So, it’s the first of February, 2014. The year of the Scottish Independence referendum. Despite the fact I’m not entitled to vote, I feel it’s important that I make up my mind, one way or another. If I were in Scotland, and I had a vote, then of course I would exercise my right, my duty, to do just that and it’s disappointing that I won’t get to join my family and friends in partaking in a once-in-a-generation — or potentially, once-in-an-era — decision on the future of my country. It feels like a massive decision with much to gain and possibly much to lose. Where does my heart lead me? Where does my head take me? Where do such things take us all?
While chatting to some nice guy on a dating website, no less, this debate ended up forming a large part of our introductory exchange. He is born and bred in Croydon. A Southern Englishman. And his question of the Scots is this: why would you want to remain in the union? “We [England] are a big bully of a neighbour”, he argues, in an entirely matter of fact manner. He doesn’t believe there are any compelling arguments at all for Holyrood remaining subject to both Westminster laws and, in turn, legislation emanating from Brussels. Does any country really need three parliaments, three governments? What do you lose by taking out the middle layer?
It’s an interesting argument. I can’t help but view it as a very simplistic, boiled-down perspective, but there is something quite thought-provoking in there. Trying to have a proper understanding of the wider issues, however, allows me to worry about more of the detail, more of the pains that would inevitably follow a state-sized divorce. For two countries that have been one country for over three hundred years, the institutions are integrated, the economy is integrated, the people are integrated. More than integrated. They are one. We largely ignore the border. Many of us will cross it an innumerable number of times in our lifetimes, and we’ll do so while thinking it symbolic but irrelevant. Excepting the political and legal differences, nothing really changes. The language is the same, the currency the same, the roads, the food, the shops, even the cultures and values are very much the same. I see England and Scotland as sharing a great deal and I think, for the most part, that simplicity of exchange has been invaluable for the British people.
If we’re to take our border and make it real, we’re going to have to divide. The BBC. The Armed Forces. A multitude of agencies like the Border Agency. All very achievable, certainly, with a good deal of negotiation. Then, though, there’s currency. This is the biggest unknown, and there are no good options. Negotiate sterling, and accept dictates from a foreign central bank, the Bank of England, or take a different currency from the rest of the UK. That could be the Scottish pound, or it could be the euro, but either way, currency exchange could be a psychological barrier to trade and movement of people. And then, of course, there’s border control. If we want to maintain the Common Travel Area, and we do, we’d need to do what the UK and Ireland currently do — align their immigration policies. I believe the SNP, should they gain power in an independent Scotland, would need to abandon their idealistic easy entry into Scotland in order to maintain open borders within the British Isles.
It does seem like there are some real practical problems, which, if the correct answers are not found, have the potential to negatively affect the prosperity of both Scotland and rUK. So there is risk. But then there’s always risk, with every decision, with every ambition. And as ambitions go, realising an independent Scotland is an achievable one, even a respectable one. The problems are not insurmountable. It’s worth remembering that Scotland and England already have distinct legal systems, education systems, even health organisations; we often that forget that NHS England and NHS Scotland are completely independent — they co-operate to provide the illusion of seamlessness. We’re not going to need to re-invent everything from scratch. Indeed, I’m beginning to see that the division problems are not so massive that they detract from the core, positive reasons for wanting an independent Scotland.
I need to ignore talk of oil, of families being better or worse off by £500 per annum, of Scotland’s GDP and potential prosperity. I’m not asking anyone for facts regarding the economy because there are no meaningful facts. It’s just far too complex to work out for sure what independence would mean for Scotland’s economy in 2016, and of course, it’s impossible to say would it would mean in 2050. For me, recently, the only compelling argument has been that Scotland has routinely had governments imposed upon it by the English electorate; governments that only a small minority of Scots actually voted for.
Logic would follow that Scotland has not been governed in a way supported by the people and that the democracy we have is not as valuable as it could be. We’ve consistently rejected the Conservative party, for example, and we’ve seen UK governments that have little interest in doing their best by Scotland. We have the Scottish Parliament now, though, and that goes some way to overcoming those problems but we need so much more. Why should the Scots continually suffer Westminster governments that they haven’t voted for? Indeed, as per my prospective date’s argument, why do we even need to have another parliament between us and our ultimate overlords at the EU? The desire to shrink, consolidate, and streamline is a strong one. The EU will inevitably remain a cumbersome and inefficient supranational power but within that, Scotland could be a small, nimble, and progressive state with the likes of our Nordic neighbours Norway and Sweden as role models. It would be fully democratic unlike the UK with its House of Lords, and it could be secular by constitution and that’s something I’d very much like to see.
Simply, I do see the reasoning that Scotland would quite probably be a better place if it was run by people living in Scotland. ‘Independence’ itself is a misnomer of course because it’s an impossible goal when you take into account control from the sterling zone or the euro zone, and the European Parliament, but true independence isn’t what anyone needs in this global age. All anyone needs is self-determination. Europe is full of small countries and even microstates that, while not all necessarily part of the EU, do co-operate well for the greater good while running their nations in accordance with their ‘regional’ values. I think that’s quite an important notion.
As for emotional connections, well, you could ask me my nationality. I’d say British, now. And I’d still say British afterwards. Scottish, always, but Great Britain is an island, and I know this island well. Regardless of the countries, we’re all British as dictated by geography. Somehow, that’s a comforting thought. An antidote to the discomforting idea that I’d become an expat while living in a country that I view as my own. But these are feelings. My heart might lead me to believe that I’m a staunch unionist. But, increasingly, I think my head will take me to an independent Scotland.
Graham's blog: politics, poetry, and introspection