Stronger, safer Scotland?

Being part of the Union makes Scotland stronger, safer, richer and fairer. So says David Cameron, but Scotland is building an alternative vision of itself as a nation, outside the parameters of the neo-liberal model.

As Gerry Hassan pointed out in September, Alex Salmond committed his administration to a referendum on Scottish independence on the 70th anniversary of Britain and France declaring war on Nazi Germany – Britain’s ‘finest hour’ that would soon lead however to a militarization of power in the ‘special relationship’ with the US that has helped to hollow out British democracy.

As our debate on Scotland's referendum gets underway (see our forum on Cameron's Edinburgh speech) Britain and France are hailing a new era of military and in particular nuclear cooperation, though this time with little prospect of finest hours. We are promised more Libya’s and Afghanistan’s as both reel under the current stage of their abuses, more state-of-the-art fighter and surveillance pilotless drones. Also full speed ahead on a new generation of nuclear reactors, accompanied by the assurance that the two governments will be working with the IAEA to ‘strengthen the international community’s ability to deal with nuclear emergencies, such as the Fukushima disaster’ – not that anyone is suggesting that Fukushima has been ‘dealt with’ yet.

What has this to do with Scotland’s referendum? It has been noted that the UK's entire nuclear arsenal is located in Faslane and Coulport in western Scotland. The SNP have been emphatic in their opposition to nuclear weapons being based in Scotland: they would seek to remove them after independence. As the SNP manifesto suggests, 'Our opposition to the Trident nuclear missile system and its planned replacement remains firm - there is no place for these weapons in Scotland'. RUSI’s Mark Lynch is not too phased by this prospect, but urges preparation on the part of Britain’s military leaders. He suggests that, ‘the UK may need to consider playing hard during the negotiation period, for example trading Faslane for the UK in exchange for not blocking Scotland's entry into the European Union. Scotland's interest in removing the nuclear threat is far outweighed by its need for membership within the European Union and thus is likely to accept these conditions.’

Perhaps the Scottish people should also prepare their response to such a choice. Much more European already than their English counterparts, the question remains, what kind of Europe do they wish to be in? Could a Franco-Scottish alliance with the likes of Francois Hollande be more to their liking than the ‘mobile Franco-British command and control centre’? The Socialist candidate launched his campaign for the French presidency by pledging to cut the world of finance down to size, splitting banks’ customer operations from their risky investment businesses, introducing a financial transaction tax, banning stock options, tightening rules on bonuses, pulling French troops out of Afghanistan, reversing Sarkozy’s education budget cuts, and boosting cooperation with Berlin for a ‘Europe of growth, solidarity and protection’.

It might be all words. But at least it sounds like one of the alternatives to ‘the Anglo-American neo-liberal model’ that Gerry called for. If Scottish choices get anywhere close to this, then it is not only the English who will have a huge vested interest in the outcome.

The British Establishment is the canniest in the world, with more ruthless historical lessons concerning people management under their belt than any other. As their servant Cameron gets going ‘head, heart and soul’ in the effort to maintain the union for them, he must indeed be hoping that any debate around what and who exactly would make Scotland, ‘stronger, safer, richer and fairer’ does not come up with a convincing alternative vision. 

About the author

Rosemary Bechler is openDemocracy Editor. She chaired the National Peace Council and Peaceworkers UK and edited New Times before joining openDemocracy in 2000. For the British Council, she has edited four volumes of Britain and Ireland: Lives Entwined (2003 – 2012) and written Unbounded Freedom – a guide to Creative Commons thinking for cultural organizations (2006). Her compilation from the Convention on Modern Liberty was published by Imprint Academic in 2010. Her PhD was on Samuel Richardson: she has reviewed literature for the TLS and politics for Political Quarterly.