Graham of Anywhere

Graham's blog: politics, poetry, and introspection

Scottish independence: the facts

Time to spend a bit more time pondering the Scottish independence question. Both the UK and Scottish governments have produced guides containing the facts, as they see them or present them, which will be going out to homes in Scotland in the coming week. The trouble is, of course, that there are very few true and unchallengeable facts and that is especially true for the Yes campaign. The future is not in the least bit predictable when all the negotiations related to starting a new country have yet to happen.

The people want facts. They want to be persuaded by actual facts. They seem particularly interested in any facts which suggest they will be personally better or worse off (by an arbitrary number of £500 pa). Of course, people don’t see the bigger picture and politicians will always be happy to make oversimplifications in order to win points. The economy is an important part of the debate, but both sides can only make assumptions. I don’t have an understanding of economics but surely, if recent years have reminded us of anything, world finance isn’t all that predictable.

Is it safe to assume that starting a new country could be somewhat turbulent in terms of economy? A currency needs to be chosen, credit ratings need to be earned, and continued access to the EU market needs to be negotiated. Meanwhile, large companies headquartered in Scotland may question their allegiances. Certainly, the Union and status quo presents no risk and choosing independence presents, in the most optimistic of perspectives, hurdles to overcome.

Hurdles are a theme that runs deep into this debate. Building a new country, even starting with one which is already largely devolved, is no mean feat. There will be many challenges and those challenges combined comprise a risk of epic proportions. I think that risk factor will ultimately lead the population of Scotland to vote No. The current polls certainly predict that.

But what of these risks? How badly could it all go wrong? I don’t buy into the scaremongering and I don’t respect the argument that you “can’t go back” if things do go wrong. Yes, it’s accurate, there will be no returning to the Union, and I can foresee tough times that may evoke that wish in people, but it’s not something that I can see ever being required, or desired by most. Take Ireland, for example. The Celtic Tiger. Their economy took a substantial hit as a result of the recent financial meltdown, but they’re working through it, as is everyone, and I can’t imagine there’s been any swell of support for rejoining the UK. The Irish can look after themselves. And so too could the Scots.

I think Scotland would be less financially secure at first, and there would almost definitely be difficult decisions to be made regarding future budgets. Things would possibly or probably not be rosy in the fledgling new nation. The question is, could Holyrood steer the ship through and produce a stronger, more confident country than we have at the moment? Could Holyrood reshape and redefine Scottish society to really believe in itself, and to be productive and strong contributors? That’s the real nub of the issue. That seems to be the heart of the debate that no-one is having. Can Edinburgh produce a better Scotland than London has managed?

In a historical context, it could maybe be argued that London made Edinburgh. The Scottish Enlightenment maybe wouldn’t have happened if the Union had never come to pass. Glasgow certainly wouldn’t have became the powerhouse it did. Yet, 300 years later, the context is different. This is one world more than ever before and the goal is to break down borders, not put them up, but government which is closer to home seems to be an important concept. Where peoples ideologies differ and where those in power have more loyalty to a faction of their people or to a region of their territory, division is inevitable. Has Westminster done its best by Scotland in living memory? Or has it primarily served England, or perhaps specifically London and the South East? Is a rebalancing of power needed to allow Scotland to achieve its full potential?

These are the things I want to talk about. We need hours of debate on these topics, rather than the political fodder which is churned out by the Yes and No campaigns. Like many, I don’t feel like I know enough to make a decision one way or the other, but unlike most, I’m not asking for “facts” about the future. I’m looking for arguments based on recent history.

I believe that Scotland is growing up, and I believe that’s a result of devolution. I believe that more devolution can only strengthen Scotland. I believe that if Scotland votes No, it’ll get more devolution. But could Scotland go further and do better with full independence? "Scotland is better governed by those living there”, so goes the Yes mantra. And yes, that’s probably true, but does Westminster hold Holyrood back to the extent that it damages Scotland’s prospects? Or has that support been invaluable?

If I had a vote, and I had to vote right now, I’d be walking into the polling booth without knowing for sure until my hand put a cross in one box or another. Not a comforting way to make a decision of such magnitude.
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