By David Campbell Bannerman, Chairman of The Freedom Association
Well, we managed to stop a majority of Scots voting for the SNP; and have denied them the ability to claim the moral case for a second Independence Referendum by a rather tight 38,462 votes. Phew!
Huge credit to the Unionist parties, led by the main opposition Scottish Conservatives party, for a successful defensive campaign – the Scots Tories gained two seats – list seats in the Highlands & Islands, where my Bannerman family hails from, and in South of Scotland. Sadly, there were losses in Ayr and a very close run battle in the strongly pro-Brexit fishing communities of Banff and Buchan, which could have seen the SNP go backwards in seat numbers rather than add one MSP. Labour and Lib Dems lost seats, whilst the SNP-Lite Greens picked up 3 seats. Overall, the composition of the Parliament really hasn’t changed much; and the Scots are seemingly split 50-50 on the independence issue.
Even so, the new SNP Government under Nicola Sturgeon is immediately back into its demands for a new Referendum regardless, with dark threats of a ‘Catalonian’-style wildcat referendum or street protests or direct action, that Alex Salmond highlighted. Surprising when Sturgeon was unable to answer basic questions – on what the new currency would be, whether Scotland would be in the EU or not, what they would do about a hard border for example, and further tried to have it both ways – saying to some supporters it was all about Covid recovery; then latterly claiming a referendum mandate. The Greens actually have a different view of independence to the SNP, so claiming a clear united mandate for a referendum doesn’t wash. There would be no room for the oil industry in their plans.
So, how do we defend the Union and ensure separation never actually happens?
I fear Unionists, in Westminster as well as at national level, are acting rather like a rabbit caught in the headlights of a fast approaching car – afraid to move; mesmerized by the SNP’s momentum, stunned into frozen inaction. There are worrying echoes of the Irish trouble in Parliament under Gladstone and the chaos over the Home Rule Bill.
There is a battle underway between whether a ‘muscular Unionist’ approach – as Gordon Brown puts it unfavourably – which was preferred it was said by the former Number 10 Union adviser and Vote Leave stalwart Oliver Lewis, who is a sad loss to government – versus a ‘soft, love bombing, money spending’ approach – some would term it ‘appeasement’ - said to be favoured by Michael Gove, who has now taken back the reins it seems. So, there are reports of billions more being spent on better road and rail infrastructure in Scotland and Scottish patients being treated in England.
Robustness versus Appeasement? The debate is actually far more nuanced. But this is what I would propose as a strategy, which has elements of both:
1. A review of how Barnett formula payments are allocated
Some time before these elections I sent a strategy paper for discussion to Michael Gove, Oliver Lewis, and senior Scottish politicians including Douglas Ross. It proposed a Treasury review of the Barnett formula - not to get rid of Barnett, because we Unionists believe in the Union, but to indicate publicly and clearly how valuable Barnett is to Scotland – and to Wales and Northern Ireland too. The SNP are now on record saying they don’t want Barnett payments – a position advocated in the Sustainable Growth Commission report written by economist and ex-SNP MSP Andrew Wilson, and liked by the SNP Finance Spokesman Kate Forbes. This is extraordinary given that Scotland is now receiving, as Andrew Marr pointed out to Sturgeon, £1,670 more per head – that’s £15 billion a year, £200 billion extra in the last 20 years. Their tax revenues are £300 less per head too.
There are no explanations how they would fill the hole; other than vague references to Trident. Massive tax hikes and austerity beckon. Losing these payments would play badly: another recent poll found 62% young Scots are pro-independence but this drops in half to 31% if it costs them £1,000 each.
Yet the SNP maintain the fiction that Scotland subsidises the UK! A poll just days from the election found that 57% Scots believe this! Sturgeon told Marr “I don’t accept that characterisation” – it’s not a characterisation, it is a proven fact.
I believe we must end the block grant that allowed the SNP to squirrel away billions in funds, £2.7 billion allegedly of Covid funds - for a possible new Scottish Central Bank. Voters I called told me that schools are not returning exam fees; Covid money for businesses have been shamefully retained by the SNP Government.
If the SNP wants to be in the EU, then it would be good practice to have to apply for individual grants (say for 3 years) for extra NHS spending, schools spending, law enforcement spending, transport spending from the UK Government. This is not ‘muscular’, it is good husbandry and fair enough for the spending of UK Taxpayers’ monies. This should also be done for Welsh and Northern Irish Barnett funding. If they don’t like these sound management requirements, then they should use their national tax raising powers to fund the extra public spending. The Scottish top income tax is already 45% not 40%.
2. Adoption of a ‘layering’ approach, with a UK top layer, instead of the current ‘silo’ approach, where all sectoral responsibilities are done nationally
This is a major flaw with devolution. Like a gain silo, all powers in certain delegated areas are passed top to bottom to the Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly and Northern Ireland Assembly. Others are retained in full by the UK Government when perhaps they could devolve more – over farming and fishing management, for example.
The handling of Covid restrictions through four national bodies has been disastrous for the Union – Sturgeon was able to milk the briefings, and many voters liked what she did but didn’t want independence, and Drakeford obtained a bounce too, whilst Boris Johnson was frequently left with the criticism.
We should have ‘layered’ it – public health and the NHS – so there is one UK-wide policy on air flights and when pubs open (and with booze available!) rather than a confusing mess of varying restrictions; often deliberately varied for political ends. We are one country and should behave as one country.
Of course, all the nations should retain a powerful voice in arguing for the best UK policy. But no company would present itself in such a divided and muddled manner.
I am pro devolution; but it is devolution, not independence paid for by the UK. So the UK must retain overall control at the UK-wide level, even if that is a thin top layer.
There should be a guiding principle at the heart of layering: no individual UK citizen should be disadvantaged or discriminated against by the actions of devolved national body. So, closing the Welsh border like Drakeford and Sturgeon both did with England would be ruled out – either the whole country is in lockdown or is not; or small units or local counties locked down.
I think this should also rule out discrimination on student fees in Scotland for example – and I was at student at Edinburgh when we were all treated the same. English students had to pay higher fees than local Scots (who could be English living in Scotland) or even EU students, who also generally had free fees under EU laws.
All of these things are using UK monies to create disharmony and division within the UK. The same is true of care homes or was too of prescriptions. The kind of ‘freebies’ – free laptops etc. – the SNP were able to offer voters should also be subject to scrutiny – with grants being requested off the UK. Over time, a more uniform UK-wide policy would arise and silly games ended.
Devolution also means more powers at the sharp end – to local councils. I would like to see county and city councils obtain more powers, devolved from national bodies and Westminster, and indeed from the over abundance of mayors Heseltine favoured. Whilst we need an overall high UK layer for the NHS say, which can help drive up standards in Wales and Scotland, I also think local hospital management and many services could be contracted and delivered by local councils. Councils used to have their own hospitals. A return to that is real devolution, and should be UK wide.
Schools too should be given more freedom to run themselves. I like the idea of franchising out schools by local authorities – to bring in the best experience and practices of successful operators from elsewhere to drive up standards and ferment innovation – such as Fettes and Gordonstoun running franchised state schools, just as Winchester runs schools in the Far East, Middle East and a state academy nextdoor. Scottish education used to be the envy of the world, now it has become sadly diminished. Not privatisation, as many would be run by charitable trusts, not profit making companies.
3. Promote the UK British brand, as other major corporations promote brands
Why does Coke need to advertise? We all know what it is, looks like, tastes like. It is a household name. Yet every year it relentlessly spends millions in advertising in what marketing people (like I used to be) call ‘brand support’. Every time the SNP have a rally or march or wave the Scottish saltaire around, they are building the independence brand. It is time to support the British brand. The saltaire forms the core of the Union flag anyway.
For heaven’s sake, we don’t even mark the Anniversary of the formation of the British Union - nothing marked it in 2007; but we did the 100th anniversary of Northern Ireland; and by default the Republic of Ireland, this year. We must stop being so apologetic and walk tall as proud Brits – do a London Olympics, Danny Boyle type number. Didn’t we all buy into that as Team GB? Last Night of the Proms in Scotland is reluctant to wave Union flags.
Successful brands know what they stand for, what their core values and attributes are, and sell those proudly. I think we are muddled as Unionists on these, partly due to humility and partly due to not having to. We need to do a lot of thinking about what the core values and attributes are for the United Kingdom, and then go sell them.
No. not some naff, nationalistic, plastic bag campaign; but one that is subtle and emotive. The Scottish piper to Lord Lovat who led the D-Day Landings, the thin red line at Balaclava, where Scottish soldiers saved the British forces from overwhelming odds, the Scots Greys at Waterloo shouting ‘Scotland the Brave’! This is the Union working together. All the conflicts, inventions, expeditions, adventures we have shared as fellow Brits, facing a common enemy or challenge.
I liked the ‘GREAT Britain and Northern Ireland’ campaign that used to adorn Eurostar stations such as Brussels. It sold Britain as a tourist and investment destination in a classy, positive, appropriate way. We must emphasise togetherness, not division.
Our shared values, history, geography and peoples – 1 in 10 residents in Scotland are English, many Scots live out of Scotland, and we are often intermarried – my father was Scots (and Welsh); my mother English (and a bit of Irish). The EU is always doing this – claiming credit somehow for much of Europe that was built long before they even existed. The EU stars are themselves a corporate brand.
The BBC mocked the British flags behind Ministers – they should take a hard look at themselves and promote the best of British – it’s in their name; and BBC Scotland and many Scottish papers are too apologetic about towing the SNP line. Look how British Airways stupidly removed the British flag from their planes, to be replaced by a mess of multiple colours and visuals, and had to bring them all back.
Exchanges, such as between schools in different nations, have their place. I would like to see – or hear – all schoolchildren to be able to sing all national anthems of the 4 nations regularly (Ireland’s Call and Soldier’s Song for Ireland - as important to recognise both traditions), to celebrate our nations and not allow the nationalists to seize differences to foment division. Like we love singing at 6-Nation rugby games. We are patriots – we love our country; and others too and not nationalists – who love their country by hating others.
We must put aside the normal British reticence to be too overtly British or embarrassed, for we are in a battle for our survival. I remember a UKIP Lord berating me for the idea of teaching our children to sing the British National Anthem. This is not nationalistic, it is our common anthem we use for royal events and the Olympics. Yes, we should drop the verse about ‘rebellious Scots to crush’ and move on from the Jacobite origins. We just need a simple common patriotism that unites us all in the way US patriotism is so open and endorsed by all, regardless of their background, race and politics.
4. Ruthlessly expose the SNP’s mythical claims, absurd assumptions and dodgy economics, that would spell disaster for the Scottish people
Sturgeon has looked deeply uncomfortable and vague when asked about her plans for independence, particularly the economic plans. In 2014, a massive 500-page White Paper set out the plans, and fell down on what currency Scotland would be using. The pound for a bit, then the Euro, or maybe a Scots currency – but that could mean higher borrowing costs, and a devaluation in pensions and benefit payments currently paid in pounds; same with the Euro.
Having another country setting your interest rates without any formal say or input, and under no duty to mitigate the effects, would mean yet more austerity and tax rises on top of having to fill the Barnett hole. There is the issue of financial services having to head South to stay within the regulatorily ambit of the Bank of England. Edinburgh manages more funds than Frankfurt, and Glasgow and Perth need financial services. If Scotland had become independent before the economic crash of 2008/9, it would have been bankrupted trying to save RBS and the Bank of Scotland, that the UK still props up even now.
There is a battle of the ‘Head’ and the ‘Heart’ – the SNP appeals to the emotion of the Heart, but in 2014 hard reality – the ‘Head’ cut in. I met voter after voter in Perth campaigning with Murdo Fraser on a solid Labour council estate who were attracted to the notion of independence, but the ‘Head over Heart’ economic reality on TV convinced them not to take the risk. That is when I knew we would win the Referendum.
As well as the emotive pro-British campaign to appeal more to the heart and emotions, we need to hammer the SNP on their ill-formed plans and economic innumeracy. I pity defence spending, which they would take out of their budget all together, which would disappear almost entirely, leaving fishing vessels, a rump army and small planes to ward off frequent Russian incursions. New Zealand has no fighter jets and is kowtowing to China now.
5. Embrace Brexit with enthusiasm: Bogus Independence vs Real Independence with Brexit
As a Brexiteer, I can emphasise with the SNP’s desire to run its own country, if not sympathise with it. I understand the passion, the belief the change will bring a transformation and independence from running one’s own affairs. But all this needs a healthy dose of reality – the UK has successfully left the EU after 48 years, but can stand on its own two feet, but I doubt Scotland can leave the UK at all easily after 300 years plus.
I do think that what I call an ‘Adam Smith’ Scotland could be a successful independent nation – one that embraces low taxes, low regulation, free trade, tightly controlled public spending. But this is not the SNP vision – which is essentially a hard left, high tax, high regulation, protectionist, high public spending Socialist religion.
What they offer is not real independence but bogus independence. They actually want a different form of dependence - a poll showed most nationalists want to keep their British passports. They want to keep the pound, but joining the EU as a new member requires joining the Euro and with its maximum deficit criteria of 3% - not the 9% deficit Scotland has now; 25% with Covid measures included. Eye-watering cuts would be necessary, like in Greece, probably for a decade of wrangling.
Not only do the SNP want to depend on other country’s currencies, they want to depend on the Bank of England as the central bank. How independent are you when you have your interest rates and QE set by London – but without any say anymore? How much of UK debt could an independent Scotland finance, as oil dries up and financial companies and higher taxpayers flee South?
They want to hand back control of fisheries and to surrender newly won back quotas – to Brussels. Start throwing over quota fish back in the sea again, dead.
They want to return to the French system of the Common Agricultural Policy, hurting Scottish farmers, and to abandon over 70 British free trade deals, which have gone beyond EU trade deals, or give up big deals the EU has failed to do, like India and the USA. Scotland is a great exporter – and a UK-India free trade agreement could mean the end of 150% tariffs on luxury goods like Scotch whisky. Will they happily return to 150% tariffs given the EU has failed to do a trade deal in 12 years?
Scottish Unionists should now demonstrate the real independence Brexit now offers. That means I am afraid, abandoning the Remainer default position which is highly evident even amongst fellow Scottish Conservatives. Ruth Davidson I have huge regard for, as a remarkable politician and individual – when I helped campaign for her in 2016, it was all Ruth rather than the Tories.
But she was vicious with Boris Johnson at the last EU Referendum debate in Watford, which I attended, and relations haven’t been easy. Douglas Ross now needs to embrace the benefits of Brexit, whatever the party’s original views were. For a start, it is 5 years next month since the Referendum, Brexit is happening anyway, and the opposition is going to try and blame us for it whatever, so we might as well own it and sell its considerable benefits.
This stance has not helped relations within the Conservative Party, and the Prime Minister deserves more loyalty and less criticism from the sides more befitting of an opposition party. We need the full Westminster team up in Scotland – Rishi Sunak, Matt Hancock, Michael Gove, Liz Truss etc. - selling the benefits of the Union as part of the branding campaign.
It should be noted that more Scots voted for Brexit in 2016 than for the SNP in the 2017 General Election, that there are well over a million Scottish Brexit voters, that they put a UKIP MEP into the European Parliament in 2014, and that one third or more of SNP voters are pro Brexit. As we saw in Hartlepool, which was 70% pro Brexit, if you engage with those voters you can swing the political pendulum dramatically. The Brexit-loving fishermen in Banff and Buchan nearly won that seat off the SNP. There are real opportunities here.
So, overall if Unionism raises its game, boxes more cleverly and consistently, I believe we can see off independence pressures, as Canada saw off the Québécois demanding Quebec’s breakaway in a second close Referendum in 1995; it quietened the issue down-for decades thereafter.
David Campbell Bannerman is a former MEP of 10 years 2009-19 – for the East of England. He is related to former Scottish and British Prime Minister Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, who oversaw the 1907 Union celebrations. David served as a Special Adviser on the Northern Ireland Peace Process at its start in 1996-97, stood as a Scottish MP candidate in 1997, is a leading Brexiteer and strategist, with an expertise in international trade. David is on the Scottish Conservatives Parliamentary list.