I’ve spent the majority of my adult life living in England and that, to a degree, makes me an outsider in this debate. It does perhaps offer me a wider perspective, however, and that has tempered my emotions and forced me to consider more deeply what it means to be British. I didn’t get a vote in the 2014 Scottish Independence referendum because I didn’t live in Scotland then, and I won’t get a vote in the proposed 2020 Scottish Independence referendum because again I don’t expect to be a resident of Scotland at that time. My home for now is south of the border, in what is both simultaneously the same country and a different country; a country of four countries; integrated and interbred; a single society and a shared language; an intertwined history and a union of unparalleled endeavour. If and when Scotland secedes from this United Kingdom, the constitutional change will be eclipsed by the societal upheaval and I, and like hundreds of thousands of other Scots in England, will become an expat.
Given this context, I very strongly want to prevent a hard border between Scotland and England. More generally, I’m a proponent of border-free systems and I’m in awe of the Schengen area which, despite the UK not being a member, is one of the most impressive feats of the European Union. If the UK leaves the EU, and then an independent Scotland rejoins, we’ll need a very innovative solution to prevent the need for an EU frontier at the Anglo-Scottish border. I would be left with a slight feeling of hypocrisy supposing I were to support Scottish independence. That sense of hypocrisy would be heightened due to the fact I’d be contributing to the probability of new borders, but also to a course of action that would lead to me and others becoming foreigners. This position feels like something that only someone who lacks awareness would espouse.
It’s easier to align my desire for both a second EU referendum (People’s Vote) and a second Scottish Independence referendum (indyref2). Those who promote one and condemn the other are unquestionably hypocrites. The upcoming constitutional change as a result of Brexit is immense and the meaning of it has only gained clarity this week. In 2014 the Scots were promised that staying in the UK was the only way to guarantee staying in the EU. In 2016, there was no debate as to what leaving the EU would mean because the Brexiteers didn’t expect to win. The position we now find ourselves in, and indeed the EU withdrawal deal that is being discussed by MPs as I type, is not a scenario that any previous vote has indicated a mandate for. My stance is highly subjective because I would of course again vote to Remain in any People’s Vote in the hope that most of my fellow countrymen would this time agree, and I believe the residents of Scotland should again be given the ability to consider the future governance of the land in which they live given the direction of travel in Westminster. Indyref2 should not be denied by any current or future Prime Minister.
Even if, as unlikely as it seems right now, the UK remains in the EU, Scotland should still have that vote. And herein lies the next contradiction, the other source of hypocrisy. The UK in the EU represents safety and continuity and a vote for Scottish independence would then be a vote for at least temporarily leaving the EU while it goes through the process of acceding in its own right. I do believe there’s a good chance of this being a smooth and expedited transition, though, as it would be in everyone’s best interests. Moreover, I’ve come to a reckoning that Scotland as an independent member of the EU would afford it the best chance of being the country it yearns to be — a nimble, progressive nation supported by 27/28 equal neighbours in a way that just isn’t possible within the union with England. There’s often reference made to the supposed Union of Equals — a notion first expressed during the Jacobean era when King James VI of Scotland inherited the throne of England — despite the fact that the idea is unworkable in practice; England is ten times larger than Scotland and Wales and Northern Ireland are smaller still. The needs and wants of England will always outweigh the needs of every other British nation when it comes to big, national issues. There is no — and can be no — equality within the Union. For over 300 years this hasn’t posed a massive problem as everyone was pulling in the same direction but it seems clear that our paths have been diverging for at least a generation now.
Scotland wants to be a pro-immigration, liberal, egalitarian country. It voted by almost two-thirds to remain in the EU. England wants to be hostile to immigration, with less support for welfare and more support for capitalism. No amount of devolution can reconcile these two ideals; they are polar opposite directions of travel. It could be argued that this misalignment may be short-term, and that a future Labour Westminster Government would narrow the gap, and that Scottish independence is a rather permanent solution to what might be a temporary problem. It must be recognised, however, that Labour have only been in Government in Westminster for 10 of the last 30 years, with the Scottish electorate never once returning a majority for the Conservatives in that period. It must also be recognised that the demographic disparity is a constant and that Scottish votes will only ever carry weight in hung parliaments because they are so outnumbered.
This inequality has the effect of lowering the value of Scotland’s place in the Union from my perspective. This misalignment has the effect of lowering the confidence of Scotland’s people in their ability to fully realise their potential. This shift to the right in the south has the effect of diminishing my sense of British identity; the loss of centrism in England, plus the hostile environment, and Brexit, with a dose of English imperialism and disdain for our closest neighbours, mixed in with a potential pivot toward the raw capitalism of the United States, cumulatively contribute to my creeping rejection of Britishness. If this is what it means to be British in the 21st Century, then I’ll pass. If I have to choose between being Scottish and British, or being Scottish and European, then I’ll choose the latter.
Scottish Independence: the pros
- full control over important policy areas such as
- social security
- foreign affairs
- ability to rejoin the EU
- solves the constitutional mess, from Scotland’s perspective, and simplifies it from a British perspective, especially if Northern Ireland also leaves the Union
- brings the independence debate to an end
- removes any excuses or distractions from the Scottish Government
- potentially increases self-belief and improves the national psyche among Scots
- potentially drives up engagement in politics and expands the pool of quality MSP candidates
Scottish Independence: the cons
- Lower GDP meaning Scotland’s ability to weather financial storms would be lessened without the backing of the UK treasury, at least in the beginning
- Constitutional change spooks business, and as a result we are likely to see some companies move their HQs — registrations and/or staff — to England
- The financial outlook of a newly independent Scotland would possibly be negative
- If rUK leave the EU, the Northern Irish border problem now applies to the Anglo-Scottish border — as an EU frontier, a hard border seems like a necessity, but it’s also damaging to businesses and communities on the island of Great Britain
- If independence is achieved as a result of only a small majority, we can possibly expect some degree of societal turmoil
- We’d need to trust the Scottish Government to have a comprehensive plan for the next steps starting the very day of the Yes vote in order to provide confidence and ensure that transitions are smooth and orderly
Scottish independence: the bigger picture
- There is no precedent for EU countries dividing, but there are countless examples of such constitutional change outwith and prior to the European Union
- The Republic of Ireland has never looked back since seceding from the United Kingdom; the Irish are content with their place as an independent country within the EU. Croatia does not mourn the break-up of Yugoslavia. Singapore does not regret giving-up its ill-fated union with Malaysia. The Nordic countries seem settled in their status as independent countries after centuries of annexations and unions.
- Scotland is roughly the same size as Ireland, Norway, Denmark, and New Zealand; countries with which Scotland shares many similarities and aspirations
- Despite the era of fossil fuels coming to an end, Scotland still has a wealth of natural resources. It’s too late to build the sort of sovereign wealth fund that Norway built using profits from its oil reserves, but there are future opportunities with green energy.
- Unionism is a result of idealogical intransigence — the clearest example of this is the most extreme: Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party. The DUP are entirely entrenched in their pro-Union position as a result of tribalism and sectarianism in Northern Ireland, despite their positions being full of contradictions; their pro-Brexit stance being the most ridiculous. They are pro-Brexit, despite Northern Ireland voting to remain, and despite the need for open borders, purely because Brexit takes them further from the EU and therefore the Republic of Ireland. Unionism in Scotland is hard to defend when the needs of Scotland cannot be met by Westminster but nonetheless the pro-Union parties have their perspective ingrained largely as a result of being in opposition to the SNP, but also as a result of being tied to their English parent parties. They follow, they oppose, but they don’t leave the comfort zone of their tribal history.
- Nationalism is also idealogical, and Scottish nationalism can often be driven the same parochial views as English nationalism; inflated patriotism and an imagined enemy. That said, the SNP’s brand of nationalism isn’t based on some special attribute or shared characteristics of the Scottish people, but rather a vision for the better governance of the country of Scotland for and by its residents, wherever in the world they were born.
- There is precedent for currency change, and indeed all sorts of currency arrangements. Scotland would continue to use the Pound Sterling, albeit likely without an official currency union, as a starting point. That’s sensible. At some future point the sovereign Government of Scotland could move to a new arrangement as and when it would best suit the country.
- There can be no "Plan B" for achieving independence. It can only happen via an official, bilateral, internationally recognised process. Catalonia is not independent as a result of its illegal referendum! SNP councillor Chris McEleny, who tried to have a “Plan B” debated at the SNP Conference, is, to say the very least, misguided.
Yes. The conclusion is Yes. The conclusion is that No is a valid and defensible position but the status quo is no longer comfortable; staying in the Union might feel safer and it might even feel moral, as a result of our single society on our integrated island, but it’s a position that’s driven more by fear, history, and tribalism, than an honest analysis of where the United Kingdom is today and the direction in which England is pulling it. The conclusion is that Scottish independence is far from risk-free, and that there’s contradictions in the pro-independence stance, especially for those of us who live in other parts of the United Kingdom, but this a complex question and it’s hard to produce a completely clean argument that’s beyond reproach. The conclusion is that democracy is better served when a minority is not vastly outnumbered, and that the EU provides solidarity for its members in a way that the UK does not. The conclusion is that Scotland can only achieve the society it aspires to be by leaving the Union with England, which is pulling Scotland in the opposite direction to which it wants to travel. The conclusion is: it’s time to be brave.
- I’m a politically non-aligned, left-leaning centrist
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