Destroying the Union will hardly make us the best of friends
YOU might have thought the whole point of independence was for Scotland to become an oil-rich socialist idyll.
Freed from the shackles of Tory hegemony, we would regain our freedom and set a course for boundless prosperity.
Sure, there would be bumps along the way – a decade or two of hyper-austerity, perhaps – but the ultimate goal would be worth the pain.
Undeniably, that’s still part of the pitch, but Nicola Sturgeon added in another incentive in a revealing newspaper interview at the weekend.
The First Minister was presented as a compassionate realist who – unlike Nigel Farage – wasn’t driven by the kind of identity politics that breeds division.
But when she was asked if England would gain from losing Scotland, Miss Sturgeon said: ‘Yeah, masses! England gains a neighbour that is best friends and a constructive partner.’
The interviewer suggested that England might believe it ‘already has that’, and the response was telling: ‘Well, OK, I’m not sure they do.’
If only Boris Johnson would sanction a second referendum, Miss Sturgeon said, then ‘people in England won’t always to have hear us talking about how we’re not being listened to’.
So splitting apart the Union is about normalising a dysfunctional relationship – and the dividends are great: the resentment that has built up against our English brethren, creating an inferiority complex, will drain away.
This points to a psychological justification for the constitutional overhaul the SNP has always craved.
Miss Sturgeon knows that in England there are plenty of voters sick and tired of hearing about independence, so her statement was partly about. tapping into that vein of English nationalism; it helps her cause to persuade them of its merits.
There are also many among her own ranks – including some of those who spend the odd Saturday afternoon marching through city centres waving flags bearing unpleasant slogans about Tories – who would understand Miss Sturgeon’s point.
You hate your oppressor, but not your equal, so the cod psychology goes – though realistically some parts of the extreme fringes of the Nationalist movement would never be much interested in ‘constructive’ ties with the English (or possibly with anyone else, either).
It’s also noteworthy that Miss Sturgeon conceded quite so candidly that Scotland isn’t a ‘constructive partner’ as things stand – not hugely surprising, given recent cross-Border playground squabbling, in particular over the climate change conference in Glasgow later this year.
But is it really impossible to have a grown-up partnership with the UK Government without independence?
There’s a monstrous hypocrisy behind the assertion that ending the Union would make relations more harmonious – after all, the SNP is hell-bent on souring them at every opportunity.
And the idea that we’d all be best pals if only we could rip apart one of the world’s most successful alliances is beyond barmy: it suggests that what the SNP is lobbying for is effectively a minor tweak to existing circumstances.
In fact, the poll that would be necessary to attempt to fulfil this aim – assuming Miss Sturgeon rejects calls from within her own party for a ‘wildcat’ referendum – would re-open wounds from 2014 that have barely begun to heal.
The ‘indyref’ is painted as a carnival of democracy in the folk memory the SNP likes to spread.
But in reality it led to bile and bitterness and, because the Nationalists are sore losers, it didn’t succeed in drawing a line under the circular and corrosive ‘debate’ that still rages about Scotland’s future.
Imagine also the psychodrama of the negotiations to dissolve the UK, an acrimonious divorce that would drag on for years.
Laden with debt and labouring under public sector cuts that would consign the SNP’s costly ‘freebies’ – from baby boxes to university degrees – to oblivion, would we really remain ‘best friends’ with a nation that separatists would portray as our tormentor?
We can be sure that independence, if it happened, wouldn’t stop the Nationalists laying the blame for all their woes on ‘Westminster’.
Grilled about the latest health or education failing, Miss Sturgeon, if she were still in charge after independence, would dig out her well-worn excuses: ‘The English Government’s insistence on Scotland shouldering an unjust share of the debt burden means our budgets are necessarily limited.’
Doubtless she wouldn’t ‘take any lessons’ from the English Prime Minister, either.
If we did get back into the EU, we could blame any economic misfortune on the Brussels mandarins forcing us into adopting the euro.
Most of us in Scotland don’t feel a burning sense of grievance towards the UK Government, or indeed our English neighbours – many of whom are friends and relatives.
If you don’t buy into the Nationalist mind-set, you’re likely to be baffled by the claim that the DNA of the Union has been poisoned by a power imbalance that can only be rectified by smashing it to pieces.
And surely the best way of placating those English (and Scottish) voters who can no longer bear to hear Nationalists droning on about the intransigence of the Tories is to, er, stop droning on about it.
Instead they could give governing a go, and make a concerted effort to reform public services without plunging them deeper into crisis – an objective that has entirely eluded them thus far.
Elsewhere in the same interview, Miss Sturgeon played to the gallery and threw a little red meat to her restive support base, when she maintained that a replay of the 2014 poll could still go ahead this year.
It’s delusional nonsense to perpetuate this deceit, but the First Minister knows her survival in office depends on keeping up the pretence that victory is just around the corner.
Her apparent concession in the same interview that there is no ‘magic wand’ to bring about a rich and successful independent Scotland – that some tough times would lie ahead – is an understatement of extraordinary proportions.
But more or less in the same breath she insisted it would be easier than Brexit, which was poorly managed – while Scexit, she claimed, would be. more carefully planned.
From an administration that couldn’t even build a bridge properly – without motorists being pelted with potentially lethal chunks of ice – this is hard to take.
Miss Sturgeon is arguing that independence would be both hard and easy – plain sailing compared to Brexit, but not without its difficulties once it’s been achieved.
It’s the sort of comforting babble that her hard-line supporters will lap up, and no doubt regurgitate on social media.
But the rest of us will continue to see through the snake-oil deception of a politician who would promise the earth to further her blinkered agenda.
*This column appeared in the Scottish Daily Mail on Tuesday, February 18, 2020.