Opinion - Scotland

2007 - 2021

The Unreconstructables


In a keynote speech at the end of last year, Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon declared the United Kingdom constitutionally “unreconstructable”. Only complete political separation from Westminster, she argued, could deliver the control over areas such as tax and welfare polls consistently suggest most Scots want. Of course, this claim doesn’t really stack up: in recent months, each of the three main unionist parties has announced, albeit reluctantly, that they will seek significant new powers for the Scottish Parliament in the event Scots vote against independence in 2014.

Replace ‘the constitution’ with ‘defence and foreign affairs’, however, and Sturgeon’s assertion becomes much more plausible. This week, the UK Coalition Government revealed how it intends to spend a £160bn defence equipment budget over the course of the next decade. Its plans include the purchase, at the cost of £35.8bn, of seven new Astute class attack submarines and a fleet of nuclear-armed Vanguard submarines. A range of new military aircraft and unmanned drones, valued at £18.5bn, also feature on the MoD’s shopping list. Although, overall, UK defence expenditure is forecast to be lower in 2015 than it was in 2010 (the Tories still have a deficit to reduce), these purchases will be funded by an above inflation rise in spending on military armaments after the next UK general election. Reports suggest extra cash will be made available through additional cuts to the welfare department.

The proposals were laid out shortly after David Cameron jetted off to Algeria and Libya to address the growing threat posed to UK interests by Islamist terrorism in North Africa. In a speech in Algiers, Cameron said Britain was prepared to use “everything at its disposal” to defeat Al-Qaeda in the Maghreb, a pledge he partially fulfilled with the deployment of 40 British ‘military advisers’ to conflict-hit Mali and a further 200 British troops to neighbouring African countries to help train the Malian army. Much of the rhetoric Cameron used on his trip echoed the language employed by Tony Blair during the ‘War on Terror’. For instance, at one stage, Cameron described the recent Algerian hostage crisis as a “reminder that what happens in other countries affects us at home”. This deceptively banal phrase could, in fact, have been lifted straight from the liberal interventionists’ handbook (see Blair’s 1999 ‘Chicago speech’).

These developments are of particular significance to the Scottish constitutional debate because they indicate the likely trajectory of UK government defence and foreign policies in the years to come. Left-leaning and progressive unionists may have hoped the passing of the Blair era would mark the end of Britain’s attempts to rescue, by force if necessary, its status as a first-rank global power. No such luck: the current generation of Conservative leaders seem every bit as keen to preserve what remains of British imperial prestige as their New Labour predecessors. Indeed, New Labour’s militarist tendencies live on in the careers of Scottish-unionist politicians Jim Murphy (Shadow Defence Secretary) and Douglas Alexander (Shadow Foreign Secretary), both of whom regularly cite the size of the British defence budget – the fourth largest in the world as a proportion of GDP – as a reason in itself for Scots to reject ‘separation’.

One of the current ironies of Scottish politics is the way public opinion divides on the question of ‘more powers’. As noted above, most surveys show widespread support for the devolution of economic and social matters to Holyrood. Yet, when it comes to Scotland’s role in international affairs and the scope and capacity of its military, Scots continue to prefer London rule to Edinburgh rule. The irony lies in the fact that the case for distinct Scottish defence and foreign policies is, if anything, clearer than the case for a distinct Scottish economic policy, which tends to rest on highly technical arguments about the sustainability of North Sea oil production.

The ideological dividing lines are clearer in this regard, too. The SNP and the Greens, together with the rest of the pro-independence coalition, want to radically reduce Scottish military expenditure and re-invest the savings in more socially productive industries. Conversely, the unionist parties (with the possible exception of the Liberal Democrats) deliberately and systematically blur their defence and industrial strategies in an effort to persuade Scottish shipyard workers that their jobs depend on UK government contracts.

At the moment, it seems unlikely Scotland will vote to leave the UK in 2014. The Yes campaign has tried a range of tactics – including, of course, relentlessly accentuating the positive benefits of self-government – to shift support for independence towards the 50 per cent threshold. They haven’t worked. Similarly, the latest plan advanced by Nicola Sturgeon, to portray the British constitutional system as utterly inflexible and beyond reform, looks set to fail. Perhaps a new message focused on the UK’s refusal to accept its diminished global status – and adjust its spending commitments accordingly – would yield better results.


Comments (18)

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  1. Rory says:

    “Of course, this claim doesn’t really stack up: in recent months, each of the three main unionist parties has announced, albeit reluctantly, that they will seek significant new powers for the Scottish Parliament in the event Scots vote against independence in 2014.”

    Yes – the UK may be able to bend to far greater devolution that the DFM suggests, but there is a stronger case to be made for the “unreconstructability” of the political, cultural and economic elitism that emanates from London and Westminster. Global-power posturing and the residue of empire are still the real problems here, and the best way to shake that delusional elitism to its foundations (for Scotland and the rest of the UK too) is by breaking it up. The immediate impacts of independence – Trident removal, the potential for (maybe even radical) social democracy on the northern border, the break-up of the wider UK security apparatus, etc etc, will all have a symbolic, political and economic power that the British establishment clearly fears.

    The question that remains, I suppose, is whether that’s a message that can attract votes. As James has said before, we need to persuade the voters that Britain is something worth breaking before we can persuade them that independence is the best way to do that. Do we have time to do that before 2014? We’ve got nothing to lose at this point, so we might as well try.

    1. Samantha says:

      Not a problem, and already well in hand. The RTI reporting system for HMRC, acknowledged in the Treasury as a “hard dependency” for the success of the Universal Credit scheme due in October has reported a 25% failure rate in it’s pilot phase, but not to worry, the head developers have been replaced by civil servants with no IT experience. I’m confident it’ll be every bit as successful as every other large scale IT project dreamed up for vast numbers.

      No-one ever sees all the problems in these things. Not until it hits the wallet. Can you see a world where a random 25% of people don’t get their tax credits or housing benefit any more? I bet it’ll increase delinquency in rent payment further, and then landlords will start to care as their properties become more difficult to let for the prices they want.

      Can you imagine why the rent-seeking class in Westminster hasn’t wanted housing benefit messed with in so long? That money don’t actually go to people who need it, it is only funneled through people who need it.

    2. bellacaledonia says:

      Thanks Rory. Yes I remain unconvinced by Jamie’s maiden argument: “each of the three main unionist parties has announced, albeit reluctantly, that they will seek significant new powers for the Scottish Parliament in the event Scots vote against independence in 2014.”

      First of all, have they?Second of all, could they? The Jam Tomorrow / Devo Max / Devo Most /Devo Shsh variations are perplexing and unclear. For them to be convincing would require a level of co-ordination and agreement across the Unionist front, a level of detail I suspect is beyond them. But more than that it would require – because its by definition a pan-UK settlement – one of these parties to get elected at Westminster. This isn’t going to be the Liberals, so we are going to have to believe that the Tories or Labour are going to be elected on a ticket promising extensive constitutional reform, federalism or some variant. Given the centralising force of UK politics this seems highly unlikely.

  2. Stuart McLean says:

    I am extremely excited at the prospect of independence and the more lies and obfuscation the media and especially the BBC expout the more likely most people will find them out. Margot hit the nail on the head a while ago. If a third definitely want this all they have to do is persuade one person each of the merits and/ or refute the assertions of the unionists. From any quick research of the facts it is not difficult to show a positive case for the yes campaign and only negative scaremongering and ludicrous examples why we are better together.

  3. J Maxwell says:


    I’m surprised you think the unionist parties aren’t really committed to further devolution. Firstly, because each of them has said they are: Cameron in his Edinburgh speech last year (and Davidson more recently), the Lib Dems with Ming Campbell’s proposals, published last year, and Lamont with her Commission. Their credibility will be destroyed if they pledge more powers ahead of 2014 as an anti-independence wrecking strategy then refuse to implement them after the vote. There may be a debate about the process and timing of implementation but it’s fairly clear the Calman proposals have been more or less abandoned (or at least forgotten), so I expect something before 2017. Secondly, it seems indisputable that Scots want more powers and will continue to vote for parties, at the devolved level, who look capable of securing them, which partly explains the popularity of the SNP. Labour (in particular) wants to position itself as the ‘party of devolution’, this requires providing a meaningful devolutionary alternative to independence. What’s more, the Labour leadership is under heavy pressure from its own membership and from trade unionists to pursue enhanced powers. Lamont will risk her own position if she ignores it.


    1. bellacaledonia says:

      Well a) I don’t believe what politicians say, and neither should you and b) its one thing to have a policy (whether you believe it or not) and quite another for that policy to be practically deliverable. The Liberals talk a good game about federalism but they are electorally a spent force. The Tories have British centralism in their dna and Labour have re-styled themselves around a specific One Nationism that’s hard to settle with great constitutional decentralisation?

    2. muttley79 says:

      Jamie, that is what the Tories promised to do before the 1979 referendum. I think we have reached the limits of devolution. If we had not then why do you think the No parties were completely against a second question on more powers? After all this would have had the greatest chance of success. The British establishment are against federalism as they have no intention of creating a English Parliament. As Bella has said how would more powers be delivered? The British Conservatives, Labour and Liberal Democrats would all have to agree to specific proposals, and also to agree to all carry it in their manifestos. Lamont’s commission is meaningless if Milliband does not guarantee its implementation (as above). Lamont has also already ruled out devolving corporation tax. The truth is she is a bit part player in British Labour.

  4. J Maxwell says:

    I’m afraid ‘you can’t trust what politicians say’ doesn’t cut it. In the early ’90s the Tories conceded Scotland’s right to vote on secession. That vote will take place next year. In ’97 Labour said Scotland would vote on the creation of a Parliament and a vote was held. You’ve not answered my main point: the unionist parties can’t get away with promising more devolution before 2014 then abandoning that promise afterwards because, for one thing, it would only strengthen the SNP’s hand. Both Labour & the Tories will go into the 2015 or 2016 elections with specific proposals for devolution. When elected they will be expected to implement them. There’s no ‘practical’ problem that I can see.

    1. muttley79 says:

      Jamie, if the No campaign wins the referendum, then the SNP and Salmond will have been defeated. The British establishment want to defeat the Yes campaign because they do not want to see their state broken up. Where is the motivation going to come from to devolve powers to Scotland when independence has been defeated and is off the political agenda? Do you think any of the British parties want to see a powerful devolved Scottish Parliament? Why would Whitehall want to break up all its government departments? Alastair Darling has said in the Holyrood magazine that only minor powers would be devolved in the event of a No vote.

      1. J Maxwell says:

        How the SNP get on post-ref will depend to a large extent on the size of the Yes vote. Suspect anything less than 40% would spell the end of Salmond. The pressure for more powers will come from trade unionists & Lab party members, influential institutions in Scottish civic society (SCVO in particular want welfare devolved) and the majority of Scottish voters who support more self gov.Their calls for greater dev will be clearer with indy off the table.

  5. muttley79 says:

    Jamie, the SNP and Salmond are our negotiating chip. Remember that in the late 1950s, early 1960s, the Scottish Labour Party officially abandoned their Home Rule policy. It took the SNP’s real emergence in the 1960s to reverse this. Even then it took Harold Wilson to force them to support a devolved Scottish Parliament. The No campaign will hope to defeat the SNP, then pressurise, force Salmond to resign, and then they will want the SNP to be engulfed in a civil war, a la the 1980s. They then will be in no position to call for more powers ( I don’t think that is even possible because devolution is already reaching its limits) and Scottish civic society will have no organization to use to achieve anything. They will be ignored in the same way as they were in the 1980s. The SNP have been the major constitutional bargaining asset for the Scottish electorate in the last 50-60 years. Take away the SNP threat and you will find their is no motivation for British parties to do anything.

    1. J Maxwell says:

      I think this is all a bit apocalyptic. The SNP won’t disappear after a No vote and, as I’ve suggested, the failure of the unionist parties to fulfill their pre-ref devo pledges will only reinforce SNP popularity. I absolutely don’t accept that devo has already reached its limits.The UK constitution can and will be modernised (in no small part thanks to the SNP). The British state is done for if it doesn’t adapt.

      1. muttley79 says:

        Jamie, The SNP won’t diasppear after a No vote, but what state would they be in? There would almost certainly be internal crticism after a failure to achieve independence. The truimphalism after a No vote from the unionist parties, particularly Scottish Labour, would be immense. The debate on section 30 at Westminster would be tame in compairson. BBC Scotland would get into Salmond’s face, and their coverage would be speculation about him resigning. They would react with barely concealed glee. The rest of the media (with honourable exceptions!) would be the same.

        The reason I think that devolution has reached its limits is because Alastair Darling said just that in an interview with the Holyrood magazine. (Late lasy year I think). I think there is a danger in assuming that a No vote would result in substantial new powers for Scotland. If there is not a Yes vote then I strongly fear for Scotland, both in Westminster’s reaction and for social democracy here. I do not have any faith in the British state. Its nature is there to see in the past few hundred years.

  6. George Gunn says:

    If Scotland votes No next year Westminster will do all it can to reduce Holyrood’s powers. The only reason we have a parliament in Edinburgh is because London has been dragged kicking and screaming to the negotiating table. The historic process is under way – Scotland will become independent and sooner rather than later once the Scottish people all realise that all Unionist politicians lie all the time about Scotland.

  7. Donald Adamson says:


    A thoughtful and well-conceived piece. I wouldn’t discount Nicola Sturgeon’s claim so quickly, though. It’s true that, as you say, the three unionist parties have promised an enhanced devolution settlement in the event of a No vote, but there is surely a huge implementation gap here that adds substance to Sturgeon’s claim, not least because it is a gap that depends on a number of contingencies.

    For example, as you say in your follow-up comments, Labour is under internal pressure to come up with Devolution something or other, but however Labour responds to that pressure, its ability to deliver that response depends on two things: first, British Labour being persuaded of the political efficacy of any proposals (including their effect on the wider UK) and, second, British Labour being in a position to deliver them. This is one reason why the timing of the referendum may prove to be a very astute move on the part of the Scottish government. At any rate, your pessimism about the current poll ratings of the Yes campaign is premature, though I think there are other arguments to support this conclusion (see below).

    The Lib Dems, of course, can promise the moon, they’re certainly howling at it. But if the present inflated rump of Lib Dem MPs at Westminster couldn’t persuade David Cameron and his Tory chums to support a watered-down version of Alternative Voting, how on earth are they going to persuade the Tories to support what, at Westminster, would be seen as the earth-shattering settlement of federalism? The Lib Dems could always flash their knickers at Labour I suppose. But ‘one nation’ federalism with special privileges for the remote northern outpost of Scotlandshire? Good luck with that one.

    But even if we suspend our disbelief and play along with Lib Dem fantasies, this would surely be an issue for the whole of the UK to decide. And if there is still anyone left in Scotland who has any doubts about England’s possible verdict on an enhanced devolution settlement for Scotland, Bella’s reproduction of Steve Bell’s cartoon should dispel those, and Steve Bell’s is the voice of the disaffected (soft) left in England! The Tories, of course, don’t even bother to try to hide their inner thoughts behind something as innocuous as a cartoon. What you see is what you get.

    Let’s remind ourselves that, in less than fifteen years, the unionist parties have progressed from their own pre-devolution settled will (i.e. constitutional inertia) to having us believe that, today, they are the most enthusiastic advocates of constitutional change. But what is it that has awoken unionists from their dogmatic slumber on all matters constitutional? The pattern is unmistakeable. They have had to adopt increasingly defensive positions and make (or promise to make) more concessions in their desperate attempts to hit upon a devolution settlement that will stick. In fact, it’s tempting to argue that, given the rate of attrition of unionist ‘lines in the sand’, it should only be another four or five years before they, too, are arguing for independence!

    What if there is a No vote in 2014 and the Tories go on to win the 2015 British general election? A No vote in 2014 would then deliver, among other things, another six years of Tory austerity, another six years of the Tories waging war on the ‘undeserving’ poor and attacking further the limited employment rights that Scottish workers currently have. And all this against the looming threat that Scotland would be dragged out of the EU, possibly against the wishes of the majority of Scotland’s voters. But before anything else, the Tories would also see to it, no doubt with Labour support, that never again would Scotland be in a position to ‘hold the UK to ransom’ on the issue of independence – the unionists’ fear of a ‘neverendum’ would be replaced with the unionists’ elation with 2014’s status as a neveragaindum.

    That is the one and only thing that will be guaranteed by a No vote in 2014. Anything else is contingent on too many unknowns. But at the rate the unionist parties are going, they are promising to make devolution so complex, so unworkable, so dysfunctional and so guaranteed to heighten the existing crisis of the British state, that it isn’t nationalism they will kill stone dead with their gestating proposals for Devolution something or other, it will be Britain. And isn’t this another way of reading Nicola Sturgeon’s claim?

    On the issue of your pessimism about the current poll ratings of the Yes campaign, although this needs a more detailed response than I would give here, a few points need to be made. First, one of the many interesting phenomena in modern elections is that there is usually a sizeable proportion of the electorate (that includes new cohorts) who haven’t decided how they are going to vote. One of the things that they are waiting for (and this applies with added significance to new cohorts) is to see which side looks most likely to form the winning coalition in the election. To cut a long story short, this suggests that the ‘official’ campaigns will take on an added significance and, given the high proportion of undecideds – currently 15-20 per cent – in these circumstances, it’s much too early to reach a conclusion about the likely outcome based on current voting intentions.

    Second, given that there seems to be a sizeable minority/majority(?) of Scottish voters in favour of Devo something or other, albeit one that has, to a great extent, been led by pollsters and the MSM, this issue of the implementation gap becomes significant. In plain language, while Scottish Labour will take a great deal of encouragement from its performance in the 2010 British general election, I would argue that one of the explanations for Labour’s performance in that election is that a lot of Scottish voters in 2010 were voting with the hope of keeping the Tories out of office. Given that this hope of Scottish voters was thwarted in 2010, this adds an important, possibly decisive dimension to the referendum in that many of these supporters of Devo something or other will take some persuading of the credibility of any unionist party’s devolution proposals, particularly if the real possibility of another six years of Tory government emerges before the autumn of 2014.

    What this suggests is something that was confirmed by Scottish Labour’s performance in the 2011 elections to the Scottish Parliament. That is, there is a declining inertial support – that is, voters who will support Labour and its position on all issues and in all circumstances – underlying Scottish Labour’s position. And while this can’t, simplistically, be read into the current support for the No campaign it must surely be a possibility. All the more so, given that it is Scottish Labour voters who are driving the campaign for Devo something or other and who, realistically, the Yes campaign needs to increase its appeal to. In other words, if any shift in opinion is going to occur over the next twenty months or so, it is surely more likely to be in the direction of current No’s to Yes rather than the reverse. Your excellent piece is, though, a salutary reminder that the Yes campaign needs hard-nosed realism much more than it needs triumphalist bravado.

    Finally, I don’t think that the issue of defence, important as it is, can shoulder the burden that you’re asking of it here, though I agree that it needs to be promoted to higher prominence in the agenda of the Yes campaign. I wouldn’t be as dismissive as you seem to be of the likely potency over the next twenty months or so of the numerous political and economic arguments for independence. But that is definitely something that needs a more detailed response than is available to any of us here.

    1. J Maxwell says:

      Talk about thoughtful & well conceived. Many thanks for the response Donald. I’m just going to tackle a couple of your points though, because it’s late.

      Firstly, it’s not the polls that make me pessimistic about the chances of a Yes vote, it’s the essential conservatism of Scottish society – or rather the essential conservatism of the people who run Scottish society. When it comes to constitutional change, there is a well-established divide between Scotland’s relatively radical (yet politically alienated) working-class and its defensive, risk-averse (yet politically dominant) middle-class. I don’t see the attitudes of middle-class Scots towards independence changing dramatically over the next 20 or so months, not least because they’ve remained fairly consistently hostile for more than 3 decades.

      Secondly, you point out how far the unionist parties have been dragged in 15 years. I think that reinforces my argument: the British political structure can change, given the right conditions & pressures. Without clear proposals for the next stage of devolution, a Yes vote is more not less likely. The unionist know that.

      Finally, I promise you I’m not dismissive of the political & economic arguments for independence. See here: https://dev.bellacaledonia.org.uk/2012/09/18/the-economic-case/. I’m just not convinced the vote will be settled on the basis of rational, cool-headed assessment.


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  9. Donald Adamson says:


    Points taken. On the issue of polls, maybe I read too much into your opening sentences in your last paragraph but now that you’ve fleshed out your thoughts a little more, I agree with what you say here about the innate conservatism of Scotland’s middle class. They’re not the largest constituency in Scotland, of course, but, unfortunately, they are more likely to vote than other classes. More importantly, as you say here, they exercise an influence on the policy agenda and public culture – through the political classes, the MSM, the professions and so on – that far outweighs their numerical strength. It’s not for nothing that the BMA and the Law Society were two ‘closed shops’ that even Mrs Thatcher daren’t meddle with! ‘Mouths stuffed with gold’ and all that. For these and other reasons the mainstream of this constituency is also the one which feels that it has most to lose with independence.

    I also agree with your point about the ‘politically alienated’ working class in Scotland. Unfortunately, although they comprise a large minority of the Scottish electorate this is the constituency that is least likely to vote but which, arguably, has the most to gain from independence. They are the real challenge for the Yes campaign because they are effectively disenfranchised in the British electoral system and, by implication, all formal politics, and it’s questionable whether the Yes campaign can mobilise this constituency in sufficient numbers to make a difference. Much will depend on whether the Yes campaign can convince this constituency that it has a tangible stake in independence compared to the likely trajectory of Britain.

    There are a number of policy areas that would appeal to this constituency but, for reasons of space I’ll mention only one. I mention this because it would also enhance the appeal of independence to other important constituencies in Scotland. The issue of the extension of employment rights is, for all the mainstream parties, including the SNP, too controversial to advance as a policy objective. From the perspective of the Tories, two of the major successes of the Thatcher and Major governments were their anti-trade union legislation and their housing policy – these were not people who were unduly troubled by the terrible consequences of their policies for the Scottish working class. The (British) right has also been extremely successful in raising the spectre of the ‘strike-prone’ 1970s, the ‘overloaded state’ and the ‘winter of discontent’ as folk-memories to justify the continued ‘disciplining’ of labour in the employment relationship, an employment relationship that, even under more benign conditions, is heavily loaded against workers.

    After 1997, New Labour did introduce a range of minimum employment rights, including ending the British opt-out of the Social Chapter of the Maastricht Treaty by Major’s government. In truth, New Labour had to end this opt-out because Britain was so out of step with other EU countries. What it meant, though, was, once again, by virtue of Scotland’s membership of the UK, Scottish workers had been denied a range of basic rights that workers in other EU countries took for granted. A number of the rights that Scottish workers currently have – e.g. statutory limits on working time, equal treatment for part-time workers, paid annual leave, protection for fixed-term employees and so on – are all the result of the British having to comply with EU directives.

    But New Labour came into office after eighteen years of Tory governments (governments that were consistently rejected in Scotland) that relentlessly pursued an agenda of weakening trade unions in terms of their bargaining strength, their influence and eroding the limited rights that British workers had previously enjoyed. The upshot was that, three decades after the election of Mrs Thatcher, the number of trade union members had almost halved compared to 1979, the number of trade unions had more than halved, collective bargaining particularly in the private sector had collapsed (hence the introduction of the National Minimum Wage in 1999) and while the limited coercive powers available to trade unions were eroded, at the same time the coercive powers of capital were greatly enhanced.

    This was the environment that Scottish Labour and the STUC presided over in the 1980s and 1990s. Like Scottish workers themselves, they were mere spectators at their own decline, powerless to stop the Tories. Of course, their British orientation prevented them from articulating this from a distinctively Scottish perspective, hence their failure to draw attention to the undemocratic nature of these policies in Scotland, the consistent rejection of these policies by Scottish voters in general elections and their terrible consequences for the Scottish working class. And today, here we go again!

    One of the reasons that the ‘politically alienated’ working class are ‘effectively’ disenfranchised is because none of the mainstream parties speak for them. They have little to offer them. The prospect of an alternative welfare model after independence – the point of departure in your original article – is welcome, of course, particularly when compared to the likely trajectory of Britain. Between them, the endless ‘reforms’ of New Labour and the Tories have weakened England’s health and welfare system, although Scotland’s health and welfare system has not been immune from the managerialism, marketisation, and latent as well as manifest privatisation that now characterises the English system.

    But extended employment rights, in conjunction with a new industrial relations settlement in an independent Scotland – entailing, among other things, the repeal of the Thatcher anti-trade union legislation, the restoration of collective bargaining, the promotion of trade union membership (collective bargaining is never going to be restored without this), negotiations on reducing the working week as a means of creating full employment, promoting workers’ co-operatives – would increase the appeal of independence to this constituency. All the more so, if this was framed in a context of social justice, greater equality with the vision of setting an independent Scotland on a different trajectory from the rest of the UK.

    This would also appeal to other constituencies in Scotland. Although the conservative bureaucrats in the STUC, because of their British orientation, would never support independence, a direct appeal, over their heads so to speak, to Scottish workers that promoted this agenda would surely increase the appeal of independence to the wider trade union movement (most of whom are concentrated in the public sector) and Scottish workers.

    But there is another important constituency here also who would be receptive to this agenda. Over the last four decades, women have entered employment in increasing numbers and, in Scotland as in the other nations in the UK, many of them are concentrated in the public sector, in health, education and social services. Opinion polls consistently show that the Yes campaign receives less support from women than from men. An agenda of fairness, greater equality and social justice based on enhanced employment rights and a new industrial relations settlement in an independent Scotland would surely reduce this deficit. I’m not suggesting that it would be decisive in the referendum but it could be significant. Indeed, if a time like the present, when capitalism is in deep crisis, when public anger and feelings of disempowerment, insecurity etc are heightened, if this isn’t the right time to promote such an agenda, when is the right time?

    Unfortunately, however, the SNP, the Scottish government and the Yes campaign have shown no willingness to touch this as an issue in the campaign (back to your point about innate conservatism again). As if to underline the point, Robin McAlpine of the Jimmy Reid Foundation, provides a report on Alex Salmond’s recent inaugural Jimmy Reid Memorial Lecture, ‘Some Thoughts on the First Minister’s Lecture’. After the lecture, the First Minister took some questions from the audience and, as Robin McAlpine reports, one of these questions was:

    “Would an independent Scotland be a country that imposed anti-trade union laws? It is impossible to say for sure was the answer but he could not see evidence that this was at all likely given the political make-up of Scotland”.

    On the one hand, this was an encouraging, if conservative, answer from the First Minister – and Robin McAlpine does make an interesting broader political point here about the possible motives informing the First Minister’s answer. On the other hand, though, the tentativeness of his answer and the unwillingness to positively promote the extension of employment rights in a broader context of a new industrial relations settlement in an independent Scotland is a lost opportunity for the Scottish government and, more broadly, the Yes campaign. As with New Labour in England, the influential ‘business’ lobby has the ear of political elites in Scotland in a way that trade unions can’t compete against. As it stands, it will be the responsibility of disparate voices on the Scottish left to promote this agenda, but how much more effective would this be if the Scottish government and the Yes campaign were to put their full weight behind it?

    Finally (apologies for the length of this post) on your second point, that the British political structure can change, this is true but we need to remember that, in a British context, under both Labour and Tory governments, this is always guided by Edmund Burke’s maxim, ‘ change in order to conserve’. I’ve always seen devolution as part of the crisis-management of the British state. In fact, it’s hard to make sense of devolution any other way. The concessions that the unionist parties have had to make since 1999, and continue to promise today, and the haste with which they have been conceived, underlines how deep this crisis is.

    Surely the debacle over Calman illustrates the points above only too well and undermines your apparent confidence in the British state’s capacity to institute meaningful reforms. Calman was set up by the unionist parties, it was their ‘initiative’ and it received its remit from the unionist parties. Yet, by the end of the process we witnessed the bizarre spectacle of the Scottish government, which didn’t want Calman and didn’t participate in it, arguing for the Calman proposals to be implemented in full and the unionist parties effectively disowning much of it and trying to justify why its proposals should not be implemented in full! The Calman proposals were clear enough but it wasn’t their clarity that was the problem, the problem was much deeper than that.

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