By Cheran Gobiratnam
I suggested some reasons for the case behind union and Scottish independence and later gave my feedback upon hearing of the ‘No’ result.
Case for Union
In one sense it is perhaps better for Scottish people to reflect on what the rest of the UK may gain as opposed to what they will lose if Scotland become independent. For instance there will be many more job opportunities for the rest of the UK if Scotland vote yes as departments like the DWP (Department for Work and Pensions) and National Savings will have to relocate, where historically they have been allocated to low employment areas suffering from the industrial decline. Many UK cities would benefit from having these supplementary workforce requirements.
Economically independence should trouble Scots too; certainly as Scotland’s immediate and also long-term future is far less uncertain away from the bosom of the union. It is perhaps a case of the grass appearing greener on the other side, Scotland not realising how good they have it. When one considers that even a No vote would constitute greater power to Scotland given that the three leading parties have all promised this compromise, independence is perhaps a step too far. The long and hard-earned steady economic recovery after the global crisis is threatened by Scotland’s potential separation.
Furthermore Scotland is by no means guaranteed to be accepted into the EU and even if so it has a small possibility of influencing the much-needed reforms of that establishment compared to the potential of being a part of a wisely run UK government. For this reason the UK’s trading relation-ships with the EU may suffer without Scotland and render the UK impotent. One could even speculate that the UK’sbond with the US may also wither with flickering influence in the EU.
Moreover there is a sense of hypocrisy, which has somehow prevailed, rolled under the hype-filled magic panacea carpet of Scottish independence. An example of this is the Scottish government’s much-celebrated foreign policy, despite the fact they hawk the Clyde shipyards globally as a place to build warships for foreign powers, with whose foreign policies it disagrees. Another is disowning new nuclear energy, yet silently endorsing extending the lifespan of its existing nuclear power stations, and via Scottish Enterprise encouraging Scottish industry to “tool up” to support the nuclear energy industry outwith Scotland. In this way the SNP claims of the moral high ground look nonsense and undermine the case for independence.
Case for Independence
The issues raised from the no campaign can be seen to lack weight, as they essentially boil down to the currency question and ambiguity about future EU membership, both predominantly political issues which will surely be resolved by agreement once the election fanfare is over. Independence at its core is a desire for Scotland to be in charge of their own affairs as much as a small EU country can expect to be.
A fundamental factor behind the yes movement is the yearning for Scotland, historically a democratic society built on decent public services, to no longer be under the cosh of any conservative government. There is resultantly resentment towards the marginalisation of their priorities and values.
Additionally when one looks past Salmond’s rhetoric there is something to be admired in the changes the SNP have thus far brought to Scotland. The NHS in Scotland for instance though struggling has been firmly protected from the devastating changes that are transforming the service forever in England and Wales. Furthermore priorities include taking care of the elderly, supporting the less wealthy, and a firm dedication to not load their youth with debt should they pursue university education. After all what else shifts social inequality more rapidly than placing such a hefty premium on education. In this way a more socially conscious and equitable Scotland would appear to be on the horizon should Scotland vote yes. Perhaps even a new independent Scotland could set the blueprint for the centralised Westminister government blinded by its economic pursuits.
Salmond has proposed Scots an array of incentives for voting Yes such as 30 hours of childcare per week in term time for all three and four year olds and a rise in minimum wage in line with living costs. However there is confusion surrounding claims of how much better off Scots would be. Salmons claims Scots would be a £1,000 a year better off but the UK Treasury dismissed this figure and claimed that Scots would be £1,400 a year worse off and subject to a rise in tax to pay for the divide. Unfortunately it seems difficult to discern which figure is the more likely, and rather the true impact could only be known based on how the post-independence negotiations pan out.
Verdict and Response to the Outcome
The Scottish referendum feels a quite convoluted and hypocritical issue. In the Yes corner it is often cited that the Scottish today are run by government in Westminister that most of them did not vote for, yet if they were so disenfranchised with the system they’re under why did a vote open only to Scottish residents result in a No?
For me personally I welcome the No result. I believe that if Scotland had become independent they would be exposing themselves to unnecessary risks. One of these is the fact they would carry on using the pound, which would be to completely ignore the recent examples of how messy it is for small countries to rely on a currency union they have no control over. If the pro-independence throng believe the UK are messing Scotland around now, why allow them to have control over Scotland’s currency without any form of democratic accountability? Even if Scotland joined the euro instead this may prove to be just as much of a danger, with the Eurozone far from perfect. A newly independent Scotland would also be more vulnerable to exogenous shocks, for example if the North Sea oil reserves dry up sooner than expected or the price of oil falls. Of course this is purely hypothetical but the cold truth remains that Scotland are far less vulnerable united.
Furthermore Scotland has comparatively few truly ‘Scottish’ institutions. Its universities are awash with rest of the UK students and its bank bailouts, research labs funding and wind farms subsidies all are sourced from London. The phrase don’t bite the hand that feeds you seems rather apt here. The divorce from London would subsequently be quite messy. RBS said it would relocate its headquarters to London if Scotland voted yes, Scottish universities have expressed fears over how it would obtain research funding and whether they may be a brain drain, and the green energy sector predicts a stagnation in wind farm subsidies with doubt surrounding the future of the current subsidy scheme. Finally there are concerns as to how much of the UK’s national debt Scotland would have to deal with and whether independence would lead to costly (both in time and money) litigation over the North Sea oil fields. It would be naïve to suggest that these issues may not be ironed out and ultimately work in Scotland’s favour, but why take such a gamble?
In the end independence is idealistic and exciting, with emotion-filled conceptssuch as freedom spawning from it. But it is perhaps an illusion of freedom thatcaught the minds of the 45% of the voting public, and though the Scottishdisillusionment with the government is understandable, given the pledge to grant Scotland greater control over its land by the UK’s major political parties it seems far more wise that Scotland is still united. To wrap up I sympathise with the disillusionment, but nationalistic delusion has thankfully not lead to the divorce.
Image courtesy – BBC