Not tonight (or tomorrow), Darling

I had thought that Alastair Darling, as a seasoned politician, would have risen above any personal slight on his status as a leader of the No campaign. However, his assertion that he should face the First Minister in a televised debate is quite wrong.

What is Alastair Darling’s position within our body politic? Firstly, he is an MP for an Edinburgh constituency. Secondly, he is merely the chairperson of the Better Together organisation and is very welcome to be challenged by his equally eloquent and distinguished opposite number, Dennis Canavan.

No one voted to make Alastair Darling the leader of the opposition in Scotland, if in fact that is his de facto role. He has no mandate from Unionist voters. For some he is an elder statesman of British and Scottish politics alike. For others, he is the Chancellor who presided over the greatest economic depression since the Wall Street Crash (although in fairness Gordon Brown should really take the blame for what Mr Darling had to meddle with).

Compare Mr Darling with the First Minister: Alex Salmond is the head of the Scottish Government with a popular mandate to hold a referendum on Scottish independence. He trounced Mr Darling’s former special adviser Iain Gray in the polls, reduced the Scottish Lib Dems to filling a taxi to Holyrood whilst continuing to keep the Tory menace at bay.

He has every right to be able to challenge the UK Prime Minister, primarily because both governments are using their resources to engage in the very public debate of our constitutional future. It is Mr Cameron who is answerable for the UK Government department views, of which there appears to be one a day, and it is for him to provide answers about where the UK aims to go in the immediate to long term.

The No campaign thinks it has come up with a clever wheeze by suggesting that only Scottish voices can be heard in the debate, knowing full well that their focus group research has clearly identified that David Cameron is as much help to their cause in Scotland as a Joseph Stalin was to free speech in Soviet Russia. Whenever a Nationalist suggests that debate should be restricted to Scottish parliamentary representatives, we are accused of being too ethnic, xenophobic even. My how easy it is to turn the tables to suit your own position. Ever is the case in British politics.

But no amount of Scottish Labour masquerading as plucky foot soldiers in the defence of the Union belies the fact that the donkey generals are sitting behind the lines in Westminster. They are the power in the Union, not Mr Darling. They are who should be held accountable for the Union today, not Mr Darling. They will determine more about the future of the UK, not Mr Darling.

If Mr Darling should ever return to UK Government, then, he will have more authority to represent that institution. Until that day, he is merely a campaign figurehead. Not unlike many of the parcel of rogues who sold out for English gold three centuries before.


From the September issue of the Scots Independent

Equality across diplomatic tables

Lachie Muir

Ireland,  Lithuania, Croatia – small but equal nations

As I write this in my Brussels office it’s the last week of the summer parliamentary recess and the weather has clearly taken a change.  The air outside is distinctly cooler and it’s raining quite heavily. This distinguishes it from mid-summer in Belgium when it’s hot, humid – and is usually raining quite heavily.

The MEPs will soon be returning to their offices and work will begin on the final parliamentary session before the elections.

The second half of 2013 has seen Lithuania take on the rotating presidency of the EU Council of Ministers.  They were handed the keys of office by the outgoing Irish on 1st July and at that very same time their first task was to welcome Croatia as the EU’s 28th Member State.  An interesting wee group of countries that – Lithuania, Ireland and Croatia – none of whom had their independence a century ago and all of whom are smaller than Scotland.   And yet all of whom now greet each other as equals across diplomatic tables.

In common with all Council presidencies, the Lithuanian government has published a programme of priorities for their six month period in office.  As ever, this programme covers the broad range of European competences including employment, consumer affairs, gender equality and intellectual property.

I have selected these headings from the programme deliberately: they are all matters currently reserved to Westminster.  In other words, Lithuania will be chairing meetings for the whole of the EU on subject matters which the Scottish parliament is expressly prohibited from legislating on insofar as they affect Scotland.  When the EU is legislating on workers’ rights, Lithuania will be leading the talks whilst Scotland will be “represented” by David Cameron’s right wing mob.

The presidency programme also shows little sign of any willingness to restrict the number of members of the EU.  Croatia may well be number 28 – but it’s clear that no upper limit has been set.  The Lithuanians highlight the fact that membership of the EU is based on the “clear implementation of the EU membership criteria” – criteria that Scotland already meets by virtue of 40 years of EU membership.

In the coming months negotiations will continue with Montenegro and Turkey and it is anticipated that moves will be made to start negotiations with Serbia and Macedonia.  Other countries, including Bosnia and Herzegovina, are also waiting in the wings and the Lithuanians have indicated that they will work to make progress there.

And Albania has also been recommended to be accepted as an official candidate country and that status is likely to be conferred by the end of this year.  I’ve just returned from a few days in Albania and found it to be a beautiful, interesting and friendly place.  There’s no denying though that much of its infrastructure remains hugely underdeveloped and that it will take time to draw this up to better standards.  This doesn’t serve as a block to EU membership; indeed the EU sees it as part of its role to bring social and economic cohesion across Europe.

The arguments for Scotland’s continued membership of the EU post-independence are well rehearsed in the pages of the SI and the flaws in unionist claims of our imminent expulsion have all been pointed out.

The foregoing hopefully just serves therefore as a reminder of what is going on in Europe beyond the Scottish constitutional debate.  Within the membership of the EU smaller countries such as Lithuania, Ireland and Croatia sit along side the big guys and nobody bats an eyelid.  On the outer peripheries countries with recent pasts of economic strife and war line up to get in.

These ongoing dynamics show the true nature of the EU’s evolution – unionist claims to the contrary are laughable.


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 12 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.


Recall of the “old guard” – July 2005

Party members were left confused and embittered as hopes of a measure of Home Rule collapsed with the ambiguous referendum result and the destruction of our Parliamentary group. Our NEC, which had worked for the devolution programme in hope and sincerity, was, for the time being at least, identified with failure. The immediate response of members was to recall to the NEC several ‘old guard’ Nationalists. Gordon Wilson took the chair and Robert McIntyre, Arthur Donaldson and myself returned. Yearning for the trustworthy members enabled devolutionists to comfort themselves with jests about recruiting in graveyards.

This grasping at a Nationalist comfort blanket didn’t last long as those temporarily overshadowed organised themselves to regain office and control. No matter how virtuous their purpose, groups are inherently divisive. They insist upon priority for issues upon which their enthusiasm is focussed and polarise opinion. Dislike follows swiftly upon disagreement, nursed along by open statements and secretive whisperings, and unity is gone.

Perhaps open debate rather than unilateral planning might have had merit and interest, but, as the outside world would hold us in contempt for our divisions, the Chairman asked Conference to forbid all groups. Limiting self-inflicted damage was one thing. Curbing members’ freedom of association was another, and those affected sought some way round the ruling.

They found their loophole by arranging to plan, and act, jointly with persons wholly outwith the Party with whom they shared beliefs and opinions other than the Party’s basic principles. Thus there emerged and flourished the Socialist Society whose meetings many SNP members attended. From these meetings they returned and refreshed to their Party branches to disseminate their acquired wisdom and arrange appropriate votes in future Party councils. The disruption that this wheeze might have caused was alarming, but no great harm resulted because very soon they had peacefully achieved the control that was their goal.

Our current leaders don’t look like people who will allow us to identify ourselves with failure or, with damaging regard for purity, lead us to go down with various sinking ships. Participation in the daily practicalities of Holyrood is drawing us ever further away from a single-issue posture, making us ever less of a mere demonstration.

True, we have not mastered the knack of deriving political reward from our good works. Selfless support offered to many organisations – Trade Unions, interest groups, minorities – have not seen any significant shift of their loyalties from Labour to us, if recent General Election results are anything to go by. If Labour were to offer Scots Independence they’d grab it, but from us – well, that’s different. Some research is surely called for.

Our new maturity must some day allow us to accept realities about diplomacy and defence, though no doubt that will have to wait until the Bush presidency is over. We might then escape from the legacy of our ill-judged behaviour during the Cold War years when CND dictated our conduct, and terms like ‘neutrality’ and ‘non-alignment’ covered up, in many cases, a grotesque wish to change sides.

It has taken us a long time to get to our present position. With Independence as our objective we struggled to reach agreement as to how best we could achieve it. We learned that there are no shortcuts and that vague goodwill can be no basis for effective action. The Home Rule Association and the Covenant Association, though blessed with many merits and bequeathing to us many benefits, had to hand over in the long run to a disciplined and organised Party which remains the one true instrument for the attainment of our country’s proper status.