Autumn has arrived and we are back to business after a long and glorious summer. The air is cooler, the winds are fresher and the leaves on the trees are starting to turn from dark green to brown and then yellow. Sun- tanned MSPs are back in parliament and hostilities have resumed in the war of independence.
The big guns have been blazing away – Alex Salmond in Fraserburgh and Edinburgh, George Osborne in Aberdeen, Gordon Brown in Glasgow. But the only people they’ve hit so far are the opinion pollsters. They’ve been blown all over the place. A TNS poll says support for independence has slumped to 25 per cent, a YouGov poll puts it at 29 per cent but a Panelbase poll says it’s at 44 per cent. The only thing for certain is that the number of “don’t knows” has increased – some say it’s as high as 40 per cent.
The SNP government’s legislative programme, announced on Wednesday, was all about next year’s referendum, though none of the 13 bills actually mention this. In fact only three of the new bills are substantive measures, the rest are administrative tidying-up exercises. There’s to be a new licensing system for airguns. The sheriff courts are to be asked to handle more civil cases to reduce the long waiting times in the high court. And the right to buy your council house is to be abolished.
The measure that caught the headlines, the ending of automatic early release for serious offenders, is to be tagged-on as an amendment to the existing Criminal Justice bill. And the highly controversial gay marriage bill is already making its merry way through the parliamentary maze…where it may well get lost till after the 18th September next year.
So nothing at Holyrood is to be allowed to distract us from the referendum campaign. In his introduction to the legislative programme Alex Salmond talks of little else: “ The case for independence is based on a very simple argument. Decisions about Scotland should be taken by the people who care most about Scotland – the people who live and work here.”
Meanwhile, the Chancellor George Osborne was bravely boarding a Super Puma helicopter – the type which crashed off Shetland last month – to fly out to the Montrose platform to talk about the remaining oil and gas in the North Sea. His message was: there’s not as much value in it as the SNP hopes and dreams. It’s not worth £1.5 trillion as the SNP claims but only £120 billion when you take into account the cost of extracting it. He was also clutching a Treasury report which suggested that the effect of erecting a political border between Scotland the England would leave the Scottish economy £5 billion worse off over the next 30 years. Exports may fall by 80 per cent it claims. The SNP said that was scare mongering, part of “project fear” according to Nicola Sturgeon.
It seems to have scared off Billy Connelly. He’s put his Aberdeenshire mansion up for sale for £3m and talked of buying a small flat in Brighton instead. But he might be reassured about Scotland’s place in the United Kingdom if he sees Gordon Brown’s plan to “fully entrench” the Scottish Parliament in the British constitution. The trouble is the UK has no formal constitution, though it sounds like Mr Brown is about to write one.
In his speech in Glasgow he said he regretted that while Labour was in power it did not spell out in a constitutional bill what exactly the United Kingdom is for…“not just defence and security, not just trading relationships but to pool and share our resources…”
I wonder if his constitution bill would have included the right to work. Because this week we learned that Glasgow is the jobless capital of the UK. Just over 30 per cent of homes have no-one of working age in a job. The two main reasons given are sickness and a lack of jobs.
What would Adam Smith, who taught economics at Glasgow University, have made of that? One person who may be able to tell us is the lucky purchaser of a rear first edition of “The Wealth of Nations” which sold this week for £46,000 at an auction in Edinburgh.
And while on the subject of Scottish history, it’s perhaps worth noting that Monday (9th September) marks the 500th anniversary of the Battle of Flodden. In one disastrous afternoon Scotland lost her 12,000 “flowers of the forest” and her most popular king, James IV. From that date onwards we have, rightly, begun to doubt ourselves.
The story is told in the sweep of Scottish history that is the Great Tapestry of Scotland. It’s just been completed and now hangs in the Scottish Parliament. Its 160 panels remind us of our fortunes and our folly, from the beginning of time to the present day. See it and be amazed.