I attended a very interesting private meeting recently on the Scottish Question. A couple of learned Scots told us that Scottish nationalism was defined by dislike of the English in general, and the dislike of English Tories in particular. Scottish nationalists do not like London making decisions for them. They like it even less if it is English Tories calling the shots there, instead of Scottish Labour MPs.
None of this is suprising. The success of the Scottish Nationalist party has been brought on by Labour’s anti Tory campaigns for devolution. Their failure to secure enough votes for devolution in the 1970s, when Scotland was still reluctant to tread this path, led to a long sulk and a revitalised and successful attempt to put it through on return to office in 1997. Labour consistently claimed that a Conservative “English” government of the UK should not govern Scotland. They saw nothing wrong with a Labour UK governing Northern Ireland with no Labour MPs, or governing England with a majority of Conservative MPs, but they did think a Conservative majority government at Westminster lacked authority to govern Scotland if the Conservatives had few seats for Scottish constituencies.
Labour’s dislike of the Tories, their insistence on using the legitimacy argument against the Conservatives, and their determination to polarise opinion on devolution, helped the SNP establish its position as a credible force in Scottish politics. The SNP had lively internal debates about whether it was a true independence movement, as the purists wanted, or a party of Scottish government seeking more devolved powers within the UK. Mr Salmond has often come across as a devo max man rather than a true independence fighter. He after all wanted devo max on the ballot paper for the referendum.
The stated position of the current SNP is not to seek Scottish independence, but to seek a new kind of dependence, with some more things being settled by a devolved Scottish government. It is difficult to argue that a country is independent if it does not have its own currency and central Bank, yet Mr Salmond wants to stay with the pound and a monetary policy and interest rates fixed by the Bank of England. Mr Salmon also wants Scotland to be a member of the EU, with all that that implies for loss of sovereignty. The SNP wishes to share a Queen with England, rather than have a new Republic with a Scottish President. The SNP are just better at devolved politics than Labour, and have used Labour’s anti Tory and anti Union rhetoric of past years to gain themselves devolved office. Now they wish to press for devo max, calling it Independence. In practice what they seek woukld leave their new Scotland controlled financially by a monetary union where they no longer have a seat at the Cabinet table or in the Central Bank, and leave Scotland under an avalanche of new EU controls without the current UK opt outs.