The View from Ivory Towers

Whilst the YES Scotland campaign sums up the 2014 Referendum as the biggest grassroots/community campaign Scotland will have ever seen (I wonder if John MacCormick would be throwing his arms aloft with copies of the National Covenant, saying ‘beat me’!), quietly in the ivory towers of Scotland’s universities there are a number of research programmes taking place looking at devolution, independence, post-independence and all their public policy implications.

A recent blog post about an event held in Edinburgh gave an insight into some academics thinking about the economics of constitutional change.

“Speakers from Ireland, Belgium, Lithuania, Catalonia and Spain, Quebec and Canada, explored the constitutional change experiences and debates in their respective countries, focussing particularly on the actual and anticipated economic costs and benefits of constitutional change.”

In one paper, I came across an analysis of levers and powers that impact on inequality. Now bearing in mind that UNISON, the public services union, has been declaring to all and sundry lately that theCouncil Tax freeze is a middle class give away, here is what the Stirling University team had to say:

“The marginal effect of raising revenue by increasing council tax rates on inequality is that inequality would slightly rise. This is interesting since a tax rise typically reduces inequality: the fact that raising Council Taxes actually raises inequality can provide an explanation for the popularity of the Council Tax freeze and the commitment that the SNP have shown to their policy on this in the face of very tight financial settlements.”

Frank Barry talked about the Irish Republic’s transition after Independence from Britain, concluding “that economic sovereignty did eventually enable Ireland to achieve a strong diversification of external trade, capital and migration flows which have underpinned its success.” Despite what some BritNatswith Irish ancestry say, republicans and the left disagree.

Lessons from Flanders, Catalonia and Quebec all have appeal to independistas in Scotland but each has their own peculiar characteristics in the developing self-determination. The likelihood of Belgium as a state continuing is only as strong as the battle for Brussels (predominantly French-speaking but in Flanders territory). Catalan aspirations continue to be hampered by the Spanish Constitutional Court and you can’t help but wonder how rising tensions will be handled in future.

Lastly, the Supreme Court of Canada has declared that Quebec does not have the right to unilaterally decide its independence. In echoes of the Catalan position, can the larger nation state thwart the self-determination of people within it? Time will tell. The lesson for Scotland is clear. Vote NO and the UK will never allow you to make the same mistake twice. Westminster will declare its sovereignty in statute and withdraw the right of the Scottish Parliament to ever consider its own constitutional future.


Jimmy Halliday’s contributions to the Cause

To put matters into context, in 1955 the SNP contested only two Parliamentary seats in Scotland;  Dr Robert McIntyre fought Perth and East Perthshire, and Jimmy Halliday fought Stirling and Falkirk Burghs.   Jimmy then became the youngest ever SNP Chairman and served 1956 – 60;  in 1956 the entire SNP Conference delegates were photographed on the steps of the Allan Water Hotel, Bridge of Allan.
We are 11 months from a Referendum on Scottish Independence, which was unthinkable in 1955;  Jimmy died on 3rd January 2013 at the age of 85.  We intend to publish all Jimmy’s articles in the Scots Independent from August 2004 up to 2011, all the ones we have electronic input for.  It is anticipated we will publish a book on Jimmy’s contributions over many years, but this will have to wait until after the Referendum.



Special 4 page SI November 2006
No marriage made in Heaven

The two national groups only came together for the Scots to be told what they had to agree to.

Nationalists are often shouted at by Unionists for going on and on about 1707.  “Move on,” writes one such critic. “Argue from the current day.”  He should appreciate that we find ourselves exposing the various unfairnesses and rascalities of the Union precisely because our opponents keep insisting how wonderful it was. We are fully aware that the Union then and the Union now must be assessed separately. We didn’t start the row, but we can’t sit meekly while incomprehension and misrepresentation go unchallenged.

After King James’s windfall in 1603 his English and Scottish subjects drew ever closer together loving one another with ever-increasing fervour until, unable to contain themselves any longer, each leapt into the arms of the other and lived from that day to this in the rewarding happiness of their embrace.  That used to be the standard schoolroom explanation for the Union of 1707—British, Conservative, deferential, peddled by teachers who neither knew nor valued history. It was an explanation appropriate to well-indoctrinated playgroups. Surely some more respectable case could be made?

One school of thought called science to their aid. The Union was, they asserted, an “inevitable outcome”, a “natural consummation”.  It stood to reason.  The laws of Physics applied. Apples dropped.  States united. The force of gravity did it all.

Take one uncomplicated but very revealing fact.  Far from affection growing, Scottish hostility towards England’s government grew steadily in the years just before the Union. The Act anent Peace and War of 1703 ruled that Scotland would never again be involved in foreign wars unless its own Parliament had agreed. The Act of Security, also of 1703, but denied Royal assent until 1704, declared Scots’ decision to refuse the Scottish crown to any future English monarch unless “religion, liberty and trade of the nation” was guaranteed. In both these Acts the Scottish Parliament was seeking to blackmail the English government into fundamental concessions. They had forgotten that blackmail can cut both ways. The English response–the Alien Act of 1705–would have destroyed the existing economy of Scotland. Thereafter the Scots had little option but to toe the line

When Scottish representatives–all selected by Queen Anne’s English ministers–came to London to discuss the Union, you could hardly call what followed “negotiation”. The two national groups met separately, coming together only for the Scots to be told what they were to agree to, whereupon the English withdrew and left the Scots to bicker sadly among themselves.

The Scottish faction which won in 1707 was the same as had already won in the Revolution Settlement of 1690. The Court Party,as it might fairly be called,  was dominated by orthodox, powerful, moderate Presbyterians. Opposing them were factions from the two political extremes of the day. On one hand were the “Cavaliers” or Jacobites, mainly Episcopalian in religion from regions of traditional royalist strength. On the other was the Country Party, mainly Presbyterian radicals from families and districts with a Covenanting tradition. This faction, just as it had done in 1690, yearned for a republic, but knew that English force would be used if the Scots failed to follow England’s instructions.

In the ensuing years, of course malcontents asked questions, but the questions were mildly moral rather than historical. “Was the Union right or wrong?”  “Was the Union good or bad?” Discussion thus remained infantile, and even professional historians of 50 to 60 years ago seemed to believe that to doubt the glorious privilege which the Union had conferred upon Scotland, was to display very bad taste and very bad manners. Seeking to put an end to all this rubbish, Nationalists allowed themselves to be provoked into some pretty dubious arguments. The extremes of argument focussed upon the allegations that bribery had made Scottish acceptance possible and Nationalists pressed the “parcel of rogues”, “bought and sold for English gold” interpretation of Scottish behaviour. Much research has been undertaken to discredit this theory, and several admitted payments have been provided with reasonable plausible justification. We are therefore reduced to haggling about numbers and about individual cases.

Over-reaching themselves, Unionists have dismissed all charges of bribery as being unfounded, but in so doing they have made their scholarly shortcomings suddenly obvious. If there was no bribery involved the Union would have to provide the only instance of political dealing in the eighteenth century of which that could be said.

In the absence of party discipline, bribery of some sort guaranteed a government’s majorities from day to day and sometimes hour to hour. Smooth government required sweeteners of some sort–titles (some things don’t change) social invitations, Court presentations, military promotions, titles for relatives, cancelling of debts, compensation for politically-prompted losses –all these were employed before we even need to begin to talk money. In 1707, and for generations thereafter, those in power knew that goodwill could and must be purchased, or else members would just wander off home, where they had plenty of things to do.

In short, the Union was, as most historians have long agreed, a “job”–a fix, a fiddle are perhaps more familiar terms to-day.

But our political credibility and reputation suffer if we deny sensible and manifest facts. The parliamentarians of 1707 acted in accordance with their own interests no doubt, but also in the interests of the communities to which they belonged–their own families or the shires and burghs they represented. Some believed that trading prospects were enhanced by the Union. Most saw that the Union would remove the prospect of a Jacobite restoration and a French invasion in its support.

From 1603 onwards in practically every Scottish Parliament an attempt had been made to open negotiations for Union with England. But all overtures had been rejected by English governments who would never grant Scots access to England’s colonial trade. Now their fears of the French and the Jacobites had prompted their Act of Settlement, fully relevant then though preposterous now. They were now prepared to concede their trading monopoly to serve their security. They were now for Union–in fact they now demanded it.

Whatever other motives, wise or venal, they may have had, every Scot knew that if they rejected Union they would suffer conquest. Of course an invading army would come by invitation from the Scottish ministers. These ministers would feel the need for protection and would call for it. Just so did Communist regimes in Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Poland, bringing Soviet forces into Budapest and Prague, and making the USSR’s Marshall Rokossovsky the Minister of Defence in Poland’s government. Give up the notion that such things cannot happen or have not happened here.