Published in August 1998 issue of Prospect Magazine
Is home rule enough?
It is many years since you and I were foot soldiers in the Portobello Labour party in Edinburgh. Scottish politics looks very different today (alas, the same cannot be said for Scottish football). The polls predict a substantial SNP lead over Labour in next May’s elections for the Scottish parliament. Some polls also show a majority in favour of outright independence, especially among the under-30s, who have no memory of the second world war high watermark of Britishness.
None of this comes as a surprise to me, or those like me, who defected from New Labour’s christian democracy to the traditional social democracy of the SNP. Unlike Roy Hattersley, we had somewhere to go. But it does seem to have surprised my friends in the great metropolis who assumed that a devolved parliament was the end of the matter.
After all, what possible gain, economically or socially, can there be from the turmoil of outright independence? Surely a devolved parliament gives the Scots the best of both worlds: local autonomy plus the chance to benefit from the economies of scale, political muscle and subsidies from the British state.
This patronising, London-centred fug is dispelled in one word: Europe. The anachronism of the British union state is that it was created as a political counterweight to continental Europe in its various pre-EU forms. But today’s Scots, especially the young, have rejoined Europe in their hearts and pay packets. The union is already irrelevant.
Economically speaking, Scotland exports more per head than England (or Japan, for that matter). Silicon Glen now dominates a significant part of the European market for silicon chips. The key Scottish markets are France and Germany. English tourism to Scotland has declined sharply and has been replaced by Italian students learning Scots English. Scots business can’t wait to join the single currency and escape the high interest rates imposed to curb London property prices. A new breed of young Scottish entrepreneurs write computer games and make corporate videos-selling to Europe and the US. They rage when British companies refuse to buy business services outside the London clique. This is the entrepreneurial class-New Labour in England-which votes for and funds the SNP.