Since the independence referendum campaign began, I have felt unable to write down in one place a summary of what I believe about the central issue. I wanted to hear the debate on both sides and the task of distilling my feelings into a single statement seemed too complex. With my postal vote arriving through the mail yesterday I now have to confront myself, if no-one else, with my reasons for voting ‘No.’
There is no simple answer. My reasons are both positive and negative, rational and emotional.
To begin with myself. I have many identities. Not least, I’m a partner and father. I’m a British citizen and I’m a European. My partner and children are Scottish. I’ve lived in Scotland for longer than anywhere else, nearly thirty years. And I’m English. I’m English in the same way my brother-in-law, who has lived outside Scotland for nearly all his adult life, is Scottish and will always be Scottish. I am relaxed about all these differences and about many more.
Not only am I relaxed about the differences I rejoice in the diversity they represent. But I am uneasy about nationalism. I despise the crude nationalism of ‘We’re better than any other nation’ and I am wary of it dressed up in its civic clothes. I am told constantly that independence for Scotland is about the future. At the same time I am assailed with a never-ending litany of dates, 1319, 1320, 1603, 1707, 1715, 1745, 1979 … , each with its own myth of triumph, despair or grievance.
I already live in a liberal democracy. It’s called the United Kingdom. It’s far from perfect but what nation state is? For every wrong it might have perpetrated, I can point to good that it has done. By and large we live in peace within its boundaries with a standard of living amongst the world’s highest. We get to choose our government. We can say and write nearly everything we want, and many of us do. A right-wing Conservative government, which I do not support, has even legislated for equal marriage, and before the Scottish Parliament did. I see no point in breaking away to form a separate liberal democracy behind a new international border.
Some seem able to find a single overwhelming reason that makes them want to leave the UK. It may be a political party, most often the Tories, nuclear weapons, or poverty. The usual formulation is ‘I want independence because of the obscenity of X. Independence will make Scotland an X-free zone.’ With the possible exception of nuclear weapons, which would most likely be a question of displacement rather than abolition, I don’t believe any of these claims. And of all the reasons to break away, dislike of one political party in a democracy seems the most facile.
Much of the debate about independence has focussed on its likely impact on the economy. Listening to all the arguments, my conclusions are
- the Yes campaign has not made a coherent case for which currency an independent Scotland would use. The SNP are adamant, in Alex Salmond’s words, that ‘It’s our pound and we’re keeping it.’ This is in the face of the clearest statement by all the other main political parties that there would not be a currency union between the UK and an independent Scotland,
- with potential Spanish and perhaps Belgian opposition, EU membership seems to waver somewhere between possible and probable, and is by no means a foregone conclusion. It would be likely to require long and arduous negotiation and exact a heavy price in commitment to arrangements many Scots would find unpalatable,
- oil is by no means the bonanza the Yes campaign seeks to portray and is unlikely to deliver the revenue and ‘savings for a rainy day’ that the SNP claim it would [I have blogged separately about the SNP and the oil industry],
- the important financial sector would be under significant threat as its main markets are south of the border and major relocation of companies and jobs is likely,
- not unrelated to these issues, there has been enough doubt cast on the SNP’s forecast of government revenues to make me wary of an independent Scottish government’s ability to deliver better services than it can in the UK.
At the ‘rational’ end of my spectrum of reasons for voting ‘No’ I also include the NHS, which is the responsibility of the Scottish Parliament and which works well. I do not believe it is under threat from what happens in England. I do believe however that the state pension may be harder to sustain, let alone increase, in a smaller country with a significantly older population than the rest of the UK.
Of course there are arguments against my conclusions on the economy, the NHS and pensions. But I’m not convinced that enough of those arguments are correct to overcome the counter-arguments. In particular, the manipulation by the SNP of information about many of these issues is distasteful and reinforces my view that they will sacrifice anything including the truth to achieve their one over-riding objective.
As I was thinking about what I could write here I visited the tail-end of the wonderful Edinburgh festivals. In the unlikely venue of a recording of the BBC Radio 4 programme Book Club, I heard journalist and author Allan Massie talk about his novel A Question of Loyalties. I have since discovered he is both a unionist and a Conservative so sceptics may wish to switch off here. The question of the referendum did not surface at all in his discussions with Jim Naughtie and the Book Club audience. But as with so much else in this year’s festivals the question of independence hovered unspoken in the air.
Massie said much that I found sympathetic. In particular, although I did not make a note of his precise words, he said something to the effect that
I believe most people make decisions on emotional grounds.
If he was thinking of independence/separation I believe he is right. Those emotions will be affected by rational argument and by facts, or at least their interpretation. But underlying the arguments are deep feelings.
My emotions lead me to the conclusion that I want my adopted country Scotland to stay together with the other nations of the United Kingdom. In a phrase I hesitate to use but keeps buzzing around in my mind, everything is too ‘jumbled up in a good way.’ I can see an opponent making sport with the words but they reflect a shared history and shared values, as well as a contemporary strength that comes from being together. That’s not to say the British state doesn’t need reform. It does (I tend increasingly to the idea of a federal state and may return to that in another post).
I don’t expect my arguments to convince anyone who is going to vote ‘Yes’ – that emotional factor again. It’s not why I’ve written this. But I have at least tried to be honest with myself in what will be the most important vote I will have cast in my forty-five years of adult life.