Opinion: Charles Kennedy asks “What should we tell the Scots?”

September 14th "Welcome to Scotland"On Monday I received an e-mail from Charles Kennedy and the Scottish Liberal Democrats. It asked Lib Dems across the UK to help the No campaign by completing a brief survey entitled,”What do you think we should be telling voters in Scotland?” The survey was indeed brief (3 questions), and the answers were pre-loaded, so I thought that I would compose my own response to my fellow Scots.

The preamble to the Liberal Democrat Federal Constitution states that ‘we look forward to a world in which all people share the same basic rights, in which they live together in peace and in which their different cultures will be able to develop freely.’

These are worthy aspirations, and the future happiness of humanity will be measured by our progress towards such goals. It seems inconceivable that anyone could oppose these sentiments, and yet, every day, in some place or other, we see that progress undermined, even reversed.

Why is this? A lot has to do with one’s worldview. Some see the world as being made up of different countries, and even different regions within countries. They see different races, different cultures, different languages, different religions, and different sects within religions, different political systems and different degrees of technological advance. Many see these differences as some form of anarchy, as a threat that must be defended against.

The atavistic reaction is to ‘raise the drawbridge and staff the ramparts,’ to guard against the ‘envy of less happier lands.’ It is then argued that we need more border guards, a stronger military, more powerful weapons of war, even weapons of mass destruction to defend ourselves, and we hope our enemies will be deterred from attacking us. What many do not see is that our enemies see us as part of the same anarchy that threatens them, and, consequently, they too feel the need for more powerful and destructive weapons. Trapped within such a paradigm it is difficult to see how humanity can make any meaningful progress towards the noble aspirations listed in the Liberal Democrat constitution.

Nevertheless, progress there must be, if only because the alternative is too awful to contemplate. The question is ‘how do we make progress in the face of such daunting opposition?’

The only way is to recognize the differences between us and see them as strengths rather than threats. It means breaking down barriers, whether these are borders, prejudices, intolerance or aggression.

The establishment of the European Union has been the most promising example of what can be achieved when nations bury their differences to work for the common good. Cooperation on laws and regulations, minimizing border controls and encouraging free trade are just some of the measures that reduce that perception of anarchy as threat that lies at the root of so much conflict and division. Today, it is almost unthinkable that any EU country would go to war with another member nation, a sure testament to the efficacy of the union as an agent of peace and cooperation.

That is why liberals must support any effort to build unions between nations, and oppose those who emphasize the differences, or create differences where they do not really exist. Encouraging more unions is the surest way to achieving the goals set out in the Liberal Democrat constitution. It promises the best hope of eventually dismantling the apparatus of defence and security that not only ratchets up the fear, but also threatens the freedoms and liberty that make living worthwhile and rewarding.

Dividing people and emphasizing their differences is not in the long-term best interests of humanity. On 18 September the people of Scotland can reaffirm the union between the peoples of Britain and send this message to the world.


* Matt Gallagher is a Lib Dem activist in the Manchester Withington constituency. In 2012 he represented the party as its candidate for Police and Crime Commissioner for Greater Manchester. He is a member of Amnesty International and a keen defender of civil and human rights. He is married with two grown up children and three grandchildren.

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  • Again, very worthy stuff. But, the problem is that a No vote will signal to the Westminster establishment that everything is fine and that the present direction of travel is the correct one.

    Unfortunately, that direction of travel is not towards a more liberal world. Britain is increasingly falling prey to the ‘drawbridge up’ way of thinking and behaving in the world, and I cannot see anything other than being on the inside of the drawbridge that would be guaranteed for Scotland by a strong No win.

    A weak victory for No may succeed in mobilising forces for change across Britain. A weak victory for Yes will mean that in order to cooperate effectively with Scotland, the rest of Britain will need to learn how to deal with the European system. Either way, potential benefit, and if independence happens, well, it would be better for Scotland to have its own drawbridge, down so that it can be a full and cooperative partner in the European Union, than for Scotland to be trapped behind a British drawbridge raised against the world.

    A strong No just lands us at status-quo heading in the wrong direction. I can’t support that and won’t be voting for it – because of my liberal values, not in spite of them.

  • William Hobhouse, that is exactly what is being proposed.

  • Denis Mollison 3rd Sep '14 - 7:18pm

    William – Of course the SNP (and non-SNP members of the Yes campaign) propose a Scotland within Europe. As I’ve said before, England is currently a far more Nationalist country, and certainly more anti-EU.

  • Matt Gallagher 3rd Sep '14 - 7:29pm

    T-J; you say that a No vote will send a signal to the Westminster establishment that everything is fine and that the present direction of travel is the correct one, therefore people should vote Yes. This troubles me because, if the pollsters and bookmakers are right, the vote is likely to be a No. In such an event will the Yes camp then agree that the majority of Scots are obviously happy with the Westminster establishment and the direction of travel? I doubt it. The argument will then be that one doesn’t prove the other, which I tend to agree with.

    You argue, “that the direction of travel is not towards a more liberal world” and cite this as justification for a No vote. My case is that we can only make progress towards a more liberal world by rejecting nationalism, which thrives on emphasizing the differences between us, and uses those differences to divide us. It is the fear of ‘differences’ that makes people illiberal and reactionary all around the world. Only by working to resolve our differences and breaking down barriers can we hope to get anywhere close to the liberal aspirations we have all signed up to with our constitution.

    The problems inherent in the British establishment will still exist the morning after the referendum, regardless of the outcome. The way to deal with them is to confront them and fight them from within. If the vote is indeed No that fight will still need to be fought. It will stand more chance of success if the Scots are onboard to break down these barriers.

    On the issue of Scotland being an EU member if the vote is Yes, the comments from Danny Alexander and the views of former EU Commissioner Oli Rhen make sobering reading (see article after this one on todays LDV). The Yes camp cannot assume that EU membership is automatic, and cannot guarantee that a condition of membership will be to adopt the Euro (something the Scots are not keen on and could be a deal-breaker). The lack of clarity on this one issue should cause voters to think carefully about their future. It would be tragic if a Yes vote resulted in Scotland having to accept disadvantageous terms to remain an EU member, and suffering as a result. The Yes side may propose EU membership, but it is the EU that decides who joins it, and they set the conditions. Their attitude should have been established before this referendum was called.

  • On the merits of a No vote, Matt, it is my conclusion that the louder the signal for No, the louder the voices telling us that everything is fine and nothing must change will be. We saw it with the AV referendum, and nothing that has been presented by Better Together or the wider unionist cause has given me any confidence at all that this would be any different. You may well say that Yes won’t give up. Great. But that’s absolutely no argument that convinces me at all that I should now, in this vote, stand against the voices expressing discontent and side with the forces of the status-quo.

    On nationalism, I say again, Scotland in Europe is a better solution from an anti-nationalist point of view than having the whole of Britain all on its own. Fearful, reactionary nationalism is something that is as much a problem for the rest of Britain as for Scotland, and frankly looking at polling results and where the kippers are making breakthroughs is more of a problem the further south you go.

    As I have said repeatedly on this current barrage of No articles here, the ideal referendum result is a vote where 50% of the electorate minus one vote, vote for independence. That gives the loudest possible signal to the British establishment that all is not well, serves notice unequivocally, and creates the greatest possible impetus for real reform of the British system. That is what I want. But I’m not going to get it by voting No and amplifying the ‘everything’s fine’ signal, am I? Or am I to accept the word of the likes of David Cameron, Jim Murphy and Alastair Darling that they have this wonderful plan for, well, its not federalism and they can’t really say anything about it right now, but it’s wonderful honest really?

    I think not. And if I end up being the one who ruins it all and makes it into a 50% plus one vote for Independence result, well, it really isn’t the end of the world. That outcome, although second best, still retains the virtue of sending that big loud signal that all is not well down to Westminster regardless.

    And finally, on Scotland in Europe, I would set aside former Commissioner Olli Rehn’s opinion in favour of current Commission President Juncker’s view that there should be no barrier to Scotland acceding to European Union membership after negotiations, and would point out that I am already quite sober, thank you very much.

  • Matt Gallagher 4th Sep '14 - 5:04am

    In summary then, T-J, you are for a No vote, but by such a narrow margin (you said the ideal would be for the Yes side to lose the referendum by one vote?) that Westminster is forced to take a long hard look at its shortcomings. I am all for anything that sends such a message to the establishment, but I think you are making big demands of the mechanism of referendum, not least subverting the actual question “Should Scotland be an independent country,” to “Should we use the referendum to send Westminster a message?” I am happy to stand corrected if I am wrong, but could it be you are actually still an ‘undecided’ who will not be too upset at the outcome, whatever it is (provided it is close and sends a message).

    You are right to quote Juncker’s suggestion that there should be no barrier to Scotland joining the EU after negotiation, the views of the current Commission President are a salient part of the debate, but what is there to negotiate? I suspect the biggest issue will be the currency. Scotland may enter such negotiations with its preferred options, but the people they are negotiating with will have their preferred options too. Juncker is a strong advocate for the Euro. In his most recent major speech he argued that the Euro “protects Europe” and he is a big fan of Jacque Delors, who is credited with launching the single currency. It is possible, even probable, that Scotland would be admitted to the EU, but the EU’s own rules currently state that, “ All Member States of the European Union, except Denmark and the United Kingdom, are required to adopt the euro and join the euro area. To do this they must meet certain conditions known as ‘convergence criteria’*. Those voting Yes need to take this possibility into account when calculating their pro’s and con’s table. Perhaps they think this is a price worth paying to be free of Westminster control, but they should make the decision with their eyes wide open.

    I wish the Scot’s well, whatever the final decision, but I remain convinced that reducing barriers between nations is the best way to achieve human progress and peace, and throwing up a border is a backward step.

  • Well, jedi, that would be your opinion. I think that it is shortsighted, unrealistic and actually just a little bit insulting, but you’re entitled to it. If it makes you happier, though, feel free to append ‘in my opinion’ to everything I post.

    Matt, I’m not undecided, I’ve made my mind up and am seeing nothing that really pushes me back into the No camp. And although from a certain perspective I have subverted the question, I would say that I’m just pre-empting the response from Westminster to a strong No vote. Because ultimately we do have to realise the context we’re working in when we answer these questions, and for me, no change would be a worse outcome than the change on offer. Perhaps, if No had delivered a credible, costed and properly planned Federalism, and signed up both main parties, I could take a risk and vote No. But its still just Lib

  • (Touchscreens are irritating)

    …Dems offering anything of the sort, and the wider political opinion seems to be that Scotland should lose funding and powers after the vote – all in or all out. It’s not encouraging.

    And regarding Europe again, I strongly believe that a Scotland that meets the convergence criteria and plays a full and constructive part in the European Union would be doing a better job of removing barriers and bringing down borders between similar people than it would while staying part of a UK shambling towards the exit, isolation and irrelevance. Just my opinion, of course, but this is after all a site where we are encouraged to share such things.

  • “What should we tell the Scots?”

    No negotiation before the vote and everything is negotiable after the vote, including a total withdrawal of Westminster funding.

  • Simon Banks 5th Sep '14 - 10:05pm

    I found Charles’ survey disappointing because it offered three options for the most powerful reason for a No vote and assumed we’d be happy to choose one of the three. I would have answered that Scotland’s exit from the union would push U.K. politics well to the right and further from the centre of Scottish politics, and yet Scotland, a small nation whose only land borders were with a fairly large one, would find many decisions taken by the new Scotless U.K. would profoundly affect her. It’s a similar argument to one against leaving the EU.

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