Whilst I understand that my opinion, which I hope to accurately portray in the following essay, will most probably not influence the decision of any one person in the Scottish Independence Referendum, I still feel the need to contribute something of substance to the debate which will shape the lives of millions of people over the next forever.
As is made perfectly clear in the title of this piece, I am going to be voting ‘No’ come the 18th September and having heard an abundance of arguments in the past year, ranging from the genuinely meaningful to the brinks of absurdity (from both sides) I feel a need to justify/clarify my reasoning in coming to this decision.
Positivity, Unity and Social Welfare
The Better Together campaign is commonly seen as one of negativity and fear mongering but I believe the case for maintaining the Union presents a much more positive future than the case for Independence. The driving force behind Independence is the idea of greater equality and social justice, which is obviously an admirable ambition, however I have two problems with this argument:
- Firstly, is the idea of giving up on a more equal United Kingdom as a whole not an incredibly negative idea from the Yes campaign? I do not agree with the current Conservative government’s austerity measures and how they have negatively affected the most vulnerable people in our society, however, this does not make me want to give up on the United Kingdom. On the contrary, it makes me want to change Britain for the better, so that the poorest people across the country, from Lands End to John o’Groats, see a vast improvement in their livelihood. This is the positive case for the Union, that we, as both Scots and residents of the United Kingdom, can influence the lives of sixty-four million people, rather than the five million in Scotland.
- Secondly, I do not believe an Independent Scotland would be nearly as left wing and equal as people expect. The White Paper clearly states that there are no ambitions to raise taxes in an Independent Scotland. In fact, it shows the Scottish Government are willing to cut corporation tax by three percentage points relative to the United Kingdom. I understand this is to increase competitiveness with the recently separated UK, but it sets a dangerous precedent for the future with further “races to the bottom” likely. The SNP are also incredibly reluctant to clarify their position on the 50% top bracket tax rate. With no intention of raising taxes, expensive borrowing costs and the costs included in transitioning to independence, how will the Scottish Government contribute to the left wing society that the public apparently expect?
In the second debate between Alistair Darling and Alex Salmond someone in the audience asked why we weren’t better together now. Ignoring the fact this question doesn’t actually make any sense (as what were we meant to be comparing ourselves to?) I also believe that we currently enjoy some amazing benefits as part of the United Kingdom. Scotland’s current allocation of funds towards education and the NHS is truly amazing. We enjoy free access to some of the best universities in the world as well as a health service which is free at point of contact and we also receive prescription medication completely free of charge. The possible privatisation of the NHS is a scary prospect but I believe the best way to preserve such amazing access to education and health services is to tackle these issues as part of the United Kingdom. The Conservative government’s privatisation is but one threat to the services we currently receive. The possible reduction in research funding and inevitable reduction in tax receipts also present a real danger to our incredible institutions.
Our Influence in Westminster
Alongside the drive for a more left wing society, another argument frequented by the Yes campaign is the perceived inability to influence the government that runs the United Kingdom. Whilst it is true that there is only one Conservative MP in Scotland, it is also true that we do not have a Conservative government, we have a Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition that would not have been the case had Scotland not been included in the election. Ignoring the fact that the Lib Dems reneged on their promises and adopted a distinctly blue tinge, the fact remains that Scotland’s dislike of the Conservatives significantly influenced the outcome of the election. In fact, in the 2005 election more people from England voted for Conservatives than Labour and yet we ended up with a Labour government. Obviously we would have a more direct influence over our government were we independent but where should that stop? Should each constituency have its own elected government to avoid the possibility of compromising your vote with that of the rest of the country? It is simply a product of democracy that you weigh the drawbacks of differing opinion against the positives of being part of a larger electorate.
Personally, I do not think the idea of total neutrality can ever be seen as a morally righteous position. In a world moving swiftly towards total globalisation, I genuinely believe being part of a larger, more influential nation is incredibly important. Although the British Empire is in decline, we still hold huge influence across the globe and I like the idea of using this power to change the world. The UK has utilised this power in the past. For instance, in 1999 the UK, as part of the G7, agreed to cancel up to 90% of all debt accrued by the collection of Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) in the developing world. More recently, Ed Miliband stopped a collection of countries, including the United Sates from an air raid against President Assad simply by voting against it in parliament. Whether this was the correct move or not, it demonstrates our power amongst the international community. Moving forward, in a world where an increasing number of people in developing countries are being exploited by multinational corporations and inadequate governments, I believe having this kind of influence can only be a good thing. Through sanctions and boycotts, military might, financial strength and close relations with other influential countries, we have the power to change the world for the better. This power will be significantly decreased as an independent country.
Whilst on the subject of our ties with the international community, our membership of the European Union must be brought into question. I, along with most Scots, believe in being a member of the EU for a variety of reasons. These include the single market and lack of trade barriers, the free movement of people, the strong global position it allows us to take and the close political ties that lead to a lack of conflict, both economically and militarily. Many Scottish people would agree with these positives for remaining part of the EU. All these examples apply to staying as one with the United Kingdom as well.
Patronising BT Lady
As the vote draws closer the Better Together campaign seems to be doing a very good job of shooting themselves in the foot. The recent “Woman Who Made Up Her Mind” video is indefensible. There might have been a message of making sure to give the referendum the thought and time it deserves somewhere in the idea for that video but they managed to hide it amongst their sexism, generalisations and dumbing down of the electorate. I am not defending that video, but I sincerely hope that people will not change their mind due to one ill thought out advert. The future of Scotland and the United Kingdom is more important than a small group of people who came together and came up with a terrible video.
This debate is an awkward debate to frame for both the public and the media. The politicians and celebrities who talk about the referendum online and on TV don’t matter in the slightest as we aren’t discussing the implementation of exact, well thought out policies, we’re discussing the complete unknown and we’re discussing the future. What will the economy look like in fifty years? What will the banks look like in a hundred years? What will the energy sector look like in three hundred years? Will future generations even care about oil or financial services and their impact on the economy? Unlike a normal election where our decisions are judged in a five year term, not one of us will ever know the full impact of our decision. On the other hand, as John Maynard Keynes would say, “In the long run, we are all dead.” With that in mind, in the future I predict we will be better off as part of the United Kingdom. Our institution is not perfect and it definitely requires a lot of work but I believe we can fight for a more equal and socially responsible United Kingdom as a whole.