Enough #indyref2 nonsense – let’s talk federalism
The result of Sunday’s election in Catalonia changes nothing for Scotland: a second referendum here is still meaningless; redundant; kaputt.
The independistas may have an absolute majority of seats in the Barcelona parliament, but they won less than 48% of the vote and Madrid, regrettably, will probably continue to play hardball rather than engage in constructive dialogue.
By contrast a constructive dialogue does exist in the UK, if one is paying attention. It’s about federalism.
Not that you’d notice it from the tired old mantras uttered by the SNP and its media poodles, of course. Instead of being constructive, Nicola Sturgeon has been playing manipulative games over the likelihood of pushing for a second referendum pre- or post-Holyrood 2016, and whether, indeed, she believes a repeat ballot can be won. She has even issued a tediously irrelevant and hypothetical challenge to Kezia Dugdale (and Willie Rennie) to admit the case for one if, when and maybe.
There is, of course, no reason – historic, philosophical, whatever – why Scotland should not be independent like Denmark. But there are plenty of compelling reasons why it’s a non-urgent, self-defeating option right now or in the nearest future.
First, none of the questions or doubts that lay behind the No vote a year ago – on currency, deficit financing, EU membership – has been resolved. To the contrary: they have become even more tangled and not just because the oil price is stuck below $50 a barrel ($47.86 on the day of writing) and could stay there for another five years.
The Greek experience of striking out for anti-austerity within a currency union has been nasty, brutal and short. Alexis Tsipras dictated a suicide-or-surrender note at the Eurozone July summit, is learning in the most painful way possible that fiscal sovereignty is purely totemic, and is now hoping against hope that bigger countries in the Eurozone swing behind the pro-investment, pro-growth strategy (real solidarity) his country needs. And it is almost certainly the case, pace the SNP, that Scotland as putative 29th or 31st member of the EU would be forced – unlike the UK or Sweden – to join the single currency.
In today’s Europe no one country, not even Germany, can pursue an anti-austerity policy on its own. (That’s been belatedly left to the European Central Bank with its QE programme). So, second, the case of the SNP and other pro-indy supporters that they alone are anti-austerity rests on sand. It is, as Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell are saying, an empty slogan unless and until it is accompanied by real, workable policy measures.
The new Labour leadership team and its economic advisers (some shared with the Scottish Government) are embarking upon drafting and crafting just such a raft of measures – and, at the same time, accepting the case for a balanced budget (without ruling out extra borrowing should the circumstances dictate that). Cue ritual (economically illiterate) denunciation of “support” for George Osborne’s fiscal charter / £30bn cuts / £12bn gouged out of welfare spending.
Labour’s new economic team is, rather, arguing (as the SNP claims it is too but ain’t delivering) for investment-led, growth-orientated, purchasing-power-boosted-via-pay and productivity rises – and not austerity. Meanwhile, yet again, the fiscal position of an independent SNP-led Scotland would require huge spending cuts and/or tax rises and/or borrowing. Or growth in double digit figures that not even India can achieve – and out of the question if, as likely, the global economy is plunged into a new deflationary crisis within the next couple of years. It would be austerity-plus.
The third reason and, for me, the most compelling is that the federalist argument for a new constitutional settlement in the UK (but also the EZ and even the EU) is only just being (re)made and gaining traction. It is being adumbrated here and here, for instance. The Federal Trust (of which I am a council member) is bringing new vigour to the case here too and elsewhere (from the UK government’s new constitutional adviser). Independence increasingly looks like the chimera it is; federalism like a genuine local solution to global problems.
There’s been plenty of muttering that the First Minister is looking more and more favourably on this option too – even if her predecessor isn’t. That would be welcome if it’s true. We need a full-scale debate on a federal UK written constitution, including an elected Senate, rather than warmed-over baloney about “independence” a year on from its clear rejection.