Dissonant Notes

Monday, January 6, 2014

The Case For Scottish Independence



What do the people want of the place? They want it to be 
filled with thinking persons as open and adventurous as its
architecture.
A nest of fearties is what they do not want.
A symposium of procrastinators is what they do not want.
A phalanx of forelock-tuggers is what they do not want.
And perhaps above all the droopy mantra of ‘it wizny me’ is
what they do not want.
Dear friends, dear lawgivers, dear parliamentarians, you are
picking up a thread of pride and self-esteem that has been
almost but not quite, oh no not quite, not ever broken or
forgotten.


Edwin Morgan “Open the Doors!”


A question mark hangs over the fate of Scotland. It stands on the brink of a decision that would have international repercussions. Should Scotland secede from the Union and become a completely independent country? The answer to that question is yes. A resounding yes. In order to provide a full answer as to why Scotland should be completely independent it will be necessary to start with a discussion detailing the main reasons put forward in support of Scotland remaining part of the Union, reasons that are often linked to ideas of identity, personality politics, and even a still simmering sectarianism. For those who are not fundamentally opposed to Scottish independence, the issue of whether Scotland generates enough tax revenue to survive as an independent nation continues to be a source of worry and may even prompt many to err on the side of caution and vote No. As will be shown, there is every reason to believe that Scotland could afford to survive as an independent nation. Indeed, not only survive but thrive. Scotland’s political and cultural landscape would be transformed by independence in ways that could only be positive. With that in mind, why do many people still oppose an independent Scotland?

Reason #1: I don’t like / trust Alex Salmond.

It is to be hoped that any decisions made on the future of Scotland will not be based on personality politics. If you vote Yes for Scottish independence, you are not voting for Alex Salmond or the SNP. You are placing your trust in the people of Scotland. It will not give Alex Salmond, or indeed anyone, a mandate to create a totalitarian state. It will give Scottish people complete democratic control over their own country. Nothing more, nothing less.

Reason #2: The independence movement is anachronistic and lives in a Braveheart/Brigadoon dreamland.

A certain mindset exists in Scotland called the ‘cultural cringe’. This mindset reels in embarrassment from any representations of Scottish culture that are particular to Scotland alone. Traditional Highland culture, singing in a Scottish accent, and having strong Scottish national civic pride are all things which are met with a cringe (though British nationalism is given approval). To the unfortunate souls who have such an outlook, Scottish independence is a dream from the past to be cast away while being part of the United Kingdom means modernity. These thinkers exist in a state of shame about Scotland’s history, as if Scotland were a peasant society saved by a benevolent England, and as such talk of independence is seen as embarrassing and nationalistic. Many Scots are ashamed of Scottish nationalism, little realising that their shame passively endorses British nationalism. Scottish civic nationalism is categorised as Braveheart nationalism in order to create a straw man to dismiss. To those who are ruled by the cultural cringe, Scots must accept their place in the UK without question. What they fail to realise is that it is their own mindset which is trapped in the past. It is the outlook of the unquestioning serf who worries that rocking the boat will upset the landowner. It is an outlook that rejects full modern democratic participation for Scottish voters. It believes modern British history is the only history Scots should read about. There is no actual substance to such an outlook and to dwell too long on such opinions would give them more credibility than they deserve.

Reason #3: I identify as British. / I identify as British and Scottish.

This is a more complex matter. To those who feel the country of Scotland is but an aspect of the United Kingdom, no different than Cornwall or Yorkshire, then voting No is a logical decision. However, some pertinent facts cannot be ignored. Scotland existed as a separate country from England before the Union and continues to have a different legal system, a different education system, different sporting leagues, and a different national religion from England, Wales, and Northern Ireland. The same cannot be said for areas such as Cornwall. To deny the vast differences in status between Scotland and Cornwall is to blur the lines of debate to the point of incomprehensibility. It must be acknowledged that Scotland has a far, far greater claim to independence than Cornwall or Yorkshire.

Many Scottish people align themselves more with Britain due to a sense of Unionism imported from Northern Ireland. This Unionism identifies itself with devotion to the Crown, devotion to the armed forces of the United Kingdom, and more often than not vocal celebrations of military victories that took place in Ireland centuries before. Even though the Union Jack is waved in abundance during Unionist displays of devotion, nothing indicates a person’s Scottish origins on mainland Britain like singing “The Sash” or “Derry’s Walls”. English and Welsh Protestants couldn’t care less about the Boyne and attach no historical importance to it. Only in Scotland are such things sung about, in an attempt to pledge allegiance to a religion that has been dominant in the UK for centuries though few, if any, of those singing are religious in any sense. While this particular kind of Unionism is a minority, it is nevertheless angry and loud. It is also highly anachronistic, espousing a fierce loyalism and servitude to symbols of power and prestige while ignoring the many gains modern democracies have made. It insinuates that freedom is granted to those who swear allegiance, not something that is the natural birthright of anyone born in a liberal democracy. Any erosion of this form of identity will surely be of benefit to Scotland, no matter what its future.

In general, though, identifying with Britishness seems to rest on the idea that outside of the Union being Scottish will ultimately be meaningless. Everything from jobs to the basic ability to travel internationally will be whisked away if Scots are no longer British. This fantasy both understates what an independent Scotland would look like and overstates the clout of the United Kingdom in the 21st Century. When Ireland became an independent nation after waging a successful campaign to rid itself of British rule, its citizens did not become international pariahs even in the UK. Travel continued, and trade disputes were settled in a relatively short amount of time. The Irish could still travel to America, or indeed to anywhere they could afford. This is not to suggest that Scotland should duplicate the Irish economic strategy. It is merely pointing out that a country which fought its way out of the Union did not suffer any lasting diplomatic repercussions. A country which does so through democratic means, and also does so in a more integrated European and global economy, is hardly likely to be punished by the remaining countries of the United Kingdom or the rest of the world for that matter.

Scotland actually faces greater danger of international isolationism if it stays within the Union. This danger would materialise if the UK withdrew from the European Union. Polls show that the majority of Scots want to remain part of the EU, but the majority of English voters do not. The repercussions of withdrawing from the EU are enormous. Most UK business owners fear that trade could be damaged and want the UK to remain with the EU. The ability to travel freely, study, and work in other EU countries would be curtailed. Even the American government has publicly expressed concerns about the UK leaving the EU. While opponents of Scottish independence point to the dangers of seceding from the Union, they ignore the fact that a majority of English people voting to exit the EU would drag Scotland in the same direction. Anti-EU thinking in the UK thrives on anti-immigration hysteria and “Rule Britannia” nationalism with no thought to the economic repercussions, yet those who favour Scottish independence are accused of anti-English sentiment and putting nationalism ahead of economic reality. It seems that British nationalism is a worthy sentiment to base your vote on, but Scottish nationalism is small-minded, parochial and hateful, at least to many No voters. If faced with a choice, would you take self-chosen independence or Westminster imposed anti-EU isolationism? Both have economic risks, but only one would be the chosen will of the Scottish people.

If your sense of identity is completely tied in with the notion of being British, then you should vote No. Right now, however, British identity is swinging even further to the right, as the reverberations of unfettered free-market philosophies continue to provoke insecurity and wealth inequality, and the blame for all of Britain’s ills is laid at the door of immigrants and Europe rather than the collapse (and subsequent costly propping up) of free-market institutions. You might want to ask yourself if the British identity that you associate with is the free-market free-for-all, Union Jack-waving kind that seems to continuously re-emerge in England, or whether it is the independent, industrious, and socially conscious kind which is actually more in line with the values of Scottish civic nationalism (as opposed to ethnic nationalism). Modern Scotland has always been an outward looking country, and the majority of people in Scotland don’t share a lot of the anti-European positions currently popular in many parts of England. It would be a travesty if Scotland’s European politics were dictated by English voters, a sentiment which should be viewed as democratic not nationalistic.

There appear to be many who would perhaps vote Yes but who enjoy the safety net provided by the Union. Devolution is all well and good but best keep the Union just in case things go wrong. This is nothing but timidity and refuses to grant Scottish people full responsibility for their political decisions. Like the twenty-five year old who earns enough money but refuses to leave their parents’ home, many Scots want to remain within the Union out of a sense of safety and familiarity, denying Scotland the chance to achieve full democratic maturity. This same timidity is indicative of the dangerously paternalistic aspect of Great Britain which implies protection from the dangers of economic collapse and the ravages of the free-market when, in fact, Scotland has been the country which has suffered the most economically within the Union and has had to bear the brunt of decisions made without its best interests at heart by a political party that has little to no representation in Scotland.

Reason #4: Yes campaigners hate the English.

Scottish people who believe that democratic decisions for Scotland should not be made by those living in England are not anti-English. While there are a small minority of Yes campaigners who thrive on anti-English sentiment, it is not the driving force behind the Yes campaign. Most Yes campaigners just think that the people of Scotland are the best judges in regards to what is best for Scotland. It is Civic Nationalism, plain and simple. Whatever the result, Scotland will continue to have close economic and cultural ties with England. The countries have a shared history that independence cannot erase. Each country in the United Kingdom has a unique cultural history, but due to unbalanced demographics the country with the largest population has been allowed to dominate in democratic proceedings. The United Kingdom was a marriage of convenience and, at this point, it is hard to see what benefit it brings to England, nevermind Scotland. Scottish independence will be good for all the countries of the United Kingdom. It will bring much needed discussion about what the United Kingdom is, was, and what purpose it serves. The idea of what being English actually entails has often been covered over by the all powerful Union Jack. Scottish independence will bring a long called for reckoning to all residents of the British Isles.

Reason #5: Scotland cannot afford to be independent.

No single issue has caused more confusion and argument than the notion that Scotland cannot afford to be independent. It has industry, it has banking, it has technology, it has an educated workforce, it has a strong middle class, it has tourism, it has major airports, it has world-renowned Universities that conduct important scientific research, it has all the elements of a modern liberal nation but somehow it can’t afford to exist outwith the Union. Stories are thrown around declaring that business will suffer in an independent Scotland, unemployment will rise, taxes will rise, and Scotland will become bankrupt. At this point some historical perspective is necessary. In 1979 there was a referendum held in Scotland in regards to Home Rule (as distinct from Independence). Opponents claimed that Home Rule was dangerous as it would increase taxes, damage Scottish industry, and potentially cause more unemployment. Britain as a whole was suffering economically, and Home Rule was seen as a foolish and unnecessary side issue. In any event 51.6% of Scots who voted opted for Home Rule but the measure failed to go through as only 63.8% of the Scottish electorate showed up to vote. As such it failed to meet one of the prerequisites of the vote being approved, namely that those who voted for Home Rule had to constitute at least 40% of the Scottish voting population. The other major event of 1979 was the election of Margaret Thatcher as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. By the time Margaret Thatcher left office in 1990, Scottish industry had been decimated, unemployment had risen, and there had been riots due to the Poll Tax which, lest we forget, was introduced a year early in Scotland for no official reason. Many were left wondering how things could have been worse if Home Rule had been introduced in Scotland.

Everything that opponents to Home Rule said would happen if the measure passed happened anyway, yet those in government and the right-wing (Unionist) press believed the blame lay with Scottish people and not with the policies of Margaret Thatcher. The Conservative Chancellor of the Exchequer Nigel Lawson described Scotland as a nation of government dependents who had no inclination towards hard work or entrepreneurialism. The Conservative populist newspaper The Sun ran with the headline “Will Ye Stop Your Snivelling, Jock?” in response to Lawson’s comments. Despite the fact that the decisions which led to massive unemployment in Scotland were made by a British political party with virtually no support in Scotland, it was apparently some inherent quality in the Scottish people which was the real reason for Scotland’s problems. This language of frustrated paternalism perfectly summed up the Conservative attitude towards Scotland. The Tories were the unloved rulers of a nation which confused them, blaming their lack of popularity on prickly Scottish people, not their own tendency to crush Trade Unionism and implement free-market principles in every area of British life no matter what the cost and no matter how many lives were destroyed as a result. Scotland came out on the other side of Thatcherism with a greater sense of identity and a greater sense of what it wasn’t, and what it wasn’t was a Conservative nation. Scotland has repeatedly rejected the British Conservative party, and Scotland’s increasing identification as a nation whose needs were different from the rest of the UK culminated in the historic 1997 referendum which led to the creation of the Scottish parliament.

With the Scottish Government a reality, the next question was whether Scotland should take the next step and become independent. An agreement was made to put the question to the Scottish people on Thursday the 18th of September 2014. As stated, the question of whether Scotland can afford to be independent is one which continues to rage. The debate hinges on one main aspect: does Scotland generate enough tax revenue?

Scottish people have been led to believe that, without English taxpayers, Scotland would collapse. For years it has been “common knowledge” that England subsidises Scotland. The main problem with this “common knowledge” is that it is not true. The vast majority of the United Kingdom’s enormous oil revenue comes from Scotland. The British Treasury refuses to include North Sea oil revenue in Scotland’s GDP or Scotland’s tax revenues, instead calculating it separately and only as British tax revenue. If tax revenues from Scotland’s oil are included in the official calculation, then Scotland would actually have paid more than its share in UK tax revenue over the years. Given that the Scottish population represents 8.4% of the entire UK population, Scotland’s tax bill per capita from 1980 to 2012 would have been approximately £1,203 billion. Scotland has actually paid approximately £1,425 billion, a total of £222 billion extra. Scotland has more than paid its way. Indeed, without revenue from North Sea oil, Britain’s economy under Thatcher would have completely collapsed. In the greatest of ironies, Scotland actually subsidised Thatcher’s United Kingdom, not the other way around. Arguments continue to be made that an independent Scotland would not necessarily have a right to North Sea oil revenue. A credible explanation has yet to be given as to why oil in Scotland’s international waters does not necessarily belong to Scotland. Imagine for a second that 90% of the UK’s oil fields were in English international waters. Does anyone think that an independent Scotland would have any claim to that oil revenue? Anyone attempting to argue such a thing would be laughed out of the room. It speaks volumes that even Scottish people think that there is a debate about which country would have a claim on North Sea oil.

Even when those in the No campaign admit that Scotland may have some kind of claim on North Sea oil, they then proceed to dismiss oil revenue as a viable source of income. Oil is running out so we should not consider it in any discussions about Scotland’s future. Why should oil revenue be discounted completely from an independent Scotland’s future GDP? Why is oil alone considered unreliable and therefore not to be counted on? Should we have a risk analysis of all businesses in Scotland and the UK, just to be sure? What products have a guaranteed future profit in Scotland, or the UK, or indeed anywhere? The UK government has yet to make any statements in regards to how the UK will survive without oil revenue, yet when the issue of Scottish independence comes up it suddenly becomes the main topic. Unionists consistently seek to sow seeds of doubt in the minds of the Scottish population. Despite the fact that a Conservative government drew up a report in the ‘70s that outright stated how wealthy an independent Scotland would be and then made plans to discredit the SNP and the very notion of independence, and despite the fact that British politicians and newspapers created the myth of Scotland as a nation of scroungers, many in Scotland still fear we have more to lose by seceding from the Union. Scotland has given more than its fair share to the UK, and its reward has been a reputation for dependency and idleness that even some Scottish people still believe to be the truth. It seems pertinent to ask: how much more could Scotland lose?

When it comes to enterprise, Scotland is among the most prosperous areas of the UK. It has a lower unemployment rate than the UK average. Between 2007 and 2010 only two areas of Britain showed economic growth. London and Scotland. The slanderous labels attached to Scottish people seem to take on a more sinister air in this light. Ever since the McCrone report of 1974, every effort has been made to undermine Scottish confidence in independence. The truth is that no matter how the Scottish economy was doing it would be used to denounce the Yes campaign. If Scotland’s economy was suffering, then jobs would be important not independence. If Scotland’s economy was booming, then why risk harming something good? With that in mind, would Scottish independence harm business in Scotland? It’s hard to imagine how Independence could harm Scottish business in the long term. The transition period would undoubtedly be bumpy, but no country has ever become independent without bumps. In terms of business opinion on independence, articles have appeared that support both the Yes and No positions. Trying to paint an independent Scotland as some kind of wonderland is foolish. The Scottish government would have to make decisions in regards to what could be done to allow businesses to prosper. Those decisions would be made by elected officials who would directly represent the will of the Scottish people. Saying that business would suffer in an independent Scotland is tantamount to saying that Scotland is not fit to make its own decisions in regards to its own economy.

Another major topic of concern is the amount of money paid out in Scotland to welfare recipients. Statements have been issued by the No campaign declaring that oil and gas revenues will not cover the Scottish welfare bill. This seems a ludicrous statement considering that the majority of Scotland’s tax revenue does not come from oil or gas. Stating that oil and gas would help an independent Scotland does not mean it would be used to solve all of the nation’s problems. Scotland generates enough tax revenue to cover its welfare bill. Independence merely states that Scottish people should have the right to decide how that welfare is distributed.

How Scottish Independence would change politics in Scotland.

At this point, Scottish political culture has been deformed by the influence of English politics. Scottish Conservatism, something which many would think to be a strong voice given that modern Conservatism was founded on the writings of Adam Smith, is nonexistent. The British Conservative Party remains a minor voice in Scottish politics, having never recovered from the unpopularity of the policies of Margaret Thatcher. Thatcher’s decision to introduce the Poll Tax a year early in Scotland solidified in the minds of many Scots how little she cared for the opinions of the Scottish voter. Using Scotland as a guinea pig for this reform represented a huge slap in the face and, given that her unfettered free-market ideas clashed dramatically with the strong Trade Union culture that existed in many areas of Scotland, the reputation of Conservatism north of the border has yet to be revived. Many Scots who clearly believe in the values espoused by Adam Smith have turned away from the Conservative Party of the UK because of the way Thatcher used the power of government to ride roughshod over the will of the Scottish people. To them it didn’t look like small government; it looked like an almighty government flexing its muscles. Freed from the stigma of the UK Conservative Party, Scottish Conservatism could finally emerge as an active voice in Scottish politics.

The Labour Party was all but brought into existence by Scot Keir Hardie. The labour movement in general has deep roots in Scotland given how many heavy industry jobs there were north of the border after the industrial revolution took off. Unfortunately New Labour’s abandonment of left-wing politics under Tony Blair means that no authentic left-wing voice exists in Scotland under the umbrella of the Labour Party. As with the Conservative Party, the voice of the Labour Party in Scotland has been deformed by the demands of the English voter. While Scotland moved away from Conservatism in the ‘80s, Labour policies became almost identical to those of the British Conservative Party, culminating in the New Labour of the ‘90s. Scotland rejected the Tories only to have them return in the form of Tony Blair’s Labour government. Many Scots remain loyal to Labour given that a Conservative vote is out of the question, and Labour desperately wants to hold on to these voters. Labour has its eye on Downing Street, not on the needs of the Scottish people.

Thanks to the nature of UK politics, Scotland has been stripped of authentic, mainstream, populist left-wing and right-wing voices. In order to become more dynamic, Scottish political culture must outgrow the restrictive and stifling atmosphere of UK politics. Only an independent Scotland would allow for that growth. The September 2014 vote is the most important event in Scottish politics for centuries, for the simple reason that something real and tangible is at stake. In an independent Scotland there would not be watered-down tactical votes that keep one eye on the UK parliament. Voting would have more of a direct influence on everyday lives. Despite the fears of the Labour party, every UK election result since 1945 would have essentially been the same had votes from Scotland not been counted. This fact gives an indication of how much influence the Scottish voter has on UK politics and how little is at stake for UK political parties if Scottish needs are ignored.

Why you should vote Yes in the upcoming referendum.

For years Scotland has been dragged along by a one-size-fits-all approach to governing the UK. Scotland’s contributions to UK life have been made invisible by a philosophy that seeks to quell the voices that ask for independence by slandering Scotland and the Scottish people. The truth is, Scotland will one day be an independent country. It may not come with the 2014 referendum, but it will happen. This is because the Scottish Parliament has reminded Scotland what participatory democracy really looks like. Government seems more tangible and less cut off. There is no going back on devolution, and that means independence will one day be a reality. Labour and others have sought to win favour with Scottish voters and divert attention away from independence by indicating a preference for Devo Max. Devo Max would transfer to the Scottish Parliament the power to raise taxes, control welfare spending, control pensions, and much more. It would be independence in all but name. Polls show the majority of Scots want Devo Max but many are still unsure about independence. The desire for Devo Max shows the positive effect of the Scottish Parliament, but what will happen when the Scottish Parliament holds all the power? Should there be no Scottish MPs in Westminster? What will Unionists offer Scottish voters if another referendum happens and Devo Max is already in place? While it is understandable that many Scottish voters want to take things one step at a time, it must be seen that devolution has started a chain of events that must lead to independence. No country has ever demanded less participation in the democratic process. Once Scottish voters see that they are perfectly capable of choosing their own government and making democratic decisions for themselves without the safety net of the Union, then the breaking up of the United Kingdom will become inevitable.

Supporters of the current political situation in Scotland tend to emphasise the dire consequences of independence (“there’s no going back once independence happens and then what are we going to do if it all goes wrong?”). Fearmongering must remain at the heart of the Better Together campaign because there is no positive way of telling people that a remote and largely unresponsive UK government is a better form of democracy. Labour has done most of the dirty work for Better Together as too much Conservative involvement could actually help the Yes campaign (though Conservative multi-millionaire and oil trader Ian Taylor has contributed heavily to Better Together). It speaks volumes that one of the dominant UK political parties has no real credibility in Scotland. Outside of independence, Scotland is stuck in a repeating pattern of trusting Labour (who are not officially opposed to Devo Max but who are determined to retain the Union) or rejecting both major UK political parties and existing as an anomaly within the UK (not including Northern Ireland whose politics are fueled by issues completely unrelated to the mainland UK).

The UK parliament is essentially a reflection of choices made by English voters. Each time Scottish voters have complained about the nature of the UK parliament, or made noises about independence, the myth of subsidised Scotland is wheeled out. Even if this myth were true, why would anyone in Scotland want this situation to continue? Why shouldn’t Scottish voters be given the opportunity to balance their own budget? While some discussion has centred around how many would leave Scotland if the country voted Yes, less consideration has been given to the idea that many people would move to Scotland in an attempt to escape the neoliberal agenda currently dominating British political culture.

People in Scotland should vote yes because it is the right thing to do. Scotland has been pulled along by English political opinion for too long. An independent Scotland will give its people the chance to deal with issues in Scotland, the chance to decide how Scottish money should be spent, the chance to create a real political culture free from apathy and disconnect. That is not a foolish pipe dream, unless you consider democracy a foolish pipe dream. The fact that there may be some issues if Scotland chooses independence, issues that would have to be worked out after the fact as there could be no guarantees, is no reason to stick with the current situation. A dysfunctional couple who decides to stay together because neither really knows how they would split the house or time with the kids would correctly be deemed foolish. Scotland can afford independence so the only question that remains to be answered now is whether Scotland wants independence. A No vote is a vote bereft of solutions. It merely says “better the devil you know”. A Yes vote is a bold leap into true modernity for Scotland, the final act in the rebirth of a country that almost believed the mythologies and lies created to keep it in its place. Almost, but not quite.



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