Word is a strange creature was sighted in Fife today. It seems that Gordon Brown surfaced from wherever it is the British Labour Party keeps him these days to do his wee bit for the campaign to preserve the union. He made a speech, apparently. And, I'm told, had certain sections of the media hanging on his every word as if he actually was the great sage that he evidently believes himself to be.
I read the speech. What I read was not the reasoned pronouncements of a wise elder statesman but the ill-informed ramblings of a political has-been who is seriously out of touch and very confused. A measure of that confusion is his "twenty questions". Not just the questions themselves and the fact that he needs to ask them, but the mindset that is revealed. Of which more later.
First, let's deal with those questions - at least insofar as they make any sense at all as reasonable points of enquiry. The first nine of these questions deal with the matter of the economy. That Brown himself only manages to count eight is, perhaps, an indication of what we are dealing with here.
SCOTTISH INTEREST RATES - WHO DECIDES
Why will the rest of the UK without any guarantee of a Scottish role set Scottish interest rates?
SCOTTISH INFLATION – WHO DECIDES
Why will the rest of the UK without any guarantee of a constitutional role for Scotland set the Scottish inflation target?
SCOTTISH MORTGAGES - WHO DECIDES
Why will the rest of the UK without any guarantee of a constitutional role for Scotland set Scottish mortgage rates?
SCOTTISH MONEY SUPPLY - WHO DECIDES
Why will the rest of the UK and not Scotland decide the Scottish money supply?
WHAT HAPPENS IN AN ECONOMIC CRISIS - WHO DECIDES
Why will the rest of the UK without a constitutional role for Scotland decide what to do in a crisis like how much quantitative easing or printing of money is done
WHO CHOOSES THE GOVERNOR OF THE BANK THAT DECIDES SCOTTISH INTEREST RATES?
Why will the rest of the UK with no constitutional role for Scotland decide who is Governor of the bank that decides Scottish monetary policy?
WHO CHOOSES THE PEOPLE WHO DECIDE SCOTTISH INTEREST RATES
Why will the rest of the UK with no constitutional role for Scotland decide who are the members of the group, the Monetary Policy Committee; that supervises interest rate decisions?
SCOTTISH FISCAL POLICY
Why will England and the rest of the UK be able to demand a fiscal pact that controls Scottish spending?
SCOTTISH BORROWING POLICY
Why will England and the rest of the UK be able to demand a fiscal pact that controls Scottish borrowing?
What Brown fails to realise is that all of this is actually only one question. Who decides? And the simple answer is that the people of Scotland decide. This is what Brown, in common with all too many British nationalists, is sadly unable to get his head around. The fact that what is important is that the people of Scotland get to decide who makes all these decisions and more on their behalf. And that can only happen with independence. So long as we remain in the union the decisions will all be made outside Scotland whether we like it or not.
Not being as short of vision and shallow of mind as Gordon Brown, I do not see any of these issues as insurmountable obstacles. Basically, what Brown is talking about here is a sterling zone as mooted by the SNP. What he is too blinkered to see is that such a monetary union would have distinct advantages for both Scotland and the rest of the UK (rUK). Granted, such arrangements can be problematic. But they are not necessarily so. If conditions are amenable then all that is required is the goodwill of all the parties to the arrangement.
What is telling about Brown's attitude is that he not only regards every problem as insoluble, but he assumes an uncooperative, adversarial attitude on the part of the rUK even to the extent of doing significant harm to both economies. Why? Count that as the first of my questions to Gordon Brown.
Why does Brown take it for granted that the government of the rUK would pursue some kind of low-level economic warfare against a neighbouring nation and important ally? What justification is there for assuming, as he does, that the rUK government would go out of its way to make monetary union unworkable?
And if Gordon Brown offers an accurate insight into the London government's attitude towards Scotland, why the hell would we want to be in a formal union with them?
It's not as if we lack choices. With independence we will have numerous options as regards monetary matters. The sterling zone proposed by the SNP simply happens to be the option with the greatest mutual advantages. That's the difference between the SNP and the British parties. While the latter are looking only for problems, the former are working on pragmatic solutions. British nationalists assess ideas on the basis of the extent to which they can be twisted into a stick with which to beat their political enemies. The SNP and Yes Scotland assess ideas on the basis of what is likely to work best for all concerned.
And this pragmatism applies in other areas.
What happens if the Scottish Parliament has a different view on the line of succession for the Monarchy?
Note again the default assumption that the rUK government would be unable or unwilling to negotiate a compromise with the government of Scotland. It is becoming easier and easier to see why Brown is such a failure as a politician.
The policy of retaining the monarchy is best regarded as one of those pragmatic solutions mentioned earlier. It is convenient. It offers an acceptable arrangement. One that most people in Scotland can live with - including republicans like myself. But this acceptance of the monarchy is only possible because of the way that it is viewed. The royals are not generally regarded in Scotland with the same grovelling, fawning reverence that is common among British nationalists. The idea of a divinely ordained monarch is treated with deep suspicion by most and is anathema to many. Not to put too fine a point on it, the monarchy is disposable. As with the proposed monetary union, if the arrangement no longer suits us, we will make other arrangements. That's kind of the point of independence.
So! Another question for Mr Brown.
What happens NOW if the Scottish Parliament has a different view to Westminster on the line of succession for the monarchy?
Like most, if not all, of Brown's questions this one can just as meaningfully be asked of a situation where Scotland remains in the union as with independence. The difference is that with independence comes choice. This does not occur to Brown and his ilk for the simple reason that he would never think to question the righteousness and efficacy of the union.
Another thing that most, if not all, these questions have in common is the fact that, contrary to Brown's dishonest assertion, they have been answered. Repeatedly! When he and other British nationalists say that questions have not been answered what they actually mean is that they did not like the answer given. Having no counter-argument, it is easier just to pretend that there was no argument in the first place. Brown's next two question provide glaring examples.
On what basis do they claim we have an automatic right to membership of the EU?
On what basis do they claim that if Scotland joins the EU we do not also have to commit that we are obliged to join the Euro?
Generously assuming that Brown is not being disingenuous and that he truly has not seen or heard any of the countless explications of this issue, then my point about him being out of touch stands proven beyond doubt. If, as is evident, he is determined not to hear the answers, what might be the point of answering the questions - again! Suffice it to say only that, once again, the answer derives from the pragmatic approach to issues that I spoke of earlier. The two successor state scenario gains its political certainty status not least from that fact that neither of the alternatives is in any way credible. If Brown or any other British nationalist believes differently, let them argue the case that the EU would act irrationally against its own interests.
What these questions about EU membership evidence, apart from a pathological inability to attend to answers, is the same mindset referred to in relation to the matter of monetary union. The mindset which regards Scotland's aspiration to independence as an affront to the British state which must be punished. This, combined with notions of British exceptionalism, leads the intellectually impaired Britnat to the quite ludicrous assumption that existing member states of the EU will subordinate their own interests to aiding and abetting rUK in pursuing vengeance against the Scottish upstarts. Perhaps the best that can be said of such thinking is that it is grossly immature.
Here's the question. Why would the EU chose anything other than the two successor state option?
Are their automatic rights of citizenship that come from being an English resident in Scotland?
This one falls under the heading of pointless. There is no ethnic component to Scotland's independence movement. If Brown doesn't understand that then the phrase "out of touch" may be wholly inadequate to describe his condition. Quite apart from anything else, we are all EU citizens. For most practical purposes, that's enough. In fact, I can think of no circumstances in which being ethnically English in an independent Scotland would give rise to any problems whatever. Unless, of course, Brown envisages the government in England contriving such problems. So here is another question for Brown.
Does Brown expect that the government of the rUK will implement legislation based on some kind of ethnic discrimination?
Will the SNP accept that NATO is not just a military alliance generally but a nuclear weapons alliance with obligations on its members?
It's difficult not to come right out and call this question stupid. Because that's what it is. Very, very stupid! Is Brown genuinely unaware of the debate that has been going on in the SNP for months now? A debate that eventually went to the party conference where delegates voted to change SNP policy? Does he really not know that two SNP MSPs resigned their party membership over the very fact that the SNP had acknowledged NATO as a nuclear-armed alliance? Where does this guy keep his head in between speaking engagements? In a jar!?
The SNP's position, which even those who disagree at least understand, is that it is possible to be a member of NATO whilst maintaining a non-nuclear stance. This position necessarily implies acknowledgement of NATO's nuclear capability. But it also acknowledges the very evident fact that the vast majority of NATO members do not possess nuclear weapons and actively oppose their development and deployment.
What basis does Brown have for supposing that Scotland will be a singular exception among all the non-nuclear members of NATO?
Can it be confirmed that there is more public spending per head in Scotland than in England?
No. At least, not to the satisfaction of anyone who does not unthinkingly accept whatever figures the UK government throws at them. This issue is considerably more complex than Brown's question allows. It is, however, a matter that could be resolved if the UK government would simply "open up the books". As they will be required to do anyway when the referendum returns a YES vote. That's not up to Brown, of course, as he is something of a nonentity in the Westminster village these days. But it does prompt another little question of my own.
Can it be confirmed that current or forecast public spending is less affordable in an independent Scotland than with Scotland in the UK?
What Brown fails to acknowledge is that public spending is in part a necessity - in which case it makes no difference whether we are in or out of the union (Unless he wants to admit that Westminster is refusing money for essential services.); and in part discretionary - in which case it is in accordance with the values and priorities of Scotland's people as determined by democratic means. To state it simply, if we in Scotland apply more of our resources to health-care it is because we make an informed choice so to do. Nobody has a right to deny us that choice. Another question.
Can it be confirmed that, in the event of a NO vote in the referendum, the UK government will not seek to restrict the powers of the Scottish Parliament to make spending decisions in accordance with the wishes of Scotland's people?
Can it be confirmed that no guarantee can be given that Scottish pensions will not be lower than English pensions?
Can it be confirmed that no guarantee can be given that Scottish pension will not be HIGHER than English pensions?
Like so much of the anti-independence case this question is premised on the assumption that the UK is a bastion of economic security for its citizens. It patently is not. And few people bear more personal responsibility for this than Gordon Brown. If people in Scotland are concerned about their pensions then, on the basis of historical evidence, they should be clamouring to get out of the union as quickly as possible.
For Gordon Brown, of all people, to use fear of insecurity arising from the fiscal incompetence of government as a propaganda weapon is sickening. The man has absolutely no shame!
The rest of Brown's questions are in the same brazenly outrageous vein and deserve the same indignant response.
Let's be clear. None of Brown's questions are asked in a genuine spirit of inquiry with the intention of furthering the debate on Scotland's constitutional future. All are asked in the characteristically negative spirit of the British nationalists determined to preserve the British state at whatever cost to the people of Scotland or other parts of these islands. The intention is not to cast light upon facts, but to cast us all into the darkness of doubt and fear. The purpose is not to promote understanding, but to cause confusion. The aim is not to clarify, but to obfuscate. It is no part of Brown's design to effect enlightened awareness of the issues. His project is to obscure those issues behind a veil of uncertainty and contrived complexity and thus undermine the confidence that people are entitled to have in their own capacities.
In the final analysis, there is one simple answer to all the so-called "unanswered questions" touted by Brown and the rest. Scotland will manage its affairs at least as well as any other nation. No more is required.