David Cameron mulls defeat over Syria action vote
David Cameron mulls defeat over Syria action vote

Perhaps the cheekiest observation made about the parliamentary vote on Syria was that it constituted "bad news for the SNP" on the grounds that Scots would realise that they no longer required independence to be protected from the London government's warmongering. I dare say the SNP was startled to learn that being on the winning side was such a catastrophe for them but is there a small grain of truth in the notion all the same?

To be fair, if the vote had gone the other way, it's not hard to see how it might have caused severe difficulties for the anti-independence campaign. For the second time in a decade, Scotland's international reputation would have been dragged through the mud due to our enforced participation in an unjustifiable military conflict that we wanted no part of. The risk of a backlash from the voters was obvious, but that will not now occur.

Nevertheless, it's worth taking a step back and considering the nature of the London establishment's angst over the result of the Syria vote. Time and time again, we've heard that Britain's standing in the world will be weakened, that David Cameron will cut a diminished figure abroad now that he no longer has full control over his own government's foreign and defence policy, and that the "special relationship" with the US will be damaged.

All this fretting goes to the very heart of how London perceives Britain's national "mission" - namely to project power in other parts of the world to the maximum possible extent, and to do this, paradoxically, not through the independence of thought and action that is the normal hallmark of a major power, but through the government's absolute subservience to US foreign policy. Relinquishing the perks of being America's most reliable ally is so unthinkable that exactly the same iron discipline is also required of parliamentarians, who must always refrain from undermining the government's vital work of delivering to the US.

Strength is the prize, and can only be won through obedience. It's a strikingly authoritarian world view, and yet it forms the core of the anti-independence campaign's pitch to the broadly centre-left Scottish electorate. According to them, an independent Scotland without Britain's weapons of mass destruction on its soil would lack strength - in the UN, in the EU, and in its attempts to deter North Korea from nuking Glasgow at some unspecified point between now and 2050. The true believers in such a doctrine cannot possibly accept that the Syrian vote makes independence look less attractive to a rational Scot. If anything, we're probably supposed to be concluding right now that the union is a bit more pointless than it previously was because Britain is much closer to being the "weakling" that an independent Scotland would be. And we're certainly supposed to be positively scared that the parliamentarians we elected have unexpectedly helped to cut a government we didn't elect down to size.

This is, of course, nonsense. It's difficult to know whether to laugh or cry at the thought that London politicians are actually capable of misreading Scotland to quite that extent. In reality, we'd get rid of Trident like a shot, and a recent Panelbase poll suggested that Scots who actually fear an attack by North Korea within their lifetimes are almost as few in number as the Scots who fear an attack by space monsters. The electorate quite rightly believes that a non-nuclear Scotland minding its own business would constitute a far more meaningful deterrent than the current arrangement, which in fact leaves the Gare Loch and Loch Long as Europe's No 1 targets for nuclear attack. And nothing did more to drive Scotland into the welcoming arms of the nationalists than the UK parliament's failure to face down "Yo Blair" on the eve of the invasion of Iraq.

By contrast, I suspect that parliament went up slightly in the estimation of Scots last week. Indeed, what happened could almost form the basis for that most elusive of phenomena - the "positive case for the union". A less militaristic UK, more realistic about its place in the world, that is an ally not a slave to the US, and that celebrates rather than cringes when its parliamentary democracy functions in the way it is supposed to. That's quite an attractive prospect for most Scots. The only snag is that we caught a fleeting glimpse of this inspiring alternative UK entirely by accident. Labour members are still scratching their heads and trying to work out how on earth they managed to contribute to it, because the practical effect of their votes doesn't tally up with their own values. They believe in British fealty to the US, and parliamentary fealty to the government, every bit as much as the Tory/Lib Dem coalition does.

Former Labour MSP George Foulkes once caused hilarity by suggesting that the problem with the SNP administration was not so much that it was making public services in Scotland better than in the rest of the UK but that they were doing it deliberately. In a similar vein, the real question posed by the events of last week is this - which of the parties that voted for a better Britain actually did so deliberately? Ironically, the answer is the SNP and Plaid Cymru - and they're the ones who want out.

The good news for the No campaign is that it's just stumbled across a potentially potent argument for Scotland to remain in the UK. The bad news is that it cannot possibly take any advantage of that argument, because none of its supporters believe in it and few of them even understand it.

James Kelly is author of the Scottish pro-independence blog, SCOT goes POP! Voted one of the UK's top political bloggers, you can hear more from James on Twitter: @JamesKelly