Oh Go On Then

3 minute read

Sept 2014: Two weeks to go to the big vote. Lots of heat and noise in the past 2 years, very little light. Recent weeks have seen a real improvement in the quality of the debate, shouty campaign-leader performances aside. As owner of a small business based in Scotland, with all my family and friends here, I have as much to gain or lose from the outcome as everyone else, and now seems as good a time as any to outline why I think we should take this opportunity.

Why bother?

In the 25 years I’ve been paying some level of attention, Scotland and England seem to be going in different directions. This is the crux of it. If, in a few more of those 25 years, UK governments followed policies more in line with what the majority of Scots want – essentially “looking after its people” stuff like health, education, and welfare safety nets for the vulnerable (not the fraudulent) – then no-one would be that interested in independence.

That so many are behind a Yes vote shows how utterly fed up they are with what our UK governments actually do – actions speak so much louder than words. “Education, education, education” Tony? Obviously just Chapter 2, Subsection 3.9 of the “What essential services we should start charging for”. Thanks for that.

This isn’t just “Governments are bad, shrug”. England and Scotland are going in different directions: England’s voters on the whole prefer the Tories. Labour are copying them accordingly. That’s fine, that’s democracy, but as the joke goes: democracy is 11 foxes and a chicken voting on dinner. So let’s agree to disagree: Scotland can go with our liberal lefty ways, and England can follow its path. Really – there is nothing wrong with that.

What’s to gain?

An independent Scotland can look at countries that seem to be “doing it right”. We don’t need to invent “Governing for small countries” from scratch. The Scandinavians seem to be doing well, with political philosophies pretty similar to ours – we can copy them.

In practical terms, this probably means we’ll see policies in line with the Nordic Model (which is not just Norway): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nordic_model

The “desirable outcomes” are more about life satisfaction, security, and a social safety net, but combined with prosperity, ambition and aspiration – not just perennial GDP expansion. That’s why many find them appealing.

Is that really going to happen?

The SNP is not synonymous with “Scottish Government”. But yes, they probably would form the first Government in an independent Scotland – and that’s not that a terrible prospect. They’ve already through devolution implemented policies with widespread popular support on tuition fees, hospital parking, prescription charges, personal care for the elderly – stuff that might not affect all of us everyday (but affects some people hugely, and does affect some people every day), but it adds up and it signals an intent. Governments have been elected on more flimsy premises…

The Salmond Factor

No one is currently up for election as Permanent Omnipotent Dictator-in-Chief, so really it does not matter what anyone thinks of Alex Salmond. Independence is a long term deal, far beyond one term or one First Minister. Really: not that hard a concept.

Post-Yes: What Next?

Scotland’s politician’s aren’t completely stupid: we won’t see them drive business and the middle classes 200 miles south by increasing taxes. I think we’ll see a steady transition, evolution not revolution. But of course nobody knows for sure. Maybe this is where a bit of faith is needed.

Our Southern Friends

Independence is not a divorce. It is not a rejection of the individuals in England, Wales and Northern Ireland that we in Scotland count as friends, family, colleagues, customers, suppliers, whatever. We will not build barriers. No passport required. Neither is Scotland a child leaving home. Again a terrible analogy.

Maybe a better metaphor (maybe not): business partners realising they have different goals, and spinning off as separate companies. Some shared assets, some shared liabilities, but no animosity, no recrimination, and huge potential for close, mutually beneficial partnership in the future.

I’d prefer we didn’t need such leaky abstractions, but without a decent one, we’re stuck with some awful, emotionally laden, patronising alternatives.

Risk-free?

I don’t think so, despite politics in this day and age being unable to contemplate the existence of doubt and of “grey areas”. I don’t think anyone believes independence is a risk-free proposition. But then no-one can predict much about the future in any area. Risk is with us in the UK, or outside it.

£££

Ah currency. This is a tricky one. With or without formal agreement, it looks like Sterling will be our currency for the first few years of any post-Yes landscape. But even in a formal agreement Scotland’s hands will be tied: the Bank of England will never increase rates due to the risk of Edinburgh’s property market overheating in the midst of a London slump. This is unfortunate – but I don’t think it’s a showstopper; I don’t see any practical scenario where Scotland would actually be worse off.

Do What You Want

Both sides of this debate have their own expert witnesses, arguing their case in the court of public opinion. Credible, respectable ones, at that. But honestly: if two world class economists can see it all going (a) swimmingly and (b) pear-shaped, respectively, what are we mere mortals to believe? Short answer: whatever we wanted in the first place. For me it comes down to this: an independent Scotland would very probably work out.

If that’s what you want, vote for it. If not, don’t.

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