Saturday, January 11, 2014

John Barrett goes his own way on the Liberal Democrats and Scottish independence

John Barrett, who was Liberal Democrat MP for Edinburgh West between 2001 and 2010, has an article in The Scotsman today. He has some uncompromising things to say about the direction the Lib Dems have taken and about the Scottish referendum debates.

On the Lib Dems he writes:
the fact that the party I joined over 30 years ago bears little resemblance in policy terms to the Liberal Democrats now in government at Westminster. I have not changed my views on opposition to university tuition fees, Trident nuclear missiles and the construction of new nuclear power stations. 
More recently ... the defeat of the government over military action in Syria was something I welcomed. I was stunned to see those party grandees who were at the heart of opposing going to war in Iraq now advocating military action – before inspectors had completed their work. My, how times have changed. 
In Scotland, I was at a Lib-Dem conference when it wholeheartedly opposed the bedroom tax, with not one MP in the room speaking up in favour of government policy, while it still remains something my party in government at Westminster supports. No wonder the public in Scotland drifted away in large numbers from the party at both the last set of Holyrood and council elections.
On the independence debate John says his instinct as a Lib Dem is to advocate a future for Scotland as part of a federal United Kingdom.

However, he is critical of the way the independence debate is being conducted by both sides:
The economic arguments from both sides are as expected and they are locked into positions which will not change. The separatists say we will all be better off and the Unionists say we will be worse off in an independent Scotland. They would say that, wouldn’t they? I don’t expect either side to admit the truth, which is that neither side knows exactly what the position will be after the referendum and following elections, regardless of the result.
And the poor quality of this debate is not just the fault of the politicians, John argues:
If in the run-up to the referendum they only ask “What is in it for me?”, they will be offered a range of unaffordable promises by both sides and should then not be surprised when those promises are not delivered.
Instead, he concludes:
What we should be getting from both sides is a clear picture of the Scotland they want to develop for generations to come. I want to see a fairer country at home, with access to a high quality health and education system for all, regardless of ability to pay; a compassionate and considerate country, where those who are able care for those who are less able; a greener country with sustainable energy production at an affordable price; and an internationalist country supporting peace-keeping obligations and those abroad less fortunate than ourselves, while avoiding any involvement in destructive military interventions, where civilians suffer more than anyone else. If this is the Scotland of the future, it is what I will vote for. It is also something that can only be delivered if Scots are prepared to participate in delivering that future: accepting increased personal responsibility will be part of the bargain. 
Unfortunately neither side in the referendum debate has convinced me so far. Many people like me are now undecided on the referendum issue and are waiting for an honest vision for the future of Scotland from both sides.
My vote is not up for sale – it is there to be won by those who can spell out their vision of a Scotland my grandchildren will want to grow up in.
Nationalism can easily turn to racism and there is something silly about making it the basis of a party's ideology in a modern Western democracy. Why is one health, education of social security policy more Scottish than another? If social democracy or socialism is bound up in Scottish national identity, as some argue, how come the Conservatives held more than half the seats in Scotland in the 1950s?

But, were I Scottish, if anything could convince me to vote for independence it would be being told that I could not afford it. I would be strongly tempted to vote Yes just to spite such a foolish argument.

No comments: