The independence disaster

another view
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The Independent Online
Last week in Slovakia I witnessed a country still experiencing the painful effects of the "velvet divorce" achieved by consent on both sides in Czechoslovakia.

Scottish separation would be much more difficult. It is unlikely to be by consent, and our institutions are far more complex and harder to disentangle.

Alex Salmond, the SNP leader, slides easily over the chaos that would inevitably ensue as the economic infrastructure of nearly three centuries is torn apart. The difficulties of separate tax and national insurance systems, and of creating a separate currency, are all glossed over.

No doubt Alex relishes the thought of being Commander-in-Chief of a Scottish armed forces, but that will not solve the problems of poverty and unemployment and of the quango state and private monopolies.

He fails to outline the process of separating Scotland from the rest of the United Kingdom: would 37 Scottish Nationalist MPs at Westminster constitute a mandate, or would a referendum then be necessary? He also fails to address what would happen if the election and referendum results conflicted, or if the terms of separation were not agreed by the rest of the UK.

Independence is a recipe for disaster. It is also unnecessary, since we can have all we need in Scotland without the rupture of total separation. A Scottish Parliament within the UK would give the people of Scotland both legislative and administrative control of all domestic matters. Scottish MPs at Edinburgh would decide on the distinctive Scots law we currently enjoy but have no control over, while a parliament in Edinburgh would by its very existence create a new dynamic of Scottish life and culture.

The first of two criticisms of devolution is the West Lothian question. Tam Dalyell asks how he, at Westminster, would still have a say in education in Blackburn, Lancashire, but not Blackburn, West Lothian. This is a fair point, although it is only the mirror image of what happens at present when Westminster decides on purely Scottish matters. And it need only be a temporary anomaly if a Scottish parliament is the start of a process of decentralisation of power within the whole United Kingdom.

Legislation for England is the one remaining problem, but it is not insuperable. For example, English MPs could form an English Grand Committee for purely English legislation, with representatives from the assemblies in Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and the regions of England making up the new second chamber to replace the House of Lords.

Devolution for Scotland is not a step on the path to independence but a way to stem the tide of separatism by recognising the legitimate desires of the Scots people to have a say in our own affairs, thereby strengthening the United Kingdom.

George Foulkes, Labour MP for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley, is a long-time supporter of devolution.