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Standard Life threat shows where power really lies

Standard Life's statement that in the event of a “Yes" vote in the Scottish referendum they would leave Edinburgh, forcing 5,000 employees to choose unemployment or emigration, shows up the narrowness of the independence debate so far.

The insurance company said it would have no choice because Westminster has ruled out a currency union with an independent Scotland which would be denied the possibility of retaining the pound.

The Edinburgh-headquartered company’s statement serves as a reminder of where power really lies, and the reality that political power, whether located at Westminster or Holyrood, means nothing without economic and financial authority.

Just as Standard Life was putting in the boot, the Royal Bank of Scotland posted massive losses for the sixth year running. The essentially bankrupt bank announced that it has decided to pull out of some of their riskier activities and focus on "bread and butter banking".

Is that the right or wrong thing to do? One thing is for sure, we were not asked though we as taxpayers nominally own the bank. RBS CEO Ross McEwan declines to say if the bank will leave Edinburgh if there's a vote for independence in September’s referendum.

But no way can a few million Scottish taxpayers bail out that behemoth when the next crisis strikes. They would just have to crash, taking thousands of jobs and millions in savings with them. The same goes for the Bank of Scotland.

The problem is there is no real transfer of power on offer as a result of the referendum. Alex Salmond's business-loving, oil-addicted party do not present a materially different future as a result of independence. So the SNP has a very narrow platform. In effect all they can offer is "Scotland ruled by Scots" and "no more Tory governments".

Given that the SNP and One Nation Labour are equally willing to kow-tow to ruthless corporations (remember the shocking betrayal at Grangemouth last year), that's pretty uninspiring.

The SNP had no answer to the question, what will happen if Scotland is excluded from a shared currency? They simply called Osborne-Alexander-Balls "bullies" and said they would never carry through the threat.

They didn't point out the obvious, that this shows that the three main parties are entirely in agreement on economic and financial issues, with absolutely no difference between them. That's because the SNP share the same ideology!

It couldn't have been clearer this week, when the ConDem Cabinet met in Aberdeen and the SNP Cabinet met just down the road at Portlethen. They may have been separated by a few miles, but they simultaneously presented the same fawning, acquiescent policies to the giant oil corporations.

If the SNP cannot give any powerful reason why people should vote for independence, nor can Labour give any meaningful reason why they should not

This independence referendum is certainly putting questions of democracy and the realities of state and economic power into sharp relief. It is a disruption of the status quo that is causing huge distress, particularly for Labour.

If the SNP cannot give any powerful reason why people should vote for independence, nor can Labour give any meaningful reason why they should not. A strange scene yesterday at Westminster underlines this.

SNP MP Pete Wishart went into the voting lobby to see which Scottish MPs had turned up to vote in a motion on the bedroom tax. Scottish Labour MPs failed to even turn up last time, to their eternal shame.

East Renfrewshire MP Jim Murphy rushed up to Wishart screaming "fuck off, fuck off, fuck off..." over and over again. It was a bizarre scene by all accounts, but I would argue this unbearable tension felt by Scottish Labour is about more than loss of seats and personal incomes.

As Labour cannot advance either a socialist case, a working class solidarity case for the continued union of Scotland and England or principled support for self-determination, then what have they become? Demonstrably, undeniably, another party of big business, a process that began with the Blair governments. Neverthless, Labour’s crisis over Scotland is an historic moment for the party of Keir Hardie.

Penny Cole
27 February 2014

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