Margo MacDonald: No, we won’t get fooled again

Alex Salmond’s Referendum Bill is anticipated ever more enthusiastically by SNP cybernuts and terrestrial foot soldiers alike, against a background of the promises of oil flowing for another half century.

By The Newsroom
Wednesday, 19th October 2011, 1:00 pm

With the British economy bumping along the bottom for the forseeable future, people whose parties are overwhelmed by the task of rescuing the UK economy are now having “visions” for Scotland.

Having ditched “It’s the economy, stupid” – the mantra borrowed from the Clinton campaign – shadow ministers Douglas Alexander, Jim Murphy and Margaret Curran now talk about their “Vision” for Scotland. Is it the same vision? Do they prefer the vision thing to manifestos because voters have sussed manifesto promises are made to be broken once the election is over?

Or is it just that they have no new ideas on growing the economy and achieving full employment and social stability following even winning Westminster elections?

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Labour (New and Not so New ) Conservative and LibDems all had big manifesto pledges on child poverty, for example. This week, in a long, long lecture on his vision, Douglas Alexander claimed the Blair/Brown governments had roll calls of honours as long as your arm.

Some pages later, without appearing to connect the two statements, he recounted that one in five children lives below the poverty line in Scotland.

His vision looks distinctly blurred when in the same speech he can produce a new sound bite about his preference for “abolishing poverty” rather than “abolishing Britain”. That’s what this outbreak of “Visionary” politics is all about ... it’s the spin doctors’ ready-to-use expression for uninspired and uninspiring politicians to freshen a debate that’s been running for 40 years. The irony is that current circumstances in the UK, and the changing international political and economic balance that are the backdrop for the debate over Scottish independence, demand a new analysis and objective from those on both sides of the argument.

Because the SNP, too, have wordsmiths and spin doctors aplenty and, true to the sheer superficiality of much of our political discourse, Nicola Sturgeon claimed the SNP’s election victory for her party’s “record, team and vision, because without a positive vision for the future, no political party can enthuse and persuade voters to support them”.

Sounds great, but it’s not always the reason for votes being cast for parties or individuals in elections.

Labour may have been “gubbed” this year by the SNP, but the boot was on the other foot all through the 80s, when Labour, the Tories and the LibDems deployed relentlessly negative themes to counter SNP electoral successes in the 70s.

All the pro-union parties successfully used distorted, deceptive spin to discourage, even frighten, people from voting SNP. The unionist parties’ vision then was of a poor, undefended, friendless, unimportant little country after the oil ran out, torn from the bosom of mother England by the SNP.

This is what Douglas Alexander knows has to change. Maybe he was unaware of the fraud on the Scots, and English too for that matter, when he loyally stuck to the party line at 80s student debates and demos.

The line derived from the secret memo from the then foreign secretary Tony Crosland that the SNP’s 70s slogan, “It’s Scotland’s Oil”, “could undermine the UK’s credit worthiness and ability to support the pound in foreign exchanges”.

First time round, North Sea Oil was used by the Treasury as collateral, supporting huge foreign currency borrowing. But he knows now, and so do we.

Those of us old enough to remember currently see a recognisable political parallel with the financially strapped Treasury of the 70s and the misappropriation of the revenues from the Scottish Oil Industry.

Last time, billions of pounds were flowing past Scotland and into the Treasury and Scotland was de-industrialising without an adequate strategy and resources to re-build its economy. Yet the true prospects for an independent Scotland were reported in government papers that were kept secret until five years ago.

Treasury official Peter Mountfield wrote “Scotland can go it alone, provided no disasterous collapse in world oil prices. Assuming the same basis, prospects for a separate UK comprising England, Wales and Ulster are pretty grim”.

Unionist parties know the same holds true today, but this time they warn against the “volatility” of oil prices and parrot slogans about how strong we are with the UK wrapped round us.

If volatility’s so bad, how come Norway’s economy and social provision are so much better than Scotland’s? And if being British is so great, how come Scotland’s GDP, health statistics and infrastructure are so poor?

Shouldn’t our resources make Scotland an innovative, fully employed, well-housed and fair community, rather than prop up the myth of Britain, world power?