By Alex Robertson
Watching the most recent sitting of the Westminster Scottish Affairs Committee was like watching a bout of bear-baiting.
This time the subject was Defence, and with not a single member from the governing party of Scotland present, the Defence ministers, Peter Luff (Tory) and Nick Harvey (LibDem) did their level best to fire off shells in the hope of sinking or seriously crippling the cause of an independent Scotland.
They were ably aided and abetted by the egregious Ian Davidson, who was chairman of the spectacle. One by one they pawed over the issues of the small number of air, navy and army bases a future Scotland could support, membership of NATO (judged a very good thing by Messrs Luff and Harvey), whether rUK military ships could ever be built again in Scotland and last and most drooled over of all, who was going to pay for the removal of nuclear submarines and weapons from Faslane.
Mr Harvey informed us that the most recent upgrade to Faslane had cost taxpayers £5Bn, so Lord knows how much a removal and building of a new base would cost – a gargantuan amount averred Mr Harvey. Nobody seemed to be able to get their head round, or even try, how a joint military collaborative arrangement could be assembled and made to work.
The two most striking things I took away from observing this sad affair were firstly the glee, which nobody even tried to disguise, at how the negotiators for Scotland after a ‘YES’ referendum outcome might be trapped, tricked or punished.
Of course, not all the MPs doing the baiting were Scottish or even sat for Scottish seats, some were English from English constituencies, but they all joined in. The Elephant in the room was, of course, who was going to pay the “gargantuan” costs of removing and relocating from Faslane?
Mr Davidson seemed to be aware of the risk. What, he asked, if Scotland held that over the Westminster negotiators’ heads? Then the Scots might be able to use this as a massive negotiating advantage and extract unimaginable concessions from Westminster in return for sharing some of the Faslane relocation costs.
It was fun for the ministers and MPs alike – they could all enjoy speculating on what negotiating position the Scots might take, whilst regarding the likelihood of such a negotiation ever happening as beyond belief. The MoD, the ministers admitted, had given no thought, no preparation and made no approaches to Holyrood for the simple reason that they did not believe it would ever happen.
So much for plan and prepare then.
Of course, I had to keep pinching myself to remind myself that this was the MoD speaking, not usually to be trusted to be open or even honest about anything.
But the second, and larger conclusion to be drawn, and one much more widely apparent across the entire independent Scotland question, was the total inability of Westminster to think outside the box. There is a real and urgent need now to think of new ways of collaboration to the mutual benefit of all involved in the British Isles, Ireland included.
Instead of devising ways to trick or trap, exploit or outdo each other - why can’t Westminster see the immense benefit to be gained for everyone if they spend their energy on seeking out new ways to work together? Defence, Commerce, Energy are just three of a whole range of ways cooperative working which would yield massive savings and benefit all round.
But Westminster gives all the appearance of a great lumbering dinosaur, destined for an extinction nobody wants, certainly not in Holyrood or Dublin. The Queen, on her recent visit to the Republic of Ireland, provided a masterclass in how to repair devastating damage and begin the process of a true friendship. Mr Salmond repeatedly shouts his desire for England and Scotland to be best pals as independent yet collaborative countries.
But somehow Westminster can only play the old mulish game, devoid of intelligence or imagination and firmly welded to the obsessive desire to win. Win-win seems to be entirely beyond their consciousness, and yet if they applied their minds to work with Holyrood and Dublin, what marvels could be wrought to benefit the ordinary people of all three countries.
So let’s please put away the gunboats, stop looking for ways of outwitting and trapping each other, and apply no doubt formidable minds to cooperate, to find and devise new ways of cooperating and partnership without the need to make anybody lose.
With the possible imminent collapse of the Euro, and Heaven knows what else besides, we are all going to need to help each other and ourselves.
It’s not too late to start, but it is late in the day.