Renton Was Right



It is too early to analysis the referendum defeat and be able to see rational reasons to explain the failure. But expressing the immediate feelings and looking at what may come next is also valid while the emotions are still raw.

Of many memories of this campaign one that stands out for me was a woman I met when we were on the street handing out flyers for an upcoming debate we had organised. A well dressed middle aged woman was walking down the street, I stepped forward to hand her a flyer. At first, as was often the case in those days, she eyed me suspiciously then read the flyer. With a hard glint in her eye and a real fire in her voice she said, ‘I would be ashamed, ashamed, if Scotland voted no’. I wonder how she’s feeling this morning.

For me it is a mixture of pride, of shame, of fear for the future but also understanding.

I’m proud of my city of Glasgow and Dundee too, going their own way and sticking up two figures to the political elite. I’m proud of the Yes campaign and particularly my local campaign, who have worked so hard, given so much of their time and sacrificed a great deal.

Ashamed? Last night my son wrote on his facebook page, ‘Proud to be Glaswegian, embarrassed to be Scottish’. I too am proud of Glasgow but I’m not embarrassed or ashamed but I do think Scotland should be. Be in absolutely no doubt that Scotland stands diminished today in the eyes of the world. And there are peoples all over Europe who looked to us for a lead and for inspiration. We’ve let them down too. We have given in to fear and in some cases self interest. Those aren’t conciliatory words and they are not meant to be. The truth is there will be a reckoning and those responsible should be held to account.

So what of understanding? We have allowed ourselves to be brow beaten, we have taken the easy path but one that will prove very costly. It is beyond doubt that the main stream media and the BBC was wholly biased against independence and if not for the internet and social media it is doubtful if this campaign would ever have got off the ground. If the MSM had been neutral and fair I believe we would have won easily. It was too early for independence to win. If devo max had been on the ballot it is likely that option would have won and been the last step before full independence. But 300 years of domination, decades of propaganda and two generations of deindustrialisation and the accompanying poverty and loss of self confidence could not be overcome in one go.

As for the future that is what we must turn our attention to now. We will be subject to endless discussion and debate about new powers but the likelihood of any meaningful power being devolved is slight. The political establishment, both Tory and Labour, will be cock a hoop with this victory. Snouts will remain in troughs and the illusion of imperial power continues for a little longer.

As we have already seen they are not in the mood for concessions and Cameron in particular faces great problems in enacting anything without significant constitutional change for England. Expect much of the coverage in the next few months to be about the rest of the UK not Scotland.The timetable laid down will either produce flawed legislation or will have to be delayed and probably produce flawed legislation anyway.

What is likely to emerge for Scotland will be a raft of minor powers and control over income tax. Control over income tax will be the central component. This will be sold as devo max or significant powers. It is far far away from devo max and will be a poisoned chalice. The block grant will be cut to reflect the new power. The Barnett formula will either disappear or be greatly diluted. What Scotland needs is the power to expand and grow its economy. Income tax cannot do that. It is a tax that is primarily designed to either put money in people’s pockets or remove it. It is the biggest revenue collector which is why the UK government will be able to present it as significant.

With large austerity cuts still to come a future Scottish government will be left with difficult choices. Ironically those choices are the ones the No campaign warned of in an independent Scotland. We will have to raise taxes if we want to maintain public spending, never mind expand it, or we will have to cut services and/or borrow. With further irony those wealthier Scots who voted no partly because they were afraid of tax rises are the ones who will bear the brunt. If Labour get in at the 2015 UK general election they will raise top rate tax back to 50%. It is unlikely an SNP government in an independent Scotland would have done so. If the Scottish government decides it needs more revenue it will be all of us who are hit but the highest earners will be hit the hardest.

There will be no escaping those realities. Will Scotlands new found political engagement, particularly among the young, flourish or will the turgid, stifling, reactionary politics of the established parties suppress that enthusiasm? Time will tell. I believe one day and maybe a generation away, when the reality of what we have unleashed onto ourselves becomes too onerous to bear, a new generation will find the courage to take back our independence. The damage that will have been done to our country by then may take decades to repair and a great deal of wealth will have been lost in the meantime.

Until then face the truth, Renton was right.

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