In a few weeks from now, a referendum will be held to decide whether or not Scotland should become a nation state. Scotland has not been a nation state since long before anyone living became such, it being a constituent part of the United Kingdom. However, due to the peculiar constitutional settlement of the UK, Scotland has always been considered a separate nation, and has maintained a separate legal and educational system and has its own established church, which is distinct in practice and history from the Church of England. If Scotland becomes independent, it will, for the first time in modern history, be able to enter into international treaties, issue debt bonds to raise money, and will be free to legislate on any matter it chooses. It will also become embroiled in potentially bitter divorce proceedings with the residual UK, raising uncertainty with regard to currency, and the split of assets and liabilities between the two successor states.
Of course, the UK is consumed by the referendum at the moment. It is unavoidable. Facebook particularly is nightmarical if you do not wish to be propagandized. I have done my best to read as little as possible on the subject, and have tried not to come to an overly settled view on how to vote. I am highly sceptical of both campaigns, and of anyone who is of such a sure view as to be a part of either campaign, as I do not understand why they would prefer either option to such a great extent. As I see it, neither option is unremittingly bad, or fantastically good. When I hear other people say otherwise, I am either doubtful of their motives, or see it as a sign of obsession. In many ways, I think those on the Yes campaign in particular are not dissimilar from myself when I decide I simply must own a carbon fibre crankset. The crankset may improve my performance (it may not), but actually an aluminium crankset may be just as good. The one thing I know for sure is it is going to cost me.
I don’t say this to offend campaigners–this is more a comment on my own alienation from the campaigns and my subjective valuation of the prize on offer. However I am going to vote, so mainly for my own benefit I have decided to set out my views. I do not hope to influence anyone round to my voting intention, but I would hope to inspire hard-set voters of either camp to subject their decision to further analysis, as I will continue to do, from now until probably long after the results have been declared.
You may have deduced from the title to this blog that I am planning on voting yes. This is a relatively reluctant position, as I am not an SNP voter, not a nationalist, nor a patriot, nor even proud, and until the referendum became a thing that was happening, I did not think that it was an important thing to have. However, we’ve gone to all this effort now, the issue is no longer hypothetical, and after considering the issues important to me, I think: yes, it’s probably a good idea. I will set these issues out below, but first, I will make a disclaimer, and also run through (what I see as) the sound arguments against independence.
Now, that caveat: numbers. I am not making a financial case for independence. I think the average person will probably be slightly worse off initially. I can’t see it being disastrous though. But if it is personal finance that is swinging it for you, then I would venture that you are unlikely to be swayed by me anyway, and would only advise you are careful whose opinion that you trust, as I have seen articles by many apparently qualified people, giving dichotomous views, to the point I think the numbers are meaningless, and the people using them are often liars.
And the arguments against separatism–there is prima facie greater risk in independence. We can’t really provide for long term risk, and over the very long term risk is probably equal however we vote, but in the short term there is obviously risk in setting up a new state, in that we can’t be sure of anything–the currency settlement, the European position, how we will be treated by the debt markets, who will be on the constitutional convention, how business will behave, capital flight, etc. These are all real risks.
I also fear the canonization of Alex Salmond, and the end of competitive elections, with the Labour party being split and demoralized, and the SNP’s re-election each year becoming a coronation process akin to the ANC in South Africa. I disapprove of Salmond’s anti-Euro stance (I mean, we may need friends in Europe pretty soon) and I worry about the position of religion in a country that has a poor record on religion and intolerance (and by this I mean I worry that religion will be given too great a place in the constitutional settlement, to the detriment of gays, women and non-whites.) I also worry that, while I, a relatively educated, amateur professional, with no assets and insignificant liabilities, will not be too harmed by any economic decline, there are many people in poverty in my home city who might not cope with even less.
But, I think these concerns are outweighed by the positive aspects of independence. First off: democracy. In the UK, we comprehensively rejected the opportunity to reform our voting system in the last referendum we had–one of few opportunities that the British people have been asked their opinion on anything, and we said: we don’t care about democracy. The UK political system is absurd. It is asymmetrical (devolution in Scotland, semi-dev in Wales, transport-dev in London… etc) and it creates real problems like the fact that Scottish MPs can vote on issues that affect only the English (directly at least). But the main problem is that it is not democratic. The first past the post system is an excellent system in a two-party state, but that is not the state we have, and we never will have again. When you add on the fact that despite House of Lords reform being on practically every party’s manifesto for a decade, it is not been achieved. There is a chamber full of political donors and ex-politicians who have a say in UK law and are not accountable to the people.
Scotland has an inherently sensible voting system for its parliament. The AMS system retains the constituency link while producing a largely proportional result. It also has the added bonus of letting you vote for two different parties, as I always do. Because it is 100% possible to support the general aims of more than one party, and even to have a coalition as your desired government. In the case of independence, there is no need to add a second chamber, or to have a president (nor a need to maintain a monarch, but who knows what will happen in time…)
Second, I self-describe as a liberty-maximizing social democrat or a Rawlsian. Mainly because words such as socialist, communist and Marxist have acquired so much baggage that I see them as best abandoned. I don’t see the Scottish people as being that much to the left of the people of England, and I certainly don’t see them as being more liberal. However, they do hate Tories, and that should keep the electoral make up of the Scottish Parliament a wide step leftwards of the UK.
The SNP itself is relatively left-wing, although I worry about its soundings re lower the rate of corporation tax. Still, the dominant parties in Scotland are SNP, then Labour, then the Greens and Liberals. I would be quite happy with a coalition of any of those parties. Ideally I’d like to see some smaller parties too–the debacle that ended the Scottish Socialist Party as an electoral force was highly regrettable. In time, I’d like to see a Scotland that recognizes the difference between commercial undertakings, who should make profits, employ the majority of people, make things, improve the economy and pay taxes; and social undertakings–those services that can not be delivered at a profit, yet must be supplied for the prosperity of all. Amongst that, I’d be expansive and include transport, education at all levels, water and sewers, childcare, care for the elderly, healthcare, unemployment support, and the provision of key utilities such as gas and electricity, as well as support for the arts.
I believe that, at the moment and for the foreseeable future, a Scottish government is more likely to at least strive for these things, if not achieve them, than a Tory ridden, middle-England pandering Westminster Parliament.
Finally, I am swayed by the opportunities that will be created. As everyone who grew up watching the Simpsons will know, apparently the Japanese use the same word for crisis and opportunity. All the risks that I mentioned earlier will have to mitigated by talented Scottish people. There will great job opportunities opening up as we build a new state. Lawyers, consultants, civil servants, diplomats, and generals will be needed. Likewise, as the business situation settles we will likely see some companies splitting in to Scottish and English divisions, opening up positions for Scottish CEOs and CFOs. And there will be new companies starting up in order to diversify the economy, which is presently dominated by financial services and oil and gas.
This would be an opportunity for the talented people of Scotland to rise to the top and take control of a new state. I have concentrated on the top positions, but of course this also implies that many more middle and lower ranking administrators will be required. All of this activity should boost the economy, and offset some of the risks faced re the currency and debt markets.
So that’s the big reasons that tip me in favour of a yes vote. But I’ll end on a more ambiguous note by considering the borderline issues.
On currency and the economy, I don’t wish to say too much. The currency debate has been poor generally. The no campaign are behaving like saboteurs and I don’t understand why the yes campaign want it so much. In any case, currency union or not, we can use the pound or the Euro, or the dollar should we choose. And when the issue of using a currency and not having any say in its management is raised, I tend to wonder exactly how influential Scotland is on the Bank of England’s monetary committee any way. So it doesn’t sway me either way, but I admit it is a risk.
On Europe: I tend to believe we’ll be fast-tracked in to the EU on the grounds that the EU is an expansionary project, and that we are EU citizens already. If not, then it won’t be the end of the world. We can still join the EEA and benefit from free trade and movement in Europe, and we can join the EU at a later date. Or we could even not bother–Norway seems to do okay. I actually think Europe is more of a risk area if we stay in the United Kingdom, with UKIP wanting to remove the UK, the Tories committed to a referendum, and the human rights act being savaged by all those who wear blue ties.
On the monarchy, well it’s bad either way. I just hope the eventual ascension of King Charles III will cause Royalists the Commonwealth over to re-examine their anti-democratic beliefs.
Finally, on Trident. I’m anti-nuclear, I’m definitely against the weapons, and I am inclined not to support it as a power source either. But trident could be a good bargaining chip in the divorce proceedings. Perhaps we’ll host the UK army and its munitions for a decade in exchange for the currency union that we want for some reason. It would be nice if we just had nothing to do with them though, and got that filth out of our peaceful nation. Either way, this doesn’t swing it particularly for me, as I imagine that complicity is the likely continuing outcome.
So there you go, I hope you’ll agree that none of that was clear cut at all. I’m sure there are a barrage of points I’ve not considered, and another salvo that people disagree with me on, but I don’t claim any expertise on this matter, this once in a lifetime matter, whose outcome will outlast any of our days.