Last Friday Vivian Linacre, a few years into his nineties, slipped away from us in his Perth home after an illness born bravely. Vivian was a regular contributor to ThinkScotland and in 2014 provided this essay which analysed the SNP Government’s White Paper –Scotland’s Future. It appeared in our book ‘How to bluff your way to Independence’ before the independence referendum. As a token of thanks and respect for his many thoughtful and lively articles we shall be republishing some like this one in the coming weeks, along with an obituary being prepared currently.
IS THIS a White Paper – or is it Fifty Shades of Grey? Why is the response to almost every simple question, even after two years of campaigning – and, supposedly, research – not the expected definite answer but a vague “should not be affected” or “unlikely to change” or “may not allow”; and why, conversely, is the response to almost every complex question, to which nobody can possibly yet know the answer, presented as if it were an accomplished fact: e.g. agreements for EU and for NATO membership, for a sterling union, sharing the National Debt and maritime resources?
So it is a hybrid monster: neither – as had been promised – an objective set of proposals prepared by civil servants nor a political party manifesto, but the latter dressed up as the former.
An historically important publication by HMG, but with no references to sources, no citations. Wholesale assertions are made without the slightest attempt at authoritative backing. Is this mere incompetence or have they wilfully failed to do their homework .Why, in particular, has no draft constitution been prepared? It is a case of ‘Never mind the quality: feel the width!’
But we may yet be in for a series of what the tabloids are sure to call ‘Jock Shocks’ – the first of which is that, arguing contrary to all the polls and pundits, that the SNP may actually win the referendum!
They will use four reasons: more voting Yes will bother to turn out than those voting No, particularly among the juveniles; the chauvinistic boost provided by the Glasgow Commonwealth Games, Ryder Cup and Battle of Bannockburn 700th anniversary; visceral hatred of Tories and dreadful leadership by all three opposition parties; but above all because of a probable decline in the economy between now and next September, arousing popular protest and unrest which can only find expression in vilifying Westminster and suppressing support for the status quo.
As the UK government in 2012 spent £120bn more than it collected in taxes and public debt is heading towards the trillion mark – half as much again since the coalition came to power barely three years ago – with no sign of diminishing, what if the international credit agencies downgrade the pound again, compelling the Governor of the Bank of England to raise base rate to 1.50 per cent, or even 2.00 per cent, wiping billions of capital off banks’ balance sheets and causing an inflationary surge which would harm every household and a rise in mortgage interest rates that could precipitate another crash in the housing market?
After a quarter century of falling interest rates, which has coincided with – and been exploited by – a quarter century of public profligacy, might this long-term trend be overdue for reversal, and would not that cause general alarm or even panic – and a million Scots to feel like getting out?
But even if a provisional government is formed, it will all end in tears.
Eight months after the Referendum a UK General Election will be held which, if the economy continues to suffer, could be won by Labour, who will feel no obligation to collaborate with the nationalist Scottish government in resolving the many issues still in dispute. The SNP and Labour will fight with special ferocity, moreover, because 59 constituencies, 40 of them held by Labour, would disappear at Independence Day, 24th March 2016, upon inauguration of the new State.
That Westminster campaign and its aftermath will make inroads on the eighteen months allowed for the entire process from a successful referendum to Independence Day – a period which the SNP leaders had always declared ample for conduct and conclusion of negotiations with the EU and NATO, Treasury, Home and Foreign Offices, and for setting up the many other essential institutions of government; but in reality would prove hopelessly inadequate.
Moreover, apportionment of the exploding National Debt, bifurcation of the NHS and of state pension liabilities and administration, and the future of the House of Lords, among many other salient issues, would absorb vast resources while remaining intractable. By the winter of 2015-16 the political climate could become extremely embittered, too, by the first wave of power cuts owing to a predicted energy crisis which will be largely blamed on Scotland’s proclaimed but failing reliance on ‘renewables’, further discrediting the party that, although in power, was seen to be incapable of generating it!
Consequently, they would overrun the appointed date for nationhood and Holyrood would be compelled to plead with Westminster for deferment of Independence Day until after the Scottish parliamentary elections that are due in May ’16 – only two months away – and cannot be postponed! Obviously, a total span of twenty months between referendum and general elections was always absurdly short.
A White Paper, full of meat but free of fat, could have been brought out a year ago and all the issues fully explored before next September. The plan to bring out the White Paper, then do nothing but argue about it for a whole year until the referendum and then go like crazy to get through more than two years’ work in eighteen months through UK elections never made sense.
The Scottish Government’s humiliation – the ultimate ‘Jock Shock’ – would be revelled in by the opposition parties. The administration would try to put a good face on it by seeking a fresh mandate from the people to defeat ‘the enemies of sovereignty’ in order to come back and ‘finish the job’. But having apparently deserted Scotland’s ‘Date with Destiny’ when the long-planned opportunity presented itself – having failed this crucial test of competency – its downfall would be inevitable and the grand illusion of independence shattered.
So what was it all about?
September ’14, May ’15, March ’16 and May ’16 – a deadly serious game of ‘Hopscotch’!
Vivian Linacre 2 December 2013