Magazine article Public Finance

Breaking Up Is Not So Hard to Do

Magazine article Public Finance

Breaking Up Is Not So Hard to Do

Article excerpt

Last month in this space, I noted that barely five months from the Scottish elections, Labour had not yet engaged the resurgent Scottish National Party. Well, now it has.

A posse of ministers, led by the prime minister and the chancellor of the exchequer, came north to the Labour conference in Oban to warn Scottish voters about the dangers of independence, and hammer home the message that 'divorce is an expensive business'.

Scotland listened, and then politely, but firmly, turned away. It was an extraordinary moment in modern Scottish politics. Already, the instant historians in the press are declaring the Battle of Oban a major defeat for the forces of unionism.

What went wrong? Tony Blair delivered one of his strongest speeches ever in Scotland on the SNP's 'grievance culture' and the risks involved in giving up the 'union dividend' of public spending in Scotland.

Gordon Brown delivered a considered deconstruction of the nationalist economic case, mercilessly exposing its contradictions.

Home Secretary John Reid - a Scot himself from a hard-drinking Lanarkshire background - put the boot into the nationalists as only he knows how, claiming that an SNP government 'would leave Scotland vulnerable to terrorist attack', that there would be a 'flood of illegal immigrants', and families would be rent asunder.

Yet the response to all this in Scotland has been one of bemused disdain. The Scottish press, which has been staunchly unionist in the past, criticised the government for going over the top and for treating Scots with intellectual contempt.

Ministerial warnings about customs posts and passport checks at the border were dismissed as crude scaremongering, given that an independent Scotland would be a member of the European Union. If Poles can move freely in and out of Scotland, then so, presumably, could English people.

Similarly, forecasts of economic catastrophe carried scant conviction, when small independent countries such as Ireland are doing so well in Europe - and even small Baltic states like Latvia seem to be booming.

Blair told the Scottish Labour conference: 'In this election there are only two possible outcomes: a Scottish Nationalist Party government or a Labour one.'

Wrong. Everyone in Scotland knows that there are multiple options after May, and that those are the only two that will not happen. Because of the system of proportional representation, neither Labour nor the SNP has the remotest chance of forming an administration unaided. Holyrood is a parliament of minorities and parties have to form coalitions to enter government. …

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