Whether you want to call it a White Paper or a Blueprint, the outline for a brave new independent Scotland has been unveiled today. The St Andrews Cross, or Saltire, a white cross on a blue background is the official Scottish flag. Will it be raised in triumph after next year’s referendum, or will it, once again, resume its place in the collective of the Union Jack?
Alex Salmond, Leader of the Scottish National Party and First Minister, certainly hopes to break free. He has kept the Scots waiting for this “mission statement” with many undecided as to how they may vote, without knowing the fine detail of the separation agreement. Today, in 670 pages, he spells it out.
Voters were reassured on one of the most pressing points; the pound. Although Scotland has her own insignia on notes and coinage, the pound sterling is designated to remain official currency. Well, according to Mr Salmond that is. The current Westminster Government tend to disagree about that. More on that anon. Salmond states “the pound is Scotland’s currency just as much as it is the rest of the UK’s” and that he would keep it by negotiating a “sterling zone.”
Also on the manifesto are:
The removal of all Trident nuclear submarines from the Clyde by 2020
The cessation of controversial Westminsterled reforms to benefits, including the “bedroom tax” scrapped and a halt to “Universal Credit.”
The renationalisation of the Royal Mail (recently sold off).
Free childcare for all children from one year old to school age.
Cuts to corporation tax.
The opening of Scottish embassies and consulates across the world.
An ongoing alliance with the BBC to allow screening of popular programmes such as Strictly Come dancing and Doctor Who.
Retain Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II as Head of State.
No border controls between England and Scotland.
Gathering all of the above into three main selling points, Mr Salmond cites his “overriding reasons” to break up the 300 year old political Union. These are – a Scotland that is more democratic, more prosperous and more fair.
Quick off the mark with a barrage of criticism was Alistair Darling, who heads up the “Better Together” oppoisition campaign. Darling was the former Chancellor in the last Labor government. He dissed the report as “a work of fiction” and said it was “fantasy” to speak of leaving the UK yet keeping hold all the benefits of “UK membership.” Furhtermore, the report, said Darling was full of “false promises and meaningless assertions.”
The independence referendum is to be held next year on September 18th. It will give voters, a “once in a lifetime opportunity” states the white paper, to “follow a different path and choose a new and different direction of our nation.” A Yes vote allows a vision of “an independent Scotland regaining its place as an equal member of the family of nations” whereas a No will only result in Scotland standing still. If the Yes vote wins, Scotland would become independent on March 24th 2016.
Scotland is certainly heading towards a crossroads in its long and often turbulent history, but at this juncture in time, it finds itself in pretty fine fettle. As Mr Salmond would put it, they are faced with the prospect of independence “in more promising circumstances then virtually any other nation in history.”
Scots are said to have paid more taxes per head than the rest of the UK for the last 32 years in succession. They could have the 8th highest economic output and the 10th highest income per person in the “whole of the developed world.” All this potential stems from a healthy economy, world-class universities, indigenous energy supplies and a skilled, creative and entrepreneurial people.
Scotland’s contributions to global innovations include the telephone (Alexander Graham Bell), Chloroform (James Simpson), Color Photography (James Maxwell), Fingerprinting (Henry Faulds), Tarmac (John McAdam), Decimals (John Napier), Dolly the Sheep (Roslin institute), Faxes (Alexander Bain), Flushing toilets (Alexander Cummings), Golf, Auld Lang Syne (Rabbie Burns), Hypodermic syringes (Alexander Wood), Steam engines (James Watt), McDonalds, (Dick and Mac McDonald), Microwaves and radar (Robert Watson-Watt), Paraffin (James Young), Penicillin (Alexander Fleming), Tyres (John Dunlop), Raincoats (Charles Macintosh), Fridges (William Cullen), Antiseptics (Joseph Lister) TV (John Logie Baird), Gas lighting (William Murdoch), Bakelite (James Swinburne) …..and on it goes.
There is no denying the Scots are a talented bunch and after the Highland Clearances the mass diaspora spread their influence even further around the world. 23 American presidents have Scottish ancestors. More recently, the Scots have given us Grand Theft Auto V, Andy Murray, Deep Fried Mars Bars and the greatest newspaper headline of all time,when tiny team Caledonian Thistle from Inverness surprisingly beat Glaswegian giants, Celtic: “SuperCaleyGoBallisticCelticAreAtrocious.” Culturally, they are no slouches either, with Sir Walter Scott, Robert Louis Stevenson and JM Barrie among the historical greats and a slew of famous names in modern literature, film, and art.
Salmond draws confidence from the resilience and resourcefulness of Scotland’s past successes, but his aim is to build a brave new Scotland. He wants to invest in children, not weapons, and to do away with “the damaging and counter-productive reforms” in British welfare, which he sees as detrimental to a fairer society. The First Minister thinks that there has been terrible damage done “by the vast social disparities which have seen the UK become one of the most unequal societies in the developed world.”
In launching today’s document, titled “Scotland’s Future” he opens the debate to the populace. “It won’t be decided by me” he told the press conference, nor by the opponents, nor the media – “it will be decided by the people. Scotland’s future is now in Scotland’s hands.”
Critics say that there are not enough answers in the white paper. Alistair Darling says Salmond is “very slippery” and that he has failed to provide a Plan B if they are not able to keep the pound. Treasury minister, Danny Alexander, like Darling, himself a Scot, weighed in with an allegation that Scottish taxes would go up by £1000 a year.
Nicola Sturgeon, Mr Salmond’s Deputy, accuses them of trying on scare tactics, to encourage the status quo. One thing’s for sure, the gloves are off now, and the long-awaited publication of “Scotland’s Future” will inevitably lead to months of fervent discussion and debate on both sides.
The result will only be known next September, when on the 18th, Scottish people will go to the polls to answer a very simple question: “Should Scotland be an independent country?” Yes or No?
Scotland has had plenty of Heroes. The Wallace, made famous by Mel Gibson’s portrayal in Braveheart took on the English– “They may take our lives but they’ll never take our freeeeddddddOOOOM!” Then it was Robert the Bruce’s turn. However, the union of the two parliaments has now stood since 1707. Will Alex Salmond be the one who uncuts that tie and, as it says in the national anthem; “sends them homeward, to think again’?
Scotland the Brave is piped at marches and parades, ceremonies and sporting events to the swirl of kilts and the beating of the drums. It is rousing and rebellious, but it has also become part of the cliche of Scotland. If Salmond prevails, there may be a brave new Scottish beat to march to.
By Kate Henderson