Alex Massie

Iraq as cause of Scottish independence? Hmmmm...

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Ben Crair has a piece at TNR today headlined, The Iraq War is Responsible for Scottish Independence. Really.

Well, up to a point Lord Copper. The "Really" is an unfortunate indication that this pudding may be a little over-egged.

Few people would deny that discontent with the war played a part in the SNP's victory in this year's elections. But other factors were at least as, and probably more, important. Among them:

1. Alex Salmond's return from his Westminster exile. Salmond brings a heavyweight presence that trumped anything the SNP could put up in his absence; it trumped Jack McConnell's pretensions to statesman status too. You wouldn't feel embarrassed being represented by Salmond. Alas, the same could not be said of McConnell.

2. Unhappiness with the Labour party's performance in office, coupled with a sense that if we sent Labour back to power this time we might never be able to get them out. As always, the election was a two stage referendum: did the Labour led coalition deserve to be returned and, if not, was the SNP a sufficiently credible alternative? Just enough people answered "No" and "Yes" respectively. Some left-wing voters who abandoned the Labour party may have done so because of the war, but dissatisfaction with Labour's colourless, dreary performance in office existed across the political spectrum. Labour failed but opposition to the war was not enough to persuade folk to trust the nationalists with power.

3. The referendum promise: nothing made Labour's relentlessly negative campaign (which almost certainly turned off some voters) seem more absurd than the SNP's promise to hold a referendum on independence. By doing so the party removed the greatest obstacle to its achieving power while also, happily, underlining its belief in the essential sovereignty of the Scottish people. Implicit in this pledge was the promise "we trust you to decide our nation's future; Labour doesn't". Equally importantly, the referendum "normalises" independence as an everyday issue, giving the electorate time to come to terms and be comfortable with the prospect. It won't happen overnight- hence a desire to hold a plebiscite in 2010 not 2008 - but it will, the SNP banks, happen at some point.

The point that needs to be borne in mind is that the independence cause is a process not an event; Tony Blair's unpopularity and the Iraq war may help in a short-term tactical sense but they are largely irrelevant to the longer-term strategic objective. The cause ebbs and flows like the tide, but each time it has receded these past thirty years the tide-mark has been that little bit further up the beach than it had been the previous lunar cycle...

So, no. Iraq may have played a part, but she's not the prima donna singing this old song. If Scotland chooses a velvet divorce form the rest of the UK it will be because the electorate is persuaded that this is the common sense way forward; it will not be the result of pique or an intemperate response to an unpopular war or an unpopular prime minister.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

Topics in this articlePoliticsiraqsalmondscotland