The case for independence has not even begun to have been made. Give devolution a chanceby Magnus Linklater / December 16, 2006 / Leave a comment
Michael Fry, a conservative convert to the radical cause of Scottish independence, peddles a good line by embracing independence on the grounds of his conservative principles—but fails to make the case. Devolution has, it is true, been a disappointment thus far, but we are still only seven years into the project, and it remains by far the best political solution for Scotland. A system that gives the country a healthy measure of autonomy without severing its economic links with its powerful neighbour, England, without threatening to break up the United Kingdom, without having to reinvent relations with Europe, and above all without embarking on an untried, maverick form of independence, delivered by a left-leaning party whose tax-and-spend policies would drive companies away from Scotland, remains the best bet.
Fry’s line is paralleled by a few romantically inclined Scottish businessmen, who advance the proposition that only if it “stands on its own feet,” raises and spends its own taxes and brings to end its dependency on England will Scotland become the entrepreneurial nation it allegedly once was. Devolution, they claim, has given the Scots easy money without demanding tough choices, leading to the flourishing of the public sector but the stagnation of the private sector. Only with independence will the free market thrive in Scotland and private enterprise be given sufficient opportunity.
This is an absurd argument. The case for independence has not even begun to have been made, and the Scottish National party is as divided about its policies as it ever was. For all that its leader, Alex Salmond, claims to have a set of economic policies that would lower corporation tax and encourage businesses to come to Scotland, the party itself remains wedded—as does he—to a set of uncosted, ruinously expensive public sector commitments that could only be paid for by higher taxes and the doubtful and diminishing benefits of owning “Scotland’s oil.” One whiff of higher tax and the small businesses and financial sector companies that currently see great advantage in being in Edinburgh and Glasgow would up sticks and flee south.
Devolution has a long way to go, but it has given Scots the right to debate their own politics in Scotland, to breed their own politicians and to blame them rather than English ministers when things go wrong. That is a healthy state of affairs, but it has barely begun to find its proper…