William Wallace, Braveheart, was immortalised in the minds of many thanks to the Australian actor Mel Gibson’s portrayal of a this figure that is forever part myth, part truth and massive Hollywood spin. However, the facts are Sir William Wallace was a Scottish landowner who became one of the main leaders during the Wars of Scottish Independence. Along with Andrew Moray, Wallace defeated an English army at the Battle of Stirling Bridge in September 1297, an outstanding victory over the forces of Edward the First. Wallace was appointed Guardian of Scotland, serving until his defeat at the Battle of Falkirk in July 1298. In August 1305 Wallace was captured near Glasgow and handed over to Edward the First of England, who had him hung, drawn, and quartered for high treason and crimes against English civilians. Since his death, Wallace has obtained an iconic status far beyond his homeland. The reputation of William Wallace runs like a fault line through later medieval chronicles. For the Scots, William Wallace was an exemplar of unbending commitment to Scotland’s independence who died a martyr to the cause. For centuries after its publication, Blind Harry’s 15th-century epic poem, ‘The Wallace’, was the second most popular book in Scotland after the Bible.
But there’s a new Braveheart in town, well Edinburgh, and although people will laugh at this idea, Alex Salmond is about to do what Wallace was unable to do, to create the first lasting severance of Scotland from England since the Roman’s left and Hadrian’s Wall fell into disrepair. Alex Salmond, born 31 December 1954, was elected as First Minister of Scotland in 2007, Scotland’s fourth since devolution in 1999. He is the Leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP), and Member of the Scottish Parliament (MSP) and has been an MSP/MP since 1987 to the present day. Since devolution Salmond has tirelessly campaigned for an independent Scotland and has finally negotiated the opportunity for every registered voter in Scotland to vote on whether to have a totally independent Scotland or not. Politically the stakes for Salmond as a credible leader for an independent Scotland have never been higher, certainly a ‘no’ vote will cause irrevocable damage to his political career. As with all Scottish MP’s he has also had a seat in the House of Commons and has lead the SNP from a small party in Scotland to being the biggest political party with the main focus being on that of independence. Unlike Wallace this is without spilling either Scottish or English blood, although the war of words has steadily increased and become ever more vicious as the referendum looms ever closer.
Devolution in 1999 formed a Scottish Parliament and in many respects was supposed to appease the Scottish people by devolving significant powers to them. However, if this was supposed to be as far as it would go then the House of Commons in London was very much mistaken, as it actually served as a rallying cry for the SNP to gather ever greater support. It showed the SNP that if you pressed hard enough and long enough then anything was possible, bringing in the possibility that Scotland could finally achieve independence for the first time in over 1,500 years. But this agreement to offer the people of Scotland a referendum nearly didn’t happen, as for many years there was unrest in the House of Common’s that Welsh and Scottish MPs influenced what occurred in England, yet they also sat in their own Countries’ Parliaments. At times this caused significant friction and it was debated at one point whether members of the Welsh and Scottish Parliaments should not be allowed to have seats or voting powers in the House of Commons but this came to nothing once Gordon Brown became Prime Minister. However, if this move had of been enshrined in law, it would have forever stopped any referendum for full independence in Scotland.
As the armies of Edward the First and those of Wallace squared up for a fight, so have Salmond and Cameron with both firing verbal cannon balls at each other. Cameron does not want to be the Prime Minister that loses Scotland to independence, wrecking the United Kingdom, i.e. not so United after all, and Salmond does not want to be the one to lose a vote that gives Scotland its only chance at independence in a generation or more. But only in the run up to the vote has this gone from being a possible clean split to what is now very much an unamicable and bitter divorce. However, the devil is in the detail as they say and the recent weeks have been full of landmines for Salmond, especially on a few key fundamental issues he has been campaign.
First of all Salmond has been campaigning on the basis that Scotland will be keeping the pound sterling and this was met with a two pronged rebuttal by the Westminster establishments. The Governor of the Bank of England was asked by Salmond on an opinion on monetary union (posh term for keeping the pound). The Governor, who is completely independent of the House of Commons, gave a detailed response in Edinburgh and effectively stated that it was not in the financial interest for the remaining UK to be tied to an independent Scotland because there is no way interest rates could be controlled or the value of the pound. So the Governor concluded that he would not recommend to the Commons that Scotland be allowed to keep the pound. This met with Salmond’s dismissal, who decided he didn’t like this answer, said he would ignore this advice and that it was up to politicians to decide. So all three main parties in Westminster said they are not in favour of Scotland keeping the pound, another blow to this wavering branch Salmond had hung independence on. So he turned round and said it was not up to the political parties but the Treasury. So the Treasury through Osborne, Danny Alexander and the Prime Minister said it was not in the UK’s interest to allow Scotland to keep the pound. Not one to give up so easily Salmond said it was bullying tactics and intimidation by the Westminster mob, which by now also included the CBI (Confederation of British Industry) and the National Chamber of Commerce, and he stated that Scotland would keep the pound, which they just won’t if they go independent.
Another branch of an independent Scotland, according to Salmond, was their automatic entry into the European Union, as they are already members under the UK flag and as part of the UK. However, even this was torpedoed by the President of the European Union when he came to the UK and announced that Scotland would not have automatic entry and would need to apply for membership. He went on to state that if Scotland was accepted into the EU, and that was by no means certain, they would have to adopt the Euro, which may solve Salmond’s problem with the pound. This whole process would take years and no new country has been accepted into the EU since 2011. There is yet more bad news for Salmond.
There is an estimated 5.2 million people in Scotland and since the 1970’s the population over the age of 65 has gone up by 66%. An estimated 200,000 are unemployed, 1,000,000 over 65 years of age, another million under the age of 16, and ever growing needs placed on NHS Scotland. So who is going to fund this as it leaves around 3,000,000 people working full or part time but a million of these receive some form of state assistance, all of which has to be paid for. Then there is the share of national debt that Scotland will be given post world economic crisis in 2008, for example the billions that we spent bailing out the Royal Bank of Scotland to name just one element. Yes Scotland would have a large amount of the North Sea oil and gas which would keep them financially buoyant in the short term, but the massive oil rigs are being decommissioned one by one as these natural reserves run dry.
So what happens after this affluent stage, as there isn’t enough working without support to raise taxable revenue through personal and business tax? There certainly will have to be a rethink on free University and free prescriptions in Scotland. But Salmond merely states he will invest in new industries and that if he is not allowed the pound he will default on their share of debt. There really isn’t any detail coming from Salmond and this would worry the hell out of me if I lived in Scotland. There are hundreds of ‘what ifs’ and unanswered questions. For example, what happens to the NHS Staff in Scotland and all the thousands of state contracts that are paid for by central Government down in Westminster, defence, environment, NHS, Social Care funding, Education. At the moment Scotland actually gets a far larger slice of the UK’s total money than proportional to their size of population. So many questions, so much missing detail, so much uncertainty.
To read this I am sure you feel I am of the opinion that I am in favour of Scotland staying within the United Kingdom but actually I am definitely on the side of Salmond and an independent Scotland. They have enormous issues to sort out and a real problem heading their way when the oil and gas fields run out. But is this going to be any more difficult than the last 1000 years of rule by the Westminster gang? No, they should absolutely have independence, who wouldn’t want that. I believe they will succeed, as any nation that has fought this hard and this long deserve to be independent. Let’s not forget it is a vote for independence but this won’t happen overnight and there will be plenty of time to sort many of the issues out. I think it is a sign of the UK maturing, that Scotland becomes totally self-ruling and it is a natural progression of their devolution. I really respect Salmond for standing by his principles and shaping the SNP into the ruling party that I hope will lead to independence, his anti-nuclear weapons stance and his green environmental credentials. I hope the Scottish people take this opportunity and I hope it works out well for them as a nation. Just one last ironic point, it was actually a Scottish King that joined the fortunes of England and Scotland together following the death of Queen Elizabeth the 1st, this is when King James the 1st took to the throne of England brining the house of Tudor to a close. At the same time he was also King James the 6th of Scotland.
Yours most sincerely
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