Friday, 26 September 2014

Scotland's Vote 27: Demanding the Impossible


The post-referendum article by Irvine Welsh, which I quoted in the previous entry, also has this to say:

A devo max that gives Scotland the power to raise taxes to pay for welfare programmes, but not reduce them by opting out of Trident and other defence spending, while maintaining the oil flow south of the border, without even an investment or poverty alleviation fund, is a sham, especially as it was denied at the ballot box. It may be perceived as setting up the Scottish parliament to fail, and undermining devolution. 
[Emphasis mine]

Opting out of Trident? How is that supposed to work?

Scottish voters have decided to remain part of the UK, and the armed forces are an intrinsic part of that package.

The UK government is responsible for defence policy in Scotland. It has chosen to make nuclear weapons part of that policy. Trident missiles are deployed by the same Royal Navy which recruits from Scotland, defends Scottish waters, and answers to a Parliament which includes Scottish MPs. It's a single organisation, and Scots can't point to the Trident submarines and say, "oh, no, that bit doesn't belong to us."

Vanguard-class Trident missile submarine.
Source: Wikipedia

This will be the case under any realistic form of devolution. Even in the most maximal versions being contemplated, Scotland would not have its own separate armed forces.

The most the UK government could do would be to offer Scotland a financial rebate, based on the estimated cost of the nuclear program. So the Scots would symbolically cease contributing funds to Trident, while still enjoying the (dubious) benefits and suffering the (considerable) infamy of having nuclear weapons deployed on their behalf. From a moral standpoint, this isn't much of an improvement.

Many English people are opposed to Trident, and many Scots are not. Why is it that each and every Scot must be paid off with money from England (and Wales, and Northern Ireland), to appease anti-nuclear feelings north of the border? Taxpayers in the rest of the UK would have very good reason to resent this arrangement. Trident is at least a relatively distinct budget item; how does Welsh plan to identify the "other defence spending" that is surplus to Scotland's requirements?

Moreover, if Scotland can pick and choose which parts of the UK budget it wants to fund, why not England? What if England decides it doesn't want to fund unemployment benefits for deprived parts of Scotland, and demands a rebate of its own? This would be an insane way to run a government, and nobody is going to put it into effect.

Irvine Welsh is the one setting up devolution to fail, at least from his perspective. By demanding the impossible, he guarantees the reality will be what he considers "a sham".

I know Welsh is a novelist, not a policy expert; and he speaks only for himself, not the independence movement at large. Even so, I suspect his views are not unusual among committed independence supporters. To the extent they agree with him, it casts into doubt whether they are willing or able to make a positive contribution to devolved government.

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