Thursday, 24 July 2014

A Crazy Dream


Indian independence will never work, said Winston Churchill, who dismissed it as "a crazy dream, with a terrible awakening" which should be prevented at all costs, as we were all supposedly better together, as one might say:
"If the British people are to lose their Indian Empire, they shall do so with their eyes open, and not be led blindfold into a trap. [...] What spectacle could be more sorrowful than that of this powerful country casting away with both hands, and up till now almost by general acquiescence, the great inheritance which centuries have gathered? What spectacle could be more strange, more monstrous in its perversity, than to see the Viceroy and the high officials and agents of the Crown in India labouring with all their influence and authority to unite and weave together into a confederacy all the forces adverse and hostile to our rule in India? One after another our friends and the elements on which we ought to rely in India are chilled, baffled and dismissed, and finally even encouraged to band themselves together with those who wish to drive us out of the country. It is a hideous act of self-mutilation, astounding to every nation in the world. The princes, the Europeans, the Moslems, the Depressed classes, the Anglo-Indians - none of them know what to do nor where to turn in the face of their apparent desertion by Great Britain. Can you wonder that they try in desperation to make what terms are possible with the triumphant Brahmin oligarchy?
I am against this surrender to Gandhi. I am against these conversations and agreements between Lord Irwin and Mr Gandhi. Gandhi stands for the expulsion of Britain from India. Gandhi stands for the permanent exclusion of British trade from India. Gandhi stands for the substitution of Brahmin domination for British rule in India. You will never be able to come to terms with Gandhi. You have only to read his latest declarations, and compare them with the safeguards for which we are assured the official Conservatives will fight to the end, to see how utterly impossible agreement is. But let me tell you this. If at the sacrifice of every British interest and of all the necessary safeguards and means of preserving peace and progress in India, you come to terms with Gandhi, Gandhi would at that self-same moment cease to count any more in the Indian situation. Already Nehru, his young rival in the Indian Congress, is preparing to supersede him the moment that he has squeezed his last drop from the British lemon. In running after Gandhi and trying to build on Gandhi, in imagining that Mr Ramsay MacDonald and Mr Gandhi and Lord Irwin are going to bestow peace and progress upon India, we should be committing ourselves to a crazy dream, with a terrible awakening." (Winston Churchill on Indian independence in a speech delivered in the Albert Hall, London on March 18th 1931)


Improbable and indeed eerily familiar though it may seem, Churchill supported what one might call further devolution of power to the "primitive people" of India to satisfy demands for self-government while leaving Westminster in overall control:

"We take our stand upon views almost universally accepted until a few months ago. We believe that the next forward step is the development of Indian responsibility in the provincial governments of India. Efforts should be made to make them more truly representative of the real needs of the people. Indians should be given ample opportunities to try their hand at giving capable government in the provinces; and meanwhile the central Imperial executive, which is the sole guarantee of impartiality between races, creeds and classes, should   preserve its sovereign power intact, and allow no derogation from its responsibility to Parliament. Is that Diehardism?" (ibid.)
Well, yes, that was Diehardism, actually, as are indeed the vague and impalpable anglo-unionist offers of greater powers for the Scottish Parliament in the current Better Together anti-independence campaign. There is nothing new under the sun. The anglo-state merely delves into its mouldering imperial archives to dust off old schemes for holding on to subject peoples, even though they may not have been applied in full or ultimately failed.
But the Scots are not a subject people, anglo-unionists object. It depends on how you define the term and on how you understand the present balance of power between Scotland and Westminster, I venture to suggest:
"Denis Diderot, the great encyclopedist who was a friend of David Hume, wrote: 'Every colony whose authority rests in one country and whose obedience is in another, is in principle a vicious establishment.' Scotland was never a colony. But, having once been a partner in the Union, it became a dependency in the course of the 20th century. The empire's opportunities shut down, Scotland's industrial economy died or was killed off, and decisive political divergence began as Scottish voting patterns separated from those of the rest of the UK. The outcome was authority in London requiring obedience in Scotland – Diderot's 'vicious establishment'." (Neal Ascherson, The 'Glorious' Anglo-Scottish Union Belongs to a Past Era, The Financial Times, July 15th 2014)
UK postage stamp issued for the British Empire and Commonwealth Games in 1958
(which were held in Cardiff, hence the dragon)

How fortuitous that what used to be known as the British Empire Games (from 1930 to 1950 and as the British Empire and Commonwealth Games for some years after that) are taking place in the kingdom of the Scots in this Scottish independence referendum year. As the Herald put it in its report on an opening ceremony characterized by "reconciliation with an imperial past and the promise that no one should fear a Scotland of the future", "The atmosphere was one of welcome rather than politically charged, though the singing of Freedom Come All Ye by Pumeza can be interpreted to suit a variety of purposes, including one of Scottish independence." (The Herald, July 24th 2014)
Who opposes Indian independence today? Who will oppose Scottish independence five years from today?
"A crazy dream, with a terrible awakening"? We shall see.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Getting It Together

Do you remember those complacently self-assured Tory types with bushy tails and one-track minds who self-righteously prated at us that we'd be so sure to be better off without Scottish devolution in the 1970s and again in the 1990s that it really wasn't necessary to present a soundly reasoned argument with verified evidence from impeccable sources? No? Not to worry. Here they are yet again, in a predictably platitudinous Bitter Together anti-independence cinemascope extravaganza, with helpful annotations to relieve the tedium for your more discriminating audience:


Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Scottish Independence Is Inevitable

Have you noticed how the Bitter Together/Project Fear campaign has taken to indulging in a ritual incantation to the effect that advocates of Scottish independence are showing signs of desperation? Who? Where? The nay sayers are entitled to their opinion, of course, as are the flat Earthers and people who vote Tory, but quite a few of us, far from biting our fingernails, have in fact become quietly confident that, though there might conceivably not be a Yes majority on September 18th, that would not be the end of the matter but would on the contrary merely mark the end of a beginning, as did the first devolution referendum in 1979.
Why? Because it is apparent that the current referendum campaign is changing Scotland, so rapidly and to such an extent that the result of the referendum may actually not be predictable, although that nice Mr Cameron seems not to have perceived that this might turn out to be the case when he kindly signed the Edinburgh Agreement, which allowed that clever Mr Salmond to unleash his dedicated sprites and elves to work their magic in the land, transforming it to such effect that Scottish independence has arguably become inevitable:
"One thing is certain: whatever the outcome, this referendum campaign is changing Scotland irrevocably. Whether the Scots vote Yes or No to independence on September 18th, their sense of what is possible for this small nation will have been transformed.
[...] it's the smell, taste and sound of this campaign that should warn us that, this time, a No vote will not be the end of the story. Scotland is changing as we watch. [...] what's new to me is the attitude I have found typical among long-time opponents of the nationalists all over the land in recent months: 'I don't trust Salmond, and I'd never vote SNP. But I've had to re-examine my ideas, and I don't see how I can vote No.'
[...] Ever since the 1707 union with England, when Scotland sold its independence for a share in the British Empire, a tiny blue-and-white cell has survived in the Scottish brain that sends out the message: 'Wouldn't it be grand if only, if somehow...?' For three centuries, inhibitor cells jammed the message: 'We're too wee, too poor, too thick... are you daft?' But now that 'cultural cringe' has vanished, almost without a trace. And the blue-and-white cell is free to transmit. [...] the Scottish Parliament met in Edinburgh for the first time in almost three centuries. The old Union Treaty started to fall to dust at that moment, a process that is still following its own logic.
I shall vote Yes this September. The campaign has already taught me that, if we don't make it with this third referendum, there will be a fourth. It's time to rejoin the world on our own terms." (Neal Ascherson, Scottish Independence Is Inevitable, The New York Times, July 18th 2014)
To read the Ascherson article click here.

February 3rd 2014

"Scottish identity in the past century and a half [...] has undergone a transformation, which has changed the way in which Scots relate to Britain. World War I and its many Scottish casualties led to a sense of disillusionment over Scotland's relationship with the Empire. The final decline of the Empire in the 1960s, at the same time that Scottish industry started to lose its global competitiveness, cast further doubt on the Union.
Thatcherism in the 1980s led to a widespread collapse of Scottish mining and heavy engineering while the welfare state, which had reinforced the notion of common British projects, was rolled back significantly. The bargain of 'prosperity in return for political subordination' as negotiated under the Treaty of Union unravelled.
By 2011, only 18 per cent of the population considered themselves both British and Scottish, while 62 per cent now thought of themselves as 'Scottish only'. These developments have all fed into the process leading up to the September 18 referendum on Scottish independence [...]." (Neal Ascherson, Globalization and the Politics of Identity in Scotland)

To listen to Mr Ascherson's illuminating talk at the Bologna Institute click here.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

A Normal Country


This month there may be a meeting between the Spanish prime minister and the President of the Generalitat of Catalonia to discuss what Mariano Rajoy refers to as the Catalan problem. Artur Mas has stated that he is prepared to negotiate the date and question of his proposed referendum on Catalan self-determination, with any changes being subject to approval by the pro-referendum political parties, which form a majority in the devolved Catalan legislature. For Mr Rajoy, however, every aspect of that referendum is unconstitutional and, therefore, non-negotiable, as he has stated over and over again. Consequently, nothing much is expected of this meeting, if it even takes place, other than a handshake and a photo-opportunity in the course of which Mr Mas will sit examining his fingernails while Mr Rajoy opens and shuts his mouth to say nothing new, unless he has something up his sleeve which he is keeping quiet about.
Mr Mas will then go away and finalize arrangements for the consulta, which is scheduled for November 9th and which the Spanish government will endeavour to block. If it were to go ahead, nevertheless, it would probably establish that there is a majority in favour of independence, on the subject of which Madrid is unlikely to be prepared to enter into negotiations. There would be a constitutional impasse . . . followed by a unilateral declaration of independence and a major and wholly unprecedented crisis for the European Union just as it may be grappling with negotiations for independent Scottish membership if there is a Yes majority in the sanctioned Scottish independence referendum on September 18th.
The above documentary about the Catalan consulta is produced by Un País Normal, which is an Òmnium Cultural campaign defending the right of the Catalan people to determine their political future, in accordance with the democratic principles subscribed to by the EU.
"Voting is a normal thing to do in a normal country. It is normal for everyone to want to live in a normal country. It is normal for the people living in a country to choose which type of education, health service, energy model and infrastructures they want, because it is normal for all the people who make up a country to decide how they want to have a better life.
It is normal for a country to decide its own future. We are certain of that. Therefore, we think it is normal for Catalan institutions to commit themselves to calling on the Catalan people to express their opinion. It is normal for the Catalan Government to ask the Catalan people how they want to achieve a better life, and it is normal for the Catalan people to want to answer that question."

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

National Identity and Social Equality


Isobel Lindsay, Vice-Chair of Scottish CND,
Convener of Scotland's for Peace and a member of the board of Scottish Left Review,
"You can use national identity to say 'we are the dominant people', and it becomes imperialism and aggression against others [...] or you can use it to say 'we are all part of this society', and that means we should all have that equality of treatment, that social justice, that fairness."
Vote for social justice on September 18th. Vote Yes.

Monday, 14 July 2014

Staying in the UK


the UK government's not so helpful little booklet "providing important information
about the issues affecting Scotland's future"
Every picture tells a story. After watching the video debunking the booklet, notice how the Freudian-slip front cover of this general-distribution official publication purporting to show what staying in the UK would mean for Scotland actually shows a depopulated landscape providing no visible means of support for the innocents who have been induced to frolick through it for the camera. A picture is worth a thousand words:

The Truth about the NHS


Drawing on her considerable experience in Scotland's National Health Service, she spoke about the current privatization within the NHS in England, under the Tory-led coalition, and concluded that it would be completed within five years. She warned that, if the Scots were to vote No in the independence referendum, Scotland's NHS would be lost to privatization within a further five years.
"By 2020 it is estimated 50 per cent of the English NHS will be run privately unless there is a policy u-turn or the Tories are unseated. If we stay in the Union, Dr Whitford believes privatization through the back door will inevitably come north too. Control of health is devolved to the Scottish Parliament. But since Scotland gets a share of the Westminster public-spending budget, she argues that, when that shrinks, there will be no alternative but to bring in the private sector. She said: 'The [UK] government can punitively cut any Scottish budget to make any Scottish government enforce policy. They did that with public-service pensions and they will do it again with the NHS and education.' [...] She maintains Scotland's biggest gain from devolution was going back to a single NHS Scotland, integrated and co-operative, not forced by financial pressure to be internally competitive." (The Daily Record, July 10th 2014)

UPDATE, July 20th

It is worth noting that a former chief medical officer has said Scottish independence could be "very positive" for the health of people in Scotland. Sir Henry (Harry) Burns, currently professor of global public health in the University of Strathclyde, who was the Chief Medical Officer for Scotland from September 2005 to April 2014, has told BBC Scotland that people's health could be improved if they felt more in control of their lives. He also said he he was concerned about the way the health service was going in England:

"Speaking to the Crossfire programme on BBC Radio Scotland, Sir Harry said: 'The question is, would people in an independent country feel more in control of their lives? If they did, then that would be very positive for their health. If people felt that they were able to engage more with local government, with central government and make choices more easily for themselves, then that would improve their health. [...] At the moment, decisions - particularly about the health service - being made in England are very different from the decisions being made in Scotland. That is very important because I fear for the way the health service is going in England.'" (BBC, July 20th 2014)

UPDATE, July 21st

"Dr Willie Wilson, co-founder of the NHS for Yes group, said: 'When someone of Sir Harry's stature and expertise says that independence could have a very positive impact on improving the country's health, everybody should take notice.' He added: 'What Sir Harry says is both timely and sensible. We are fortunate in Scotland that the NHS is devolved but devolution cannot give the health service the protection it needs when Westminster continues to hold the purse strings. Unless we seize the opportunity that a Yes vote offers, it is very likely that Scotland, against our will, could be forced down the route of privatization and commercialization of our public health service, as is happening right now in England and Wales." (The Herald, July 20th 2014)


As preservation of the National Health Service is crucial to both SNP and Labour supporters, and as Labour voters need to be persuaded to vote Yes if there is to be a Yes victory in the Scottish independence referendum, the limitations of the devolution settlement as a mechanism for protecting the NHS in Scotland in the long run may be decisive, as distinguished commentators have been arguing. Here are two of them:

Iain Macwhirter

"The 2011 Health and Social Care Act led to fragmentation as private healthcare groups bought in to lucrative areas of elective surgery, leaving the state sector with the burden of looking after the manifold health demands of an ageing population. The combined effects of PFI debts and funding cuts have placed half of England's hospital trusts in bankruptcy and left many looking to private companies to take over. The Financial Times suggests that up to 30% of English hospital trusts could effectively be in private hands by the end of the decade.

In Scotland, by contrast, the last significant private hospital development, HCI Clydebank, was nationalized in 2003 by [...] the then Labour health minister Malcolm Chisholm, and turned into a national centre for clearing waiting lists. He also abolished trusts and market competition. When Nicola Sturgeon took over the health brief after the SNP victory in 2007, private provision was removed from the NHS by law and the system became what it was always supposed to be: an integrated service based on collaboration between the various layers of the service rather than a market divided by competition and contract. She completed the original NHS project as envisaged by its Labour founder, Aneurin Bevan, and abolished prescription charges in Scotland.

The Scottish Parliament is responsible for health in Scotland but funding remains with Westminster through the Barnett Formula, which increases or decreases every year in line with health spending in England. The intention of the UK health reforms is to get private companies to take on more and more of the work of the NHS, reducing the contribution made by the taxpayer. This will inevitably reduce the funding that comes to Scotland, even assuming the Barnett Formula is retained. George Osborne has pencilled in a further £35 billion in cuts to health spending. As consultant surgeon Philippa Whitford has argued, this means the Scottish Government might be forced to go along the same privatization route to fill the gap.

But there is a further threat facing the NHS. The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is the fruit of long-running negotiations between the EU and the US over trade liberalization. One of its fundamental principles is that services, including state services, should be open to private competition from American multinationals. According to Garcia Bercero, the EU Commission official with responsibility for TTIP, health services in Europe will be opened to private competition, but only where privatization is already established. In other words, where there is an existing state monopoly, foreign companies cannot sue the government in question for unfair competition.

But the UK Health and Social Care Act opened the UK system to TTIP because it explicitly introduces a private market in health provision in England. After a No vote, private providers and insurance companies may argue that, since Scotland is not a sovereign state but a region of the UK, it cannot be exempted from competition for health provision. We are a long way from that being tested in law, but what is beyond doubt is that the UK has made the NHS in England TTIP compliant. It seems highly likely that the Scottish system will be seen as an unacceptable anachronism in a unitary state. [...]

The NHS was one of the great institutions of the old United Kingdom - the caring, sharing UK which now only exists in speeches from Better Together politicians and in Olympic Games ceremonies. Along with social security, regional policy and free higher education, the NHS was one of the great unifiers of the Union, and made Scots proud to be part of Britain. But this social Britain no longer exists. Westminster has knocked away the key supports through welfare reform, tuition fees and privatization of the NHS.

The great irony of this referendum is that it is Scotland that still believes in the United Kingdom of welfare and social solidarity. It is England, led by Westminster and the City of London, that is discarding it." (Iain Macwhirter, The Sunday Herald, July 13th 2014)

Neal Ascherson

"Gordon Brown used to argue that British patriotism ought to salute neither crowns nor battles but the country's greatest historical achievement: the National Health Service. By that standard, the Scottish National Party could claim to be the most British of all political parties. Like all the devolved Holyrood governments, it has tried to preserve and develop that post-1945 settlement, barricading at least one part of the UK against the rising flood of privatizations, public-sector cuts, internal markets and artificial competition that is washing away the remnants of the welfare state south of the border.

The mass of Yes supporters who do not identify with the SNP government hotly agree with that aim. Their argument is that only full independence and a strong Scottish state can secure their society against barbaric neo-liberalism. They do not want Scotland to be jerked out of Europe against its will, just to satisfy an utterly groundless English panic about the supposed damage inflicted by immigration.

But the moral disgust of most Scots at coalition policies, imposed by a government almost nobody in Scotland voted for, is shared by millions in England and Wales. For them too, some pre-Blair, modest form of social democracy remains the best of British. That is one of many reasons why post-Union England and Scotland would remain close, linked formally in some sort of confederacy." (Neal Ascherson, The 'Glorious' Anglo-Scottish Union Belongs to a Past Era, The Financial Times, July 15th 2014)

So are Labour supporters being won over by the Yes campaign to any significant degree?

"The Yes campaign is winning the crucial battle to persuade Labour voters to support independence, a new poll shows today. The latest TNS survey reveals that 28 per cent of people who backed Labour in the 2011 Holyrood election plan to vote Yes in September's referendum, excluding those who are unsure. The figure is up from 21 per cent, on average, over the previous three months, when Labour 'don't-knows' are stripped out. TNS's findings also suggest the race is becoming closer after a period when the Yes campaign failed to eat into the No camp's lead.

[...] the news that a growing number of Labour voters intend to back independence came as Peter Kilfoyle, the former Labour MP for Liverpool Walton, publicly backed a Yes vote, timing his announcement to coincide with a visit to the city by First Minister Alex Salmond. The drift to Yes will come as a major blow to the No campaign. Labour voters, many of whom are swithering over independence, have been carefully targeted by the SNP, which knows their support is vital if the referendum is to deliver a Yes vote. In a party conference speech earlier this year, Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon claimed independence would allow Labour supporters to reclaim their party." (The Herald, July 18th 2014)

In the above video Tommy Sheppard (Deputy General Secretary of Scottish Labour while former Scottish First Minister Jack McConnell served as the General Secretary) supports Ms Sturgeon's contention, telling Labour voters that the values they hold true can be better realized in an independent Scotland: "You don't have to choose between voting Yes and voting for Labour; you can do both."
"For years we have lived with governments we did not want. We now have the opportunity to make it possible to vote for governments that reflect our own values. A transformed Labour party free of Westminster control could return to being a party representing the needs and aspirations of the people of Scotland and putting into practice its values of equality, solidarity and social justice. It could once again be a party that campaigns fearlessly for the elimination of poverty, progressive taxation, wealth distribution, and the restoration of trade union rights.
I believe the Labour party is the natural home of the majority of Scots and I would appeal to all Labour supporters to grasp this historic opportunity and vote Yes on 18 September." (Pat Kelly, a former president of the Scottish Trades Union Congress and Scottish secretary of the PCS union)