“WHAT’S DONE IS DONE”
A YES decision on the 18 September 2014 will be a “capital” decision – it will be irreversible. It should only be taken if it passes the test of being beyond reasonable doubt.
Because I will be in Norway at the time of the next meeting, I recently attended what will be my last CBI Scotland Council Meeting. So I now feel I can speak with less restriction about the SNP Government and their misguided referendum. I will still be in the UK to vote NO on 18 September. My opposition is not just that I see no good reason to break up a union which has served the Scottish people well over 300 years, it is founded on my experience of meeting and dealing with the SNP and their administration.
In the run-up to the 2007 Holyrood elections, as representatives of CBI, colleagues and I met Alex Salmond to hear his “pitch”. His assertions about the Norwegian economy and welfare system were, and still are, unrealistic in comparison to what I am familiar with through family, friends and business over nearly 50 years. I formed the opinion that Mr. Salmond wasn’t someone I could trust or put my faith in. My first impressions have been vindicated particularly by his utterings on EU membership, a currency union, NATO/Trident, research funding, the way he has represented oil and gas revenues and his protestations that the rest of the UK wouldn’t be a foreign country. If I had any reason to doubt my judgement, they would be removed by his prevarication over start-up costs when he claims to know when and what the outcome of negotiations will be.
Confidentiality restricts me on what I can say about subsequent meetings with SNP ministers and senior civil servants. But, what I will say is that I am forcibly struck by civil servants being in fear of SNP ministers. This unhealthy relationship appears to me to be transmitted right through the wider public sector and the third sector. I also believe that it influences the Scottish media, academia and professional services.
My opinion is not just founded on indirect observation or what may be dismissed as a few meetings. It is influenced by my dealings with Renfrewshire Council when it was under SNP control. At that time I represented objectors to the Council’s plans to build houses on designated “open space”. I was also a member of a Local Area Committee and sat on a Community Planning Committee. Over 3 years I had first-hand experience of the SNP’s modus operandi.
From personal and anecdotal evidence I learnt that SNP leading lights have a habit of warning-off opponents in a threatening manner. I was led to believe that they prevent local media voicing criticism of their actions by threatening removal of access and advertising. Local people complained that SNP councillors refused to discuss the contentious issues and to have verbally abused the leaders of the campaign which triumphed over the Council. Despite the planning case being weak it was fiercely recommended by the officers.
In my experience Council Officers took an inflexible approach to FoI requests and complaints. Papers for meetings were issued “last minute”. Meetings I attended were ineffectual and repetitious, seen to be providing benefit only to those parts of the community which had SNP majority representation. Minutes gave limited reports on what was discussed. There was little done to regenerate what are some of the poorest areas of Scotland. In fact the Council objected to GARL despite Glasgow Airport being situated within Renfrewshire. But despite a strong leaning towards the third sector and only perfunctory regard for business the SNP was thrown out in the 2011 elections. Ironically the Leader was elected to Holyrood and he is now Minister for Local Authorities and Planning as well as SNP Chairman.
It is hard to say what influence he has on the direction the SNP Government is taking. However, the SNP’s governance of Renfrewshire Council resonates with what I have experienced as a veteran CBI Council Member. Individual executives who speak out against independence report “warnings” coming from the First Minister’s Office to their employer. Academics confirm that “funding” is used as a prod to get university councils into line. There is a strong feeling that the Scottish media is being gagged. Moreover, I have found the consultation process and Parliamentary Committees a sham.
If hard evidence is needed it has been difficult to come by. But when CBI let down its membership by blundering into registering with the Electoral Commission, the reaction should remove all doubts. In my opinion, the rapid response from universities, media and the faux business bodies could only have been created by a well oiled campaigning machine which can apply pressure to those bodies. I can say that none of the bodies who are claiming it have voiced “impartiality” in my presence, and I have missed few Council meetings. Moreover, some who were reported to have spoken against how the CBI Scotland decision was taken weren’t at the meeting in question – I was. I am puzzled at the timing and why the Electoral Commission even thought of asking CBI to register as a NO campaign. Even more so I am puzzled as to why the Scottish media hasn’t investigated it more deeply.
I can also say that the idea that now seems to be doing the rounds that CBI members are not against independence they merely want answers to a multitude of questions is totally disingenuous. Any experienced executive knows full well that the SNP cannot answer the vast majority of the questions posed by CBI and those that they can give would be contrary to their cause. Executives would be failing in their fiduciary duty to their shareholders if they supported independence. The contradictory line from Stagecoach and its Chairman, Brian Souter, is a good example. What an executive may think personally they have to set aside in the interests of shareholders and employees. But in my experience I can comfortably count supporters of independence amongst executives on one-hand.
What is debatable is to what extent executives and companies have a duty to advise others on how to vote on 18 September. For the majority they should be able to rely on a clear message from CBI and other business organisations. In the absence of which they have a duty to inform their employees what they consider the effects of independence will be, and where jobs are at risk to clearly say so. What they cannot do is to make voting one way or another a condition of employment. After that it is up to the individual to decide how the business case weighs in the balance along with and against other factors.
The YES and NO campaigning bodies come up short in informing the voters. YES campaigning bodies – appear to me to all intents and purposes to be SNP stooges – fail by condemning warnings of risks as being negative and seeing nothing as being positive about staying in the Union. They also demonise the Westminster Government along with having a much skewed view of Scotland’s historical context in relation to the English and the benefits of Empire.
The SNP and some of their supporters claim that Scotland is a nation similar to Norway. This is an exaggeration and false. However proud Scots may be of their heritage Scotland, by official definitions, is not a nation state. Moreover, the people of today’s Scotland are of the same mixed ethnicity as the rest of the UK. Anglo-Saxon blood will be found in the DNA of a very large proportion of those who can vote on 18 September. It is still relatively uncommon to meet indigenous Norwegians who are not just of Norwegian blood. For example my Norwegian wife can trace her ancestry back to the 13th century and I am the first foreign entry – but not the last. Like Norway, the UK is a recognisable, cohesive, understandable, highly respected and influential nation without clear dividing lines between its indigenous peoples. Whilst I applaud those who are proud to be Scottish and think of Scotland as a nation it is very far from being a reason to break up the UK.
The UK provides solidarity to all of its people, enhanced by its historical importance in developing global culture, trade and politics. All of what has been done by UK Governments has not been without reason to criticise and some actions have been downright wrong. But the UK, with Scotland’s involvement and to Scotland’s benefit, has done much good. Destroying the solidarity which has made the UK respected would undoubtedly put the respect the UK has at risk and the instigators would be seen as blameworthy if the UK’s contribution to solving the many problems the World suffers is diminished – hence the reason why World leaders are expressing angst at the idea of Scotland being independent.
It is not only one of the leading global economies it is also one of the most densely populated countries in Europe, with large lesser populated areas situated in its northern land mass. Geological and geographical features have helped form distinct bands of agricultural, industrial and commercial regional economies. In global terms we have small river systems which have perforce caused major cities to be located close to the coast where navigation was much easier, or where water was needed to power the industrial revolution. As one of, if not the leading country during the industrial revolution and in early 20th century technology our infrastructure suffers from early obsolescence and our urban development is now not totally suited to the 21st century. All these features located our capital city in the South-East, the nearest point to the continent, and have caused its development, like other capitals, to be more rapid than satellite regions. Our shared economy helps solve some of the inequalities our idiosyncratic structure causes.
Not only do we share common and deeply integrated ethnicity in the UK, we share a universal culture and a common love of our different regional cultures. Although maybe of diminishing importance, we have the same Sovereign and respect the same core religious creeds. Our men and women have fought together on both the fields of conflict and of sport. Our infrastructure and energy resources are integrated – oil, natural gas and electricity share common grids. Although devolved the NHS we all cherish still shares a common ethos and fundamentally provides a relatively equal service. If not all, the majority support universality of public services and the provision of welfare for the less well off.
The vote in September isn’t just a vote for or against independence, it is first and foremost a vote of confidence in the SNP – a self proclaimed nationalist party. I am not convinced that the SNP is a truly nationalist party or that they are committed to what they claim as being the intention of creating a wealthier, healthier, fairer society. But what they promise may entice some voters to think it is worth giving them a chance. However, unlike for the voters in Renfrewshire who threw them out after one term, there would be no turning back. A vote of confidence for the SNP in September is an irrevocable vote for independence and whatever that may mean.
The Better Together campaign has proven to be misnamed and is attempting to rebrand itself in voters’ eyes as “No Thanks”. They have fallen into the trap set by the SNP’s tactic of publishing extensive and repetitive documents by attempting to answer them by even more of the same. When what is wanted is a clear statement as to why it is better to keep the UK together as well as voting NO in the referendum. The recent Scotland Office publication circulated to all homes does address this though.
The alternative which faces the voters is to reject the SNP in this ballot and to put the three opposing parties on their metal to deliver improved government within the UK. Whilst the Better Together parties may have differences just now as to the type and scale of increased powers for Holyrood they would have to settle those differences relatively quickly because the YES campaigners are not going to go away unless the vote against them is overwhelming. After 307 years of successful union there is no sense in destroying it if the opportunity is there to improve it and retain the good parts.
We only have the SNP’s word that the things we share and have in common could be improved upon by Scotland being independent. If the intention is that only those who live in Scotland benefit how would that run with those who live in the rest of the UK – many who would be connected by family, employment, sport, friendship, trade etc? Surely even if we became better off apart it would only be relatively marginal for some and maybe some would be worse off. We are clearly better improving what we have together rather than destroying our common bonds in the hope that politicians in Holyrood would be so much better than those in Westminster that they would deliver a more sustainable equal society.
The SNP denigrate one of our proudest achievements – having a constitutional system on which constitutions and parliamentary systems around the World are based. The SNP say that a lack of a written constitution is a drawback when it comes to poverty and equality, whereas the truth is that it is our constitutional arrangement which has helped other nations emerge and flourish. But, it has to be said, despite having written constitutions none have eliminated poverty and inequality. In any case it is misleading to suggest that our constitution is somehow an insubstantial arrangement which has no written basis. It has developed from Magna Carta in the early 13th century by a long litany of documented Royal and Parliamentary Proclamations and Acts which have been interpreted in written judgements handed down by our Courts. All support and enhance our basic rights of freedom and support the premise that no person is above God and the Law.
There are those who seek to assure us through social media that the SNP would be voted out of government in an independent Scotland. Whilst I believe that they may well be plants to assuage the negativity SNP leaders have caused, I do agree with them. I suspect that the SNP would last no more than two terms – but at what cost? Not only would we have suffered irreversible destruction of the benefits I refer to above but we may well be imprisoned within a federalist EU lacking in any means to defend our sovereignty. Moreover, ironically, we may have a Tory government both in Edinburgh and Westminster, utterly defeating one of the “benefits” the SNP seek to create by demonising Westminster.
In this centenary of the start of the Great War we ask ourselves what drove the millions to fight and die for our united nation? In my opinion our somewhat idiosyncratic constitution and the things we share together were seen as worth fighting for. We also celebrate the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn. A fundamental difference is for the Great War we stand in awe of the men who flocked willingly to the colours, whereas 600 years earlier they had no choice, they were fighting because they lived in a feudal society. Let’s be clear there is a lesson for us to be learnt from Bannockburn, it was driven by despots who used and sacrificed their countrymen for their own selfish aims.
On 18 September the voters who currently live in Scotland have to ask themselves, “what will Independence achieve and would it be worth fighting for?” Nothing less than that standard warrants a YES vote. Advocating secession would in times past have been seen as an act of treachery and treason. Our more tolerant attitude to free speech and rights of the people has changed that. But maybe we should reflect on what Shakespeare had to say – he died about the time of the Union of the Crowns. In Macbeth he observed “It is safer to be that which we destroy, than by its destruction live in doubtful joy. Things without remedy will be without regard. What’s done is done”.
Anthony Rush – July 2014