Scotland may be heading for independence in name only – will Wales follow?
As a man of fully Scottish descent I have long taken a close interest in Scotland’s pursuit of independence, which I firmly support.
Now well settled in Cymru, I recognise that our country has much to learn from their experience.
Public opinion in both countries has been moving towards independence, albeit in fits and starts, and now beyond a significant minority in Scotland. The tantalising prospect of a majority appears to be within the SNP’s grasp.
The unionist parties are at sea. Labour is much diminished. Despite the Conservative’s election victory in Westminster, the Tories are isolated and impotent in the Scottish Parliament. They will surely follow the Liberal Democrats and Labour into the margins. Further gains for the SNP are likely.
Divisions over Brexit will also likely re-emerge in the years ahead as the reality hits home. Consensus and unity will be difficult and time-consuming to achieve. There must be a strong likelihood that they may never be.
In the meantime, Boris Johnson’s strategy seems to be entirely based on the short term, keen to to delay the break-up of the Union for the remainder of his premiership but doing little to avoid growing support for independence in the meantime.
A more astute PM than Johnson, intent on preserving the Union, would promote a referendum in Scotland (and possibly Wales) forthwith. There are unlikely to be majorities for independence today or tomorrow, and further referenda could be shelved indefinitely.
But as it stands London has little to offer Scotland, with little will to do so. With yet another government in London that Scotland did not vote for, and will gain little succour from, support for independence can only increase and may soon seem inevitable.
But while independence supporters in Scotland and Wales are developing white line fever, an impatience to get indy done and sort the details out later, others are more cautious, believing that the case the SNP have put forward for independence is hardly robust or inspiring.
The SNP know that at best they are likely to win a a Farage-style ‘overwhelming majority’ of 52% or so in favour of independence. They will inherit a divided country and unlike the Brexiteers are keen to avoid pushing for the hardest interpretation of the vote possible and therefore putting independence at risk altogether.
This fear is understandable in some ways. While no country on attaining independence in modern times has ever opted to return to its former status, there is concern that London may push for a looser arrangement – for example, federalism. One might imagine important concessions being extracted in the early days…
They also know that the rUK Government may not be particularly helpful and magnanimous a newly independent Scotland. Some readers might recall the churlish behaviour of British politicians and diplomats at the Hong Kong Handover event. That would not happen in this case, surely? But it could be oh, so tempting with many levers at the former’s command to cultivate some, shall we say, buyer’s remorse.
So the form of independence envisioned by the SNP has been more modest. As Professor Richard Murphy and Dr Tim Rideout point out, the retention of sterling immediately concedes control of the Scottish economy to the Bank of England and the City. Other compromises, like the continued use of Faslane for Trident, have been mooted.
In short, an independent Scotland as currently envisaged by the SNP may not be very independent at all. It would be a weak exit from the United Kingdom – a Weaxit!
What difference will a Weaxit make would surely be a fair question? How much enthusiasm would there be for maintaining a clone of England north of the border? Scotland in name only?
What if a more radical programme were offered? Complete independence, a Scottish currency, no membership of Nato, phasing out nuclear power, a Green New Deal, not rejoining the EU until its manifest problems are sorted – in short, a strong exit – a Strongxit!
As in Cymru, I suspect that younger Scots are seeking a very different society, not one so in thrall to the money economy, a nurturing culture where well-being would be prioritised. To them, Weaxit would be a sell-out. More importantly, a Weaxit may pre-empt the deep reforms that Scotland’s politics and governance needs.
What chances then for a Strongxit in Scotland? If the SNP stalls, and starts to lose ground among younger voters in particular, the choice may be a reversion to a Unionist stalemate or real independence.
The Welsh independence movement also needs to decide on what it wants for the nation. Independence for the sake of independence, in name only, or a radical vision that can transform the country?
The latter would certainly be a stirring rallying cry. Scots wha hae! Hwyl!