Without Britain Glasgow is on the ropes
Glasgow’s status as a vigorous service-based economy is strongly bound up with the preservation of the Union. The SNP has emotive bluster. But it can't answer, and doesn't understand, the real needs of a city whose fortunes, literally, are tied to Britain
SNP leader and Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond boasted on the eve of the opening of the Commonwealth Games that the venue, Glasgow, would be known as, ‘the Freedom City’, after the 18 September referendum on Scotland’s political future. This may be more than empty bombast.
For many months, Glasgow’s poorer areas have been saturated by campaigners for the pro-Independence 'Yes' side. They have one simple but potent message: low income voters are struggling due to the British link, nefarious Tory policies, and the refusal of the Labour Party to crusade for socialism.
Glasgow is a self-contained place. Often in its history as a dynamic industrial metropolis and, since the 1970s, as a struggling post-industrial city, it has had its back squarely to the rest of Scotland.
The SNP and its left-wing allies in the popular front for Scottish liberation, thus play down the folksy Scottish historical themes. In a city where traditionally the ‘change’ party has been weak, a sense of grievance against arrogant faraway rule, primarily southern English, is played up.
It is the kind of rhetoric used by Derek Hatton in Liverpool and Arthur Scargill in South Yorkshire during the 1980s. It has been resonating with normally Labour voters on Clydeside because from their leader Ed Miliband downwards, few Labour politicians are able to make an emotional and practical argument for the union.
The Better Together campaign has marshalled strong evidence to show that Glasgow’s status as a vigorous service-based economy is strongly tied up with the preservation of the Union.
It is a city dominated by public sector jobs from hospitals and schools to universities and welfare provision. In the event of independence, the SNP offers no convincing evidence that it can provide the same level of state provision for Scotland’s ‘Freedom City’.
Revenue will be raised from a much smaller tax base of little more than 3 million people compared to the 50 million who fund British state spending.
The SNP plans to borrow heavily in the future. But if a fragile economy is unable to avoid the fate of over-extended Portugal which was placed under external economic supervision by the EU in 2011, it is almost certainly social spending which will be the first item to be slashed.
Many Glaswegians have fallen for the SNP’s mantra that they are enduring a dark night of savage austerity thanks to rampant Toryism.
The city’s morning and evening newspapers faithfully reflect this view in often highly emotive opinion columns. It may be no coincidence that these press titles increasingly depend on revenue from advertising provided by the Scottish government, without which they would be in dire straits.
Low information voters are told by sometimes very plausible canvassers that the Tory nightmare can only end through separation from England.
Unfortunately, civil society is so enfeebled in the city that there are few respected institutions or voices able to ask people to pause and take stock: how many jobs will be lost if Britain becomes a foreign country and state installations are relocated southwards?
Just who will protect the current welfare budget if it turns out that Scotland cannot walk on water and the IMF needs to be called in to replenish state coffers ?
The SNP and its noisy far-left allies insist that they are engaged in creating a just moral order. A tiny number of influential professionals like Scotland’s outgoing Chief Medical Officer, Sir Harry Burns, have clambered on board the Yes campaign, insisting that a post-British Scotland would be a healthier society.
Perhaps he is right if a population, many of whom have medical conditions associated with a sedentary lifestyle, are required to do agricultural work and get used to austerity on the scale confronted by Britons between 1939 and 1945.
Glasgow is an emotional city and much of the case for separation is based around sentiment rather than hard-headed facts. ‘Truths’ are manufactured based on scanty evidence that the logical end-point for Scotland’s long political journey has to be complete separation from the other countries with which it has long been in partnership.
The country will almost certainly be starkly divided if it turns out to be 'downscale' Glaswegians who secure a Yes vote. All the signs are that the Union will be endorsed nearly everywhere else except Dundee, possibly Edinburgh and some smaller places in the central belt.
The SNP wants to be the party of state and will have to retain the support of the rural and small-town places which have sustained it in recent decades.
Nationalists know that the housing estates and inner city tenement streets where it has been so assiduous, really belong to the political left.
Salmond may call Glasgow ‘Freedom City’ but he has never felt at home there and he is unlikely to spare it from the belt-tightening that will be needed if Scotland is to be as viable as Ireland was when it chose the path of separation ninety years ago.
The attraction of so many Glaswegians to a dreamy cause which holds out few practical benefits, especially for its most hard-pressed inhabitants, is quixotic.
It shows the degree to which risk-taking is in vogue, the extent to which the rebel culture long associated with Celtic Park where the Commonwealth games were impressively launched, now extends far beyond Celtic fans.
The solid persevering qualities which made Glasgow the ‘Second City of the Empire’ have been replaced by superficial and flaky ones.
They are skilfully exploited by a demagogue like Alex Salmond. If his cause sweeps the city away on 18 September, then its hangover will be long and terrible.
Glasgow-born, Professor Emeritus, Tom Gallagher is the author of Divided Scotland: Ethnic Friction and Christian Crisis (Argyll Publications, 2013). Manchester University Press will publish his next book, Europe’s Path to Crisis: Disintegration Through Monetary Union, in September
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