This is my first blog post and more than likely my last. I’m not big on public declarations, political or otherwise, and hitherto I’ve always preferred to keep my views private. However, as the most important vote of my lifetime approaches, I’m disturbed by the tone of some of the rhetoric on both sides and I think the way some people are characterising the sides in the debate is unhelpful at best and malicious at worst. The sniping, misinformation and borderline bigotry will no doubt ramp up over the next few weeks and it will be easy to forget that this is not a decision about our history, our patriotism, our military and sporting allegiances, the personalities of political figures or any other topics which naturally inflame passions and obfuscate the real question. It is, pure and simply, a decision about the best way to manage public money for the maximum benefit of all in this corner of the world. That’s not to belittle the question or say it doesn’t matter, because it really, really does, but there seems to be an inclination on both sides to suggest that this single decision will cast in stone our political response to each and every future circumstance, which of course it won’t. That’s what we elect governments for and this isn’t an election. It’s a straightforward question of whether we want to be able to make those decisions for Scotland in the future or not. So I’ve decided to articulate now why I’ll be voting ‘Yes’ to that question and why I believe others should too.
I’ve always considered myself British. Scottish first, but still British. My pride in British achievements past, present and future is undiminished – It’s just that I’ve come to the realisation that these great British islands are just too big and too diverse for a political union ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to work anymore. An independent Scotland able to control its own policy and destiny would, in my opinion, make Britain (the Islands we share, rather than a United Kingdom) greater.
We are entering a new age of politics, post-globalisation; one that requires new approaches. Scotland is a country which has always been starkly different from its neighbours in the union geographically, economically, politically and culturally. It is time therefore, that Scotland was given the opportunity to respond to this new world in the most appropriate way given those unique attributes and the opportunities and challenges they present. No UK government could ever look after Scotland’s best interests without being criminally negligent, as this country and it’s 5.3 million people have quite different needs from the 10 million people in London, the 44 million people in the rest of England, the 3.1 million people in Wales or the 1.8 million people in Northern Ireland. Getting to make some of the decisions locally makes little difference when the overall political agenda is set on a scale on which Scotland is less than 10% of the picture (and a section which rarely makes a difference to the outcome of elections).
What about the promise of new powers in the event of a ‘No’ vote? Well, putting aside the fact that a very similar promise was made before the 1979 referendum and then reneged upon, such powers will likely be unusable. The ability to make small, cursory changes to income tax, is in reality impracticable. Without the accompanying full control over spending, it is a power that only becomes advantageous in terms of public spending should a Scottish government choose to raise taxes above UK levels. That would surely be a politically suicidal move for any elected power in Holyrood. And make no mistake, any new powers for Scotland will come at a price; most likely a guarantee of no future referenda. That we never try this kind of upstart nonsense again, regardless of any future change in circumstances for the union.
Given the recent TV debate, you’d be forgiven for thinking the most important question in all of this was currency. That’s clearly misleading. Sterling without the additional support of Scottish money would naturally and quickly erode in value – no remaining UK government could allow that to happen by refusing to negotiate with a Scottish government. Nevertheless, an independent Scottish pound, if that was the route we were forced down (extremely unlikely as it is) will almost certainly be no more fragile than a newly weakened Sterling and therefore ensure a form of parity regardless. This simply isn’t a factor that should be a genuine cause for concern though – it is, however, a convenient and easily understandable (to us ‘little people’) way of creating some fear around change.
The real central issue of the referendum is whether Scotland would be economically better off managing its own revenues. And the answer when you cut through all of the nonsense to the fundamental facts is very clearly yes. Scotland is contributing more to the UK per head than the rest of the members . I’m no fan of Alex Salmond, nor, as a lifelong Liberal Democrat voter, of the SNP, but they’re NOT lying to you. In every one of the last 30 years, the amount of tax revenues generated per person in Scotland really was greater than for the UK as a whole. The only way in which that interpretation can be skewed is if you take our oil resources (which, by the way, any open minded internet trawl will tell you are likely to be about to increase greatly rather than diminish) and allocate them mainly to the rest of the UK. Whatever your views on independence are, I find it hard to believe anyone could reasonably argue that in the event of a ‘Yes’ vote we would have to redraw the map and hand the waters around our shores to rUK. Undeniably, oil-related taxable activity would take place in Scotland’s sovereign territory and such taxation would therefore be set and collected by Scotland’s Exchequer.
Our spending is also proportionally less than the rest of the UK at 44.2% of GDP over the last 5 years against a UK average of 45.4%. So assuming an austerity era UK level of spending is reasonable, then we could easily afford to spend more public money in Scotland post-independence with no net negative impact in relation to the rest of the UK. We would be richer immediately. But this is just the beginning, by making economic policy based on Scotland’s unique economic opportunities we stand to gain a great deal more and give ourselves the chance to build a truly prosperous country. Why would you vote no to having that chance?
So be proud of Britain, be proud of our shared history, our global achievements our impact in war and in peace. We’re not voting to eradicate these things. We still share these British Islands and will therefore remain British (if not part of the UK). We aren’t voting to become enemies; we’ll remain the closest friends and allies working together globally and domestically. Hate Salmond and Sturgeon if you like, vote them out at the next Scottish election – this isn’t about them even if they have a clear voice in it. Just don’t vote against Scotland and our last, best chance to change our fortunes.