I’m a proud Scot, but…that’s not the only – or maybe even the main – reason I’ll be voting ‘Yes’ on 18th September. That’s because I’ll be voting for independence with my head, as well as with my heart.
I suppose that helps me understand why lots of folk who hail from France, or India, or Poland will also be voting ‘Yes’. But I can’t presume to speak for them, only for myself. So here are my reasons.
Let’s get the sentimental stuff out of the way first. I said I was a ‘proud Scot’. As it happens, I was born in, grew up in, and have spent most of my life in England. I moved to Edinburgh a few years back and now live in Aberdeen, so some might consider me a ‘New Scot’. But I’ve a vague childhood memory of my Dad (who had an English accent) and my Granddad cheering as they watched the TV, as Peter Brown kicked a last-minute goal to enable Scotland to beat England at Twickenham in 1971. And I grew up in a house where Scotland was referred to as ‘home’; where the history books told of the exploits of The Bruce and the Black Douglas; and where both my grandfathers, in their photos on the mantelpiece, were pictured in their kilts.
So I could have played rugby of football for England or for Scotland: all that stopped me was the minor matter of a complete lack of any athletic ability or any talent in either. But I’ve always thought of myself as Scots, and so I guess I was always emotionally pre-disposed to support the idea of an independent Scotland.
But I grew up in England, remember, and I knew – or thought I knew – that the idea of Scottish independence was a nostalgic, romantic dream, that couldn’t work in practice. After all, Scotland was subsidized by the rest of the UK; her industries were in terminal decline; overall public spending per head was higher than in England; widespread social and economic deprivation in Greater Glasgow entailed huge welfare spending that an independent Scotland simply couldn’t support; and, yes, though the oil money would help, the oil would soon – maybe around the year 2000 – run out. At least that’s what the newspapers said.
So what changed?
Well, for one thing, I came to work on a project to do with attracting inward investment to Scotland. That meant I had to take a serious look at the Scottish economy, and at the policy levers at Holyrood’s disposal to encourage investment.
And I soon realized that while public spending per capita is higher in Scotland than in England, Scotland’s contribution to total UK taxes is higher still; in effect, if there’s any subsidizing going on, it’s Scotland that is subsidizing the rest of the UK, not vice-versa. The statistics on this are pretty clear: last year, for example, Scotland, which has 8.4% of the UK population, got 9.3% of UK public spending, but contributed 9.9% of UK taxes. That pattern wasn’t a one-off: it’s been happening for years. As for welfare spending, it turns out that, as a percentage of GDP, Scotland spends less than England (in 2012, welfare spending in Scotland was 14.4% of GDP, compared to 15.9% in England). And sure, the oil will run out eventually, but not for many decades. Indeed, it’s reckoned that there is around 24 billion barrels of reserves, worth around £1.5 trillion, left under the North Sea. Scotland also has 25% of the offshore wind and tidal energy potential in the whole of Europe – so we’ll be an energy-rich country, in perpetuity.
That didn’t sound much like it added up to a country that was ‘too wee’ and ‘too poor’ to be independent.
As for the levers available to Scottish Government, it simply doesn’t have control over many of the policy and regulatory issues that would attract firms to invest in Scotland. Many of these powers remain reserved to Westminster. So Scottish Government attempting to attract inward investment, is a bit like trying to play an 18-hole round of golf with only three clubs in your bag. Worse still, in a whole host of areas – as diverse as energy regulation to immigration policy – Scotland was and is actively disadvantaged by being saddled with one-size-fits-all regulations that might make sense for the southern half of England, but are downright perverse in a Scottish context.
Maybe this independence malarkey wasn’t as crazy as all that after all.
But I still had reservations. I’ve worked largely in the private sector. And while I like to think of myself as a progressive, socially-liberal kind of guy, I am also pro-business and pro-enterprise; and I’d opt for Adam Smith over Karl Marx any day. And I was told that these SNP types were a bunch of crypto-Trotskyite, swivel-eyed loons, determined to turn Scotland into somewhere like – whisper it now – Scandinavia! To some people in business, mention of ‘the Scandinavian model’ conjures up something akin to the wild lands north of The Wall, in ‘Game of Thrones’. But when I looked into things, it turned out that the SNP had a raft of pretty sensible, pro enterprise policies, such as cutting the rate of Corporation Tax, and investing in infrastructure. And all the Nordic countries also regularly feature in the top ten in the Global Entrepreneurship and Development Index, which ranks countries in terms of how well they foster enterprise. So, in fact, Scandinavia seems rather a good place to be doing business, and isn’t so scary at all.
So by now I’m thinking that independence sounds a pretty attractive scenario.
Of course, independence isn’t just about the economy. Scotland shares long-standing cultural and historic ties with the rest of the UK. What about those? And do I really want to make my English relatives ‘foreign’?
I consider Shakespeare, and the paintings of Turner, and the music of Tallis or the Beatles, to be part of my cultural heritage. But I figured I wouldn’t lose that after a ‘Yes’ vote, because I also regard Tacitus, and Renoir, and Chopin and Abba as part of my cultural heritage; and that doesn’t mean I feel the need to have an Italian, French, Polish or Swedish passport. And I’ll be no less British when Scotland is independent than a Norwegian became less Scandinavian when Norway secured its independence from Sweden, a hundred years ago, or thereabouts. As for my English relatives, my ties to them won’t be any the less if Scotland and the rest of the UK are no longer part of the same sovereign state – any more than I love my Canadian relatives less because Scotland and Canada aren’t in a political union.
And then we had the referendum campaign.
Now, this may sound strange, but if I know for a fact that someone is lying to me, and doing so in a way that insults my intelligence, and it seems as though that same person is also trying to bully me, I might not be altogether wholly receptive to their arguments. Dear ‘Project Fear’, if ever I’d had any doubts about the case for independence, thank you for removing them.
- “Independence will mean higher mobile phone bills, because we’ll have international roaming charges”. That was what UK Government said after the relevant European Commissioner had already announced that such charges would be abolished by 2016. Did UK Government know what the Commission had said, and were lying by omission, or didn’t they know, and were simply incompetent.
- “You won’t be able to watch Dr Who if you’re independent”. Maria Miller MP said that, and I leave it to you, dear reader, to judge as to her credibility. But, more importantly, since the BBC sells Dr Who to around 90 countries round the world, is it remotely credible that they’d choose not to sell it to an independent Scotland?
- “A vote for independence would mean walking away from the pound”. Let’s be clear on this one. RoUK could refuse a formal currency union. Whether they’d be wise to do so is another matter entirely. But they couldn’t stop Scotland using Sterling because IT’S AN INTERNATIONALLY TRADABLE CURRENCY, but both Ed Balls and George Osborne have said, in terms, that we couldn’t use the pound. Are Ed and Gideon economically illiterate, or liars, or do they simply take us for fools? Answers on a postcard, please.
- And then we had Lord Robertson’s warnings that a ‘Yes’ vote would be ‘cataclysmic’, and would be welcomed by the ‘forces of darkness’ throughout the world. I’m just a tiny bit sceptical that independence would, swiftly and inevitably, be followed by invasion, with fire and sword, by hordes of Vandals, Vikings, Visigoths, Dothraki Khalasars, and assorted flesh-eating zombies.
What’s also really got my goat is the way Unionist politicians –of whatever party – say one thing to an English audience, and say the exact opposite to a Scottish one, and THINK WE WON’T NOTICE.
- Take Corporation Tax, for example. The Scottish Government says it intends to cut the rate. We’re told that’s economic folly, and would lead to a ‘race to the bottom’, and to tax competition, which is a BAD THING. Gordon Brown and George Osborne have both, as UK Chancellors, cut the rate of Corporation Tax. Funnily enough, in their budget speeches when they announced these cuts, they said it was a good thing.
- Then there’s the issue of more powers for Holyrood if we vote ‘no’. ‘Better Together’ tells Scots that additional powers are ‘guaranteed’ while Johann Lamont was simultaneously telling the Northern Echo that people in the North East of England shouldn’t believe talk of more powers for Scotland, because that was just ‘propaganda’.
- And then there’s the oil again. When David Cameron talks to a non-Scottish audience, the oil is going to last for years, and each new discovery is an enormous boon to the UK economy. But when he talks to a Scottish audience, the oil will run out soon, and the income is ‘volatile’, and we’d be ‘over-reliant’ on it – despite the fact that oil revenues in an independent Scotland would account for half of their contribution to Norway’s economy.
So by now, you’ll have realized that I ‘d become more than a little annoyed at what the ‘Better Together’ campaign had been telling me. It wasn’t the only thing that annoyed me, however. My Mum was from Glasgow. So it angers me, too, that in a resource-rich, First World country, male life expectancy in parts of that city is worse than it is in North Korea; and some of the money that’s been spent on Crossrail, or the Millennium Dome, or the London Olympics might have been better spent on fixing that.
But, at the end of the day, being a proud Scot, or being angry or annoyed isn’t, at least for me, the only reason to vote ‘Yes’. I’ve decided to do so for positive reasons.
Scotland is a land blessed with vast natural resources; with a diverse, well-balanced economy and comparative advantage in a range of industries – tourism, food and drink, life sciences, energy, and financial services. And we have more highly ranked universities than the UK, the US, or pretty much any other country in Europe. That’s a list of advantages that the vast majority of independent countries round the world would give their right arm for.
Adam Smith once wrote that “the real tragedy of the poor is the poverty of their aspirations”. The real tragedy for Scotland would be if we vote ‘no’ because too many of us don’t dare to aspire to a better future.
That’s why – and not just for my Mum and Dad – I’m voting ‘Yes’.