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Home> Struggle for Tamil Eelam > Fourth World - Nations without a State > On Scotland and the "English Question" - Alex Salmond, Scottish National Party Leader
THE FOURTH WORLD - NATIONS WITHOUT A STATE
On Scotland and the "English Question"
Alex Salmond, Scottish National Party Leader
For my whole adult life, the "Scottish Question" has waxed and waned in the British political firmament - burning brightly in the 1970s, barely flickering amid the gloom of cuts and closures in the early 1980s, and finally becoming the beacon that is our Scottish Parliament in the 1990s.
The long years of a Tory government running Scotland with a handful of seats north of the border - imposing unpopular policies such as the poll tax - deepened and strengthened the case for a parliament in Scotland.
Baroness Thatcher's reception in Scotland was, at best, mixed, but she did at least teach us the importance of a nation governing itself, instead of being governed by someone else. In many ways, Margaret Thatcher and her legacy are a significant part of the reason why 75 per cent of the electorate rallied to a Parliament with tax-varying powers in 1997, compared to the barely half who voted for a weaker assembly in 1979.
For most people in England, and some in Scotland, it may have seemed that the constitutional question had been answered once and for all.
But that was to ignore two factors. First, the damaging legacy of Tony Blair in Scotland - fuelling a demand for further powers to transfer from Westminster. And second, the growth of an "English Question" in response to a manifest unfairness in how England is governed post-devolution.
The lesson that Margaret Thatcher taught the Scots has assumed an even greater scale and significance under Prime Minister Blair.
Similarly, the annoyance caused by Scottish Labour MPs acting as lobby fodder in the House of Commons, foisting unwanted policies such as foundation hospitals and top-up fees on &gland - free from any responsibility for the impact of these policies - has persuaded record numbers of English people that at the very least they need to control areas such as health, education and housing.
The impact of both trends was demonstrated in an ICM poll in The Sunday Telegraph last November, which showed majorities in both Scotland and England in favour of both Scottish and English independence, while an overwhelming 68 per cent of English people wanted an English Parliament Scotland and England would both be far better off with a new 21st-century relationship - a real partnership based upon equality of status. Scotland would prosper as a small European nation. As we can see from our near neighbours in the "arc of prosperity" - Ireland to our west, Norway to our east, and Iceland to our north - independence works in the modern world. All of these nations have become independent in the last century - it is the natural state for the most successful nations.
Norway, Iceland and Ireland were recently described by the United Nations as the best, second best, and fourth best countries in the world in which to live. But I firmly believe that independence would be good for England, too.
There may be some doom-mongers who think that England is too lacking in resources - too poor without Scottish oil - to be a successful independent country. But I disagree. The people of England are just as capable, just as able, as any other nation to thrive with self-government!
What we also need is to retain the close co-operation we currently enjoy in terms of social, economic and cultural links - in many ways symbolised by our common head of state, and by our common membership of the European Union with a guaranteed home market of half a billion people.
Another look off Scotland's shores gives us a much better and more positive model for co-operation within these islands in the 21st century than the Union ever can. The independent nations of Scandinavia have long experience of working together to promote common interests, and to strengthen the already close relationships that were forged over many centuries.
Over 50 years ago they developed a more modern partnership based on the Nordic Council - having moved on from the union between Norway and Sweden. Norway, Iceland, Denmark and Sweden have been in the same state with one or other for much of their history. Like Scotland, England and Ireland, they have close ties of language, trade, family and friendship. But they made the positive choice to move to a position of equality for each nation, with real partnership at its core.
Theirs is an example for the nations of these islands, which is why the SNP proposes close co-operation within a Council of the Isles on a broad range of areas where we share issues and interests in common - the environment, the knowledge economy, social inclusion, drugs, telemedicine, tourism, transport, and minority and lesser-used languages.
As our world has become more complex and inter-connected, the need for nations to be independent with a direct say in regional and global affairs has become more important - not less. In 1945, there were only 51 members of the new United Nations. In our new century, there are nearly 200 independent UN members - and more than 30 of these have emerged since the end of the Cold War.
Thus in the modern world, the processes of independence and interdependence are mutually supportive and reinforcing. The political imperative to share the same state for reasons of building a large domestic market, or great power projection, is a fundamentally outdated 19th-and 20th-century concept.
In the self-determination stakes, the people of Scotland are ahead of the game both in thought and deed. But I suspect that the people of England are beginning to catch up.