Compared to Westminster-style politics – a few talking-heads in TV studios – the Scottish referendum debate has been lively, localised and (by global standards) peaceful, involving thousands of Scots. Chances are you’ve already participated, in which case, congratulations - there are plenty of cynics “out there” who said that people like you don’t care about politics. Now, whatever you eventually decide, you should VOTE! A high turnout will show that Scots care actually do care about their country. And spare a thought, by the way, for the millions of Scots based overseas, many temporarily, who would love to vote but can’t!
A loaded question, obviously. Despite the once-in-a-lifetime “lottery win” that is North Sea oil (half of which has gone forever, squandered by Westminster), Britain over the last 35 years has become a more unequal society. The wealth and income gap between rich and poor is back to Victorian levels. Of course inequality has grown in other developed countries too but the UK (and USA) are by far the worst examples - we can all think of parts of the UK that remained poor even during the (so-called) “boom years” before 2008. Other countries have been much smarter about sharing wealth and success. They don’t automatically blame the “workshy poor” for every economic and social problem. Do you feel personally responsible for causing the Global Financial Crisis? Well, chances are that, as a UK resident, you’re already paying the price in some way, whereas the Top 5% have seen their wealth expand dramatically since 2009. Coincidence? Hardly – it’s a matter of Westminster’s political choices. UK governments chose to allow the financial sector to run itself (into the ground), chose to bail out banks at the taxpayer’s expense, chose to prosecute no senior bankers, chose to reduce taxation for the rich and Big Business, chose for low-wage employers to be indirectly subsidised by the benefits system. Now Westminster wants austerity – but only for the “little guy”, not the well-connected! On 18th September 2014, Scots have an incredible opportunity to say goodbye to all that.
Nowhere’s perfect but the most successful countries in the world, in terms of their standard of living, economic strength and social progress – are small European states such as Norway, Denmark and Sweden (“The Scandinavian model”). The UK was a success story when the British Empire was still around. Scots contributed disproportionately to that success but Great Britain’s best days are certainly in the past. Westminster government is distant, corrupt and inefficient and UK economic policy is geared towards London and SE England, the financial services sector in the City, and real estate speculation. Devolution for Scotland has seen some small successes but we could do so much more if we had 100% control of the economic levers. North Sea oil is a bonus and there’s still at least £1.5 trillion of reserves “out there” (that’s one thousand five hundred million, million pounds!). And even without oil our economy includes strong sectors such as Food and Drink, renewable energy, wealth management, life sciences and further education.
All you hear on the BBC and other media is endless repetition that Scots get more public spending per head. What the media rarely admit is that Scots have also paid more tax per head than the Rest of UK for at least 30 years. Social spending, Scandinavian-style, won’t be cheap. But doing nothing is also expensive. Thanks to years of bad choices in Westminster, UK families now pay childcare costs of around 25% of household income (much higher than other rich European countries), while taxpayers foot the bill for the massive social problems caused by lack of spending where it would be most effective – at the pre-school stage. When it comes to the “Scandinavian model” or any other expenditure, Scots know this much: You get what you pay for.
Many will vote No because they want to “keep things the same” as they are now. But big changes are already happening in the rest of the UK. Rapid privatisation of the NHS in England and anti-immigrant politics are a major departure from the values that the “old UK” used to stand for; after a No vote, the Scottish government will be pressurised to do the same. UK exit from the EU in 2017 is a distinct possibility – that would affect thousands of jobs. And UK public debt has now reached £1.4 trillion or 76% of our annual Gross Domestic Product, so it’s only a matter of time until there are bigger cuts to “good” public spending (after the 2015 General Election). But Westminster will always find money for tax cuts for the rich and Big Business, and for vanity projects such as aircraft carriers to “project British power overseas” (as if the UK’s “independent foreign policy” isn’t already dictated by the USA). A No vote will only ensure things stay the same for the “Haves”.
The pound sterling is just as much Scotland’s currency as it is the Rest of the UK’s. Westminster politicians who say there would be “no sharing” of the pound are having a laugh. If there’s a Yes vote, they’ll change their minds faster than a dodgy expenses claim submission. Currency unions are very common – just Google it! Do you really imagine that English businesses would willingly cough up billions of pounds a year in foreign exchange fees to trade with Scotland – one of their biggest markets – just to massage the egos and pride of a shower of here-today, gone-tomorrow Westminster politicians, most of whom already have an eye on a lucrative business career after they’ve left politics? The Bank of England has already said they will manage any currency arrangement. Currency union - it’s a case of “filling out some forms”. Other currency unions work perfectly well. Better Together only ever talk about problems in the Eurozone but these are mainly caused by the big economic differences between (say) Germany and Greece whereas Scotland and England’s economies are very similar – except that Scottish GDP per head is 15% higher if North Sea Oil is included. A UK currency union would work simply because… come Hell or high water, business always finds a way to make money.
It’s too bad that Westminster and “Better Together” politicians think that Scots are greedy individualists whose votes will be swayed by a few hundred pounds here or there. Maybe they’ve been looking in the mirror too long? Money’s important but it isn’t everything. What about taking responsibility for your own destiny, self-respect, not living in the past?
Independence carries a degree of risk. But choosing to stay in the UK is also risky. We already mentioned NHS privatisation, public spending cuts and possible EU exit in 2017. We already know that Westminster is mainly interested in London and SE England so it’s a fair bet that even more public spending will be concentrated there. The fact is: all countries face challenges and uncertainties, even the biggest, such as China and the USA. Fortunately we have plenty of examples of small-but-nimble countries doing very well independently, while fully participating in global institutions such as the UN, EU and NATO. Scotland would be “Better Together” with the rest of the world, not Westminster. The international ratings agency Standard and Poor’s – one of the Top 3 on whom the international financial system is based – says that an independent Scotland would receive its “highest credit assessment – even without North Sea oil”. But it’s likely that most Scots will only have heard about the biased reports that support the Better Together argument, same as in 1979 and 1997. Some things never change!
The UK media cannot – will not – accept that independence isn’t about being “anti-English”. They like to characterise the independence referendum as a re-run of the Battle of Bannockburn. Even The Economist magazine – normally sensible – recently ran a big cover with a close-up of a tartan-clad punter in a Jimmy wig with his face painted blue. But Scots are – by and large - grown-ups who live in the 21st century. We don’t paint our faces blue (usually). We think things over then take rational – yes, “canny” – decisions. Having said that, we’re also human beings, not robots. We strike a balance between head and heart. For example, many Scots who felt proud when our national athletics team marched into Celtic Park at the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony in July must also have noticed that nearly all of the 70-odd countries and territories of the former British Empire have declared independence. And none of them appear to regret it.
Scotland is already different, politically, from the rest of the UK. An independent Scotland, pursuing progressive and sustainable economic and social policies, would be a great example for our friends and colleagues in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and a major kick-up-the-backside for complacent Westminster politicians who truly “know the price of everything but the value of nothing”.
Don’t be a “90-minute patriot”. If you feel bad when Scotland lose on the football pitch, imagine that sensation multiplied by 1,000 when you wake up on 19th September 2014, you and a majority having voted No, and you hear Westminster politicians interpret the result – however close - as a 100% vote of confidence to continue with the same tired old politics of austerity, inequality and living-in-the-past. Westminster squandered the first half of the North Sea oil bonanza but there’s still at least £1.5 trillion of reserves to be exploited. The UK is badly-managed and lopsided towards London and SE England, the rich and Big Business. Do you really trust Westminster to suddenly change its ways after a No vote, or do you think Scotland could do better on its own?