Why I think, after considerable thought, that Independence could well be good for Scotland.

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At no point in my adult life have I ever felt the compulsion to break free from the union of Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England.  My naive view has always been “what isn’t broken doesn’t need fixed”.

Even when the SNP smashed their way through an electoral voting system that was designed to favour coalitions over overall majorities (with my support – but check out the alternatives, both at the time and now, if you like) I was not even remotely interested in an independence vote.

Since their announcement that an independence referendum would be held at around the time that nationalism could be at an all time modern high (Commonwealth Games and Ryder Cup in close succession) I’ve failed, until recently, to have my fire ignited.

The reason for this disinterest, apathy actually, has been the quality of debate.  I’d heard little in the way of compulsive argument in the mainstream media and little more than rhetoric and, frankly, slightly xenophobic, pro support and ill-informed anti- counter-arguments.

The whole thing has been slightly embarrassing if I’m honest.  “Aye”  “Naw” “Aye” “Naw” has more or less summed up the discourse.

However, bubbling under the surface has been a steady stream of well thought out pro- arguments, mainly from the arts community to which I am close.  Again I largely ignored these because my gut feeling was that artists are by their very nature often anti-establishment and more in touch with the cultural DNA of a community than the average man or woman.  Their creativity can be inspired by an almost preternatural attachment to the environment in which they live rather than a rational assessment of the facts

The ‘No’ vote (Better Together) is well funded and has the massive advantage of being able to prey on the human instinct that eschews change and is fundamentally risk averse (If you don’t believe me do some reading on behavioural economics and, in particular, enjoy reading the seminal book on the subject Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth and Happiness’ by Thaler and Sunstein). 

Nudge-cover

In comparison the ‘Yes’ vote seems slow, maybe deliberately so, in getting out of the blocks.  And when I say slow, I mean glacier-like.

And so, I’ve been unmoved by the whole sorry process; until recently.

What caused me to change my view was actually a deep-seated nervousness that this whole, potentially life changing, chapter in my life and my nation’s history was in danger of passing me by.  That I, like most of my family, friends and colleagues, would assume a position (most of us anti-Independence) based on gut feel.  “We’re part of the UK; a nation that punches way, way above its weight, so we must be OK.”  That I, like most of my family, friends and colleagues would vote no because I’d heard nothing substantive to reinform my media-addled opinion.  For “Aye” “Naw” “Aye” “Naw” read “Whatever”.  And like most of us my default position (risk averse) would be “Naw”.

I felt deeply uncomfortable about this.

So I set out to have an opinion.

First stop.  The ‘No’ vote.

What interesting pro-union essays, manifestos or informed publications should I read?  Well, you tell me, I haven’t found one yet.

I have heard interesting sound bites in the news, such as we’d have to switch our mobile phones to roaming if we crossed the English border (following border checks of course) post independence.  Now that’s not helpful.  It’s not true, it’s not credible and it’s silly.

Last week Theresa May dropped an unsubtle and purely scaremongering threat that Scotland would be dropped from the protective embrace of the big 5 English speaking nations and the intelligence pooling .  Oh come on.

And so to the ‘Yes’ vote.

I’m not a Nationalist, never have been. But as I said earlier I’d voted for the SNP at the last election because the quality of political argument from the alternatives (50 shades of Iain Gray) was so bad it actually made me wince.  Salmond, love the cheeky wee monkey or hate him, kicked arse so hard that the entire field of opposition leaders resigned post election, only to be replaced with slightly less inept Westminster stooges.

So, you might argue that I was already subconsciously nudging my way towards the Yes box.  Not that I thought so.

I am now though and the reason for this is that I read the recently departed Stephen Maxwell’s astounding extended essay on the what’s, whys and wherefore’s of Independence.  Warts and all called Arguing for Independence: Evidence, Risks and the Wicked Issues.

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Stephen Maxwell is a lifelong SNP voter so you’d expect him to be pro independence (although actually he would argue strongly for Devo Max too) and so it transpires.  But it’s the quality of his argument that makes this book essential reading.  And by argument I mean just that.  This is no Malcolm X style hustings sermon, it’s an all things considered, and shared, evaluation of the pro’s and con’s of crossing the ‘Yes’ box – and the Rubicon as a result.

It draws on precedence widely (Ireland, Iceland, Scandinavia in particular – because these are the economies that most readily reflect the Scottish ecology) and considers the many, many what if scenarios that could change Scotland, post-independence, for better or worse.

What if;

  • We run out of oil? (quicker than expected)
  • There’s war?
  • Europe rejects us (the Spanish hold pretty strong fishing gripes)?
  • The banks collapse (again)?
  • Alex Salmond pisses everyone off (again)?

I hear these arguments regularly from the “aye but” No camp.  No, actually all I hear from the ‘official’ no camp is uncompromising stonewalling.  Not debate, no weighed up arguments.

Just no.

Oh, and that Alex Salmond pisses them off.

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And sadly, most of what I hear from  the ‘official’ yes camp is the same.  (Apart from the Alex Salmond bit of course.)

But I digress, back to Maxwell.  He rightly tempers his argument with these negative ‘what ifs’ because these need aired and intelligently valued so that the more positive ‘what ifs’ can be reasonably contextualized.

You can read it yourself for the detail but I’d summarise them, without referring to notes, thus;

  • Would you rather your country was run from your country or from another country by a coalition you didn’t vote for and that even the majority of the rest of its own country didn’t vote for. (I won’t go into the demographics of this mob as Maxwell does it better than I can – but I’m sure you can work it out for yourselves.)
  • The recent history of Westminster interventions on exclusively Scottish issues (in particular) fisheries policy has been, at best, indifferent, or worse, inept.
  • The economic balancing act of tax raising/distribution has long favoured Westminster; Barnett Formula or no Barnett Formula – yes, yes I am referring to our oil.

And speaking of our oil;

  • If, like Norway, we’d have set up an oil fund in the late 1960’s we too might have a £300bn war chest – not to mention widespread investment in de-risking the Klondyke.  It’s not too late.
  • It’s only half exhausted (and that’s before we explore deeper waters)
  • It can fund R&D into renewable energy technologies which, if proven (and yes risky), will put Scotland on the front foot across Europe – like Norway.

But back to the argument;

  • If you, like me, favour a Social Democracy you ain’t gonna find it any time soon in Westminster.  But consider the SNP’s track record in this area.
  • If you were planning a nuclear attack where exactly in the UK would you aim your sights – London and Faslane I’d argue.
  • Trident costs Scotland £1bn a year.  Few of us want it.
  • HS2 anyone?  Doesn’t come to Scotland.  But we’d be paying for it.
  • Would an independent Scotland have invaded Afghanistan or Iraq (and all that it cost).  That’s a big fat no!
  • The quality of our politicians would rise (the brain drain [sic] reversing).

Yes there are risks.  The oil price might fall (do you think?), renewable energy may prove economically unviable, large corporates may walk (they did in the Irish case –in their droves INTO Ireland), we’d save money on Trident but we’d lose thousands of defence jobs at both Faslane and Rosyth (but we’d get our army back),

I am not a zealous pro-independent now.  I recognise the risks but I do feel I am now better informed and that I at least have an opinion that I can now shape over the coming year.

Hand on heart; do you?

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26 thoughts on “Why I think, after considerable thought, that Independence could well be good for Scotland.

  1. I love the idea… I really do. But in order to go solo, to break from the gang, you need to be a scrapper, you need to want to fight.
    As a nation, I feel we have lost the fighting spirit, maybe hundreds of years ago. We can talk a good game and we can sing about fighting when 40,000 of us are together… but we’re wearing silly hats and freezing our arses off in a stadium and the sad thing is when we do talk and sing about it we know full well we’re walking towards a kicking.
    The idea is certainly romantic bordering on fantastical maybe but to do this we have to be able to pull a punch,to group together, stand up and run a country… not just tick a big “yes” on a piece of paper…that’s what worries me…
    And I think the biggest “singer” of them all is Salmond!

    • Stephen,

      I am a small business owner, part of the broader Business for Scotland network… and I can assure you that Scotland has plenty of scrap, plenty of fight – but it’s not about football, or the battlefield. it’s in commerce. Scots are disproportionately found in boardrooms, we are more entrepreneurial than our English brothers and sisters by almost any measure you want to apply – more business start ups than anyone outside London, more of us who work overseas for a period, you name it.

      This is our chance to have a country that runs more like Norway and less like a wannabe tail nipping mini-USA.

      Yes isn’t the destination – it’s the start.

    • Stephen. The reek of defeatism. With Independence we would have no choice but to get our shit together and fight for our lives. The survival instinct turns boys into men. But actually the economics really, really help us. The idea is neither romantic or fantastical. It is pragmatic.

  2. The unionist love to talk of “going it alone” etc etc. They do this for a reason of course; the phrase conjures up a vision of Scotland marooned somewhere in the North Atlantic. It’s nonsense of course – Scotland would finally become a fully functioning member of the international community, where she belongs. In most areas we ALREADY run our own country. How many people realise, for instance, that the Scottish NHS is entirely separate from the English NHS and has been so since 1948? What we lack is the control of our own resources so that we can guarantee its future. And the figures are clear: we put in more than we get back. Put it this way, after a hard week’s work would you hand your salary over to your neighbour so that they can decide how much pocket money you would have?

    Scotland needs her independence. And she needs it NOW.

    • That they are really up for it. Seeking the best opportunities and getting them. Thank the lord that these will improve in an independent Scotland and our brain drain will be reversed,.

      • Interesting how you all seem to think that I’m defeatist and a NO voter. I’m neither. I want to see an independent Scotland. I cry when I hear the 40,000 Scots screaming “Bilsten Glen” the same as you all do. But the reality is we are backing a guy who has done nothing but talk. The nation is not educated in what true independence actually means. You had to read Maxwell’s book to see what could be if we did it right. I just don’t see it being done right under SNP.
        If we’re going to become one of the smallest nations on Earth we need good, strong leadership, not falling in behind a guy who is nothing but a two bit career politician.
        Yes I want independence… but not this time around!

    • …that we are global citizens, with an eye on the greater world, rather than the parochial, inward looking, “isolationists” that the No campaign would have you think?

    • Scotland is not “one of the smallest nations on Earth”. In fact it’s somewhere around the mean.

      To describe Salmond as a career politician is ridiculous. If he was, instead of joining the at the time fringe SNP, he’d have joined LabTory and would probably be PM by now.

      It’s obvious to any but the most blinkered that he is primarily motivated by Scotland’s interests. His putting his reputation on the line over Grangemouth is just the most recent example.

  3. It’s good to see Stephen Maxwell’s book converting people to independence. It’s a fantastic piece of work, and since the man himself can’t be here to see people vote for the thing he spent decades campaigning for, it would be fitting if his book ends up playing a major part in helping win the referendum.

    On the point about Norway’s oil fund, they actually didn’t start it until the 1990s, so it really isn’t too late to start one now. As for the Yes campaign being slow, you’re right that it’s been deliberate – or if not, it’s been paced out exactly as I would have paced it (watch the heat begin to get turned up in the run-up to the release of the White Paper on 26th November).

    Those of us who have been arguing for independence for years have always known that the arguments in favour of the union are pretty flimsy at best. It would have been foolhardy to come out all guns blazing at the very start – there’s no point winning the argument in 2012 when the referendum is in 2014. This has been about allowing a sort of slow-boil campaign, giving people room to engage in the debate on their own time-scale, with plenty of time to make their own minds up about which campaign is telling them the truth.

    It was also fairly predictable that the No campaign would run out of scare stories pretty quickly, and so it has proved – some are already being recycled for the second or third time since January 2012. The more often they come out with them, the more obvious the flaws become – for instance, May usually argues that independence would bring strict border controls between Scotland and England… yet now she’s arguing that it would give criminals free rein to skip across the border to escape justice. The two seem incompatible, yet unionist politicians insult people’s intelligence by expecting them to believe both are true. The same goes for oil, which is either a burden or an asset, depending on whether the audience is Scotland or the wider UK. It’s anti-intellectual guff, it’s dishonest, and it’s downright insulting. I dread to think what it will say about Scotland if such arguments end up winning!

  4. There is only one way to end the “scottish cringe”, and that’s a re-patriation of powers to Scotland, a bringing of our government home. I’m sure we will continue to help our English cousins out though. 😉

  5. Stephen Cosh. I think you miss (with respect) one MASSIVE MASSIVE point and everyone does. This is not about politics. If Scotland goes Independent why should it not return a labour led coalition? This is an economic argument in my book. It’s not even cultural or emotional it’s about self determination and local control.

    • There is no real or justified mechanism in place for that. I fear Salmond would try and maintain control for as long as possible. Can you honestly see him, knowing his career driven past, stepping down easily?
      And no I don’t miss any point and it is ALL about politics. Yes there is a massive opportunity for Scotland to become a Norway, or even a Switzerland, but the politics WILL shape that and we are a renowned left wing country… Norway and Switzerland are not.

      • It would be a good point to step back. He would go down in history. And I don’t think it’s about party politics. Sure the party politicians highjack it but it’s way more fundamental than that IMHO.

      • Stephen, you clearly are NOT considering Alex Salmond’s past here. he stepped down as SNP leader because he believed that he was not making headway on independence to make way for another leader. he only came back when shown that he could make a difference by solid polling – and even then, insisted that he would only take leadership back if Nicola Sturgeon ran with him as a double ticket. He has shown statesman like qualities in the face of narky arrogance and bitterness from Johann Lamont at every FMQs. He is currently the only party leader in the UK with a positive approval rating – and Nicola is right behind him. For all the muck slinging by the No side (and despite your protestations, you are just another one of them – quack like a duck, look like a duck, you will be considered a duck) Alex remains a positive asset to Yes. I’m glad we have him.

  6. ‘Preternatural’ was your classic for a get-a-word-into-a client-meeting for Northern Electric. Gordon Lee had no idea what you were talking about. If memory serves me you read it in a book you were reading at the time. Can’t quite remember which but it’ll come to me.

    • Was it the secret history by Donna tartt? I vaguely recall it. M
      Sent from my BlackBerry® smartphone on O2

  7. Pingback: Scottish independence. “The choice is between warfare and welfare.” | gibberish

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