Politics

The Question of Independence

 

 

I didn’t intend to write about this topic, but over the past few weeks I have become increasingly annoyed and disappointed at the direction the debate has taken. It seems to have descended to name-calling and point-scoring, which only serves to discourage engagement. I’m not singling out either side, as both have been guilty of this. The schadenfreude shown when pointing out mistakes of the other side, the glee when one of their own scores a point… it is all very unedifying and off-putting.

I should state at this point that I shall be voting ‘No’, so if you are only here to find arguments in favour of Scottish independence, you can click to close the tab on your browser and go about your way. Don’t feel obliged to try and convert me. I welcome comments and debate, but I am not going to change my mind. I am also not looking to change minds; this late in the game, I don’t think there are many undecided. Perhaps I am not the only one who has been hiding behind ‘Oh, I haven’t made up my mind yet’, to avoid confrontation.

In the past weeks, I have become irritated by comments on Social Media about ‘No Voters’ who are not intelligent enough to see the truth, or who are having the wool drawn over their eyes, or who haven’t done enough research. I’ve read many articles, both for and against, I’ve watched the debates, I’ve followed conversations both on and offline. Paul Cairney gives some great advice on how to decide how to vote, including not getting annoyed with a particular person – it isn’t about an individual, or a comment on Twitter. 

 

These are my concerns, and the reasons that I will be voting ‘No’ next week. 

 

Economics

No matter how many times I’m shown the clip of Darling admitting that Scotland could retain Sterling, there remains doubt in my mind about the consequences of such an action. I’m not an economist, so I have to rely on those who know more about these things.

Francis Coppola states, ‘ the economic case for Scottish independence is not made, and the currency issue appears fatal’, and Mark Thoma agrees with her comparison to the Euro (I was particularly interested in Mark’s opinion, as he has no affiliation to either side, and I’ve found his writing to be fair and considered). Ed Conway takes a look at the wider economic situation, and compares the future Scotland with the current Greece economy.

Nobel Prize winner Paul Krugman advises Scots,  ‘Be afraid, be very afraid. The risks of going it alone are huge. You may think that Scotland can become another Canada, but it’s all too likely that it would end up becoming Spain without the sunshine’. 

Over the past few days, we’ve heard from numerous large businesses who’ve stated their intention to pull out of Scotland, remove their money from Scottish banks, and/or warned of price rises. All this is denounced as ‘scaremongering’ by YES supporters, but surely we need to think these things through.

If we are an independent country, with our own tax system, customs, employment laws etc, then it will cost companies more to do business here. Will postal and transport costs be increased? Will employers have to pay their staff higher wages? What about National Insurance contributions? They will either pass these extra costs to consumers, or decline to do business in Scotland.

It isn’t scaremongering to ask about interest rates, and what will happen to our mortgages.  Not all of us have mortgages with Scottish banks (and even if they did remain in Scotland, the decisions on interest rates will be made in London). How will the lack of Scottish central bank affect this?  

 

Oil

The case for Independence seems to start and end with oil. How much money we can expect to raise in taxes, how big the reserves are… but I am worried that we are putting all our eggs in the one basket.  I’ve read the statements and theories from both sides, and since no one can say for sure, I am going to have to stick a very big pin in this one.

 

Westminster, Tories and Ukip

I disagree with many of the policies of the current government, and I am comforted by the fact that the blows are softened here in Scotland. I find the coalition to be detached from the issues and concerns of their constituents, and seriously out of touch. Their attitude towards Europe, and the anti-immigration, anti-foreigner atmosphere that they inflame to placate their right-wing, plays right into the hands of Ukip. I worry that we will be forced into a EU referendum, that would see us exiting Europe – which would be a massive mistake.

However, I cannot make this decision based on animosity towards politicians or parties. Who knows how the political landscape will look in a year or two. The decision we make on independence will be long-lasting and irrevocable. We can’t say, ‘Whoops, we made a mistake, can we come back?’ in ten years time. In this, I agree with JK Rowling 

 

It places higher importance on ‘sticking it’ to David Cameron, who will be long gone before the full consequences of independence are felt, than to looking after your own. It prefers the grand ‘up yours’ gesture to considering what you might be doing to the prospects of future generations.

 

Institutions, Embassies and the Forces 

This is one of my biggest concerns, and it has hardly been mentioned. What about the many institutions needed to run a country?

While some organisations and ministries have already been devolved (Thank GOD, Scotland has it’s own school system!), others have not. What happens with DEFRA, the BBC and the Post Office, Passport Offices, Department for International Development, Department for Work and Pensions, energy companies, DVLA… the list goes on.

As an aside, the Scottish Government’s White Paper asserts that BBC services would still be available to those north of the border as they are in countries such as Holland and Switzerland. I’ve lived in Switzerland, and I can tell you that the overseas package is neither free, nor anything like as comprehensive as in UK.

 

“An analysis by the Institute of Government last month showed that around 27,000 civil servants work in Scotland on issues that affect the whole of the UK”
[source]

 

How do you split up these organisations, and more importantly, how does an independent Scotland pay for this in the future?

What happens to the embassies around the world?  Maintaining consulate services around the world doesn’t come cheap, and it is clear that the UK government will be able to bring stronger pressure to bear on foreign governments, than the much smaller and less consequential Scottish government would.

100 embassies instead of 270 British embassies leaves citizens significantly disadvantaged, should we need an embassy. “The cost of running such a service could range from £100 million to £200m, but “set-up” costs could be significantly higher”, we are told.

The annual cost of the MI5 equivalent, according to Scottish Government White Paper, is estimated to be £206m. Whitehall has suggested that this doesn’t include start up costs.

The Department of Defense has warned that the SNP has seriously underestimated the cost of setting up a Scottish Defense Force, and again, this does not take the start-up costs into account. On a more personal level – how do the suggest splitting the troops? The linked article suggests that Scottish troops would automatically be transferred to the new force, but that is ridiculous and offensive. Our troops aren’t chess figures to be moved around the board at the whim of our politicians. They are men and women, with families – does a Scottish-born serviceman whose lived his entire life in England, and is married to an Englishwoman get forcibly repatriated? How do you decide who is Scottish – do they have to be born in Scotland, or descendant of a Scot?

 

Reading these reports leaves me with a feeling of deep unease that we haven’t been given the whole truth. How can the Scottish Government claim that our country will be better off, when major costs have not been taken into account? I am of course aware that the criticism of these figures comes from the UK Government, so are not impartial, but the basic issue remains. Can Scotland afford to run the country, in the way that we wish to it to be run?  

 

Emotions 

I am British. Yes, I was born in Scotland, and I love my homeland. A postcard bearing the words of Sir Walter Scott travelled with me, when I lived abroad:

 

Breathes there the man, with soul so dead, 
Who never to himself hath said, 
    This is my own, my native land! 
Whose heart hath ne'er within him burn'd, 
As home his footsteps he hath turn'd, 
    From wandering on a foreign strand!

 

 

At the same time, I was so accustomed to being termed ‘English’, that I stopped correcting people. For Germans, the distinction between England, Scotland and Great Britain was often not very clear.

So while I say that I am Scottish, I would also say that I am British and European. Sometimes I say ‘We Germans…’, simply because I lived there so long, and the other three members of my family are German. I read this blog post earlier, and this resonated with me

 

I daresay there are people in London, who in all but speech and cultural reference are much more akin to those round here, or even further north, than to those who live scant miles away and make the decisions which govern us all. That a farmer in Cornwall has more in common with a shepherd in Cumbria than the townies who summer down the road or moved there permanently for a new life in the country. Increasingly, surely, we’re not where we’re from: we’re what we have, what we do, what we aspire to. That’s not something which can be defined or contained by borders, national or otherwise.

 

 

Conclusion – Some Thoughts on DevoMax and Federalism

Last week a friend on Twitter was discussing the referendum, and noted that she’d have preferred if there had been a choice of DevoMax. According to polls, it was the most popular option, so no wonder some of us feel a bit cheated out of not being able to choose this.

The response from an  British woman I follow on Twitter gave me food for thought. She replied that she found DevoMax to be unfair to the other regions of UK, some of whom feel closer to Scotland than to Westminster. Why should Scotland get to have it’s cake, eat it, and make trifle out of it?

I have to agree, and that is why the solution for me would be a move towards Federalism, to move political power out of London and into the regions. In this way, all areas of the UK would benefit.

 

I want to stay part of the UK; it is just as much a part of me, as being Scottish is. My hope is that Scotland votes against independence, and that we can find a way to make the country whole again.