Independence and union

I have been very reluctant to write more about the Scottish independence question. Earlier this year I wrote a couple of pieces about the currency question, and one about the implications for the rest of the UK. But since then I have become very aware of how painful this is for many people, including me. This piece is not easy for me to write: I have strong personal and family ties to Scotland, and have always seen my Scottish friends as part of my British "family". My own identity is more British than English, and I am deeply hurt by people who say "the United Kingdom is not a country" or "there is no such thing as British". That may be how they feel, but it is not how I see myself. For me, I am British first.

I am also concerned that anything I write now would be inevitably seen as taking a political stance. The economics of what is being called "independence" are horrible, at least in the short term: but if I write a piece explaining that, it will be seen as "anti-independent" and feed into the SNP's "Project Fear" rhetoric. But nor do I want to contribute to Yes campaign euphoria. The economics are horrible for the people of Scotland. They are not being told the truth.

I do not like the way in which the facts are being skewed, changed or omitted to suit the political stance. And I should emphasise that BOTH sides are guilty of this.

There have been actual lies from the SNP, such as Salmond's false claim that a Scottish government would be unable to prevent the Scottish NHS suffering spending cuts if Scotland remained in the union. The Scottish government already has full control of SNHS spending, so any cuts would be its own decision, Nor does the argument that SNHS spending would have to be cut due to reductions in the Barnett formula stack up: Scotland's receipts under the Barnett formula have actually risen by 3% under the Coalition government and it now receives more in fiscal support than any other region of the UK.

The SNP has also made many claims that cannot be substantiated. It continues to state that Scotland would remain part of the EU, despite clear statements from EU member states and officials that Scotland would have to apply for membership and meet Maastricht criteria. It also continues to insist that the UK government will eventually agree to a currency union which would be highly detrimental to both sides and probably would not survive anyway. And the SNP conceals important facts, such as that leaving the UK could mean temporarily losing EU support for Scottish farmers. .

Telling the Scottish people things that are untrue, making claims that have been rejected by the other parties concerned and concealing facts is unfair. The people of Scotland cannot make an informed decision if they are not being told the truth about what leaving the UK would mean. I call upon the SNP to come clean about what leaving the UK would mean for Scotland in the first few years. There would be a deep recession, possibly a currency crisis, and a substantial loss of capital and trade. It would be grim.

But in its way the approach taken by Better Together is more poisonous. Better Together's approach has been to paint a completely negative picture of an independent Scotland in order to frighten people into voting "No". This is just wrong. Scotland is perfectly capable of surviving as an independent country. It would suffer serious hardship for some years, but independence would enable it to rebalance its economy away from risky financial services and declining oil, and become a well-diversified, successful market economy. I have no doubt that the determination of the Scots, and their ability to endure difficulties for the sake of the future, would enable them to do this. They have every right to manage their own affairs and are more than capable of doing so.

And that brings me to the real problem at the heart of this debate. When I looked at the ballot paper for the vote on Thursday, I was surprised by the wording:

"Should Scotland be an independent country?"

My immediate response was "Yes of course it should!". Why would anyone want to be a citizen of a country that was not independent? If this were a vote about English independence, I would be very tempted to vote Yes and damn the economics. But that would cause me a problem. I said at the start of this post that I am British first, English second. Why should my desire to see England independent mean that I have to give up my British identity? Similarly, for those Scots who also see themselves as British - and there are many of them - why should they have to give up part of their identity in order to achieve independence for Scotland?

This is the dilemma that has been created for Scots by the way in which this vote has been framed. It was reiterated by David Cameron yesterday: he said Scotland has to decide whether it wants to remain in the union.  But that is not the question the Scots are being asked! Scots are being asked whether Scotland should be independent, not whether it should leave the Union. Independence and membership of a successful supranational union are not mutually exclusive.

The SNP leadership do seem to grasp this, which is more than can be said for Better Together. But they explain it extraordinarily badly. They call for "a share" of UK institutions and insist that there must continue to be a currency union. This won't do: all it does is annoy the other side, who then close ranks and refuse to co-operate at all. It would be far better if the SNP explained clearly that although they want Scotland to be an independent country they do not wish to leave the Union: they want to reinterpret the Union in a way that works for them. They want, in short, to be treated as equals. Welsh nationalists have much in common with this view. And so do I.

I would like to see the UK recognise its constituent parts as independent countries in their own right, united in a federal model. I would like to see the anomalies of the Westminster system, such as the West Lothian question, resolved once and for all by creating a system of governance for the United Kingdom that truly recognises that its citizens really have dual nationality - they are British, but they are also Scottish, English, Welsh and Northern Irish.

I wouldn't like anyone to interpret this piece as endorsing a "Yes" vote. I fear that the intransigence of the UK side is such that a "Yes" vote would indeed mean, as Cameron put it, a "messy divorce" - a divorce which, as far as I can see, neither side really wants. I actually have a problem with both "Yes" and "No" votes: "Yes" because it could result in a costly and unnecessary breakup, and "No" because it could entrench existing governance and lead to an even more painful separation further down the road.

We do not have to sleepwalk into this. Both sides must change their stance before it is too late.

I called above for the SNP to come clean about the costs of this potential divorce for the people of Scotland. Now I call upon the Better Together side to state plainly that a "No" vote would not be a vote for the status quo but would be followed by real changes to the way the Union is constituted, recognising the legitimate demands of the constituent countries of the UK for self-determination and self-government.


Comments

  1. East Lothian

    Good post, but you mean West.

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  2. Good article, but I don't agree that British "identity" needs to be wrapped up in the UK. Scotland is part of the island and people in Scotland and England will continue to feel British - maybe in a way that Danes, Swedes etc. feel "Scandinavian" - they share lots of things (an airline, a power grid etc.) but not national governments.

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  3. Good argument, but there are real difficulties in the 'federal' solution. The English don't want regional governments; but a federation with national parliaments for England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland and a UK parliament is uncomfortably asymmetrical; and a London parliament that sometimes functions as a UK parliament sometimes as an English parliament equally uncomfortable.

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    1. The London Parliament already functions sometimes as a UK Parliament and sometimes as an English Parliament. That is because Scotland has devolution. It should continue to operate in precisely the same way, but Scottish MPs having no votes when it is operating as the latter.

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    2. And that is a model, sure. But not the model most Scots want, and not the model on the table on Thursday. Extra devolved powers will be almost impossible for Cameron to deliver, and extra devolved powers are pretty useless without full control of revenues and resources.
      http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/scottish-independence/11098825/Cameron-faces-Tory-bloodbath-over-cash-for-Scotland.html

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    3. England needs an executive, advocacy and leadership, without them voting niceties are trivia.

      Rolo

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  4. David Cameron is the sole reason for this referendum ending up in its current position. No one else is to blame but him for refusing a devolved question on the ballot.

    I also think you put too much emphasis on the SNP. This isn't about a single political party and not everyone voting are nationalists or SNP members/voters.

    I'm not SNP. I'm not a nationalist. But I will be voting Yes.

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  5. This misses the point entirely. You've simply rehashed Better Together arguments with no independent thought then called on them to do something they've already done?

    You're confusing the Yes campaign with SNP. They're not the same thing. Your perception of their "misleading" stance is a summary of the way their arguments have been presented by UK media. The Yes campaign have never claimed automatic EU membership or that NHS spending isn't devolved. They've simply pointed out that they'll be in a strong position to negotiate and that a fiscally independent Scotland can better make decisions on how to spend Scottish money, respectively.

    It isn't about identity, it's about quality of life and prospects.

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    1. As I severely criticised the Better Together campaign in this post for its negative attitude to Scotland, clearly I haven't "simply rehashed their arguments with no independent thought".

      I do not confuse the Yes campaign with the SNP. But it is the SNP that are driving this debate and it is their proposals that are being used to make the case for independence. I am well aware that the reasons why people might vote "Yes" may have nothing to do with the SNP or their policies: indeed that was the point of my remark about how I might vote if this were England.

      This may not be about identity for you, but it is for others. As I said I have personal ties to Scotland. My connections regard themselves as both Scottish and British, and are deeply uncomfortable about being asked to choose between their two allegiances.

      If you think your quality of life will be improved by independence in the short-term, you are ignoring the economic evidence. Long-term, your prospects may be good - but will they be better than they would be in a reformed union? I don't know, but personally I doubt it.

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    2. But there isn't a choice to be made!! Danes are Scandinavians, and self-identify as such. So do Swedes, Norwegians and (to a lesser extent, admittedly) Finns. The issue is in your head!

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    3. You really think Scotland will be in a strong position to negotiate? Really? The person who cares least wins in negotiation - whilst it may or may not be desirable rUK doesn't *need* Scotland to be part of a currency union, Europe doesn't *need* Scotland to be part of it. Prepare to be disappointed...

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    4. I'm sure you're right that we are, in effect, being lied to by both camps and I'm also pretty sure that most people in Scotland are aware we're being lied to (these are politicians after all) even if most of us couldn't identify the individual lies.

      But it is a source of fairly consistent frustration that people south of the border frame the decision as being one of national identity. I know a lot of people who are going to vote yes and I can't think of any of them who see it that way. It isn't about whether or not they're British, Scottish, English or any other nationality, it's about how a democracy works. As a previous poster said, there is no conflict between being British and living in an independent Scotland.

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  6. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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    1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  7. Anonymous,

    I have deleted your comment because it does not comply with the comments policy on this site, which you can find by clicking on "About this blog". If you wish to comment, please be polite and refrain from personal attacks on me or on other commenters.

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  8. From a detached point of view, the situation is tragic - a kind of mixture of the cock-up theory of history and the English establishments profound complacency and inability to think strategically instead of tactically.

    So we have the sight of Cameron vetoing devo-max yet now, in headless chicken mode, the no vote has mutated into the devo-max option.

    And now we have the promise of self-rule forever, which can't be fulfilled without a written constitution - which Cameron seems to have forgotten about.

    It just makes Westminster politics look exactly how it's depicted by Salmond - the toffs waving their shooting sticks, with a divine right to rule, making it up as they go along.

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  9. I fear that the intransigence of the UK side is such that a "Yes" vote would indeed mean, as Cameron put it, a "messy divorce"

    ---

    I just can't see this happening. There may be plenty unhelpful, vote-winning and uncertainty-inducing bluster, but in terms of actual rule changes, trade barriers, etc. I see rUK negotiating for the benefit of business/trade/etc. Nobody wants a basket case of a country sending economic migrants south. Nobody wants supply chains etc. wrecked. Bilateral agreements - especially ones that start as identical regulations - should be easily come by.

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    1. In principle I agree with this. I think the no campaign makes far too much of the uncertainty. Making agreements is what governments do - as long as the political will is there. And what's in it for Cameron to be over-obstructive? In theory business will rule, and they will want continuation.

      However, there is a problem for Cameron, and that is the Tory Party. How much will the backwoodsmen put up with, especially with UKIP breathing down their necks?

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  10. As a German who's been living in the UK for more than a decade (England and Wales) I find the claim that a newly-independent Scotland would not be quickly admitted to the EU preposterous, no matter what EU officials or country leaders keep saying (and have to say given separatist movements in other EU countries). It seems blatantly obvious to me that a newly independent Scotland would be an EU member within a very short time. The situation is exceptional. Politics will prevail. Deals with be brokered. It's in everybody's interest (niScotland, rUK, EU). Even more than that, it's a question of legitimacy and an existential threat to the EU itself: here are millions of Scots who are holding EU passports, is the EU going to reject them and kick them out? Hardly. It's just completely inconceivable...

    That's not to say there won't be a price to pay (fishery policies, commitment to introduce the Euro within the next 500 years or whenever the economic conditions are right whichever comes sooner, etc.)

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  11. Interesting piece, Frances - thank you.

    My personal feeling is that many Scots would have been very happy with a federal type arrangement, but that has never been the offer. I am for Yes, but suspect many of my friends are like me - they want constitutional change and feel they can't get it without leaving the UK. Westminster assumed the vote was in the bag & would go away. It strikes me that a process has been started now & it won't go away. I only hope the politicians are up to dealing with it.

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  12. I find your blog brave and heartfelt, even tho' I would dispute much. By falling into being partisan in the normal party-driven election way, many people like you appear to have been alienated by both sides.

    You have valid concerns; they deserve more than stiff-armed response. I am intrigued that, as a financial journalist you are so negative about Scotland's early prospects. However, I readily concede the over-egging of prospects by YES.

    But, most of all, I would counsel that the concept of 'British' is not nearly as much under threat as you seem to believe. Like it or not, everyone in these islands is British. I am happy to be described as such and I believe the detente with Eire means even the Irish are moving in that direction. We share a splendid culture and history; e will go on to create more. But the political entity that was Britain has lost its way and the partners that created it now have future directions of their own to follow—just as Scandinavia has done with such interwoven success.

    And where else in the entire history of this planet has there been an independence movement coming this close to succeeding during which the worst violation of rights and integrity was an egging?

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  13. I wrote something earlier. Don't know if it was posted or not. Anyway, it was/is redundant because even though I agree wiith much you have written, I thought it was written by the person who retweeted it. Gets complicated. Twitter whispers.

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  14. What will Scotland do when England goes really Muslim?

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    1. If you're going to troll at least put some effort into it.

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  15. Hello Frances

    A good and fair-minded post, imo. Like you, I'm a 'No', even though my heart is a 'Yes' (ftr, I'm not Scots, but nor do I feel myself to be particularly English. If anything, I'm reluctantly British - nationalism isn't really my thing).

    One thing that has irked me about this campaign is the way that a 'Yes' vote has come to be promoted as 'anti-establishment' by the SNP - who as you say, have pretty much tethered the 'Yes' campaign to their bandwagon, rather than visa versa. The SNP are no more 'anti-establishment' (or indeed anti-capitalist) than anyone else; they go through the same chatting-up of business, paying obeisance to Murdoch etc as the other parties.

    That being the case, it really does come down to whether their new establishment would be better for average Scots - and like you, while I can see the emotional appeal, and a long-term economic appeal of a 'Yes' vote, in the short-run, I suspect it's going to far, far tougher than Salmond et al have let on. And that lack of candour, coupled to what strikes me as an overly-robust response to any criticism from the 'No' side, makes me wonder what else Scots are not being told.

    If Scots are going to have a new establishment, let it be a new one, not the merely the old wine in shiny new Nationalist bottles, for all our sakes - leaps into the unknown are fine, but not on a dodgy prospectus.

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  16. This 'referendum', as Frances has explained, is badly conceived and managed. We are to have a referendum on continued EU membership in a few years, AFTER the government has negotiated 'new' terms of membership. Scotland has not been allowed to negotiate anything, so far...

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  17. I thought that an independent Scotland was supposed to give some hope to the youth.

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  18. just seen your interview on RT ,what is the connection between sterling and Stirling?

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    1. There is none. But a lot of people don't know this - and it is what they believe, not the facts, that matters.

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