On (not) telling the Scots what to do

To be free of Westminster's distant and venal elite is something the English should support - if the Scots can manage it, perhaps one day England might too.

Dan Hind
8 February 2014

"So to everyone in England, Wales and Northern Ireland – everyone, like me, who cares about the United Kingdom – I want to say this: you don't have a vote, but you do have a voice. Those voting are our friends, neighbours and family. You do have an influence. Let the message ring out, from Manchester to Motherwell, from Pembrokeshire to Perth, from Belfast to Bute, from us to the people of Scotland – let the message be this: We want you to stay." (David Cameron, 2014)

So David Cameron wants everyone in the rest of the  UK (rUK) to tell the Scots that they should stay in the union. I don't plan to do anything of the sort, and I would advise everyone else to think carefully before wading into the debate.

Scotland would probably be better off as an independent nation with a modern constitutional settlement. Of course independence would bring new responsibilities. But the idea that it is particularly perilous doesn't bear a moment's consideration. The British state, under a Scottish Prime Minister and Chancellor as it happens, presided over a spectacular economic meltdown in 2007-8. The Scots themselves may make a mess of self-government, but they can hardly do worse than the multinational mob in London.

Independence is a matter for the Scots to decide. But those of us who don't have a vote in September would be well advised to pay close attention to the debate.

Take finance. The SNP say that they want to have a currency union with rUK in which 'the governance of the Bank of England ownership and governance of the Bank of England undertaken on a shareholder basis'. Monetary policy would be required to take into account the interests of those outside the financial-commercial sector based in London and the South East. Forget about what Mark Carney or George Osborne has to say about this. Think about what it implies for the rest of the UK. The SNP is proposing that those who are exposed to risks should have a voice in decision-making.

The idea is an attractive one, isn't it? Regional representation on the bank's Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) would be a useful reform for all of us. Since it was given responsibility for setting interest rates in 1997 31 people have served on it. Those coming from outside academia or the civil service have been overwhelmingly drawn from finance, with the oil industry a distant second. Four of its members, including the current governor, have spent time at Goldman Sachs. At the moment the Bank of England looks like an instrument for securing the primacy of the City of London, regardless of the domestic costs. Along with revived local government, a reformed MPC might better deliver financial stability, economic equality and high employment. Technocracy with investment banking characteristics has been tried and it has very obviously failed.

Similarly, the SNP wants to create a Scottish Broadcasting Service. Its structure will be a matter for intense debate in an independent Scotland. The BBC needs to change, and the example of a new national service will be useful to reformers elsewhere. Indeed, the creation of Scotland's new constitutional settlement will be an opportunity for us all to think more carefully about what it is to be a democratic polity in the modern world.

Scottish independence is starting a series of conversations - about the media, about finance, about tax policy - that are well worth our joining. No wonder Cameron would prefer to keep things resolutely sentimental and invoke the spirit of the Olympics. It is only a matter of time before we start hearing about Rorke's Drift and Delhi Durbar.

Independence concerns all of the inhabitants of these islands, but not in the way that Cameron and the London media system would have us believe. It is not so much a matter of Scotland leaving in September as of their - perhaps - leading the way. And maybe this is what unnerves the defenders of the union most. Scottish independence is one thing. But what if the English stir from their Ambridge-haunted torpor and ask what it means to be free?

So if any message is to ring out, from Peckham to Penzance, from Margate to Macclesfield, let it be that we have had enough of being told what to think and do by plausible chancers in the old imperial institutions. At the moment we have one foot in an invented past and one foot in an offshore dystopia. It's time for a change. We can become independent one at a time or all at once, but either way independence is coming.

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