‘Should Scotland be an independent country?’ – that is the question all citizens of Scotland have to answer on the 18th of September. Yes is my answer and I’ll tell you why:
Democracy & Accountability
The UK political system is failing too many and serving too few. The current UK has been sabotaged by successive Westminster governments pursuing flawed trickle-down economic policies. All that can be seen from them today is a series of short term solutions and a focus that is too narrow for the diverse challenges that exist throughout the British Isles. A recent study by Credit Suisse reported on features that make small, independent countries successful on their own. George Monbiot wrote an excellent article on this which is a must read for anyone with an interest in the vote, but I think it helps to look Scotland’s democracy within the UK.
59 of the 650 MPs that currently sit in Westminster are elected in Scotland – the 774 Lords that sit in the House of Lords are only elected by the establishment itself (after some hefty donations in some cases). The fact of the matter is that no matter where you are in the UK, the process of First Past the Post has driven the political system to a two party system with the Conservative and Labour governments following similar agendas since I was born in 1980. The outlook for the future looks much the same too with both parties committing to a continuation of the austerity measures set rolling by George Osborne during this term.
The 2007 election demonstrated how weak the UK system is for accountability – the Labour Government had taken the UK to war in Iraq during the previous term on the premise that they had Weapons of Mass Destruction. Meanwhile at home we spend billions of pounds on Weapons of Mass Destruction on the claim that they act as a deterrent. This hypocrisy was mirrored by the opposition and so the electorate were impotent in any efforts to hold this abuse of power to account and Labour were returned to office.
The Scottish Parliament has shown that it can make the proportional representation system work – ensuring that every vote contributes towards the make-up of parliament. While Alistair Darling may say that he didn’t vote for the SNP but got them in government, at least his vote is represented in the parliament. I’ll always vote, but my vote has never counted for any Westminster election other than making up the numbers (I’ve always lived in ‘safe Labour seats’ noting that the average constituency last changed hands between parties in the 1960s, with some super safe seats having remained firmly in one-party control since the time of Queen Victoria).
A Yes vote is the only way to ensure that every vote cast in Scotland will always count towards the political priorities set for Scotland. There are already signs that this has awoken the people of England to the need for reform and this process will take a large step forward with a Yes vote.
The uncertainty of a No vote?
With a Yes vote now looking like a distinct possibility, the No campaign mobilised their political leaders – Cameron, Clegg and Miliband to cancel their weekly meeting in Westminster and instead head to Scotland with vague statements about new powers. This caused some concern for MPs in Westminster who hadn’t seen any proposals either so when questioned in parliament William Hague clarified that “The statements by the party leaders made on this in the last few days are statements by party leaders in a campaign – not a statement of Government policy today, but a statement of commitment from the three main political parties, akin to statements by party leaders in a general election campaign of what they intend to do afterwards. It is on that basis that they have made those statements.”
It is clear that the ‘promises’ of new powers were not actually promises since they haven’t even drafted what these new powers may look like yet, but you only need to watch 2 interviews with Johann Lamont to be extremely concerned about what might follow: in the first on Newsnight Scotland she implies that the Scottish Parliament will only get tax raising powers (to avoid a ‘race to the bottom’ with tax reduction) and then another interview with Andrew Neil adds further confusion with apparent differences within the Labour party at Westminster and Holyrood.
Recent opportunities for reform in Westminster don’t inspire any hope either – the Liberal Democrats pledged to join the Conservatives in a coalition on the basis that they would bring forward reform on the House of Lords and the voting system for Westminster. Instead we’ve seen the House of Lords continue to grow in numbers (with the ongoing blight of cash for honours) and voting reform was sent backwards after a defeat for the proposed AV system in the botched referendum on proportional representation.
With a No vote set to trigger a review of the Scottish budget allocation, the stated intention of a further £25billion of austerity cuts from Westminster and the real threat of reduced finances coming for public services in Scotland (as outlined in this excellent interview with Jeane Freeman) – it really is not clear what a No vote will mean for Scotland.
Risk & Challenges
Of course there are challenges that face Scotland regardless of the referendum outcome. Many of these challenges come from issues that have manifested under the UK system such as Scotland’s demographic imbalance and social inequalities. There is no indication that the UK is going to address these issues and I think the lack of control that comes with a No vote is actually the high risk option for Scotland.
Bringing the control of our political system to Scotland with a Yes vote will allow the challenges to be addressed head on. This is an area that I have focussed on in previous blog posts – including housing, demographics, infrastructure investment and how we can best utilise the finite resource of Oil & Gas to strengthen our economy.
Grasping the potential
We’ve got an abundance of energy – not just from Oil & Gas, but from the wind, tides, hydro, biomass, geothermal and even solar. There are few countries in the world that could compete with our abundance of energy potential.
Our stunning landscapes are an easily accessible from our world famous cities which sees Scotland regularly voted as one of the number 1 tourist location on the planet.
We have fertile land and healthy waters which sees great food arriving fresh on our tables. When it comes to drink, it isn’t just fresh water that we’re spoilt for: whisky brings £4 billion to the Scottish economy each year and we’ve got an increasing global presence in the food & drink market, last year Brewdog were the UK’s fastest growing company in the sector.
The list could go on.
The fact that Scotland’s economy is in a healthier position than the UK’s has only been reported during this campaign, but amidst the constant noise of the political rhetoric there are still many who are unaware of this so it is worth repeating. As things stand today, Scotland generates more wealth per person than the UK average. That isn’t a forecast of the future, it is the starting point.
What that means is that we could keep all of our tax rates exactly as they are, and there would be more money available to the Scottish government to spend in Scotland than we currently get.
A simple but powerful example of how wrong the UK gets it is with nuclear weapons. For all they get mentioned in the campaign, the significance of the timing on the referendum seems to have been under the radar. In 2016 the UK government intends to commit at least £100billion to a next generation system of nuclear weapons, of that the Scottish taxpayer would pay around £10billion. If Scotland votes Yes that whole project is stopped before it gets started – saving taxpayers in Scotland and the rest of the UK from a monumental waste on weapons that will never be used.
A positive message for the world
The paradox of this referendum is that Scotland voting Yes would be the UK’s most powerful message to the world of my lifetime. The UK government has presented Scotland with the opportunity to gain our independence with a simple cross in a box. To show that such fundamental political change can be enabled by a peaceful and democratic movement of the people, even against the forces of the mainstream media, will be a clear message providing hope to those seeking progress around the world.
I truly believe that a smaller government system will be more effective in addressing the challenges that are distinct to Scotland. I believe that it is fundamentally better for all of us if decisions about Scotland’s future are taken by the people who understand the priorities in Scotland – it is time to give the people of Scotland control.
My head and heart are fully aligned, I’m voting Yes.