Monday 19 August 2013

My one little niggle about Scottish independence

I am in Scotland, for the Edinburgh Book Festival, where I am speaking today (4pm if you can come!) and marvelling at the lengths the Scottish government are going to in order to get a yes vote to take Scotland independent next year.  Not just the umpteenth centenary of the Battle of Bannockburn, but a whole year's celebration of Scottish culture and a special Scottish food year.

I know this is terribly shocking of me, but I have no problem with Scottish independence.  Not because I am a nationalist (nationalism is the precise opposite of Liberalism) but because I am certainly not a unionist.

I have been convinced over the last two decades, writing about localism, that Europe would be more free, more diverse, more contented, more innovative and wealthier if it was an alliance of at least 50 mini-states,  More so than it is with the current trumpeting former colonisers.

I agree with Freddy Heineken (he called it Eurotopia), and Leopold Kohr (a man who once shared offices with Orwell, Hemingway and Malreux), that small nation states are more successful and more civilised than big ones.

That is where the European Union plays an absolutely crucial role, blurring the old nationalisms and providing an umbrella that can hold mini-states or collections of mini-states together.

They will be wealthier if they use, not just the euro, but also their own parallel mini-national currencies.  The great Canadian maverick Jane Jacobs convinced me in Cities and the Wealth of Nations that currencies suit city-states better than great sprawling continents, because they can revalue their money relative to neighbours, to suit their particular needs:

"Singapore and Hong Kong, which are oddities today, have their own currencies and so they possess this built-in advantage. They have no need of tariffs or export subsidies. Their currencies serve those functions when needed, but only as long as needed. Detroit, on the other hand, has no such advantage. When its export work first began to decline it got no feedback, so Detroit merely declined, uncorrected.”

The great issues of localism are different these days.  They are not about which functions suit which level of government best - they are about the correct balance between local executive action and supra-local unifying structures.

It isn't a question of whether we should break up RBS, or break up the UK, into constituent parts - it is how to network effectively to support the local parts.  That isn't about control or national destiny; it is about effectiveness.  It isn't about economies of scale any more, and if occasionally economies of scale make sense - well, they can network together like Visa to achieve them.

The German local banking system is networked together to share capital capital and other infrastructure.  Scotland, England and Wales would not go their separate ways - how could they?  They would network together some functions in a Council of the British Isles, so that they could be more independent.

The only thing that worries me about Scottish independence is when I look out of the window where I am staying in Edinburgh, and I am reminded of the staggering inhumanity of some Scottish architecture.  

This apartment block is comfortable and sophisticated inside; outside it looks like a prison.  So does the next street, so does the next.  There are parts of Glasgow which include some of the most inhuman architecture I have ever seen anywhere in the world.

These monsters have been build during the union with England, so I don't suppose independence would make anything worse.  But my Scottish genes demand I make some kind of complaint about the way the city government of Scotland has, largely thanks to Labour control, made a terrible hash of mass housing....


Unknown said...

My worry is that it will leave England with a permanent Tory majority.

And that if the Scots sense the Tories going to the right to incorporate the UKIP tendency, then they are more likely to vote for Independence and we are going to be left with the mess! Then I really would want to emigrate.

Simon said...

David. I think you (and all Liberals) should have another niggle - based solely on a debt of gratitude. Without the support of the Orkney and Shetland Isles there is a very real chance that the entire Liberal Party would have fallen into oblivion in the 1950's. They were our only safe seat. The only other seats Liberals retained between 1951 and 1962 were held due to the absence of a Conservative Candidate and it seems highly debatable that this arrangement would have been sustainable if it was all the kept Liberals in parliament. It may seem odd, but I think we are all in debt to these tiny islands and, if they don't wish to be governed from Edinburgh (and I understand that they overwhelmingly do not) then we must stand up for their right not to be so. At present there is no opt out for Orkney and Shetland and no guarantee that they could seek independence from Scotland if they so chose. I don't think this gives all Liberals a reason to oppose Scottish Indipendence out right, but it is surely worth a niggle.

KelvinKid said...

Recent opinion poll evidence indicates that only 8% of islanders are keen on independence from Scotland, so I wouldn't bother much about something that boils down to a figment of Tavish Scott's imagination.