It is worth noting that ‘Broadcasting’ is currently a matter ‘reserved to Westminster’ (as shown in this list of devolved and reserved matters). The state media, the British Broadcasting Corporation (or BBC as it is known) does dominate our media but strangely very few seem to question whether they are impartial. Like many others, I possibly spend too much time on the BBC website and on the 4th of March I clicked into the 3rd item on the Scottish news section which had the rather innocuous title ‘Salmond: Scots will not be foreign’ without really knowing what the content would be. I could barely believe it when I found that this page was hosting a live stream of a speech by Alex Salmond at an event hosted by the New Statesman. Just a few weeks earlier the BBC ran with David Cameron’s speech against independence as the headline news for an entire day – the bias of the coverage is fairly clear to see for anyone who does their research on Scottish independence, but this disparity should make it clear for all to see. Getting information about what is at stake at this referendum will not come to you via the television – other sources have to be found.
Before getting to the speech, I should point out that I’d never bought the New Statesman before but the Wings Over Scotland site alerted me to their special on Scottish independence and Will Self’s comment was close to home:
“As someone who for the past two decades has visited Scotland at least three or four times a year, and spent a great deal of those visits in and around the former steel town of Motherwell, I cherish few illusions about the country.
On the whole, I’ve considered independence to be something of a no-brainer: if ever there was a small, potentially socialistic state that could do with being detached from its deluded imperialist neighbour, it’s Scotland.”
I was thoroughly impressed with the content of the New Statesman: there is an excellent article by David Scheffer (law professor and director of the Center for International Human Rights at Northwestern University School of Law in Chicago) on the flaw of the UK government’s stance on currency but the highlight was certainly Alex Salmond’s article. In it he lays out many flaws of the current constitutional arrangement of the UK:
“It saddens me greatly to see what is being done to this great institution (NHS England), but it is no longer just a case of expressing sympathy. Within the Westminster funding system, the privatisation of the NHS in England could be deeply damaging for the funding of public services in Scotland.
That is because, under the (frequently misunderstood) Barnett formula, if privatisation leads to cuts in public funding for the NHS in England this will lead to cuts to funding in Scotland. So decisions taken in Westminster by governments we didn’t elect have damaging long-term consequences for people in Scotland.”
Too few people seem to be aware of the fact that even though health is devolved to the Scottish Parliament, the mechanism for funding it is explicitly link to the decisions on health (& other public services) that are made by Westminster for England. There is no accountability in this and in turn no democracy in action for the people of Scotland, it is a great failing of devolution that can only be overcome with independence. He also goes on to debunk the myth that if Scotland votes for independence that we’ll subject the rest of the UK to a one party Tory state – in reality Scotland is so small relative to England that our choice of MPs make no difference to who gets into government at Westminster:
“It is important to recognise the myth that an independent Scotland will make it impossible for Labour to form a government in the rest of the UK. In fact, in only two of the 18 general elections since 1945 (October 1964 and February 1974) would the largest party at Westminster have been different if Scotland had been independent, and even then, those two governments lasted for less than 26 months in total. So Scotland’s votes within the Union have little or no influence on the make-up of the Westminster government.”
On to Alex Salmond’s speech, unfortunately only the first quarter of his speech is available on YouTube:
However the full speech is available on the New Statesman site and it really is worth a read. The following section also highlights the functional failure of UK system for Scotland:
“Independence allows us to choose different spending priorities. We can decline to finance the madness of a new Trident programme, and invest in our future instead.
But most importantly, only independence allows us to benefit from the success of our policies.
We’ve led a sustained drive to increase women’s employment over the last 18 months. The female participation rate is now higher than in any other country in the UK, having increased by over three percentage points in the last year – 74,000 women.
Using 2012 figures, getting female participation in the workforce up to the same levels that they have in Sweden, would require an increase of six percentage points or so. The scale of that increase translated into employment would generate around an additional £700m a year of tax revenues.
The problem is, under current arrangements, the overwhelming bulk of these revenues go straight to the UK Treasury in London. And I see no sign whatsoever in George Osborne’s conduct over the last month – or over his whole political career, or indeed his whole life – that the first thing he would do with £700m of new revenues, created by a Scandinavian-style transformation of childcare policies, is to give these revenues back to Scotland to fund the policy that made it possible.
Retaining that revenue in Scotland is what will make that transformation in childcare affordable and sustainable. With devolution, we bear the financial cost of our social investments; with independence, we receive the full benefits.”
Whilst the issue of childcare is one of party policy – and so with independence the Scottish electorate may opt for a party that does not prioritise this – the fact is that with devolution the Scottish government can see social issues that need investment but with no net gain on the budget that they receive (because Westminster collects our taxes) and so it is not a sustainable approach. With independence, the Scottish government will be in control of how they raise and spend their entire budget and with that they will become fully accountable. Imagine that, accountable politicians – that sounds right to me.