Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Scotland and the fight for New England self government

Back in 2009 in a piece exploring the question of identity, Saturday Morning Musings - on being British, I wrote in part: 
Growing up, my close identification with my maternal grandfather meant that I identified strongly with Scotland because he did. At one level, this did not make a lot of sense. Both my paternal grandparents were born in England, my maternal grandmother came from English stock, so the Scottish side through one set of great grandparents made me at best perhaps a quarter Scottish. However, it was a matter of emotional connection.  
The link was emotional, but it was more than that. 
I was a reader, and my grandfather used to give me books. One of the first more serious books I read as a child was H E Marshall's Scotland's Story (first published 1905). I read Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832), and browsed the books on the clans and tartans of Scotland..
I had a Drummond tie, while my mother and all my aunts had clan broaches with the Drummond motto Gang Warily. While I was at primary school my grandfather gave me a copy of John MacDonald MacCormick's Flag in the Wind (1955), the story of the Scottish National Movement. This book resonated since I was already a strong New England New Stater, so I became a Scottish nationalist by sympathy. We wanted self-government, so did Scotland. 
As an aside, all this reading had one odd, later, outcome. Many years after this I was at a cocktail party at the British High Commission in Canberra. Some of the younger staff I was talking too were puzzled about the rise of the SNP, Scottish National Party. I realised that they were all southern English and actually had no idea of Scottish history. They saw the SNP as a strange aberration.  
This was well before devolution, the creation of Scottish and Welsh parliaments in 1998. A slightly odd conversation followed, which saw an Australian public servant explaining to British diplomats something of Scottish history and the possible constitutional implications for the UK!
 I mention this now because it the latest opinion polls show that the yes case for Scottish independence has pulled ahead causing a degree of panic in Westminster. You don't need to vote for independence, the argument runs; here is another set of powers you can have if you stay in the UK.

Personally, I hope the no case wins,  if just. Scotland has already achieved major devolution of power and will gain more. The costs of full independence strike me as a tad high. I find also myself torn between my continuing sense of Scottish patriotism and other things, including my sense of UK history.   
In this context, the remarks of Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott on the independence issue raised a degree of ire in Scotland. They were insensitive. More to the point, they displayed a complete lack of understanding of Scottish history. They also had Australian connotations that were not encouraging from my perspective. 

Agitation for self-government for Northern New South Wales is now 153 years old. That's half the time Scotland has been a member of the Union. We have not sought independence from Australia, simply the right to govern themselves within the Federation, to have a real say in setting directions and priorities. Looking at Mr Abbott's comments on Scotland, I wonder if he has any comprehension of this?

Our present request is simply the right to have another vote. We lost the 1967 vote 53% to 47%. The political dynamics then were very similar to those holding in Scotland now. The question of who might hold political power in New England, what would be the affect on political power in Sydney, drove party political responses. Scotland is further advanced than New England in that it has already achieved what we seek. The benefits to Scotland from devolution seem clear. Yet the pattern of arguments remains very similar. 

In 1967 as in the 1880s, the 1920s, the 1930s and the 1950s, we were told yes, you have real grievances, but you are better off staying part of NSW. There are other solutions such real decentralization and the devolution of powers and decision making via regional councils. There has been no delivery. Meantime, the structural decline that has gripped Northern NSW for over 100 year continues.

Is it too much to ask for and be given another vote on self government? Isn't that our democratic right?    


2 tanners said...

It probably IS to much to ask, Jim. The citizens of the ACT were given a referendum on self-government with both major parties supporting a yes vote. It was defeated, approximately 67% to 33%. So the ACT was given self government two years later anyway, as soon as the Federal Government could sell off every public asset it owned - shopping centres, office blocks, the works, for bargain basement prices to shift them quickly - and set up the dodgiest electoral system it could design, intended to assure a Labor government. Be careful of what you wish for in respect to New England. What you receive might not be exactly what you expect!

Winton Bates said...

I also have Scottish ancestors, but I would also vote no. It would make more sense for England to eject the Scots than for the Scots to leave the Union voluntarily.

Jim Belshaw said...

Hi 2 T. NSW has already sold off a lot of major assets with generally limited local returns! Distribution of liabilities may be a bigger problem.

Not sure on that point, Winton. England is not the same as the UK in constitutional terms!

Winton Bates said...

Ok, perhaps England should secede from the UK :-)

BTW, I see in the Oz that Helen Dale has a new job.

2 tanners said...

One of the things Scotland (which has lower personal debt per capita than England) is going to have to watch is how much public debt the UK will saddle it with. Interesting, though, that the more the "Yes" case gains ground, the more the pound drops and the UK stock market loses ground. It does seem that some in the City believe that they are making money at Scotland's expense.

Jim Belshaw said...

Or Sydney from NSW, Winton? Interesting about Helen.I had thought that she was stuck in Scotland.

The market reaction to the vote has been interesting, 2t. Making money or not, it gives Scotland a greater weight than its small size would suggest.