Don’t Know 3

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Why I don’t Know by Alistair Grant

I don’t know how to vote in 2014.

I can’t deny that there are certain aspects to an independent Scotland that I find unquestionably appealing. I think Scotland’s culture and creative scenes would no doubt benefit hugely, as can be evidenced by the sheer volume of vocal support from within these industries. Figures such as Alan Bissett, Alasdair Gray, Iain Banks and Mogwai’s Stuart Braithwaite have made no secret of their fierce support for a Yes vote in 2014. What’s more, independence would do away with the bruised, underdog mentality of some Scottish art and literature, enabling us to be proud of our heritage and achievements without constant recourse to perceived wrongs committed by Westminster or England.

Like the vast majority of Scots I also get sick of the London-centric view peddled by much mainstream media. Many aspects of Scottish life and culture go unreported in newspapers and magazines purporting to serve the whole of the UK, while media jobs and opportunities are often only available to those with either a London address or the financial means to support themselves in the capital while working unpaid for long hours. This means the media in Britain is largely dominated by a small elite from the South of England, and so can’t possibly claim to represent Scotland in any meaningful sense.

It is in matters of economy that my uncertainties arise. The currency issue seems unresolved and unclear, while the tangible economic benefits of independence seem shaky and indistinct. As a recent university graduate I worry about the effect a Yes vote might have on my own future, and the future of my friends and family. In the current economic climate it’s unfortunately quite tempting to stick with what you know rather than forge out new paths in uncharted territories. Additionally, while I would like to see a fairer and more equal society, I’m suspicious of any claims that Scotland is inherently more left-wing than England, or that independence would automatically bring such progressive changes about.

Most of all, I think there is a lack of clear information from both sides of the debate. All too often, legitimate political discussion descends into petty mud-slinging and cheap jibes, often at the expense of clear facts and positive arguments. I feel like I don’t know enough to vote intelligently, and what information that does exist is too frequently concealed within staunch ideological positioning. Occasionally I even find the level of debate patronising, with both sides far too casually dismissive of perfectly reasonable concerns raised by the other. The debate needs to change if I am to be convinced. A complicated issue needs a complicated, adult debate; anything less is a disservice to the people of Scotland.

 


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20 replies

  1. Hi Alastair, it’s good to hear what your questions are about independence, and I’m sorry to hear you feel there’s not enough clear information. There is plenty of excellent information out there, but it’s often obscured and muddled by the No camp – clear and honest discussion is the last thing they want. An excellent resource written by Scottish business owners, and especially useful for the economics of independence, is the Business for Scotland website. It also helps to get away from party political rhetoric, as these people are non party political.

    The one thing that stands out for me in your comments is that you fear forging out new paths into uncharted territories. I think that a No vote is much more likely to take us off the safe route – things like the free education you’ve enjoyed, the NHS, free care for our elderly – these are much more likely to continue with an independent Scotland. If we vote No, then Westminster can do what it likes in Scotland, and there will be nothing we can democratically do about it. The safer route is actually with an independent Scotland.

  2. I really don’t get this incessant whining about needing “more information”. There is a veritable mountain of stuff out there. All of it easily accessible. And hundreds, if not thousands, of people prepared to help point genuine enquirers in the right direction.

    What these people are really looking for is not “more information”. They are looking for something that will make the decision easy. But the decision IS easy. Independence is RIGHT! Regardless of ANY other arguments, independence is the proper status of a nation. All the rest is mere circumlocution.

    That should be good enough for anybody. But if any are still hesitating then they should stop looking for the magic incantation that will make a Yes vote the obvious and easy choice and start looking at all the reasons why a No vote would be the WRONG choice. Disastrously, catastrophically WRONG!

    Do you want an end to devolution and the Scottish Parliament stripped of significant powers?

    Do you want Scotland’s budget slashed so as to force us into adopting the policies of the British austerity cult?

    Do you want policies such as health service privatisation imposed on Scotland so as to remove an embarrassing contrast with what is happening in England?

    Do you want to see Scotland’s electoral system rigged so that the hegemony of the British parties at Holyrood can be restored and never again challenged?

    Do you want Scotland to be branded as inferior to other nations, it’s people marked as innately incapable and unworthy of the independence that everybody else takes for granted?

    If you want all these things then your choice on September 18 is still easy. Just vote No and you’ll get all of this and worse! But before you do, ask yourself one more question.

    Even if you think one day you’ll be able to forgive yourself, can you ever hope for forgiveness from your children and your children’s children?

    • This is the kind of intemperate and emotional response that is guaranteed to put off those who genuinely don’t know.

      • You turn a blind eye to the fact that claims of a lack of information ceased to be credible many months ago. So it becomes increasingly clear that those who cite this as a reason for being undecided are not being entirely forthright.

        It suits the anti-independence campaign very well that there should be a generalised air of uncertainty about questions surrounding the constitutional issue. It works well with their scaremongering campaign strategy. You seem to be content that this false impression should go unchallenged. I am not.

  3. That’s fair commentary, an open mind is all that is required in any debate. I’d be the wrong bod to try and convince you of a YES vote, mainly because I’m economically challenged (in every sense). My vote is based on the principle of the question should Scotland be an independent country? Or put it another way. Should we continue to have the right of self determination and aspiration to self governance? If the logical answer to this is yes, then we must accept all that this entails good and bad.

    Will Scotland be a beacon of progressive thought and politics overnight? No. But will we have the option to become that beacon over time? I’d say yes, because the biggest step toward that transformation will have taken place. I’d imagine the logic could be applied to the economy as well, only over a shorter more easily monitored timespan. Will we have a booming economy overnight? No, but almost instantly we’ll lose much of what held our economy back. Our tax and spend priorities would change overnight. Our redistribution would change within the year. The rest really would be up to the policy makers. Except this time those policy makers would themselves be monitored directly by the electorate and held in check by a constitution limiting their powers via popular sovereignty.

    It would be a directly accountable government, something we’ve not seen in our lifetimes. We’ll actually get the government we vote for is a pretty compelling selling point.

    Anyhoo, I’ll leave it for smarter lads to put forward points of law and economics. Just my tuppence worth.

  4. I think part of the problem is that “sticking with what we know” isn’t a path to certainty. Effectively YES/NO there remain huge uncertainties about the economy, the EU and all manner of other things. There isn’t uncertainty about top table membership of certain international organisations and vetos (it seems unlikely they will be retained) but that is probably all there is certainty about.

    But the main thing for me that YES offers is a chance for the 5 million folk in Scotland to determine the direction and “destiny” of Scotland at the ballot box far more effectively than we ever will be able to within the UK (and who knows perhaps provide them with an example on their doorstep of how to change direction themselves).

    We can’t make the rest of the world a more certain place economically. We can however have a say on what currency Scotland has, how our institutions (like Universities) are funded and who we believe has the best ideas to grow and develop our economy.

    The indyref is, for me and many other Yes voters, about opportunity and promise. It’s about the opportunity to determine what road we take as a country. It’s not something that will be decided solely by a Yes vote mind. If we vote Yes and embrace at the 2016 ballot box a government that wants as little change as possible than I would see Yes as something of a squandered opportunity (at least initially – there is unlikely to be anything done that can’t be undone in time).

    In short a YES vote could be the first step on the road to the Scotland I want to live in. If I truly believed that the UK could become that country than the indyref would be something of an irrelevance (though tempered with the thought that in economic terms small is beautiful for the most part). But I don’t believe Westminster or the electorate of the UK (on the whole) has any real appetite for change. I think that a YES vote would build that appetite for change in Scotland and perhaps something of a renaissance in political discourse and debate.

    It is much more exciting to try and build a new country founded on the principles and values of it’s people rather than the business interests of the market. It’s also, I feel, a more genuine opportunity to change things than we will ever have in the UK. It’s easier to convince 5 million people to come with you than it is 63 million.

    With Yes we could start that journey and yes it would be uncertain but there is uncertainty with a no vote as well.

  5. Hello Alistair

    I completely agree with you that the current state of debate must change. The antagonistic standard of it is achieving precious little. However, I feel the media and the press must play a large part in ensuring that the debate is adult, clear and informative, which I dont think it is doing at present.

    I also agree with your comments on the London-centric attitude of our media. BBC Scotland, for example, receives only one-third of licence fees raised in Scotland for “Scottish programming” with the other two-thirds going elsewhere with the BBC in general having an “aspiration” to produce “only 50%” of its output in London by 2016 despite London having only 12.5% of the UK population!

    I do though think that Scotland is generally more left-wing than England. This, to me, is evidenced by the lack of Tory support in Scotland over the years. I think it is also evidenced by our policy decisions to have free personal care for the elderly, free prescriptions, no tuition fees, free national bus pass, some of which are but a dream in current day England, as well as the insistence not to privatise our NHS when even the ambulance service has been privatised in three areas of England.

    Economically, It’s now widely accepted that Scotland’s GDP is higher than UK GDP and that Scotland contributes 9.9% of the UK treasury’s income while receiving only 9.3% of UK government expenditure. That, of course, is a surplus.

    It’s also the case that much of that expenditure includes Scotland’s share of UK departmental expenditures, such as Defence. This means that not only is Scotland putting more into the UK treasury per head than the UK as a whole but we’re also contributing to things which most of us don’t want to contribute to, such as Trident.

    Scotland’s GDP makes the country the 8th most wealthy in the world (the UK is 16th-18th) and I don’t think any of us should fear independence under that circumstance. Indeed, as well as being in a good position economically, economists predict that an independent Scotland will experience an influx of inward investment as has happened in all the other European countries that have recently become independent.

    Of course, I understand that some people might want to stick with what they know rather than choosing independence. However, what we know is that Scotland’s budget is being cut year on year until at least 2020 and probably for years afterwards while Scotland’s contribution to the UK treasury is not going down, and that, to me, is frightening.

  6. I understand from the poll of young people that some of them want more information. Considering the amount of information available, that is odd. I think what they mean is that they want someone to predict the future. That can’t be done. We need to develop faith in other Scots ability to run the country without reference to the British State, which is dysfunctional and past its sell-by date.

  7. Alistair – you mention you’re a recent university graduate. Bear in mind that you’ve already benefitted enormously from the existence of a Scottish Parliament, which chose to abolish university tuition fees, and has refused to be kowtowed into following England down the route of US-style fees that are punatively expensive. That’s not something that we can take for granted though, and as the Scottish bloc grant continues to be cut by Westminster, future Scottish governments will come under increasing pressure to implement the same cuts north of the border as those implemented south of the border.

    Imagine your financial position just now if we’d not had a Scottish Parliament, starting off in the jobs market already saddled with thousands of pounds of debt. Then imagine what pains people might be avoiding just now if that same parliament had control of things like welfare – would we implement something as hideous as the bedroom tax? It seems unlikely – Scotland may or may not be inherently more left-wing than England, but no Scottish government would be compelled to tailor policies to ensure the survival of the City of London’s financial centre, to the detriment of everywhere else. This weekend’s top story in the Sunday Herald (“London is sucking Scotland dry”) suggests that cutting ourselves free from “The City” is perhaps the single biggest economic argument for independence – and your point about media jobs in London suggests there’s probably a bit of you that knows this is the case.

    Of course it’s tempting to stick with the devil we know than the devil we don’t. Change is often scary. But is certain doom really the best we should be striving for? You want a fairer and more equal society – ask yourself if such a thing is even possible under the current settlement, with the UK currently the 4th most unequal place in the developed world, and heading towards the top spot. Nobody can guarantee that Scotland will truly be a fair and equal society, but at least we’ll be giving ourselves the opportunity to try! And besides, just look at the proponents of change – socialists, greens and real left-wingers like Dennis Canavan – against the proponents of the status quo – the current UK government and people like Alistair Darling who even opposed devolution in 1979 (and is recycling most of the same arguments…)

    Clear information will only come from one side of this debate, unfortunately. There is no benefit for the No campaign in giving people clear information, because they know if people are confused or don’t feel they have enough information, they’ll default towards No. Keep that in mind the next time you see a Yes supporter saying one thing and a No supporter contradicting it.

  8. Currently, under the Act of Union , Scotland is a vassal State…go to war when you are told , pay for weapons of mass destruction etc, also known as a submerged Nation, under the control of a larger and more dominant neighbour….who will happily avail themselves of our resources OIL,FISHING, FOOD AND DRINK ETC cAN WE CHANGE THAT ABUSIVE, DYSFUNCTIONAL RELATIONSHIP?

  9. People fear change, that is why fear is the only tactic England uses, the Scots are even scared to use the word English, ENGLAND….fear has been instilled for 300years Fear is the weapon of the bully , the dominant partner, the abuser….look at the incessant steam of fear from the MSM….word of mouth,, reassuring your fellow Scots, is a powerful shield against the fearmongers !!

  10. It started with,…”The Pandas have to go to London!!”, you cannot keep the Pandas. At least Salmond had the wit to reply “We will give them political asylum!!”

  11. Ah well being simple minded,independence is enough of a start for me,because I am that simple that I know its up to me to do my best for my country and independence is where I will begin.

  12. Thank you for a well written article. The cry for more information seems like a reason for not making a decision. There is a wealth of information out there on the internet and lots of people willing to take the time to discuss from both sides of the debate.

    The state of the debate, in my opinion is designed by the Unionists to ensure people remain in fear and thus vote for westminister rule.

  13. alastair your article shows that the Unionist tactic of FUD ,Fear ,Uncertainty , Doubt is working.
    You will never get a clear debate ,for if there was one the YES Vote would be weighed not counted.
    Therefore Unionists will keep muddying the waters ,keep parroting we need to know etc this is not to enlighten you the undecided it is to put the fear into your hearts so that you stay compliant.
    As others have said there is plenty of information out there ,from YES Campaign, from No only the FUD.

  14. Peter A Bell says:

    “You turn a blind eye to the fact that claims of a lack of information ceased to be credible many months ago. So it becomes increasingly clear that those who cite this as a reason for being undecided are not being entirely forthright.

    It suits the anti-independence campaign very well that there should be a generalised air of uncertainty about questions surrounding the constitutional issue. It works well with their scaremongering campaign strategy. You seem to be content that this false impression should go unchallenged. I am not.”

    Frankly this is rubbish.

    Peter is a well connected Nationalist. It may be that he and I swim in a sea of evidence that the Union is a bad thing. That is because we have researched the evidence.

    Not everyone has. Frankly, not everyone is as interested in politics as all that. There is a life outside that particular ‘bubble’.

    It is not at all obvious to the politically unengaged that that evidence is available. I talk on a more or less daily basis to people who haven’t a scooby about the raw deal that we get within the Union. They have never heard of the swindles that Westminster has perpetrated, be it maritime borders, the frankly ridiculous transfer of resources from us to London, nor that our expectations are being well and truly managed.

    It is, perhaps, a tad better to point the person towards that evidence than pretend that it is self evident.

    There are lots of people who are not particularily politically engaged. It behoves the likes of Peter – who knows a lot better – to engage these people by pointing them to his own web site for instance, or others like it, rather than haranguing them.

    It is a basically flawed response to a ‘don’t know’ to accuse them of ignorance. How is that going to persuade anyone?

    Mr Grant has, at the very least, expressed himself on a clearly independence orientated web site. Frankly, Peter’s approach to that openess would turn me off, and I am a nationalist.

    Sigh.

    • I do not consider myself part of any elite. Whatever I can do by way of informing myself, others can do just as well. Whatever I can know, anyone can know.

      You say it is not at all obvious to the politically unengaged that evidence is available. I say, why would any person of no more than normal intelligence assume that there was NO evidence? Even the most politically unengaged cannot possibly be oblivious to the fact that there is going to be a referendum next year. It would hardly be possible to know this and not also know that it’s a pretty big deal. Such a big deal, in fact, that the default assumption must surely be that there is somebody saying something about it somewhere. At which point you either say, “I’ll go and have a look for this information!”. Or you say, “Nah! I cannae be bothered with that! I’ll just sit here and wait for it all to be laid in my lap. And if anybody asks what I think about it all, I’ll just shrug my shoulders and say ah dinnae ken ‘cos there’s no information.”.

      People who come to the issue in a genuine spirit of enquiry don’t merely complain about not getting answers, they actually ask questions. Specific, meaningful questions intended to elicit the information they want. It is remarkable how vanishingly rarely complaints about a lack of information are accompanied by such questions.

      I totally reject the idea that we must walk on eggshells to avoid doing any anything that might upset potential Yes voters. We are dealing with grown-ups here. Mature adults, not silly children. Maturity implies an ability to deal with well-intentioned, constructive criticism. Frankly, anyone who says their decision on such an vital issue might be crucially affected by the way a particular individual addresses them, is not someone who is taking the matter seriously in the first place.

      And it needs to be taken seriously. There is a huge amount at stake. Far too much for people to imagine they can just wait for some external agency to spoon-feed them the stuff they need to know – and nothing more – in easily digestible chunks. Communication is an active, participative process. I would point out to those who claim they’re not being told anything that, wherever they are in Scotland, they are quite literally surrounded by the biggest grass-roots political campaign in our nation’s history. Thousands of people are ready to talk to them. Maybe it’s time they put a bit of effort into listening.

  15. If I may quote a comment I made in the Scotsman about Nicola Sturgeon’s speech:

    I think that this is the principal argument for independence:
    “The first-past-the-post electoral system is deeply unrepresentative. The power of the House of Lords contradicts basic principles of democracy.

    “And Westminster’s doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty is incompatible with the fundamental principle that, in Scotland, sovereignty rests with the people.”

    The basis of the constitution of the U.K. is the Treaty of Union. In it English law was retained for England and Scots law for Scotland. Thus within the constitution of the U.K. we have different constitutions for England and Scotland. In the English constitution Parliament is Sovereign. In the Scottish constitution the People are sovereign. Yet Westminster applies English constitutional law to Scotland. Yet another violation of the Treaty of Union.

  16. Peter,

    Thanks for your reply but that really isn’t how it works. There are a huge number of people who get their information from the MSM. They are, in the rather trite phrase, low information voters.

    Pointing them to some places where they can become less low information voters is our responsibility, if we care about winning.

    So far the grass roots movement you refer to is not impacting on any of the people I talk to, friends, accquaintances, those sort of people. For some of them, it doesn’t matter, they will vote Yes anyway, but the campaign you speak of is not having the effect you claim. I wish that it did.

    The only media in which the case for independence wins hands down in terms of quality and quantity is the internet.

    Pointing the likes of Alastair Grant to specific sources of information, such as this:

    http://www.newsnetscotland.com/index.php/scottish-opinion/4341-a-unionist-lexicon-an-a-z-of-unionist-scare-stories-myths-and-misinformation

    or your own:

    http://www.scoop.it/t/referendum-2014?sc_source=http%3A%2F%2Fpeterabell.blogspot.co.uk%2F

    isn’t hard.

    I have read both these resources in the past and they are pretty persuasive.

    Best wishes

    dougie

    • Dougie, This is a wee bit off topic but can you explain in simple language how I insert a link into a comment. I know this seems stupid but I can’t get it to work. Hope you can assist.

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