A part of me thinks there needs to be two question on the ballot papers on 18th September. No, not the one about Devo Max but this one: “Could Scotland become an independent country?”. And, if your answer to this is ‘no’, you should not be allowed to answer the one question that will be on the ballot paper, “Should Scotland become and independent country?”. That sounds a bit undemocratic though, doesn’t it? So perhaps that is not such a great idea after all…
But these two questions are the heart of the independence issue and everyone needs to be able to answer them both before placing their mark on the paper in September.
I’ll offer you a simple message though: Anyone who tells you that Scotland cannot afford to be an independent nation is one of the following; a) badly informed, b) stupid, or c) thinks you are stupid and wants to scare you. By no measure anywhere in the world can it be shown that Scotland cannot afford to run its own affairs totally independent of the UK (or the EU for that matter). The UK government’s own figures, Government Expenditure & Revenue Scotland show that Scotland’s government revenue is very healthy indeed, with or without oil and gas (and while this is linked to a Scottish Government website, the figures come from the UK Office of National Statistics and are not disputed. They may or may not be 100% accurate but neither the No or the Yes sides of the campaign are disputing them).
So why, in recent weeks, have the main stream media been full of claims about the cost of setting up new government departments in an independent Scotland (completely debunked by the people who wrote the reports on which the claims were made), warnings that oil is going to run out (despite the fact that the oil companies are all investing heavily in North Sea jobs and infrastructure – have you been to Aberdeen recently and seen all the building work that is going on?) and demands for firm figures on issues such as the proposed childcare measures? (I am not going to get into any of these other than to say, Google is your friend as are the links on my Recommended Reading page.)
The reason is simple; the pro-Union, No campaign are trying to muddy the waters and introduce uncertainty into an issue that is actually pretty clear cut. There is indeed considerable uncertainty over various issues related to the future of Scotland, whether within the UK or as an independent nation, but being able to afford to become independent is not one of them. It is about the only aree where there is certainty; we can afford it. The No side are trying to scare the people of Scotland into voting No. That is all.
What is less clear cut is how wealthy an independent Scotland would be and, to be completely honest with you, nobody knows the answer to that one. But nobody knows how wealthy the UK is going to be in five, ten or twenty years either, and anyone who suggests otherwise is a) lying, b) ill-informed, or c) trying to sell you something. All that can ever be done in these circumstances is to analyse the situation and make the best predictions. This often amounts to little more than informed guesswork as events like the 2008 worldwide banking crisis (also predicted but conveniently ignored by those who preferred the status quo) can come along and derail any and every reasonable economic forecast.
Now the relative wealth of an independent Scotland is an issue for those living there but again, nobody with any degree of credibility is suggesting that Scotland would end up being one of the poorest countries in the world or even one of the poorest countries in Europe. Some predictions (based on assumption that may be flawed) say that Scotland will end up relatively wealthier than the UK as a whole while others (also based on assumptions that may be equally flawed) say that Scotland will end up relatively poorer than the UK as a whole.
But what does any of that mean to ordinary people? Nothing much at all, is the answer.
Yes, the relative wealth of a country can reflect the amount of money available for public spending which affect us all but often the two are not linked because public spending is more a characteristic of political will than the wealth of the nation (which is an abstract idea rather than a concrete, measurable reality anyway). For example, the UK is a relatively wealthy country with some very wealthy people (some obscenely so) living within its borders and doing business here but it is also a country where an obscene number of people are living in poverty or very near to it. This is because of the taxation, employment and public spending policies and systems put in place by successive Westminster governments. An independent, yet relatively poorer, Scotland could ensure better distribution of wealth that results in fewer really wealthy people while ensuring that there are fewer really poor people and also that the people in the middle are a little bit better off as well. Politics, not economics determines these outcomes.
Of course, the devil is in the details and this is what the No campaign is trying to exploit. They are asking for details but are really implying that Scotland is too poor to be able to afford independence when it is 100% certain that we can.
The second part of the ‘could’ question is whether or not Scotland could manage its own affairs of government or whether the country would simply collapse in a bureaucratic mess and become a failed state like so many African nations did once the colonial overlords eventually left the continent. There is almost zero possibility of Scotland becoming a failed state or bankrupting itself trying to manage its own affairs and anyone who suggests otherwise is a) lying and trying to scare you or b) ill-informed to a degree that I wouldn’t accept their word if they told me it was raining in Glen Etive or windy in Shetland. (You learn something new every day, Dundee is the sunniest city in Scotland. Who would have believed that?)
Think about this; what does any country really need in order to function? a) a working government (we have one already that just needs a few tweaks to bring up to full international speed), b) a legal system (we have one already that is quite separate from the one in the rest of the UK), c) an education system (I refer you to b), d) a health system and emergency services (ditto), e) a mechanism for collecting taxation (we have some elements of this in place already but would have to increase its capacity – and there is already a nice building in East Kilbride with HMRC employees working in it), f) a welfare system (one of those would have to be set up but parts are already in place in Scotland), g) a diplomatic service (we need to establish one of them too but Scotland already has several government organisations working on Scotland’s connection to the wider world), nad h) a military (we already have the troops and a lot of infrastructure so just need to set up the command and control side of things to get going – not that anyone is going to invade us any time soon so it is not exactly our highest priority). I am sure there are other things that I have missed but these are the essential organs of the state and the most important ones are already up and running in this country of ours.
The other aspect is whether or not we would have the people to run these institutions and I think we can all be fairly sure we already do. As I said, many of these institutions are already running and, for the most part, running reasonably well under a devolved Scottish parliament so there is no reason to think they will suddenly collapse under the weight of independence. One of the claims made by Better Together is that many great Scots have risen to prominence within the UK (and still do – remember the nationality of the last Prime Minister or Chancellor? Mind you, those two might not be the best examples to use…) and imply they became great because Scotland is part of the UK. So all the smart, clever, ambitious, capable, hard-working Scots are only those things because of the Union? Please! Scotland grows and nurtures a lot of talent, some of whom are senior members of UK organisations; what makes anyone think that all of these people are simply going to stick with the UK and not come home to Scotland to help make this small nation a going concern? And even if they don’t, we are not exactly a nation of numbskulls and we can and will make this thing work.
So I think the case is pretty much closed on ‘Could Scotland become and independent nation?’. That only leaves the question of ‘Should?’.
That, quite frankly, is an awful lot harder to answer with any degree of certainty. Actually, it is the easiest question of the lot for me because I am 100% in favour of Scotland going its own way and always have been but I can totally see why another person, Scot’s born or otherwise, might feel differently. I don’t really see it as my place to convince you of what you should think or do; my only concern is that when you make your decision that you do so armed with facts and aware of the realities of voting Yes or voting No and can then make your decision on that basis.
I came into this debate with a view that it was a heart and head issue and the rational, factual ‘head’ issues were so finely balanced that you could simply let your emotional ‘heart’ make the decision for you. After spending several months delving deeper into the facts of the issue I am now utterly convinced that the best ‘head’ decision is to vote Yes in September because I do think the consequences of voting No will not be good for Scotland and its people for decades to come and that we will simply be back where we are now sometime in the future. I rather fear that in that future Scotland we will be starting from a lot worse off than we are now because the oil will be that much nearer to running out and an unholy alliance of Tory-UKIP will have taken us out of the EU and dissolved the Scottish parliament and perhaps made it illegal to campaign for independence for Scotland (and if you think that can’t or won’t happen, please ask yourself what evidence you base that opinion on?).
But that is bordering on scaremongering and I am reluctant to push that angle too far because it is also possible that a federated UK inside or outside the EU (I am not actually a great fan of the EU though I think we – UK and Scotland – are better off in rather than out at the present time) with greater devolved powers to the regions (including) Scotland might form in the next decade or two if the British public’s clear dissatisfaction with the current Westminster model of government causes the changed that we desperately need (though, if you wish to hold onto this hope please ask yourself where the evidence is to support such events occurring?).
So I think it comes down to this: there is no evidence that Scotland becoming independent will be disastrous for Scotland or the UK, nor is there any evidence to indicate that Scotland voting to remain within the UK would be disastrous to Scotland (though I do believe there are indications that it will not be in our best interests, at least in the immediate short term due to the further ‘Austerity’ measures we know are coming from either the Tories or Labour, whomever wins the next general election in 2015). If you are convinced that you wish for Scotland to remain an integral part of the UK I don’t think there is any overwhelming evidence to compel you to change your mind. And if you are committed to Scotland being an independent nation there is no evidence at all that you should be dissuaded from voting accordingly. But if you are genuinely undecided and cannot simply listen to your heart one way or the other, then I think you should follow the rational arguments which have, without doubt, shown that Scotland is entirely capable of standing alone as an independent nation and indicate, in all probability, that Scotland will be better off for it.