Choose your costume and follow the leader – the Coronation and the Glasgow marchers
Of course Scotland could become an independent nation, but it would be a huge and costly gamble, and please spare us grievance and mean-spirited slogans, writes TERRY MURDEN
The message from an estimated 20,000 who snubbed the Coronation and marched through Glasgow on Saturday is that even after the SNP’s recent implosion and slump in the polls it would be wrong to write off the independence movement. At least until the reality pills kick in.
Loud and proud, waving Saltire flags, and carrying a big chip on their shoulders, it is clear that there is no stopping the misty-eyed nationalists who are prepared to take the mother of all gambles with the country’s future.
Those banging drums and chanting anti-monarchy and anti-Tory slogans may believe they can see the promised land, but they cannot drown out the sound of police sirens coming to arrest SNP officials, or cover up Nicola Sturgeon’s dismal record on economic growth, the highest drug-related death rate in Europe, and her poor progress on health and education. Not exactly a manifesto for making Scotland great.
This will not deter those who believe that cutting the Westminster chain will enable a free Scotland to prosper. Of course there’s enough talent to make an independent Scotland work. But would it be more successful on its own rather than having the collective heft of the UK? That’s the question.
If two governments running the country can’t make it punch well above its weight then it’s difficult to see how an independent nation, stripped of the support it receives from London, would makes the numbers add up to a bigger sum. If somebody has the secret formula – and this goes beyond more borrowing powers and re-entry to the EU – it would be helpful if they would share it instead of wailing about being held back by Westminster.
Nicola Sturgeon promised us a series of papers arguing the case, leading up to a second referendum, then bottled it. She knew the economic case alone is flaky. She knew she would not persuade Westminster to agree a new poll or win the right to hold one in the courts. It is probably the case that she didn’t want to be labelled a loser, so she quit, and her successor – who chose to attend the Coronation rather than the independence rally – has been handed a baton that is looking more like a poisoned chalice.
Independence campaigners focus on what they oppose rather than what they support
Indy supporters point to evidence that Scotland receives more inward investment than any other part of the UK outside London. Yes, but that is as part of the UK. It’s a good bet that if Scotland were to go it alone, many of those investors would be more cautious, maybe deterred by the uncertainty, not least over tax.
On Sunday, salmon from Loch Duart was served at the Coronation Big Lunch at 10 Downing Street. Will the indy collective be issuing press releases congratulating the farm? Not a chance. Anything connected with royalty is off their menu.
The independence movement has built its case around two misguided themes. One is to conflate the incompetence of a Westminster government with the constitutional structure of the UK. You don’t solve the problem of a broken down car by calling for the manufacturer to be closed down. You repair the car. The Tories may have a poor record, but a good government and a top-notch PM fighting Scotland’s corner would remove the need for constitutional change.
The second fault line in the indy campaign is to adopt a blame culture in which Scotland’s failures are pinned on others. Whether it’s the economy, health or any other policy area, the SNP and its fan base claim credit for every box ticked, while Westminster gets a kicking for everything that goes wrong. It’s true that devolution has restricted Holyrood’s ability to affect real change, but working with Westminster rather than against it, would harness its extra powers.
A succession of SNP ministers, including Sturgeon, Kate Forbes and Humza Yousaf are guilty of taking a stick to Westminster as a cover for the shortcomings in their own ideas and policies and to justify the case for independence. They regularly point to Brexit as a reason to vote for separation, but overlook the fact that other areas of the UK, including London, also voted Remain but do not demand that they are allowed to opt out of Brexit and re-rejoin the EU.
A regular mantra is to target the “Tory cost of living crisis”, despite inflation and high energy bills being a worldwide problem, including the SNP’s beloved EU which is pushing up borrowing costs and its biggest economy – Germany – is flirting with recession.
A message from Scotland’s ‘friendly’ city – investors might think twice
This unhealthy state of affairs extends to blaming anything south of the border: the Tories, Labour, the Royal Family. Dare I say it, even the English themselves. The whole lot are condemned, without any credit for the benefits they deliver – the collective weight of the economic and welfare system, the relative stability of sterling, a defence capability, the list goes on, extending to the economies of scale and competitive edge provided by UK-wide companies and public organisations.
The reality is that even an independent Scotland, with a few tartan tweaks, would stick with the BBC, the Post Office, the London Stock Exchange, the banking regulators, Ofcom, the Met Office and other familiar UK institutions. Trying to re-invent the wheel has never been a good idea, so even in a ‘free’ Scotland not much would change.
However, if things turned nasty, like a bank failure or a pandemic, Scotland’s well of support would not be deep enough without hiking borrowing costs or cutting expenditure – or both. Just ask Sir Philip Hampton, former chairman of RBS, who said that for this reason alone the bank would have to relocate from Scotland. As for re-entering the EU, that’s a pipe dream until the already sky-high deficit is drastically reduced.
The timing of the Glasgow march was cynically timed to create hostility towards the Royal Family. Attacking Royalty and calling for its abolition is just mean-spirited for the sake of finding another whipping boy. Yes, it represents privilege and elitism. The pomp and pageantry appears at times close to pantomime. The language of rank and order is byzantine.
But these are also its attractions in an age of technocracy and meritocracy. It’s tradition, fun, amusement. Like addressing the haggis, wearing a sporran, attending the Edinburgh Military Tattoo. Of course, these are Scottish traditions, so they will get a free pass from the indy police.
Royal pageants offer a break from the day-to-day routine
Royalty also adds a bit of glamour to an otherwise grey world, the splendour and colour of the Coronation perfectly cancelling out the grey, wet weather. Most importantly, it represents continuity and stability against the coming and going of elected politicians. A dysfunctional family? What family doesn’t have its rows and disputes? And who doesn’t like a story with romantic affairs, treachery and deceit? Much more appealing than a political discourse.
As an aside, it is a bit rich for those flying flags in Glasgow, attired in kilts and daubed in face paint, to ridicule those wearing full regalia at the Coronation. Take your pick from the fancy dress on show, but the principals in their finery at the Coronation and the wonderfully-orchestrated military marching through London impressed a global audience who see it as representing Britain at its best, while the cheap and ugly insults hurled by some of the independence marchers only deserve disdain.
The criticism of Royalty in Scotland is particularly misguided. Scotland is a special place for the Royal Family. Balmoral was a much-loved home of the late Queen. The Princess Royal is a regular and hard-working supporter of Scottish sport and charities.
Added to that, the Duke of Edinburgh Award has instilled a sense of achievement in youngsters across the UK. Since its formation by Prince Charles in 1976 the Princes Trust has helped more than a million, including many from deprived backgrounds. Many startup businesses were given their first leg-up by the trust.
Spectacular concert at Windsor Castle
He has also been active in Business in the Community. His advocacy of biodiversity and campaigning on climate change and other environmental causes put him years ahead of the Green Party which bizarrely continues to call for abolition of the monarchy when it should be seeing it as its greatest ambassador.
At Windsor on Sunday night another 20,000 gathered for the Coronation Concert in a Cromwellian-like stand-off against the northern republicans. Aside from watching the music and dance featuring a diverse range of cultures and styles, they witnessed a spectacular light display above the near-1,000 year old castle. Modern tech meeting history, and ‘all under one royal banner’. Out of touch? I don’t think so.
Instead of getting behind the new monarch, there are calls to replace him with an elected head of state. Oh dear. Please save us from more elections, more politics, a series of well-meaning individuals promising the earth and delivering nothing, who’ll be forgotten within a few years or remembered mainly for their failures.
So here’s a suggestion for the new King. If the Scots don’t want him and his family he should no longer issue Royal Warrants to Scottish companies. He should withdraw the Princes Trust from Scotland, turn Balmoral into a retreat for young offenders, the Palace of Holyroodhouse into a refuge for the homeless and Dumfries House, which he saved from ruin in 2007, into a centre for the promotion of wokery.
That should help satisfy those who believe that banishing Royalty would help “make poverty history”, create more “equality” and put public finances to better use. It would also make us all culturally poorer, kill the tourism industry and push Scotland and the UK further down the list of great nations.
The rest of the world would think we’ve gone completely ga-ga, but at least the Saltire flags could be used to wave goodbye to the companies, institutions and high earners fleeing a country that doesn’t want them. Oh, and don’t forget to turn the lights off.
Terry Murden held senior positions at The Sunday Times, The Scotsman, Scotland on Sunday and The Northern Echo and is now editor of Daily Business