Monday, March 18, 2013

From ultra-unionist to separatist - the Tavish Scott story

Willie Rennie has established himself as such a political colossus of late that, by all accounts, primary school children routinely ask their teachers if non-Willies are even allowed to become leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats.  But older readers will know only too well that the Lib Dems are no strangers to Golden Eras such as the one we're currently blessed enough to be living through.  The last few days have provided a poignant reminder that it's a mere two years since the party was presided over by arguably the finest orator of his generation, Tavish "Two Hoots" Scott.  Thrillingly, it appears that the tragic Lost Leader has embarked on something of a political journey since we last heard from him, and has as a result departed decisively from his previous trademark ultra-unionism...sorry, I mean "federalism, but maybe not for a wee while".

Mr Scott put forward the Isle of Man as an example that the Northern Isles could follow.

"The Manx parliament is a good model for Shetland," he said.

"Speaker Roden is a Scot, he's a former young Liberal. He lit the liberal flame in Moray in the 1979 general election.

"But his powers, those of the Tynwald and the powers that the isle has could be copied in Shetland.

"So would the SNP oppose Shetland becoming a Crown Dependency?"


Perhaps a more interesting question is this - why wouldn't the Lib Dems oppose Shetland becoming a Crown Dependency? It would, after all, mean leaving the United Kingdom, and possibly (if the examples of the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands are anything to go by) the European Union as well. I thought the Lib Dems were supposed to loathe this "separatism" stuff? As I say, a remarkable journey in just two years.

What can explain this rapid change of heart? A few cynical souls have suggested that it's all to do with the fact that Scottish independence is suddenly a serious prospect. Tavish was content enough to see his islands have no autonomy at all as long as they were being ruled direct from London, but similar direct rule from Edinburgh is seemingly too horrific for him to contemplate. If there's any truth in that, it would say something rather profound about the Scottish Lib Dems' attitude to the country they purport to represent - they appear to regard the prospect of governance from Edinburgh in much the same way as the Ulster Unionists of the early 20th Century regarded the prospect of 'Rome Rule' from Dublin.

For my own part, I'm entirely comfortable with the push for much greater Shetlandic autonomy, and to that end maybe the Lib Dems should start by getting their own internal party structures sorted out. Surely the Shetland Liberal Democrats should have been granted special status as a Clegg Dependency long ago?

16 comments:

tris said...

As I recall, the islands were given to Scotland by Norway in lieu of dowry payments for a royal bride.

Having been a part of Scotland since the 16th century, I'm not sure that they could become crown dependencies just like that, any more than Bradford could.

What rubbish that man talks.

Why did the Liberals not bring this up when they were in government (sorry, in executive) in Edinburgh?

Doug Daniel said...

I find Tavish's position hilarious. The old "well why stop at Scotland? Why not Independence For Auchterturra? LOL!!!" routine is surely as old as the independence movement itself, but I think Tavish is taking it a bit further. There's certainly a bit of the old "let's show up those hypocritical Nats" about it, but he also just seems to be such an ultra-unionist that he is looking for any way to remain in the union.

Alternatively, he's just saying "well if Westminster can't have Shetland, then neither can Holyrood", essentially taking his ball home. You have to wonder why the guy is an MSP if he hates Edinburgh so much - why not stand for Westminster? Anyway, he'd better watch himself - he might be starting something he can't finish. The Northern Isles might think "hey, this sounds like a good idea - let's vote for independence and then try to become a Scottish version of the Faroe Isles or Åland Islands!"

What he hasn't banked on is pro-independence folk going "well, if that's what Shetland wants, then they should go for it". He expected an uproar, so he could point and go "ahh, one rule for Scotland, another for everyone else". But unfortunately for Tavish, independence supporters truly believe in the idea of self-determination - it's not the sort of opportunistic thinking that so permeates unionism.

However, Tavish might want to stop lying to his own people. It's only "Shetland's Oil" if they become a fully independent country - because Scotland's EEZ extends to 200 miles out into sea, which goes past Shetland. They would only get whatever is within 12 miles of Shetland. Ahhh, once a lying unionist, always a lying unionist.

Munguin said...

I was wondering just how a supposedly democratic and federal party like the Lib Dems claim to be, could have a Scottish branch (supposedly independent of its London parent) that could continue to commit suicide in this frankly crazy way. Why does the Scottish branch continue on this zig-zag path by opposing the SNP to the detriment of everything else, its own political future included? This seems to continue across the UK despite the seeming disgust of ordinary electors and ordinary Lib Dem members (not career Lib Dems I hasten to add). If the rank and file are really in charge why do they not rise up and depose the current leadership and change the party’s course. And if it’s really federal why does the Scottish branch continue its pro-Westminster course despite all evidence that its destroying their party?

As we all know the Scottish Liberal Democrats, like Scottish Labour, is not listed by the Electoral Commission as a separate political party. It turns out that the Lib Dems federal credentials stem from a Federal Committee that is supposed to concert the party’s activities across all the constituent parts of the United Kingdom. Currently there are 34 members of this committee, 15 are directly elected by reps at the party conference the other 19 I assume are appointed (finding this sort of information out is not easy, the Lib Dems website makes no mention of who appoints these 19 members, perhaps some are automatically members and perhaps some are appointed by Nick Clegg or Vince Cable, I just don’t know). What I do know is that the committee is chaired by the party leaders i.e. Nick Clegg. There are 4 MPs on the committee (NC) included, one Welsh rep and two Scottish ones. There don’t seem to be any MSPs. I’m at a loss to understand how such an important party organ is not all directly elected by ordinary members form the constituent nations and why these nations are not equally represented. Surely not because the notion of democracy and federality is just so much hot air for a rubber stamping committee under the direct control of Nick Clegg and the London leadership?

pa_broon74 said...

It seems to me what Tavish is saying is; he'd rather see Scotland break up than see it get its independence.

Its actually a lot more despicable than the obvious double standard. Its one thing to dismantle an unfair union, quite another to partition an old and established nation state that has been an independent country for a lot longer than it has been in a union with Westminster.

Despicable is the wrong word, malicious or spiteful are more apposite.

Richard Thomas said...

Might it cross your mind that what Tavish Scott is putting down is the first part of a negotiating strategy for what he really wants? I suggest you might go back to Jo Grimond's writings to see what lies behind his and Liam McArthur's position which incidentally was published about a year ago.

James Kelly said...

Hmmm, could you possibly help us out and give us a small clue, Richard? It's snowing heavily and I'm not planning a trip to the library today.

By the way, "about a year ago" is still well after the SNP's majority win in 2011, which is what really lies behind Scott's sudden discovery of the virtues of Shetlandic self-determination.

David said...

A modern day, Carsonite partitionist redux, but, perhaps, even thicker if not less hubristic (on appalling iPhone) and need fekcing binoculars to see all this.

The man is in the mould of previous, Anglo partitionists - Fraser of Carmylliie, the pseudo-Machiavelliian "brains", and proxy-uber thug in gown and wig: the "Law" as comprador might over right who "gamghams" to Tavish Scott's agent provocateur moment of calculated "madness".

These people have nil democratic instincts nor desire to entertain them beyond a serpentine desire to fondle and conserve their own interests.

PS If you are in touch with Scotfox, and Rev: Advise.

Anonymous said...

There is no case at all for independence for the Northern Isles.

They have never been nations, states, countries, kingdoms, dominions or territories. They have always been part of Scotland and inhabited by Scots.

They were occupied by an invasion force of Norse just as Yorkshire was in the days of the Danelaw.

Try asking the vile lib-dem traitors if they support independence for Yorkshire and Northumberland.

Craig P said...

Shetland will fight, and Shetland will be right, copyright Tavish Carson.

Funny how I don't recall Tavish campaigning for Shetlandic autonomy during all these long years when Shetland could have been taking advantage of its oil wealth, what could have changed...?

James Kelly said...

I must say I entirely disagree with that, Anon. Shetland and Orkney are clear-cut geographical entities, with distinct histories and cultures. They have every bit as much right to democratic self-determination as Scotland does.

I'm just rather sceptical about Tavish Scott's motivation for suddenly presenting himself as a champion of that right, given that he's shown very little interest in the subject before.

Incidentally, it's a bit of a stretch to say the Northern Isles have always been inhabited by Scots. It's true that the Nordic settlers displaced a Pictish population, but from what I can gather the present-day inhabitants are indeed largely of Nordic descent.

Craig P said...

Note, I have no problem with Shetlandic autonomy, my problem is that Tavish's proposal smacks of pure mischief making - I doubt he believes in it himself.

Craig P said...

Hmm, previous comment disappeared!

Craig P said...

Arse! Could you delete these last two comments please James?

James Kelly said...

Craig, your comment did disappear briefly because it was caught by the spam trap. I released it as soon as I could. Unfortunately I have absolutely no control over the spam trap, and it doesn't work particularly well - some legitimate comments disappear now and again, while an increasing number of obviously spam comments have been getting through recently.

Mick Pork said...

The lib dem MSP taxi of 'power' rolls on inexorably towards the cliff.

The only thing that could possibly mitigate the electoral hammering the scottish lib dems keep getting is for them to distance themselves totally from calamity Clegg's yellow tories in Westminster. Yet their joke leaders/Clegg yes men like Rennie and Tavish keep up this kind of hypocritical stupidity as the lib dem base melts away.

BTW James, what on earth are you doing immediately correcting a minor technical fault with the spam trap and then politely fully explaining precisely what happened? You aren't mocking the dimwitted incompetents over at PB are you? ;)

The cowards blocked me yet again (number 80) after I disagreed with the tory herd. They don't seem to realise just how hilarious it was as everyone could see the tory moderators hurriedly deleting any criticism over the PB right wingers stance on (and this is the funniest part) free speech. If they had a shred of self awareness they might know how cowardly and pitiful it makes them look. Watching the far right simpletons flap about like headless chickens over there at the moment is pure comedy gold.

DougtheDug said...

Neither Shetland nor Orkney has ever expressed any desire for independence from Scotland or the UK as even the joint candidate the Orkney and Shetland movement stood in 1987 was pro Scottish devolution not pro-independence. They regarded themselves as part Scotland then as now.

So what's the arch-unionist Tavish up to with his hard to pin down proposals and his party which stood Jim Wallace against the Orkney and Shetland movement in 1987? Does he understand what he's proposing, does he understand what his party proposed via Ming's commission and in the end does he really care if the two match up? Apparently not.

Tavish wants the Scottish Government to accept that Orkney and Shetland have the right to self-determination and he wants the islands to use the oil and gas around their shores as a negotiating tool. He proposes the Isle of Man and Crown Dependency as a constitutional model and uses Home Rule to describe what Shetland and Orkney should have.

As you've pointed out James, the IoM model places Orkney and Shetland outside the UK and the EU and if Tavish wants Orkney and Shetland to use oil and gas as a bargaining tool then he should have checked out the IoM's territorial waters as its only got 12 miles. Home Rule is as undefined as Devo-Max but in Menzies Cambell's Federal Commission report the Lib-dems do not give Scotland any control of the oil as it's to be a UK asset and Shetland is not mentioned once. If Scotland's not to get the oil under the Lib-Dems plans the chances of Shetland being given control of the oil under devolution is nil. Even the idea of Shetland as a UK exclave in Scotland's territorial waters does not give it any more than a 12 mile territorial limit.

Point three of Tavishes conference motion can be interpreted in several ways. This is what the motion says.

"That the Scottish Government should accept that Shetland and Orkney should have a separate right to self-determination, to secure the best future for themselves, whatever the constitutional future of Scotland."

Does he mean that Scotland should be partioned after independence and Orkney and Shetland stay with the UK or does he mean they should have some form of devolved government and control of the oil whatever the outcome of the independence vote or is he calling for Orkney and Shetland independence? Since he doesn't call for independence in his speech or for the partition of Scotland then devolved government is the most likely scenario but that's not really the point.

Tavish doesn't care a fig for Home Rule for Shetland or Orkney. He's never called for Home Rule for either before 2011 and he knows that the report his party produced regards oil as a UK asset and not for division. All that Tavish wants is to use Shetland and Orkney as pawns to throw fear and doubt into the independence campaign by creating uncertainty about the oil off Scotland's shores. If there's a no vote then idea of Home Rule for Shetland will die as quickly as Tavish thought it up.