Tuesday 26 August 2014

Salmond vs Darling- Part 2

A few weeks ago Alex Salmond, First Minister of Scotland leader of the Scottish National Party and chief of the Yes campaign, went head-to-head in a debate with Alistair Darling, former Labour cabinet minister, Tony Blair's Chancellor of the Exchequer and head of the Better Together tendency urging a No vote on Scottish independence. See here for my review of that event: http://hpanwo-voice.blogspot.co.uk/2014/08/scottish-independence-debate.html. It was inevitable that this was not the end of the matter and the two men would have to face each other again. This second debate has taken place at a crucial time because the postal polls open tomorrow and on that day some Scots might begin choosing how to answer the simple question: Should Scotland be an independent country? It took place last night, see here for the BBCi recording: http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b04g1w4s/scotland-decides-salmond-versus-darling. (This link will only be live for a limited period of time. If a more permanent one becomes available, I'll edit this article and insert it.) In his opening statement Mr Salmond spoke of the history of the Scottish independence movement, how in 1979 they'd failed gain a parliament, something most countries take for granted, and this led to almost two decades of Tory rule, the Poll Tax and deindustrialization. After another chance in 1997 they finally got the Scottish Parliament and this did an enormous amount of good, but it didn't stop the Bedroom Tax, see: http://hpanwo-voice.blogspot.co.uk/2014/02/the-bedroom-tax-is-dead.html, the possible loss of the Ferguson shipyard or the basing of Trident WMD on the shores of the Firth of Clyde, all decisions that came from Westminster. Now the Scots have an opportunity to change all that; they should complete the journey to home rule in three weeks time and vote Yes. Mr Darling said in his opening statement that the entire concept of Scottish independence is based on a pipe dream by Alex Salmond; he has no "Plan B" is anything fails to work out, no proper monetary policy, a rickety economic policy and he asks us to just trust him. All Darling wants is to build a fairer and more prosperous society while Salmond wants an independent state no matter what the risks of the costs. Darling makes it clear that a No victory will not mean no change; more powers will be devolved to the Scottish Parliament. But there is still no clear answer on what currency Scotland will use. What will this mean for jobs? For debt? For savings? For pensions? Once again Darling used the slogan "There's no turning back."

The next part of the debate was based on BBC's Question Time programme, in which the studio audience get to pose the questions to the panel. The first one was about the economy and the question was: "Would we be financially safe in an independent Scotland. (A lady called Lily Donaldson has been in touch with me; she has written an article on what the referendum means for Scottish people financially, see: http://www.money.co.uk/article/1010373-scottish-independence-what-a-yes-vote-means-for-your-finances.htm.) Darling answered by once more bringing up the question of Salmond's currency ideas. Scotland currently uses the Pound Sterling which is issued to the United Kingdom via the Bank of England, but it belongs to the UK only. Strangely enough Darling decided to mention his handling of the financial crash of 2008 and lamented the fate of Iceland for taking a different course. This indulgence into self-congratulation was a mistake on his part, as well as a lie. Iceland is one of the few nations on Earth in economic recovery thanks to Johanna Sigurthadottir's decision to raise her middle finger to the IMF and jail the bankers. The lack of applause at the end of this speech, even by the No contingent selected for the audience, echoed loudly. There was some concern over North Sea oil because Darling says that it's something of a confidence bubble with less than half the probable revenue forecasted by an independent expert than the oil industry boasts. However Salmond disputed this forecast and quoted a separate independent prospector. Darling restated his favourite point about the enormous practical and moral difficulties of Salmond's notion of a shared pound, like the Bank of England being in a foreign country and so could not set interest rates etc. Salmond opposes joining the Euro... or says he does... He's opposed to a completely new currency, even though many other Yes campers support that idea. Darling says then that the only other option is for Scotland to use the pound as a foreign imposed unit of exchanged without any free national jurisdiction, like how Panama uses the US Dollar; this would be a disaster. Darling also warned of the risk of the public service deficit an independent Scotland would have to take on. How would the UK's national debt be shared out? How would the national product? How would pension funds? A shared currency in which both nations benefit equally only works as part of a political and economic union. Salmond accused Darling of being undemocratic and that Scotland doesn't need permission to use the pound; the Sterling is an international tradable currency. Darling even admitted that in as many words. It would also relieve Scotland of its unjust burden of the national debt, a debt built up by Darling's policies as Chancellor. Interestingly Darling delivered another falsehood when he said: "the UK Government controls the Bank of England"- I think it's the other way round.

The topic then moved on to health. Salmond stepped out from behind his podium and addressed the audience questioner by name, a method he used several time that evening. He declared his intention to keep health services in public hands and properly funded, with complete Scottish government control, both in policy and financial terms. Darling agreed with him that this should happen, even without devolution; but he reiterated that only a healthy economy with Scotland as part of the UK would have the resources necessary. One of the most sensible and inspiring moments of the debate took place when a woman in the audience accused Darling of being a hypocrite because of the Blair government's enthusiasm for NHS privatization; she's absolutely right because I've has to witness the process from the inside, see: http://hpanwo-hpwa.blogspot.co.uk/2014/07/allyson-pollock-at-tedx.html. "I hope you feel Aneurin Bevan sitting on your shoulder!" she said, and received a well-deserved round of applause. Salmond didn't miss that chink in his armour and followed up. Darling was then left with the unenviable task of defending the indefensible: the UK government's track record on the NHS, a burden that a Yes vote would free Scotland from. Salmond asked pointedly: "By 2020, how many Scottish children will fall into poverty because of government welfare cuts?" Also he questioned Westminster's Job Programme, that he sees as nothing more than an imperialistic slave labour scheme. Here he is referring to what is known by that magnificent new Orwellianism austerity. As with the NHS, Darling could do nothing except flail about in the dark; Salmond knows all his weak spots.
Eventually the subject moved on to Trident, something which I myself have covered extensively, see: http://hpanwo-voice.blogspot.co.uk/2013/07/replacing-trident.html. Since the 1960's Britain's maritime nuclear deterrent has been based at Gareloch on the Firth of Clyde, specifically at the Coulport weapon storage area and the Faslane submarine base (these locations are not marked on all maps). This is seen by Scottish nationalists as effectively a human shield for Westminster; it's one of the SNP's core policies to close down the Trident complex. The UK government would then have to relocate it to England, Wales or Northern Ireland, if it wished to maintain independent nuclear armaments at all. If it does it will cost fifteen to twenty billion pounds just for initial establishment. A No supporter in the audience made the point that Trident involves over eight thousand Scottish jobs; however the removal of Trident from the Firth of Clyde would free up the oil industry to be more active in that area, which could make up the shortfall. Scotland plans to join NATO after independence and Darling said that this would be impossible for a nation opposed to nuclear weapons. Yet this was another lie; most of the countries in NATO are not nuclear armed. Salmond would make Faslane headquarters of the Scottish defence forces, this would include a fleet naval surface combatants, something which the Royal Navy in Scotland doesn't have. There was a vox populi segment during the break in proceedings in which one of the people interviewed was a crofter from Shetland. However, is Shetland even part of Scotland? Stuart Hill doesn't think so, see: http://hpanwo-radio.blogspot.co.uk/2014/08/programme-98-podcast-stuart-hill.html. Both Alistair Darling and Alex Salmond agreed that whatever the outcome of the vote, there should be no recriminations or divisions in the aftermath and the country should continue to move together as one, independent or not.
This second debate between the leaders of the Yes and No was totally different to the first. The tables were completely turned, Salmond had Darling for breakfast; and almost three quarters of viewers thought so too, see: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-politics-28929057. The No chief was incoherent and repetitive and the audience became contemptuous and bored with him. Salmond though was passionate, positive and warm. The opinion polls have narrowed to the point where they two sides are almost overlapping, and the undecideds are being steadily mopped up. The TV trial last night could well push the Yes contingency into the lead in this crucial last few weeks before the referendum, see: http://whatscotlandthinks.org/questions/should-scotland-be-an-independent-country-1#line, Since I began writing about this subject I've found myself becoming more and more ambivalent and confused over it. My head and my heart have steadily diverged over this issue and today they are preaching very different messages. As I've said in the background article above, I fear very much that Scottish independence is nothing more than a swindle to trick the rebellious UK into becoming part of the EU superstate, a stepping-stone to totalitarian global government. On an intellectual level, and I'm saying this as a Welshman, I recommend that Scotland remains a part of the one of the principle bastions currently resisting that agenda, the sentiment of British unity, and I urge the people of Scotland to vote No. Nevertheless I am not a flag-waving British unionist and I never have been. I hear my Celtic soul calling to me and I can't ignore it. Two thousand years of history cannot easily be put aside for something as trivial as a "good reason". I think if the Yes camp wins in the upcoming referendum I will be delighted, contrary to my own rational advice. Along with a sense of sentimental vindication will be excitement and curiosity at the prospect of something extraordinary happening in politics. A Yes victory would have a lot of novelty value in a world where change is regarded with the utmost dread and everything is geared towards maintaining the mundane and mediocre. The upheaval it generates could bring so much genuine progress, even negating my concerns over the EU agenda. I have a feeling I may change my mind even further in the days and weeks ahead. So my advice to the people of Scotland on the 18th of September is to vote No... I mean Yes... I mean No... I mean Yes... 


djdidge said...

Well put Ben, and I share your thoughts on Yes/No/Yes/No! :)

Ben Emlyn-Jones said...

Cheers, DJ. I'm glad I'm not the only one.