Why I Changed My Mind from NO to YES for Scottish Independence
All this week we’re publishing articles by English people who support a Yes vote in September. You can follow and join the English Scots for Yes group, who launched yesterday, here. Jer White offers his 12 reasons he’s switched from No to Yes.
I’m an Englishman who’s lived in Scotland for some time now. That means I get to vote for or against Scottish Independence in September’s referendum.
Until recently, I’ve assumed that voting NO to Scottish independence was the sensible thing for me to do. This feeling was nothing to do with my nationality (which of course is irrelevant here) but was, I thought, in line with my desire for larger global states. I like to think about things at a global level so breaking up a union – no matter how flawed – seemed to be going in the wrong direction.
But then I read an essay by English sci-fi writer Charlie Stross entitled “Schroedinger’s Kingdom: the Scottish Political Singularity Explained.” It’s a well-written, informative article on the state of the Scottish nation and its politics. What surprised me was his conclusion:
“I’ll be voting “yes” for an independent Scotland in September. Not with great enthusiasm (as I noted earlier, if Devo Max was on the ballot I’d be voting for that) but because everything I see around me suggests that there is some very bad craziness in the near future of England, and I don’t want the little country I live in to be dragged down the rabbit hole by the same dark forces of reaction that are cropping up across Europe.”
Scottish Independence is a constant topic of conversation here in Scotland, and the voting turnout is expected to be huge. But often the discussions I have with people end in both sides assuming that “we don’t have all the facts” and “there are too many unknowns.”
But is that really the case?
So I thought I should at least try to get a few facts straight to help me hold an informed opinion. I decided it was time I did some proper research into the things that mattered to me and how they might be helped or hindered by Scottish independence.
I ignored things that I didn’t think were relevant (such as whether Scotland uses the Pound or the Euro), and I made sure I was wary of traditional media (UK newspapers and TV stations) known to be biased.
I ended up with 12 key things relating to the independence referendum that I cared about. Of these, 7 of them look like they’re more likely to happen if there was a majority YES vote for Scottish independence.
So below are my main reasons why I decided to change my mind and vote YES for Scottish independence.
1. For a Less Extremist Government
Across Europe, recession and related angst means that it’s the turn of the fringe and extremist political parties to gain support again. Never enough to unbalance the Ruling Party (the steady-state cartel of Lib-Lab-Con), nonetheless still enough for the Ruling Party to shift itself slightly more towards the extreme to scoop back dissenting voters.
In the UK, this means another shift to the right as Lib-Lab-Con try to appease the UKIP sorts.
Right-wing parties like UKIP and Britain First barely register a blip in Scotland, so this move to the right is less applicable to Scotland compared with England. In Scotland there remain two noteworthy left-of-centre parties: the SNP and the Scottish Greens. (the Scottish Labour Party are still ostensibly classed as “centre-left” but by their actions they seem to be more centre-right these days).
When the British general election comes in 2015, it’s expected that most people who recently voted UKIP “as a protest” will return to Lib-Lab-Con… but this is a Ruling Party that has had to move further to the right and as a consequence further from the ideologies held by most people in Scotland.
Historically, votes from Scotland have never affected the outcome of a British general election. We’re just too small a population to make any kind of difference. So it seems that the British government of 2015 onwards will be ones that’s more to the right than it currently is, and one that’s even further out of step with the people of Scotland.
Personally, I believe that a more left-of-centre attitude is better aligned with a fairer, more welcoming and more compassionate society. That’s the kind of society I’d prefer to live in, and it seems that I am more likely to see this in an independent Scotland.
2. For Renewable Energy Policies
I was kinda hoping for a more pro-renewable message.
But while the Westminster government has rushed through new fracking laws to exploit and profit from “unconventional gas”, the Scottish Government has actually done a pretty good job in meeting green energy targets: for example, over 40% of Scotland’s electricity came from renewables in 2012 (compared to 11.3% for the UK as a whole). This seems to be thanks to devolution, where the Scottish Government was allowed to have energy planning powers (but not an energy policy, as this reserved to the UK parliament).
Because of quirks of geography and population distribution (lots of empty, windy space), Scotland is uniquely placed in the UK to profit from renewable energy: Scotland could soon not only be self-sufficient from renewable energy, but could also have a surplus. As an independent country, the Scottish Government should gain powers to enable it to put an energy policy into effect (currently not possible with devolution), and this seems to favour renewables.
Fracking for shale gas is still almost inevitable in Scotland. A recent Scottish Green Party plea for a ban on fracking was rejected, and I think it would be a shame if an independent Scotland had the chance to invest in renewable technologies but instead spent the money fracking the land to bits.
But at least Scotland seems to have a better alternatives story than England, and a future Scottish government with an energy planning mandate could choose not to follow Westminster’s climate-shafting shale gas frenzy.
3. For Removal of Nuclear Weapons and the Chance of Living in a Neutral State
For all my talk of renewable energy, you might think I’d also be opposed to nuclear energy.
But I’m not.
Far from it.
Our renewable technology is still in the steam age (there’s a pun there somewhere), so while the technology ramps up I’m keen for any alternative that reduces carbon emissions. Nuclear energy is clearly the obvious choice.
I’m confident that we can build better nuclear waste disposal methods in the future, and the dangers of catastrophe are certainly horrendous but are also very very unlikely.
So I think nuclear energy is a good choice for a while.
But nuclear weapons are something else. Maybe they served a purpose during the Cold War, but now there’s no enemy state left to deter. Scotland does not need to be a nuclear weapon state. Of NATO’s current 28 members, only three have nuclear weapons. Like Ireland, Scotland could be a neutral country that’s not in NATO but still on the UN Security Council. And like Ireland, Scotland could get out of the arms industry too. This would be a huge difference from the wider UK, which has a greater military expenditure than any other country in NATO apart from the USA.
Britain’s nuclear weapons are kept near Glasgow, the most heavily-populated part of Scotland. That seems like a daft place to keep them, so the Scottish government’s pledge to remove them is something I agree with. The removal of Britain’s nuclear weapons from Scotland could clear the path to Scotland becoming a neutral, non-aggressive state with no arms trade.
I like the idea of living in a progressive country that’s recognised as neutral (at least as much as it can be, within the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy). Britain has so much colonial baggage that I think it will continue to be seen as an aggressive state by many for the rest of my lifetime.
And this leads me to my next reason.
4. To Not be at War
Britain has been at war for my entire life. For yours too. You may not believe it, but google it and you’ll see that Britain has been fighting someone somewhere for over 100 years. I think that’s despicable, especially as most of it seems to have been quite unnecessary if you exclude income from the UK arms trade.
But next year may finally see an end to this century of constant war, as British forces are set to withdraw from Afghanistan. With cuts in military spending and a shrinking of the armed forces, it does seem like I may soon see my first year on Earth where my country is not at war with someone (unless of course Westminster decides to send troops or drones to Iraq again: TBD).
I like the idea of not being at war with anyone and not having a government that makes me a legitimate target for someone from another land or with another ideology. Obviously an independent Scotland would not instantly go to war, probably never would. And indeed a militarily reduced England would also be far less inclined to make war.
I’m OK with an independent Scotland having a limited self-defence force if that’s what’s required to play our part in the UN. Like Ireland or Switzerland, the Scottish army could not take part in armed conflicts in other countries, but would be available for peacekeeping missions around the world.
£3.3 billion was contributed by Scottish taxpayers to the UK defence budget in the 2010/11 fiscal year. The SNP propose that the annual military budget in an independent Scotland would be £2.5 billion. That seems to be £0.8 billion that could be spent on things that aren’t to do with war.
5. To Remain in Europe
My first natural instinct was to reject Scottish Independence. Now more than ever, it seems to me that we face global problems such as climate change, global economic woes and global poverty that would tend to require global solutions to fix.
Luckily our technology has now given us global communications and a growing sense of a global community.
And yet our planet is still filled with little nation states, all vying with each other and disagreeing over this and that. It seems logical that to solve global (and indeed extra-global) challenges, we’d want as few factions as possible.
So fracturing the UK into smaller parts would seem to be heading in the wrong direction. Couple that with the scare-o-ganda from the UK press saying that an independent Scotland would not be part of the EU, and the instinct to vote NO only increases.
But when you think a bit more about it you’d realise this: the United Kingdom currently consists of four members (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland). And it’s the United Kingdom that’s a member state of the EU, not the separate members. If the UK changes its internal membership, it would seem logical that either all former members of the UK are automatically accepted into the EU or none are.
And here’s the rub: an EU referendum is something that’s long been mooted in Britain, but has always been played down. The Ruling Party realise that EU trade agreements are just too sweet to give up easily.
But now the euro-sceptic voice is getting louder and louder, so much so that I think a referendum on UK membership of the EU is coming soon. I want Scotland to remain part of the EU, and I’m fairly certain the majority of voters in Scotland do too.
But I’m not so sure about the situation in England.
I think it’s more likely that English voters will want to leave the EU.
So it seems that an independent Scotland is more likely to remain in Europe compared with the wider UK.
6. For More Immigration and Equality
When I was in my 20s, I lived and worked for a while in France. I was effectively an immigrant there, a white, male, European immigrant but an immigrant nonetheless. I came back to the UK after a few years, but my time there is something I treasure dearly as it enriched me with a greater appreciation of different cultures, different languages, and different societies. If anyone tells me they have a chance to work abroad for a while I tell them to take it without hesitation: I tell them it will open your eyes in ways that you just can’t get staying at home.
So it makes me sad to hear all the anti-immigration rhetoric coming out of England.
All that “they’re stealing our jobs/stealing our benefits/stealing our hospital beds” nonsense that just sounds like veiled racism to me. It’s well-known that this sort of xenophobia lite becomes common when recessions bite, when jobs are lost and people look for someone to blame: it’s easy to blame the foreigners. But I think that’s shameful.
Analysis of Scottish public opinion about immigration shows that Scotland has significantly lower levels of concern about immigration than England and Wales. And the first minister’s plans for Scotland is for a more liberal immigration policy. This is mostly to help the “dependency ratio” (state pensioners vs. working-age adults) i.e. this policy is driven by economics, but the fact that Scotland also gets an increase in cultural and racial diversity is I think a happy bonus.
The Westminster Ruling Party seems to be getting stricter on immigration, and it looks like this will continue for some time. This attitude worries me, so I can only conclude that I’m personally more aligned with the Scotland Government here.
7. Against Mass Surveillance
If you live in Britain, you are effectively under constant surveillance by the UK government. Your text messages, emails, tweets, Facebook status updates – all of this is being monitored. Unlike the people of Brazil, Germany, even the USA, most people in Britain don’t seem to care about this. But I think mass surveillance is kinda creepy and open to abuse and not something that sits well with the notion of a free society. When questioned about mass surveillance, the SNP implied that they wanted the situation in Scotland to pretty much remain the same: Holyrood want to monitor all of us as much as Westminster.
I think it’s a shame that privacy issues are barely mentioned when discussing Scottish independence.
But perhaps in the event of a YES result, when writing a new constitution for Scotland the idea of reducing the level of citizen surveillance might be brought up. It might even become part of the constitution. The current UK-wide apathy seems to imply that it’s unlikely, but I think there’s more of a chance for change here in an independent Scotland than in the UK.
8. Against Privatisation of the NHS
Despite strong evidence supporting the British NHS in terms of quality of care, efficiency, and value for money (ranking best-in-the-world for these!), there seems to be a strong desire in Westminster for healthcare privatisation.
Economic principles tell us that state funding is naturally required for things where you can’t really charge for individual usage, such as for street lighting or road repairs. Healthcare is the ultimate in an individualised targeted service and so seems an obvious candidate for privatisation.
Bringing in medical market forces is a difficult proposition in Britain though, where the majority of the population hold up the NHS as an institution to be proud of: don’t mess with our NHS! But thanks to devolution, NHS Scotland is a separate entity from the UK-wide NHS. This has led to differences like prescription charges being abolished in Scotland (but not in England).
The SNP government has said that a public NHS Scotland is “safe in our hands”, as opposed to the proposed UK-wide reforms that seem to imply a form of privatisation.
I don’t have any strong ideological objections to privatisation in general, but when the NHS is clearly best-in-breed and superb value for money, it seems unhelpful and counterproductive to sell it off.
A few would benefit, but it seems most would not.
NHS Scotland seems safe in the devolved Scotland that we have currently, but it seems that it would be safer yet in an independent Scotland.
9. For Electoral Reform
Britain is currently a representative democracy: we vote for a few guys who get to decide how to run the country (well, except for the House of Lords who are not elected but still have a big say. They won’t have a say in an independent Scotland however). Our style of representative democracy has been around for a long time. There are alternatives though that aim to be more democratic by allowing individual citizens to have more of a say. For example, Switzerland has a form of direct democracy where frequent referendums on various subjects give the people a direct say in what policies should be made.
Of course, just because the majority of people believe in something does not mean it’s necessarily the right thing to do. Setting policy based on mass-opinion can be dangerous without informed opinion.
Through technology, we now all have instant access to information that will argue for and against a particular subject (setting aside the issue of state censorship for now). With the internet, we can all arrive at an informed opinion on any topic that we desire. New electronic collaboration tools open up the real possibility of a participatory democracy that’s both feasible and fiscally viable. Open source politics seems to be more democratic that our current system and I think it would be good to have a mechanism where our elected representatives really did act based on the will of the people, rather than based on what often seems to be an MP’s own self-interest.
I am in favour of electoral reform that leads to greater democracy.
Despite the possible dangers, overall it seems that a participatory democracy would lead to a fairer society. There’s a slim chance we might see something like this in an independent Scotland, but realistically I don’t think the Scottish government will want to distribute their power in this way. But then again, I assume the Westminster government is even less likely to want to give up representative democracy.
So it seems there’s as good as no chance of this kind of electoral reform in Britain, but a slim chance of it happening in an independent Scotland.
10. For the Chance of a Scottish Republic
I think that kings and queens and princesses and stuff like that is something that belongs in fairy tales from ye olde worlde. I find it baffling that a modern 21st-century democracy would allow a hereditary power-base. And yet the House of Lords sit unelected, and Her Majesty The Queen & Family also have considerable powers.
But apart from the Scottish Green Party, most people in Scotland disagree with me and want to keep The Queen as the head of a Scottish state. The current Scottish government also say that Scotland will remain a constitutional monarchy.
I don’t think I’ll ever really understand why.
My republican dreams are driven by the fact that there’s the possibility of a future Scottish government that might be in favour of abolishing the British monarchy in Scotland.
Or there could even be a future referendum on this.
None of these options are even remotely likely to ever happen in England, so as slim a chance as there is, an independent Scotland seems like the only vague hope for a republic in the British mainland.
11. To Avoid the Backlash
If Scotland votes to remain a part of the union, one thing that worries me is the backlash from Westminster.
If Scotland votes NO to independence, I would not be surprised if all the Westminster promises of further devolution – the Devo Max carrot – were to suddenly become “impractical in this austere climate” or suchlike. I can easily imagine a future where the London-based Lib-Lab-Con government decided to punish disobedient Scotland for daring to detach itself.
If you think that’s far-fetched, don’t forget that governments are run by men, with all the macho cock-waving that a patriarchy entails. UKIP have previously stated that they’d reverse Scottish devolution, erase the Scottish Parliament, and reintroduce direct rule. Those guys could conceivably be necessary to form a UK government in 2015, and UKIP’s recently elected MEP is even saying that his party would move to nullify a YES vote!
So if for if for no other reason, I’m a bit worried now that a NO vote would be inviting all sorts of butt-kicking to the people living in Scotland.
12. For A’ That
So those are my main reasons why I now think a YES vote for Scottish independence is the smart thing to do for the people who live here.
You probably had several “yes, but…” moments if you managed to read through it all. You maybe thought I was missing some key points like:
- What about the state of the economy?
(the economy is a global mechanism, so I don’t think there’s too much that nation-level governments can do. Failing banks have been bailed out by multiple countries in the past, and Scotland’s per capita GDP is impressive: bigger than France (when a geographic share of oil and gas is taken into account))
- What about having a say on the global stage?
(see my view on EU membership)
- What about Obama, the Pope, JK Rowling and China all saying that we should vote NO?
(er… who are they to tell me how to vote?)
- What about the fact that I don’t trust that Alex Salmond?
(well just as this referendum is nothing to do with nationality, it should also be nothing to do with personality. Love him or hate him, I think this referendum is too important for you to be swayed but your views on just one guy)
- What about ALL THAT UNCERTAINTY?
Well aye, there’s a lot we just don’t know yet. That’s the thing about the future either way.
In the end, it seems that our form of vaguely democratic party politics will persist whichever way the Scottish independence vote goes. The few people with political power will do anything to keep it, to grow it, to make sure the system that got them there remains unchallenged. The pretend fighting between the Tories, Labour, SNP and the like will carry on regardless, and most of us will continue to act like they offer us a fair and just democracy of choice.
But for all that, I’d very much like to live in a country where Wisdom, Justice, Compassion, and Integrity really were honest guiding principles. It seems to me that the people living in Scotland have an – admittedly very slim – chance of real political and social change, of giving the world a shining example of how to bootstrap a 21st-century democracy that has the freedom and potential to grow into something better.
I plan to vote YES for Scottish independence in September.
I hope that you do too (but make sure you do your research before you decide!)