Breakaway SNP Strikes Fear into Westminster Parties

But Notions of Independence are Flawed

The SNP (Scottish National Party), under feisty new leader Nicola Sturgeon, is scaring the daylights out of Labour and Conservatives with the prospect of a strong squad of MPs marching south headed by fearsome former leader and political bruiser Alex Salmond.

Cameron or Miliband for prime minister – warmongering toff or socialist nonentity? And with whose coalition help? That’s the bleak choice for British voters.

Since the Yes/No independence referendum last September the SNP has enjoyed such a huge surge in support that the main Westminster parties are terrified that Scottish MPs could wield disproportionate influence in the likely event of a hung parliament, especially as Nicola has vowed to “lock Cameron out of Number 10” if she gets the chance.

For many Scots the dream of cutting free from the machinations of the UK parliament and its dead-hand bureaucracy didn’t end with the ‘no’ decision. The idea remains intoxicating and they’ll make a second bid in due course. It all sounds heroic but how could anyone, on cool reflection, bring themselves to hate the UK and still love the EU? Why move heaven and earth to escape the snake-pit of Westminster only to throw themselves – and everyone else north of the border – into the nest of vipers in Brussels? Because that’s the SNP proposition.

The SNP’s infatuation with the failing and widely mistrusted EU project is unconvincing. David Torrance writing in Think Scotland asks:

Why, precisely, was it wrong to have a central bank in London making major decisions about the Scottish economy, but right for another central bank based in Brussels (eventually to be Frankfurt) to do precisely that? And how, exactly, would an independent Scotland exert more influence within the EU than the much larger United Kingdom?

When the SNP talks about independence it’s as phony as when the Tories and Labour talk about our so-called independent nuclear deterrent, Trident. Mr Cameron says: “I profoundly believe we should maintain our independent nuclear deterrent…” He’s convinced we need “a full replacement for Trident”. Michael Fallon, his defence minister, has just reminded everyone about “the 60 year consensus that has existed among governments of all colours in favour of an operationally independent nuclear deterrent”, while Labour “remains committed to a minimum, credible, independent nuclear capability, delivered through a Continuous At-Sea Deterrent”.

Note the extravagant use of the word “independent”.  Eight or nine states around the world have functional nukes and the means to deliver them, not least Israel. They all manufacture and maintain their own. They all have complete control over their use. All, that is, except Britain. Our Trident missiles are manufactured by Lockheed Martin in the US and serviced by the US Navy. So if Britain doesn’t go along with America’s crazed foreign policy and play ball with the White House’s nasty allies, what happens to our “independent” nuclear deterrence… having spent countless £billions of British taxpayers’ money acquiring it?

The 2006 White Paper says there is no good case for making a substantial additional investment in our nuclear deterrent purely to insure against the highly unlikely occasion of a deep and lasting breakdown in relations with the US. “We therefore believe that it makes sense to continue to procure elements of the system from the US.” Not only don’t we have an independent nuke, we don’t have an independent foreign policy either.

Nevertheless, it is claimed that if a British Prime Minister wants to press the nuclear button, the US cannot stop the launch of missiles or prevent them from delivering British nuclear warheads to the target.  But it is widely believed that to target Trident accurately, the launching submarine needs access to US systems at the time of launch.

Would the US really sell a weapons system, even to a close friend, without safeguards against it being used – accurately or not – to vaporise America’s dodgy allies, or America herself?  Perhaps our American readers can help us here. Whatever the truth, it is unlikely that Britain would use its nuclear weapons system without US approval. The same goes for any proposed replacement of Trident. Expecting British taxpayers to dig deep for another £100 billion, which they simply cannot afford,  just to possess a shiny newer version is not only bizarre but fraudulent.

But to give the SNP their due, they wish to scrap Trident.

Trade stitch-up

We can certainly forget about independence if the TTIP comes to pass. Critics claim that the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) currently being negotiated between the EU and the United States could:

  • Weaken workers’ rights and put millions of jobs at risk;
  • Reduce environmental protection and food safety regulation;
  • Lead to more privatisation of public services like education and our prized National Health Service (NHS);
  • Give new powers to corporations to sue European governments, including the UK, in secret courts. A particularly objectionable part of the deal is the imposition of investor-to-state dispute settlement rules (ISDS) enabling foreign investors to sue the host government.

It turns out that US states are not covered by the TTIP agreement, so procurement at state level over there would not be opened up to the same extent as EU states over here. Then there are the ‘Buy American’ rules that apply to materials used in contracts inside and outside the United States and especially projects funded by the federal government. And any EU company boycotting Israel stands no chance. So it’s already looking rather one-sided.

The threat is not just to our NHS but all public service and infrastructure projects, as well as the industrial base we in the UK ought to be nourishing and defending as a priority. We surely don’t want a repeat of the offshore wind power scandal that allows foreign corporates to enjoy a feeding frenzy around Britain’s coast while UK firms scramble for a few tit-bits.

And I just watched on TV the CEO of Breitling Energy, based in Dallas, trying to smooth the way for an unwanted fracking bonanza in England’s green and pleasant land. Breitling has already been admonished by the Advertising Standards Authority for misleading the public and making unsubstantiated claims. Do we really want the likes of Breitling plundering our resources and taking the profits home to Dallas?

The prospect of endless disputes with rich and powerful corporations, fought out in ISDS courts behind closed doors, could easily frighten governments into abandoning domestic regulations designed to protect their citizens and the environment. Right now US tobacco giant Philip Morris is reportedly suing Uruguay for having some of the best anti-smoking laws in the world. This one company, whose product kills, aims to overturn laws that protect Uruguay’s public health. If it wins, it could run cases against other countries that are considering new life-saving legislation.

So there are good reasons to feel uneasy about TTIP. EU procurement rules already make it difficult for the UK to rebuild its industrial base. Slavish adherence to those rules by successive UK governments has allowed foreign firms to acquire some of Britain’s key industries and utilities, sectors that are fiercely protected in Germany and France, for example.

With the SNP so eager to escape the UK and shackle Scotland to the EU, how will Scots be able to resist this menace? The Green-Independent group in the Scottish Parliament call TTIP “a power grab by private corporations which threatens the NHS”. Some parties seem prepared to specifically exempt the NHS from TTIP, but they all appear relaxed about the other juicy pickings America’s corporates are likely to target.

What’s missing from the pre-election debate are firm plans for re-industrialisation, renewal and regeneration, and a determination to protect from predators the skills and capacity we need to nurture for our future prosperity. In all the televised interviews and debates I have heard no mention of an industrial strategy worthy of the name. The conversation revolves around what we can spend, what we must cut, and what we’re going to give away…. never about what we should, and could, be earning as a nation. At this rate we’ll never be able to expand our productivity and exports and escape the pain of austerity.

Stuart Littlewood, after working on jet fighters in the RAF, became an industrial marketeer in oil, electronics and manufacturing, and with innovation and product development consultancies. He also served as a Cambridgeshire county councillor and a member of the Police Authority. He is an Associate of the Royal Photographic Society and has produced two photo-documentary books including Radio Free Palestine (with foreword by Jeff Halper). Now retired, he campaigns on various issues, especially the Palestinians' struggle for freedom. Read other articles by Stuart, or visit Stuart's website.