Perhaps it’s no coincidence that Falkirk’s giant Kelpies were unveiled in this so-called “week of independence.” The two 100ft horse-heads rise out of Scotland’s industrial past to chase a new future. They represent the Celtic myth of the water-horse as well as the working horses of the canals, the mines, the farms, the milk-rounds and the beer deliveries. These were the days when Scotland was the workhorse of the Empire. Now we are a different nation and we face a different future and, as if they don’t know which way to turn, the two Kelpies are facing different directions.
The SNP government launched its white paper on independence at the Science Centre in Glasgow on Tuesday. Actually, it was a white book, of some 650 pages, answering the 650 questions which people have been asking about next year’s referendum.
But it is also a manifesto of what an SNP government would do in an independent Scotland. It would negotiate a place in the Sterling zone, the EU and NATO. It would get rid of nuclear weapons. It would invest in child-care to get more women into work. It would cut corporation tax. It would scrap the “bedroom tax.” It would make sure the SBC, the successor to the BBC, would show Dr Who and Strictly Come Dancing.
The big white book, Scotland’s Future, is a daring and populist gambit to win over the 15 per cent of Scots who are undecided. It left the Unionist parties sniping at the figures, trying to prove that it was all “a work of fiction.” Scotland they said would have a £10 billion black hole in its budget and no one knows what the terms might be for entry into the EU or NATO or the Sterling currency.
But Alex Salmond just kept on smiling. His blue and white army pushed a newspaper through my letter box this very morning claiming that 52 per cent of Scots believe that “ Scotland could be a successful independent country.” What it didn’t make clear was that not everyone believed it SHOULD be an independent country. In fact, the same poll, reported by a different newspaper, found that 38 per cent supported independence and 47 per cent were against. Still, there is all to play for on both sides.
Certainly what Scots don’t want to hear is that the UK government’s austerity programme is to continue. Audit Scotland published a report this week showing that the public sector in Scotland has been cut by 26,000 staff since the 2007 crash. And it predicts that another 3,000 will go from councils and health boards next year. The unions put the real job losses at 50,000 when you take into account part-time workers and they point out that we are still only half way through the austerity programme. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has also revealed the uncomfortable fact that the poorest parts of Scotland are bearing the brunt of the cuts. It says service budgets are being cut by £47 per head more in the West than in the East.
Meanwhile the Royal Bank of Scotland – one of the perpetrators of the crash in the first place – has been facing yet further allegations of misconduct. A report compiled by the government’s own advisor Lawrence Tomlinson has found that the bank has been charging exorbitant fees and forcing some businesses to the wall in order to profit from their assets. He concludes that the bank has “gravely hindered” Britain’s economic recovery. The Financial Conduct Authority is to hold a full inquiry but if true, the allegations are further evidence that the bankers still don’t “get it.”
The death of three teenagers in a car crash near Dunbar on Monday evening has stopped us all in our tracks. Their car skidded off a minor road and hit a wall, killing the three instantly and injuring a fourth teenager. There’s been an out-pouring of grief at their school in Dunbar and it will no doubt focus attention again on the continuing debate over whether there should be extra legal conditions on young drivers.
Finally, the villagers of Rigg near Gretna Green suddenly found themselves without electricity on Monday when 10,000 starlings landed on their local power lines. The birds took to the sky from time to time in one of their dramatic “murmurations” for the benefit of local photographers. It’s said to be an example of random movements by individuals adding up to a coherent pattern of behaviour. Perhaps this is what politics, economics, and indeed life, is all about.