Suppose, for a moment, that “far-reaching further devolution” within the UK is a good idea. We are to vote No on condition that we get that sort of devolution, according to The Herald. How does that work? We’ll be voting on Thursday. We’ll have no more devolution then than we have now. If we wish to take The Herald’s advice, we’ll have to cancel the referendum, re-fit it with something like the “Devo Max” option that was excluded on David Cameron’s insistence, and start again.
But The Herald doesn’t say it wants that. It just says that after a No vote the UK parties should, somehow, fix something “with the full participation of Scottish civic society” and that if they fudge this step another referendum will, somehow, be guaranteed to come about.
Back in the real world, all we have is a pledge by Cameron, Clegg and Miliband.
The pledge offers almost nothing definite. It was put forward via the Daily Record without regard for parliamentary or party democracy. Tory backbenchers have already threatened to fight any attempt to implement the little that the pledge actually offers. A General Election is just round the corner. The Labour and Tory parties are both in the habit of scampering rightwards under pressure from UKIP. It is impossible to believe that they will be generous to Scotland if there is a hue and cry against it from the right.
If the pledge meant anything, it would breach the “purdah” rules set out in the Edinburgh Agreement between Alex Salmond and David Cameron. The pledge is supposedly permitted because it has been made by David Cameron the Tory leader, not David Cameron the Prime Minister. It is legitimate – if indeed it is legitimate – only because it cannot be trusted.
Why does The Herald think that “far-reaching further devolution” is such a good idea that it should be pursued through a jungle like this? Here’s a clue. The Herald says:
“Greater responsibility for raising the money Scotland spends would make simplistic Scottish Government attacks on the UK much harder. That must be the next step forward.”
In other words, the next step is to build a trap that will discredit both the Scottish Government and the idea of independence. It’s easy to see why the unionist parties might be attracted to the plan, if they could somehow run it through the impossible gauntlet of Westminster politics. It’s much harder to see why anyone who is thinking of voting Yes should vote for it.
The Herald says that the UK is “one of the most successful democracies in the world.”
Well, sort of. British democracy is very successful at shuffling along without having to make any attempt to represent the range of views and interests that are to be found in the nation at large. It was unable to check the disastrous wars of the Blair-Brown era. It was unable to deal seriously with the scandal over MPs’ expenses. It is unable today to represent the people struggling under Cameron’s cuts, or to provide an alternative economic programme.
Measured against this standard of success, our referendum campaign is certainly a failure. It has allowed mass support to gather around a concrete and specific demand that cannot easily be de-fanged. That isn’t how democracy is supposed to work in Britain.
The Herald’s message seems to be:
OK. You’ve won the argument against the British establishment Britain’s three main political parties. Scary, isn’t it? Here’s how you can get off the ride.
The Herald quotes Antiono Gramsci’s line about “pessimism of the intellect and optimism of the will.” Gramsci was talking about change far beyond the limits of our proposed adjustment of nation and constitution. He would have been badly upset to find out that this is as far as we have come in 2014. I can’t presume to know for sure what he would suggest once he had wised up to our plight. I hope he would agree that independence is something that socialists should in these circumstances support.
But in any case, it should be obvious that the Scottish Government’s plans for independence embody all the pessimism that Gramsci could possibly want, and then some. Independence is scary only to those who have a very strong and specific stake in present state of Britain. People like Cameron’s pals, who are creaming money off the rest of us with such ease that they believe nothing else could be as good.
The Herald appears to believe that the success of the Yes campaign is an unfortunate accident. It says: “Polling evidence has suggested that, if greater autonomy for Scotland had been an option on the referendum ballot paper all along, it would probably have won the day.”
Maybe. But democracy is a process for arriving at a collective decision that is more than the sum of individual views. Polls cannot reveal what people would be thinking if history had been different. Most people are sceptical about politics, and even more sceptical about constitutional adjustment. My guess is that, without a serious likelihood of real independence, the referendum would not have attracted nearly so much interest and the turnout would have been much lower than now seems likely.
People have quite rightly come to the conclusion that the referendum matters. The UK’s three main political parties have come to the same conclusion and don’t like it. That’s why they are trying to arrange an unofficial, on-the-fly re-draft of the referendum that will leave us with no idea of what a No vote actually means.
Cameron, Clegg and Miliband have been arguing that the Union is wonderful. Now they say:
“People want to see change. A No vote will deliver faster, safer and better change than separation.”
It’s disappointing, to say the very least, that The Herald has made itself party to the trick. The Herald’s editorial looks like the work of a civil servant. But not quite. I’m not sure that a civil servant, taking aim for the long grass, could reach a thicket quite as impenetrable as the one that the The Herald’s leader-writer has found.
Democracy. Use it ot lose. Vote Yes.
Photo: Fiona Gaughan