Ian Swanson: Is Salmond only offering us independence-lite?

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ANY dreams anyone might have had about next year’s referendum ushering in an independent Scottish socialist republic probably died a long time ago.

Alex Salmond’s enthusiasm for keeping the Queen as head of state and cutting corporation tax has taken care of republican and socialist illusions.

Now two respected economists, often quoted by Scottish Nationalists in support of their cause, are questioning whether a Yes vote will really give Scotland independence.

Husband and wife Jim and Margaret Cuthbert are not impressed with the SNP’s plans to retain the pound and rely on the Bank of England and a UK-wide system of financial 
regulation.

They say Mr Salmond’s plans are “a token version” and fall “far short of any meaningful concept of 
independence”.

Accusations that the SNP’s proposals fall short of the full-blooded independence which their nationalist forebears demanded are not new.

But the claim that what is now on offer to Scottish voters amounts to “indy-lite” carries new weight when it comes from economists with a wealth of experience and expertise who have previously been seen as sympathetic. Mr Cuthbert was chief statistician at the Scottish Office and Mrs Cuthbert is an expert in Scottish public 
expenditure.

In attempting to secure their aim of an independent Scotland, Mr Salmond and his SNP colleagues have been 
trying to balance two approaches which can easily become directly 
contradictory.

On the one hand, they want to inspire their traditional supporters and win over other Scots with the idea of how independence offers the chance to build a different kind of country. This case for a Yes vote emphasises the opportunity to break free from the policies pursued at Westminster, abandon the supposedly alien values espoused south of the Border and shape a new society.

But at the same time, the SNP is anxious to calm fears about what independence might mean. So sticking with sterling, keeping the Queen and still being able to tune into 
EastEnders and Coronation Street are seen as reassuring promises.

The dual approach leaves the Nationalists open to challenge about the need for independence if everything is going to stay the same.

But the issue is about more than tactical arguments. For many Nationalists it is also about the reality of what independence would mean.

The late Stephen Maxwell, an Edinburgh-based lifelong campaigner for an independent Scotland, voiced his concerns about “independence-lite” in a book, Arguing for Independence, published shortly after his death.

He said: “Candidates for negotiation would be: a defence agreement covering the continuation of UK bases in Scotland, including Faslane, and continued Scottish access to UK defence contracts; an agreement on Scottish membership of sterling; perhaps shared foreign services; the common funding of pensions; and perhaps a temporary sharing of North Sea oil revenues.”

He concluded: “Scotland would be formally independent but voluntarily restrained.”

In the modern inter-dependent world where big corporations often wield as much power as nation states, the concept of independence is inevitably a matter for debate.

Unfortunately when voters are asked to decide, the referendum ballot paper will not include a box saying: “It depends what you mean.”