Jim Sillars: Keep the head on polling day

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Alex Salmond for Yes and Alistair Darling for No, singing the same song – that in deciding on independence we must employ heart and head.

Both are wrong.

It’s time to forget about all that heart stuff – a deep sense of Scottishness on the one hand, and a sense of historical loyalty to Britain on the other. What the Scots need is hard-headed analysis of their position, and for the first time in 300 years look at the issue solely in terms of Scotland’s state interests.

It’s time to think like a state and from that define what our interests are. Unionists claim Scotland “flourished” through joining with England in 1707, gaining access to a growing English empire, and that should somehow colour in our hearts how we see things now.

Scotland was skint in 1707, and state interests said join the English, be part of an expanding empire. It paid off, with trade opportunities, wealth (for some), jobs and the creation of great industries such as coal, jute, steel, textiles, shipbuilding.

That was then, this is now. The answer to those who want that past history to rule our hearts and influence our votes is, so what? The empire is long gone, and with it the advantages it offered.

This is the 21st century, a time to reassess our relationship with an England stripped of imperial power, greatly reduced in status, mired in economic trouble, with nothing to offer Scotland except a share in its misery.

The No campaign, with its strategy of scaring the living daylights out of us, says there are risks in going independent. So there are. We will have to make decisions for ourselves that have been made for us in London for generations. There is a risk that we will make mistakes. But a known, not a risk, is staring us in the face, fully documented – staying in as an 
austerity-ridden junior partner in a UK that is skint.

Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood, a civil servant not looking to be elected and therefore not afraid to tell the truth, has warned of 20 more years of austerity. He knows the score. National debt is rising at £3000 every second. We pay more in debt interest than we spend on defence. It may be hard to believe but we are in the “soft” cuts period before the election. After it, in 2015, when England votes Tory for the umpteenth time, there will be bigger cuts to public services and the welfare state. Strong hints are being given that the NHS and state pension will not be immune.

But isn’t the NHS in Scotland under the Scottish Parliament? Yes, but the cuts to come will slash the Scottish budget, and no matter who wins 2016 Holyrood elections, they will be forced through a much smaller budget to axe health and the bus pass.

Assessing things in the national interest is not new. London governments have acted on English state interests for years. When, for example, negotiating with the Common Market, there had to be giveaways by the British Government in order to get in. Scottish fisheries was one of them. It was of no great consequence compared with safeguarding the City in London.

Go further back. In the six volumes of Winston Churchill’s memoirs of the Second World War, chapter after chapter, citing government documents and internal discussions, the reference is always to England’s requirements.

These were no slips of the pen or tongue. They simply recorded the fact that in terms of state interests the UK is a fake – it is England that mattered then and matters now. Scotland is not central to policy.

We are, and always have been, the Celtic fringe.

I don’t blame the English for looking after number one. If Scotland was large and could ignore the interests of small England, I would do exactly the same in Scottish interests. But the opposite is the case, and it’s high time the Scots woke up to their real position, and started thinking and acting on Scottish interests. That requires the head, not the heart.