As Naomi Klein wrote in her book ‘No is not enough’, the goal (of an argument) is rarely to change minds but too often to win. With this in mind and with some humility, therefore, I’d like to set out a case for Scottish Independence. My assumption is that the vast majority on both sides want what’s best for Scotland. Those on the pro-Union side believe that Scotland’s interests are best served by some or all of: solidarity with the rest of the UK in good times and bad; that we benefit from the support we receive from the UK (best of both worlds) as our economy isn’t robust enough to sustain independence; that we’ve shared so much that to break our ties would be to alienate ourselves from a family of Nations; or a belief that the SNP is a malign influence which is unlikely to build a better Scotland .
Addressing these reasons in reverse order; an independent Scotland should reanimate politics which at present is stuck in a constitutional stand-off. With the constitutional issue settled, politics can get back to normal, in fact better than normal since the SNP are committed to introducing a written constitution and Proportional Representation electoral system for General Elections, which will enhance democracy and ensure fair political representation at Holyrood.
In the 2014 Referendum much was made of the view that independence would turn family and friends living elsewhere in the UK into foreigners. Many of us have family who live in a foreign country. I have a sister who married a Norwegian and has lived in Norway for decades. She’s still my sister and to regard her as a foreigner would seem very strange to me. I would guess that the same is true for those of you with family members living abroad, some of whom may have emigrated. I also have family living in England and I don’t expect my feelings towards them to change post-independence or visa versa.
Yes, there is a deep, shared history between Scotland and the rest of the UK and that history will remain. What will change with independence are our future histories. Even in a Scotland that remains part of the UK however there will be significant changes, not least because of Brexit. The status quo is, therefore, not on offer. Take Ireland for example, where there is an even deeper and more fraught history between it and the UK (and with England before that), yet the bonds still endure and in many ways are more positive than in the past as Ireland and the UK now interact as equals.
I don’t have facts and figures detailing the economic performance of an independent Scotland as there are no future facts. What we do have, however, are precedents. Around Scotland are a number of small independent countries; Ireland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden and Denmark all of which are more prosperous than the UK, while also being fairer, more equal societies. Just to reinforce the point, the Norwegian sovereign wealth fund (started with earnings from oil in 1995), earned £131 billion pounds in 2017 – that’s in one year! (Financial Times. 1.3.18). On the plus side, Scotland compares very favourably with all these countries in terms of the necessary conditions for prosperity (democracy, rule of law, sound finance, an educated populace plus abundant natural resources). None of the above countries rely on the ‘broad shoulders’ of a larger State and any support Scotland receives from the UK comes with a price tag as we pay for it through our contribution to the national debt.
The final point, that just because our relationship is going through a sticky patch, we shouldn’t walk away from the Union, is perhaps the most emotionally compelling and it’s true that in times past, Scotland benefited greatly from the Union. However those days (of Empire) are long gone. I think it’s fair to say that Scotland’s well-being is an afterthought to the UK Government and probably only features at all because of the constitutional question and Brexit. Remove these and I doubt there would be much thought given to what goes on up here. Instead, resources will continue to be targeted towards London and the South East.
Investing in the South East makes sense in some ways as surpluses generated there currently subsidise the rest of the UK. However, this concentration of resources on the South East has created huge imbalances in the economy. No capital city anywhere in the developed world plays such a dominant role in the economy as that of London in the UK. According to Inequality Briefing, London is the wealthiest area in Northern Europe. However, the same report points out that 9 of the 10 poorest areas in Northern Europe are in England and Wales. That’s because, to quote Vince Cable, London has become the great suction engine of the British economy. While this continues, talent will inevitably migrate to the South East, thus further eroding the economic prospects elsewhere. And despite warm words and rhetoric about Northern Powerhouses, the vast majority of infrastructure projects, essential for stimulating economic health, continue to be concentrated in the South East.
I have two questions for you. What kind of country would you like Scotland to be and how confident are you that the current political settlement can deliver that country? My own vision is for a prosperous Scotland that has the financial resources to place the environment at the heart of policy making; one that prioritises green, sustainable working practices in every sphere, not just energy, and puts public money into those areas rather than weapons of mass destruction. And one that really cares for all its citizens through fair taxation and redistribution. I see no prospect of the UK Government delivering on that vision and the current devolution settlement severely constrains any Scottish Government from doing so.
In summary, I believe that only Independence can unlock the long-term investment required to transform Scotland. However, I also believe an independent Scotland could be a role-model for the rest of the UK. Confronted with the reality of its mortality and given Scotland’s example would, I hope, lead to a serious overhaul of the political and economic structures of the remaining United Kingdom and a more realistic view of its role in the world.