• Scottish Independence – my thoughts

    Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel and flag-waving the first action of a warmonger.


    I am British, English, and live on the south coast of the UK. That said, the coming Thursday referendum affects me as much as most people in the country. I will set out what is, for me and my compatriots, the most important democratic decision in the last hundred years, if not ever. At present, the polls are all suggesting it too close to call. They are neck and neck.

    For those elsewhere around the world, the campaigns shape up like this:

    YES to independence led by the Scottish First Minister and leader of the Scottish Nationalist Party, Alex Salmond.

    NO/Better Together led by Alex Darling, once the Chancellor of the Exchequer for the previous Labour government.

    Some context: the Scots, over the last 30 years, have become increasingly left wing, with only presently one Conservative MP from Scotland, and the SNP gaining over the last decade or so on Labour and Liberal Democrats to become the biggest party north of the border.

    This presents the first problem. Why are people voting for independence? Well, I would wager that there is a whole host of reasons for voting independence, not all of them strictly because independence is intrinsically good. There are those who will be voting YES because it is their best chance of getting a left-wing socialist government or just as a protest to the Tories. Rather than having a strong chance of getting a right-wing government voted in for the UK based on strong voting behaviours from the home counties near to London, many in Scotland see that independence is the best way to get the socialist leaning SNP in power. I was told recently, though am trying to find proper reference for this, that the self-perception of Scots as being socialist is in fact somewhat different to the reality that they aren’t as socialist, really, as they think. [UPDATE: The referenced information was apparently on a Radio 4 programme. However, see The Myth of Meritocratic Scotland, but it is by the Spectator. The figures on the commonality between England and Scotland on views on welfare and industry, scoring higher on authoritarian scores.]  It’s rather like me setting up a new government in Fareham because I don’t like the Tories (I don’t) rather than just exerting my normal democratic power.


    I think with such as huge change fully affecting people so greatly, to think that there is broadly a 50/50 split sends warnings out for a proper mandate to completely restructure not only Scotland, but necessarily the rest of the country. If it were a 70-90% YES majority, then fair cop, but to be so close doesn’t instil much confidence that such a mammoth task has the required backing. Especially when Scots living in the rest of the UK are not allowed the vote, and 16 year-olds, who everyone knows will predominantly support the YES vote, are. That’s cynical in my view. I know how logistically hard getting Scots living elsewhere in the UK to vote would be, but that should be irrelevant if you want a full and fair representation. The fact remains that this group of Scots working around the UK are the ones who are taking advantage of the Union, and its labour laws, with the freedom of labour migration. And yet this vital group cannot vote, much to Salmond’s glee and, no doubt, cynical plan.

    That’s democracy for you!

    I have access to Scottish opinions on facebook, and it is surprising to see the number of young people who are banging on about Margaret Thatcher being responsible for the closure of the Ravenscraig steel works and suchlike all those decades ago. First of all, some of these remembering are simply not old enough to have this proper first hand experience of such. Second of all, say what you will of Thatcher (she was no saint!), her actions are hardly hugely relevant to a present-day debates about Scottish independence, especially given the likely large-scale devolution of Scottish powers which will be carried through if a NO vote takes place.

    What is scary is that the vote is often taken along sectarian lines, reopening old and ugly wounds, such that Catholics (think Celtic FC) are broadly in favour of independence, and Protestants (think Rangers FC and Orangemen) broadly in favour of the Union. Catholics are, indeed, the most pro-YES group. And this means that people are not voting based on intrinsic value for their position, but based on adherence to familial, cultural, religious or other in-group stereotypes.

    It is one huge example of post hoc rationalisation. in fact, my post on post hoc rationalisation and changing one’s mind was linked on a Scottish independence forum and used to show that most people were unlikely to change their minds in the face of evidence anyway. It seems very likely that a majority of people are voting intuitively, with their hearts (their Bravehearts) and not with their heads. The head being the sensible and rational player in that relationship. I worry when people follow their hearts since it often amounts to following a pipedream; a utopia based on wishful thinking and misconceptions of reality.

    Either way, watch the spin, including any I might provide. Question everything.


    Anyway, here are some points to consider to make the case for Scotland remaining a part of the UK:

    1. The YES campaign uses the National Health Service (NHS) as some major poster boy for their stance on independence. The NHS in Scotland is crumbling in its present state. Except that the NHS in Scotland is devolved from central government/NHS control. So if it is crumbling, that is the responsibility of the Scottish government in recent years.

    2. The race to the bottom. Salmond and the would-be independent government have announced that they would reduce corporation tax to attract industries, as if the UK would not do the same to retaliate. It would be a race to the bottom as both countries would lower taxes and give away incentives to attract industry. The result? A move away from the socialist ideals they want towards corporate paradise, and a complete black hole in tax accounts as revenue plummets.

    3. Global solutions for global problems. We are a world suffering from environmental problems on a massive scale, religious extremism, population issues, corporate megalomania and so on. This is a time when the world should be coming together to work towards shared progressive goals, not breaking up into ever smaller factions in pursuit of in-group/out-group tribal nationalistic aims. That said, the Scots may well be worried at the rise of UKIP who would take us out of Europe – definitely a worry for me, a staunch pro-EU voter. The simple fact remains, when we are part of a broader collective, we are more morally, legally, socially, environmentally… accountable. Think of this on a human level. If you are on your own, you are accountable to no one. If you are in a relationship, you must consider your partner in your actions; if you are part of a communal collective, the wishes of the whole must be considered. This will invariably be a more socially conscientious result. In other words, the best course of action is a United Kingdom with Scotland in a united Europe.

    4. Scotland will go into an economic decline. As the Deutsche Bank group chief economist stated in no uncertain terms:

    “Everyone has the right to self determination and to exercise his or her democratic rights. But there are times when fundamental political decisions have negative consequences far beyond what voters and politicians could have imagined. We feel that we are the threshold of one such moment. A “Yes” vote for Scottish independence on Thursday would go down in history as a political and economic mistake as large as Winston Churchill’s decision in 1925 to return the pound to the Gold Standard or the failure of the Federal Reserve to provide sufficient liquidity to the US banking system, which we now know brought on the Great Depression in the US. These decisions – well-intentioned as they were – contributed to years of depression and suffering and could have been avoided had alternative decisions been taken.”

    I can’t see it going any other way. The cost of setting up a brand new country will be astronomical, surely. No one seems to know how much it will cost and it appears to be being spun both ways. But the simple fact of the matter is that it will cost a lot. And we will all bear the costs of this, particularly, one would hope, the Scottish. Every aspect of life will have to be moved north or south, both in setting up offices, but also separating schemes. Pensions, PAYE schemes, taxes, all government schemes (every single one, from welfare, to corporate funding, form taxes to all forms of funding). Sports funding will suffer as the Scots will no longer have  access to the GB team’s funding and resources, and may not even qualify in time for the next Olympic games, for which their athletes are already training.

    5. Scottish entrance into the EU would not be smooth or straightforward. It would take many years of messy negotiations (or should do on account of previous admissions).

    6. Currency! The biggest debate seems to be over currency. The seems to be a single-minded view from Salmond that they would be using the British pound. But this has been refused as it stands. The whole thing seems to be a debacle that is unlikely to end well for the Scots since they cannot adopt the Euro, and would be controlled by the Bank of England if they did adopt the £.

    7. Depends which spin you believe, but it does seem that the Scots have a higher spend per head from the central government than the rest of the UK. This means, to keep at that level, to have comparable welfare etc, an Independent Scotland would have to raise taxes and cut spending which is precisely the opposite of what they are claiming in other areas.

    8. Relocation of large corporations (banks etc) down to London. Job losses appear to be on the cards as large businesses have already threatened a move. Whether this will merely be registered offices or larger units is still up for debate. With the Royal Bank of Scotland being mainly government owned since the banking crisis, there are chances that it will be broken up.

    9. Defence. What a mess this will be. There are loads of Scots in the UK defences. Will they transfer to the Scottish defence forces? The SNP are staunchly anti-nuclear and want the Trident nuclear subs out of Scotland. Fair enough, but there is no harbour in the rest of the UK which can take them. In the meantime they would have to build one in the UK, and then transfer the job lot, probably to Portsmouth or Plymouth. Also, shipbuilding would definitely leave Scotland to return to Portsmouth. All said, there would be massive implications (especially as many nuclear submariners and technical experts are Scottish – either they come to the UK, and Scotland loses those jobs and expertise, or they have a mass of unemployed people). Scotland would also not be in NATO, would not be at the diplomatic table ini world politics, and would have the equivalence of, say, Slovenia on the world stage.

    10. etc.

    The Philosophy and commentary

    The longer I have been into philosophy, the less nationalistic I have become. I feel very little flag-bearing jingoistic pride. It is hard as a conceptual nominalist who decrees that national borders are nowt but the accidents of history and geography, pragmatic tools at best. Scottish YES voters are redrawing an invisible line along Hadrian’s Wall and claiming it has cultural significance, when, to me, it just signifies an in-group tendency based on nothing but ostensibly false historical pedigree. With immigration and potential myths about the Scots being Celts, we have this arbitrary line behind which Salmond wants to set up his own country.

    But where does this right to self-determination end? Can I decree I want to have a referendum in my house and declare it a new country? OK, so I don’t have the legal ability to do that, but the core philosophy is the same. It is a sort of Sorites Paradox example, yet again. I suppose we have to have countries in the absence of a one world order. The goal here would be to have the most morally valuable set up. Britain sits at a powerful diplomatic seat worldwide. If Scotland leaves, both countries will slip down that ladder. But do we have that elitist right to sit at that seat based on imperial history? Well, no, but I think we should have that role. Why? Because, based on experience (of living here) and history, Britain is a progressive liberal society; not the best, but we are up there as being a fairly good example to the world. Yes, I would prefer we had elements of Scandinavia, elements of Switzerland and other countries dotted around the world, but we’re pretty good on balance as far as human rights, legal rights, moral liberalism and suchlike. I would prefer to live here than most other nations, on balance. So I would prefer the UK to have that power than, say, Uganda. And if Scotland wants to have socialist power, then changing the UK from the inside to make our foreign policy reflect that, in its position of power, is better than going it alone, in my opinion.

    There is this notion of the value of smaller tribes against a large tribe. social cohesion, economics, identity, accountability. These all come into play.

    The general idea for me is to move towards joining up rather than splitting up. Yes, we can have a regionalism within a greater unit. I think that is what the UK is. And we can devolve powers appropriately whilst keeping the core values of the UK. As one commenter stated:

    Independence to do what? From the moment Scotland becomes independent, it will start entering into relationships and treaties which restrict its independence; the EU, NATO, UN, ECHR and so on. These will all involve the compromise of national interests. It is the same for all nations – especially small ones.

    One obvious example is the currency; independent Scotland intends to keep using the pound, but (unlike now) it will have no say in setting UK monetary policy; in other words it will have less control over its economy than it does now.

    A sensible approach would be to first decide what Scotland wants to do, then amend the constitutional arrangements in the way that enabled them to do it. Instead, they intend to amend the constitution and decide later why they have done it.

    Of course, it is easier politically to avoid talking about the future. It means that Scottish independence can be sold to everyone; some can think it will allow Scotland to become socialist, some can think it will turn it into an economic tiger, while others are reassured nothing will really change.

    ‘Independence’ is a perfect example of a political slogan that pulls at the heartstrings but means nothing.

    I am against independence, as you can see, and I hope I have given some of the reasons as to why. It is in no way exhaustive. Being something I have talked about incredibly often recently, I thought it deserved a post. There is nothing more important for me just now. Yes, we can all be afraid of change. But this is no ordinary election where you can vote the government out after four years if they screw up; this is a no-return scenario. Mistakes have permanent consequences. And I think independence would be a mistake: for the Scots, the other Brits, the world.

    I think that we are a shining example of how, for 300 years, such a range of people have been, and can be, united. I don’t think many other places on earth have shown such unity.

    Category: FeaturedPhilosophyPolitics


    Article by: Jonathan MS Pearce