What would an independent Scotland look like? Too many assumptions are being made, claims PETER MCFARLANE


I don’t know about everyone else, but I feel the discussion about the constitutional future of this country has stalled. The debate has become caught in a net just as it started to get off the ground. When will it be? What will the question be? Is that question objective? Can there be two questions? Stuck on these points, it feels like we haven’t really got anywhere with it for a long time.

A lot has, however, been said about what an independent Scotland would look like. Evan Williams, in the last post on this blog, talked about the many different countries the SNP have claimed an independent Scotland could emulate ranging from Switzerland to Norway, and as I recall Salmond said something about the Saudi Arabia of renewables at some point.

At first I thought, fair enough, they won the election and so they can have their referendum and talk about it as much as they want. Discuss the question, sure, but can they really say with any real conviction what an independent Scotland would be? They have the right to ask the question, and it probably should have been asked a while ago, but surely that does not give them the right to design this independent state?

They, therefore, have no grounds to say an independent Scotland would look like anything at all. They have about as much right as me to make any kind of assertion (and who the hell am I, anyway?). Do we have a Parliament? A Senate? Anarcho-syndicalist communes? A Dictatorship? A state can look whatever way you want it to. We are not really discussing this though, and for me that’s a big problem. Are the Unionist camp going to stick their heads in the sand until independence happens and then, all of a sudden, it’s a scramble to design a state and no one knows what they want? Are the SNP going to role out platitude after platitude while painting a picture of some kind of Eden-like promised land? If so, both sides are playing a dangerous game.

We are in the fortunate position to know what democracy looks like. We aren’t East Timor, after all, and thanks to devolution we have a lot of institutions in place. So, we wouldn’t be starting from scratch. But, maybe that’s not what the Scottish people want. Well, what do they want then? Do we hold a referendum on that? Do we ask the nation what kind of a state they want to establish: Democratic, Republican, Socialist, or otherwise? I assume this is the kind of uncertainty the alleged ’business community’ is wary of.

Anyhow, let’s pretend we have answered all of the above questions, we have our independent state and now we have to get on with it. Here, I shall present my biggest beef with the SNP on this issue. It’s all well and good saying Scotland could be a progressive beacon and all the rest of it, but they are making assumptions about who runs this independent utopia. Do they really think they are going to be in charge?

I don’t, and here is why: My understanding is that the party consists of people who are poles apart ideologically. There are as many to the right as to the left, with the desire for independence bridging the divide. When the ultimate aim of independence is fulfilled, what holds the SNP together? Nothing, as far as I can see. Friends in the SNP openly admit this and it was partially exposed this week with Eck claiming the Queen would be the head of state in an independent Scotland, yet the SNP as a whole has not yet officially endorsed this (quite the opposite, in fact).

They have made a great deal of political capital out of claiming we wouldn’t have to deal with the Tories in an independent Scotland, but I don’t think that’s true. Murdo Fraser was on to something when he talked about disbanding the Scottish Conservative Party and starting afresh. I submit to anyone reading this blog that if it wasn’t called ‘voting Tory’, more people would do it in Scotland. If there was a right-of-centre political party that did not have the history that the Conservative Party has, it would do a lot better electorally than the current lot. In an independent Scotland with no SNP, the right leaning former members would need to find another party to join and vote for…

Across the whole of Scotland, some desire an independent socialist state, others a republic, and there are those – like Eck – who want to retain aspects of the Monarchy. Until independence occurs and whatever political parties remain present manifestos within some kind of pre-agreed political institutional infrastructure and election process, no one can say with any real certainty what an independent Scotland would look like.


Peter McFarlane is a Labour party activist and works in media research and analysis in Edinburgh.