-man-who-would-be-king” Forsyth did when he replaced Ian lang in 1995. Even after the Conservatives eventually fell from power in 1997, they still stood firmly against devolution, right up to the day of the Scottish Devolution Referendum on 11 September 1997, when Scotland voted overwhelmingly for a devolved parliament. Why should I, or anyone in Scotland, take their word on promises of devolution now? These three may have short memories, I most certainly do not.
“With the fracture of our Union, something in all of us would die. Great Britain’s history is Scotland’s history. Without Scotland there would be no Great Britain.”
Very true; Great Britain’s history is indeed Scotland’s history – well at least a small portion of our history which stretches back to the year 832. But then, even after independence there would still be “Great Britain”. To explain, the term “Great Britain” comes not from the Union of the Parilaments in 1707, but rather from the Union of the Crowns in 1603. After the death of Elizabeth I of England, there was only one person could fill the English Crown, and that was James VI, King of Scots since 1567. When James took up his new throne, he boasted “I am the husband, and the Kingdom is my wife. I trust no man would think me so bigamous as to have two suitors?” He went on to name his new joined kingdom “Great Britain”; a term unpopular on both sides of the border, but which somehow stuck. As the plans for an independent Scotland include retaining the monarch as Head of State, technically therefore the term Great Britain could rightfully continue to be applied. The three signatories of this letter are far from ignorant in historical and constitutional matters, and know this fact very well. They are therefore playing with words and attempting emotional blackmail.
“Why now throw all that away? Why now put at risk our security, our prosperity, our jobs, the opportunities for our young people and the pensions of our old?”
Here we go with more emotional blackmail. The White Paper has shown very well that Scotland could be more than secure. We certainly would not be visited by the continual jobs cuts the Ministry of Defence has a shameful record of in Scotland. I have already pointed out the facts about our lack of prosperity, years of misrule from Wesminster has destroyed a great many jobs and opportunities for young people, and now we get the pensions, when the three know very well that the Department for Work and Pensions has stated very clearly that pensions would continue to be paid in an independent Scotland. Likewise, as one who has worked in the industry, I can assure everyone that workplace pensions would continue to be paid in an independent Scotland. Now measure that against government plans to have the majority of workers in workplace pensions by 2018, and their suggestion to sell off the government Pensions Service to private bidders. I would suggest that people should be more worried about any such move, and that the logic of the government plans mean that in the future there will be no state pension, for the simple fact it would not make fiscal sense to keep it going.
“Why dismantle our great success story and embark on a sea of uncertainty? It does not make sense.”
It is called change, and as scary as it may be, change is inevitable – even under Conservative governments. The UK is not the same country it was ten, even five, years ago; no country is. Anyone who tries to cling on to the past is doomed to go the way of the dinosaurs.
“To do so would diminish us all and bring comfort only to those who wish us ill.”
I cannot believe that the three signatories are repeating the line of Lord George Robertson, former Labour Secretary of State for Defence, and former Secretary General of NATO; that Scottish independence could destabalise the balance of peace. As to protecting us, there was scant evidence of that when PanAm103 was exploded over Lockerbie, just as it was every bit as absent when a terrorist cell was allowed to grow in Glasgow and attempted a suicide bombing on Glasgow Airport. As long as Scotland stays within the Union, as long as we become embroiled in Whitehall’s wars, then the lesser our security, and the much greater the likelihood of terrorist attack.
“We believe passionately that it need not happen and it should not happen.”
Just as all three were as passionately opposed to devolution.
“We love our country, Scotland”
I well recall that when Malcolm Rifkind was Secretary of State, he presided over a time when the hated Community Charge – aka the Poll Tax – was visited upon Scotland a year before England, and he helped to implement that. I recall Ian Lang being on a documentary and saying “I’m sorry, I thought this was going to about Scotland, I didn’t realise it was going to be political.” And I recall the incompetence of Michael Forsyth, and how he continually was in a huff to be Secretary of State for Scotland until he finally got the job – like some 1990s version of Lord Darnley, always sulking and wanting to be king. The three presided over some of the worst years we ever saw in Scotland, and if that is love, they have a damned strange way of showing it.
“too much to see her torn out of Britain to struggle, diminished, weakened and alone in an indifferent world.”
Apart from contradicting the claim earlier that Scotland has been welcomed across the world (as we shall be even more as a free country), the end of that statement belies the insularism and utter contempt that the signatories have for the rest of the world. Those of us who believe in independence are anxious to embrace and work with the world, and become involved in the community of nations.
“The decision to be taken on 18th September will affect the lives of generations unborn.”
And it is for them, not for myself, I am voting Yes. I’ve lived under the Union. I have no wish for the future of Scotland to suffer the same fate.
“With heart and mind we urge our fellow-Scots to stand firm for the United Kingdom, whose past has been magnificent and where our future would be secure.”
The past of the United Kingdom is tinged with blood both at home and across the globe, there is no magnificance or pride to be taken in that. It has been a story of imperialism, oppression, poverty and of my country reduced from a nation to a mere region. I take no sense of security in watching people sign on at Jobcentres or queue at food banks.
When I look at this letter from these three dispicable individuals, and recall how Scotland suffered under them, I am far from placated by nor convinced by their fine words. Instead of believing them, I am more convinced to vote Yes on 18 September 2014.
I see in them not men who love or care about Scotland or here people, but rather the same mentality and self-seeking greed of the blinkered merchants who sold Scotland cheaply in 1707, and upon whom Robert Burns wrote so elequently;
Fareweel tae a’ oor Scottish fame,
Fareweel oor ancient glory;
Fareweel e’en tae the Scottish name,
Sae fam’d in martial story.
Noo Sark rins ower Solway sands,
An’ Tweed rins tae the ocean,
Tae mark whaur England’s province stands-
Sic a parcel of rogues in a nation!
Whit force nor guile could not subdue,
Thro’ mony warlike ages,
Is wrought now by a coward few,
For hireling traitor’s wages.
Tho’ English stell we could disdain,
Secure in valour’s station;
But English gold has been oor bane-
Sic a parcel of rogues in a nation!
O wad, bot I hae e’er seen the day
That Treason thus could sell us,
My auld grey heid wad lien in clay,
Wi’ Bruce and loyal Wallace!
But pith and power, till ma last hour,
I’ll mak this declaration;
We’re bought and sold for English gold-
Sic a parcel of rogues in a nation!
The original letter can be read here: