No, Alex Salmond, the case against independence is not the case “against Scotland”

By 10:30 pm last night, I thought the most shocking thing I was going to hear that evening was that the Blessed Mary Berry uses tinned, yes, that’s tinned,  peaches and pears in her trifle recipe.

Sadly this was not to be the case. Yesterday was Scotland’s the equivalent of the Queen’s Speech, when the Government unveils its legislative programme, except we get Alex Salmond instead of the Queen. To mark the occasion, he was interviewed for Scotland Tonight.

More of the interview than necessary was taken up with a discussion on which pro UK politician he would debate against in the run up to next year’s referendum. Salmond wants to debate David Cameron, saying that he’s the most senior politician for the “no” campaign, regardless of the fact that he doesn’t have a vote. I wonder if he’d have been quite as willing to debate Gordon Brown, who, even in his darkest days as PM, was still reasonably popular in Scotland, but that’s by the by.

At the very end of the interview, Salmond made this comment:

..let’s see if we can get the pressure on to make sure we pull the Prime Minister into the ring and then let’s see if he can articulate a case against Scotland because I’ll certainly be articulating the case for Scotland.

If you want to be sure I’ve got that right, you can watch here, at around 11:09.

One of my biggest pet hates is the invocation of patriotism in politics. It’s nasty, brutal and poisonous. Whether it’s David Cameron saying it’s his patriotic duty to beat Gordon Brown, Labour politicians trying to create a divide between nationalists and patriots or Salmond’s display last night, I really don’t think it has a place in mature, civilised debate. We can all assume that people love Scotland and want the best for it, whatever side of the independence debate they take. Willie Rennie gets this. He said yesterday, before Salmond’s interview:

Everyone in this chamber wants the best for Scotland. I am in no doubt about that. We just disagree on how we want to achieve it

I’ve written about this a lot over the years. You might want to have a look at this post from 2010 where I say:

I don’t think that defining your opponents as unpatriotic because their ideas are different from your’s has any place in British politics.

It worries me that my First Minister is willing to play that sort of game. Does he think that I and others are anti-Scotland? For the first time, I feel a bit uneasy and uncomfortable about this referendum. What should be an affirming, inspiring debate about our nation’s future is turning nasty. Salmond has exposed a toxic underbelly.

By inferring that those who support Scotland remaining in the UK are against Scotland, Salmond is taking a risk, too. One opinion poll at the weekend had the pro UK campaign with a 30 point lead. He may also be giving encouragement to the more excitable supporters of independence. These are people who think that the England is to Scotland what the Soviet Union was to Estonia.

I want to see Liberal Democrats come out and take on such comments. Liberalism is all about pluralism, about respecting other’s rights to have a different view, about making sure all voices are heard. So, Willie Rennie, Mike Moore, Danny Alexander, Nick Clegg, get out there and challenge Salmond’s rhetoric with passion.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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  • The problem with the above, and where Salmond’s argument points, is that the Coalition government do not, and cannot, represent the wishes of the Scottish people. Because the Coalition parties are electorally insignificant in Scotland, it is indisputable that Scotland, with respect to Westminster, is governed by an arrangement not supported by the democratic wishes of the people of Scotland.

    Salmond is exploiting this to the full. It’s not opportunistic for him to do so as it’s practically the entire basis of the SNP’s ideological conviction.

    Ironically, the best strategy to spike the Nats would be to make the Tories electable in Scotland.

    Failing that, the Coalition need to tell Scotland why politicians like Michael Gove, George Osborne, Iain Duncan Smith, Theresa May and William Hague have the interests of the left-leaning scottish population at their heart.

    I write as a unionist.

  • David Evans 4th Sep '13 - 11:45am

    Sadly, I can say I am not the least surprised about Alex Salmond’s tactics. I believe he has got what he always wanted; the opportunity to have another go at the English and blame them for all the problems he can muster, plus a few more he can imagine, in a forum where petty nationalism and all the worst aspects of patriotism can be brought to bear. The entire process seems to have been manufactured to let him do this, win his referendum and then retire in a blaze of glory as Scotland’s liberator.

    As an aside it will condemn the UK to decades of Conservative rule, so I would imagine David Cameron would be quite keen on it as well

  • Also, Salmond and the SNP aren’t anti-English in the slightest. Certainly some Nats are, but, as a whole, the SNP explicitly reject such accusations and can point to several English SNP MSPs and many more supporters. It is deeply unhelpful for people south of the border to use such generalisations as they fuel the SNP’s arguments that people in England don’t give much thought to Scotland.

  • Malcolm Todd 4th Sep '13 - 11:58am

    “As an aside it will condemn the UK to decades of Conservative rule” — enough with this tired old meme. Labour won an overall majority of seats in England in 1997, 2001 and 2005. There just aren’t enough Scottish MPs to make a difference in any but the tightest of elections (such as 2010, where if the Scottish contingent is abstracted Cameron would have an overall majority of about 20). Never mind whether there’s any sort of obligation on the Scottish people to put up with recurrent periods of Tory rule in order to occasionally liberate the rest of the UK from getting what it votes for; it just doesn’t and hasn’t worked that way.

  • Malcolm Todd 4th Sep '13 - 11:59am

    Obviously, should have been an “” after “in England”. Apologies for any eyestrain.

  • Malcolm Todd 4th Sep '13 - 12:01pm

    Oh, I give up. I’m off to send smoke signals.

  • Geoffrey Payne 4th Sep '13 - 1:15pm

    I usually agree with Malcolm, but not in this case. There is one Tory MP in Scotland out of 59. 41 are Labour, 11 LD and 6 SNP. An independent Scotland will make a significant difference to the results in the UK with the Tories the main winners. Look at the fuss they made about boundary changes where the numbers were smaller.

  • David Evans 4th Sep '13 - 1:56pm

    Unfortunately, Malcolm has missed my point. I didn’t say “If Scotland had been independent in 1997, 2001 or 2005 we would have had Conservative rule. That was a period of astonishing anti-Conservative sentiment that sadly Tony Blair was the main beneficiary of.

    What I clearly said and stand by is that I believe that if Scotland becomes independent after 2014, it will condemn the UK to decades of Conservative rule – A totally different matter. The only thing that I could foresee that might change that is an appalling deterioration in the economy up to 2015.

  • David Evans 4th Sep '13 - 2:11pm

    I wish I could agree with g’s comment “Salmond and the SNP aren’t anti-English in the slightest,” but it does not accord with my reading of his words and actions.

    You just have to google “Salmond blames” to see a litany of complaints Alex Salmond has attributed to him about the government, Westminster, the UK, the UK banking regulators etc etc. All with the subliminal message “If we weren’t governed from by the UK with its English majority, we would be so much better off.”

  • David Evans,

    I wish I could agree with g’s comment “Salmond and the SNP aren’t anti-English in the slightest,” but it does not accord with my reading of his words and actions.

    You just have to google “Salmond blames” to see a litany of complaints Alex Salmond has attributed to him about the government, Westminster, the UK, the UK banking regulators etc etc. All with the subliminal message “If we weren’t governed from by the UK with its English majority, we would be so much better off.”

    Just out of interest, do you live in England?

    In Scotland I have never heard, even from the staunchest of his foes, an accusation that Salmond is broadcasting subliminal anti-English sentiment.

  • the SNP are a progressive left of centre political organisation,; very pro-European and represent the people of Scotland who have suffered years of Labour misgovernment.

    Scottish people tend to be more on the Left and an independent Scotland will give them perpetual progressive government ad the twin poison of Toryism and economic liberalism gone from Scotland forever

  • Malcolm Todd 4th Sep '13 - 11:52pm

    David Evans
    No, I didn’t miss your point. The point is that the past is a better guide to the future than unfounded speculation; especially when exactly the same predictions were being made by my left-of-centre friends in England in the 1980s, which was proved wrong by those results in 1997–2005. And you’ve really no basis for claiming that that was an “extraordinary” period. Labour have won majorities in England several times in the past. Undoubtedly, the presence of Scotland makes it harder for the Tories to win a majority in England — Geoffrey Payne’s obviously right that the loss of Scotland would benefit the Tories electorally and I never sought to deny that — but that’s a far cry from saying that they’ll have a permanent majority.

  • Malcolm Todd 4th Sep '13 - 11:53pm

    Sorry, I meant “astonishing”, not “extraordinary”. This thread is bringing out all my incompetence in typing; but not, I hope, in argument…

  • Julian Tisi 5th Sep '13 - 9:57am

    @David Orr “an independent Scotland will give them perpetual progressive government ad the twin poison of Toryism and economic liberalism gone from Scotland forever”
    The economic reasons for an independent Scotland simply don’t add up. From the increased cost of borrying (an independent Scotland simply won’t get the same strong credit rating as the UK), through currency costs, pensions, mortgages… all of these will leave an independent Scottish government with much less money to spend on being progressive. In any case, the (current, devolved) Scottish government has considerable tax raising powers already (and many have suggested it could have further powers devolved as part of the UK). Surely this would allow Scotland to pursue its own agenda without the massive costs of indepdence?

  • Susan MacNee 5th Sep '13 - 12:55pm

    I can’t think of anything more anti-Scottish than wanting to have Tory governments regularly imposed on it against its wishes by England.

  • David Evans 5th Sep '13 - 11:09pm

    @Malcolm Todd

    Sadly Malcolm I think you have just confirmed that you did miss my point .

    My point is that the combination of Labour’s financial incompetence in the Blair/Brown years, coupled with the loss of the 40+ seats edge that Scotland gives it means that if Scotland votes for independence we will have Tories in government for 20 years. Your point that the past is a better guide than unfounded speculation is true but irrelevant. Irrelevant because my point is based on an analysis of the past and not unfounded speculation.

    My point on the astonishing nature of the Blair years is very soundly based, firstly due to the massive divisiveness of the Thatcher years, followed by the weakness and overt corruption of many Conservatives that came out in the Major years, compounded by the extreme length of time they were in power. Consequently when the dam broke it broke big style. As a result, I consider any implication by yourself that my views are unfounded speculation, to be itself unfounded. I do have a clear basis for claiming it. I think you disagree with my conclusions, and I can accept your right to do so, but to claim I have no basis, really does have no basis in fact.

    Also when you say Labour have won other majorities in England in the past, indeed it is true, but only in 1945 – truly an exceptional election; 1950 – just but probably a carry over of goodwill from the NHS etc just got them through; and in 64 and 66 –when they wouldn’t have won in 64 without Scotland.

    Finally as for your point that the loss of Scotland is a far cry from the Conservatives having a permanent majority; it is true. But then I never claimed such a thing, so that point is also irrelevant to my post.

  • Really, not the most shocking thing I’ve ever heard.

    I hope the pro UK cause is not being sidetracked by this, which is what Salmon obviously wanted.

  • Malcolm Todd 6th Sep '13 - 11:07pm

    @David Evans

    You’ve just confirmed, as far as I can see, that Labour won in England in 7 out of 18 general elections since 1945. You then try to explain each and every one of those as in some way exceptional, but that rather begs the question, doesn’t it?

    And you’re right, I exaggerated: you didn’t claim that the Tories would have a “permanent majority”; only that “it will condemn the UK to decades of Conservative rule”. My apologies.

  • One point that’s often missed in such hypothetical discussions is that political parties are not static; they change their platforms and manifestos to fit the electorate they are trying to entice. Sometimes this happens slowly, sometimes quickly, but it always happens, since the raison d’être of a political party is to win elections.

    Should the UK parliament lose its Scottish MPs, the result would not necessarily be a Labour Party that wins less often, but rather a Labour Party that moves to the centre or the right in order to pick up the necessarily additional votes. (Among other things, there would be more pressure on Liberal Democrats in marginal constituencies.) Most likely that would result in a rightward shift of all major political parties — assuming that the political positions of the English and Northern Irish stay unchanged, which is by no means assured.

  • Malcolm Todd 7th Sep '13 - 12:20am

    You’re quite right, David.

  • David Evans 7th Sep '13 - 7:46am

    Malcolm, thank you for your apology for exaggerating my point on the impact of the loss of Scottish seats in future English elections.

    However, you still seem to be moving your ground every time I counter your latest argument. In my second post I disproved your implication that my point (or “tired old meme” as you chose to put it) was based on unfounded speculation by explaining the foundation of my contention with reference to the only factual foundation that you put forward i.e. Labour winning a majority of seats in England in 1997, 2001 and 2005. You then chose to counter that by bring in the other labour election victories in England, which I simply put into context, not by stating, as you next claimed that “You then try to explain each and every one of those as in some way exceptional.” This is quite simply incorrect. I stand by 1945 being exceptional for very different reasons, but as you know, of the remaining three, which were not exceptional, two were very, very close indeed. I believe that this strengthens my analysis not weakens it as you imply.

    As I said before, I have no problem with you disagreeing with me. However, to indicate that there is no factual basis behind my post and then to continually change your “factual basis” as I counter your arguments by showing the basis of my points indicates to me that your position is the one in danger of only being based on unfounded speculation. Also the tendency you seem to have to take my points and exaggerate them on which you then build a new counter argument sets so many irrelevant rabbits running that there is a real danger of losing sight of the substantive point in our difference of opinion.

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