Before I vote ‘Yes’ in 2014, there are several questions to which I’d like the answers. I hasten to add, however, that these aren’t questions about the international status of an independent Scotland, or the policies of its government; rather they are about what would happen if Scotland remains within the Union.
There is an asymmetry in the way that some commentators are approaching the debate on independence: if a spokesman for the ‘Yes’ campaign can’t give precise details of the fares on Lothian Buses in 2025 in an independent Scotland, some journalists assert that this ‘weakens the case for independence’. But at the same time, they never question what the future may hold if Scotland remains in the Union. In fact, voting ‘no’ and staying with the Union carries just as much uncertainty as voting ‘yes’ to independence.
So next time we have a TV debate on independence, here are some of the questions that should be put to the ‘No’ campaign:
- Will the Westminster Government after the 2015 be another coalition, and if so, involving which parties; a majority Labour Government; a majority Conservative Government; or none of the above? (Mid-term polls are no guide to election results. Nobody will know the answer to this with any certainty in autumn 2014.)
- What will be the UK rates of income tax, and at what thresholds will those rates kick in, in 2016 or 2017? (This depends a bit on who wins the election. But regardless of what pro-Union parties might say in advance, few people think that any politician’s pre-election promise is any more credible than, say, ‘no, your bum doesn’t look big in that’ or ‘I didn’t use advance season ticket sales to fund my takeover of the club’.)
- What will be the headline UK Corporation Tax rate in 2018? Will there be a lower rate for smaller firms, and if so, how will HMRC define ‘smaller firms’? (Same comment as applies to income tax.)
- What defence or foreign policy needs will the UK’s defence capability be designed to address? And in which countries will UK defence forces be engaged on active service in 2018, and on what basis? (Nobody predicted the Second Gulf War, Afghanistan, or NATO involvement in Libya, though when British troops were deployed to Helmand, the then Foreign Secretary, John Reid, suggested that they might not have to fire a single shot.)
- What rating will credit rating agencies give the UK in 2018, a) if Scotland becomes independent, depriving the rest of the UK of the collateral assets represented by its oil and gas reserves; or b) if Scotland remains in the Union? (This is another question where the crystal ball is needed though other things being equal, an independent Scotland might expect a higher rating than the UK as a whole.)
Clearly, these questions can’t be answered at all; or can only be answered with a best guess, based on assumptions that will inevitably need to be changed as circumstances change. That’s just the same as with the questions that are regularly put to those advocating independence. So let’s have a debate in which arguments on both sides are treated with an equal degree of scrutiny.
But the real point is that the referendum isn’t about the detailed policies that will be followed by a future government of Scotland. It’s about whether that government is elected by those who live in Scotland, and has the powers to deliver Scottish solutions to Scottish problems; or whether we remain governed from London, by a parliament in which Scottish MPs are a tiny minority.
And there aren’t really any more questions to which I need answers before I vote ‘Yes’ in 2014. I’ve been considering the issues for years already, and have already arrived at a firm conclusion.