Skip to comments.Quebec's lost cause is a lesson for SNP
Posted on 04/22/2003 7:34:10 PM PDT by Happygal
WE are frequently told by the Scottish Nationalists that it is time Scotland took its place in the world as a fully independent nation.
The SNP is fond of citing the so-called "velvet divorce" that led to the separation of the Czech Republic from Slovakia as an example of civilised secession.
Yet they are not so keen to draw our attention to events that do not fit their world view. Amid the stories of war, the threat of Sars and even the Scottish election you would be forgiven for missing an event of great relevance to Scots politics.
Last week, the citizens of the French-speaking province of Quebec threw out the separatist Party Quebecois and elected a Liberal administration committed to staying within Canada.
Four years ago, I was in Quebec for the last elections, which the PQ won. It was fascinating to observe the similarities between politics in Quebec and Scotland.
The separatists, as they are almost universally described, said Quebec was a nation in its own right and should be liberated from Canada, while the Liberal Party argued that Quebec needed a strong voice in Canada but that the whole was greater than the sum of the parts.
As their opponents predicted, since the PQ victory there has been continued and damaging speculation over the "neverendum" issue - the idea that the separatists would keep staging referendums until they gained the result they wanted.
In their four years, the PQ did not manage to create the right conditions for another referendum, although the threat was always there. But no more. The Liberals, under their charismatic leader Jean Charest, won 76 constituencies while the PQ took just 45. The view in Quebec is that this election has killed the idea of a referendum for at least a generation and that it will lead to better relations between the province and the Canadian government in Ottawa. For the SNP, currently embroiled in an argument over whether it could legally call an independence referendum, this is bad news.
It has taken several decades to get there but the Quebecers have finally decided that endless destabilising constitutional wrangling is pointless. Instead they want their politicians to concentrate on the domestic agenda.
Mr Charest, whose Liberals are far more right-wing than our own dear left-ish Lib Dems, was elected on a "small government" platform, pledging a 27 per cent personal tax cut and across-the-board spending freeze with only education and health spared.
Yet the Liberal leader will be no pushover when it comes to fighting Quebecs corner. He wants greater devolved powers and more control over provincial finances and taxes. The difference is that he will work with other provinces within Canada to achieve that.
I am sure the people of Scotland would have no stomach for the prospect of Caledonian neverendums were the SNP ever elected. However, over time, they are likely to want greater control over their own affairs, including elements of taxation.
A leader who promised lower taxes and smaller government while fighting Scotlands corner within the UK could be very popular.
In Europe, nominal nationalists have long adopted this approach, refusing to countenance separation but using their influence to win the best deal for their country or region.
It will probably take this election for the PQ to learn this lesson. The question is whether the SNP is willing - or able - to do the same?
No dodging a leading question
I AM frequently puzzled by the reporting of Scottish politics.
Last week The Herald, which had conducted the largest pre-Holyrood election poll, discovered that Labour had what to any objective observer was an astonishing lead of 13 per cent over the Nationalists.
Yet this same paper decided that the impact that a repeat of the poll on election day would have on the SNP was more important than Labours frankly surprising, but nonetheless highly significant, lead.
I agree that the loss of two prominent SNP MSPs - education spokesman Mike Russell and Nationalist economics "guru" Andrew Wilson - would be a blow not just for their party but for the Scottish Parliament as a whole. We need all the talent we can get.
However, their problems stem from their relegation to lowly positions on their partys list for the Holyrood second vote, a reflection of the narrow-mindedness of SNP activists who feared that the pair had become dangerously pro-devolution. In Wilsons case he was also punished for bravely advocating supporting England at football.
It would indeed be sad to lose Wilson and Russell but, in the grand scheme of things, their possible departure was not as significant as the lead Jack McConnell has, against expectation, built for Labour.
Dogged work.. but will probe have any teeth?
THE announcement by the First Minister that he will order what he described as an independent inquiry into the Scottish parliament building project demonstrated that an election is the best time to put pressure on politicians over an issue on which they feel vulnerable.
That Mr McConnell has done so is another victory for my fellow Evening News columnist Margo MacDonald, who has been terrier-like in her pursuit of the authorities over the spiralling Holyrood budget.
Margo will no doubt be pleased at her latest victory but there is one group of people who will be far from happy - the senior civil servants in what was the Scottish Office and became the Scottish Executive who played a major part in the parliament project.
Scotlands Sir Humphreys - the Sir Hamishs? - were responsible for much of the early work on the decision on the site and the initial ridiculous £40 million costing of what became Enric Miralles building. Civil servants will always say that ministers, in this case Donald Dewar, had the ultimate authority.
However, from the Permanent Secretary, Sir Muir Russell, downward, there will be many a mandarin in St Andrews House wondering just what Mr McConnell means by independent and just how public and detailed the results will be.