Sunshine over Downing Street
I was walking down Whitehall today and what was striking was how many Saltires were flying high in this street of government. Was it a sign of solidarity or imperialism? Regardless, seeing the flags fluttering in the late summer sun seemed to have deeper meaning.
As a Jock living South of the Border, I'm often asked what I'd vote if I had the option in the Scottish referendum. Aye or naw? It's a hard question because half-truths, subjection and theories are being pedalled as fact by both sides. Political parties and a bias media present polarised viewpoints using scare tactics in an attempt to influence voters. The purpose of writing this piece is simply to reach a logical conclusion on how I would vote if I could.
I don't know if I'd call myself a proud Scot but I am a big fan of many Scottish things. I love my kilt. Oatcakes are a favourite, especially Fife cut ones and I'm bias towards Scottish athletes. I say wee rather than small, burn rather than stream and beastie rather than insect.
I'm nervous of any type of overt nationalism though. It can easily turn into xenophobia or a distrust towards other races. When I was younger, I'd get caught up in the light hearted anti-English vitriol at the rugby but I've also experienced the pure hate at the 1989 football match at Hamden where many were seeking to repeat Bannockburn. Fact, Scottish people have been particularly hard done by from the English ruling classes, going back to Edward I and beyond. I used to live in Canterbury where this particularly nasty Hammer of the Scots (and indeed Welsh & Irish) lies in state like a hero without reference to his ethnic cleansing.
What many ardent nationalists conveniently fail to do is to read their history books and understand that the Treaty of Union was just as much to do with a sell out from greedy Scottish nobles as English imperialists. Of course, most of us would pay the price of being a hypocrite to avoid having an empty purse. Economic arguments need to come before those of the heart.
Economics is at the heart of the independence debate. However, to my knowledge no one has designed a model using valid assumptions to be able to predict what would happen with independence economically. Even if 'they' attempt to do so, my guesses are that inputs would be based on neoclassical economic models. These models are flawed because they assume the market operates using only truthful, valid information and that the wealth of a nation is measured on figures like GDP and inflation. In fact all economics is flawed, with random chance often offering similar predictive value to that of a highly paid economist.
There is a reason for such a blinkered unscientific economics approach. Universities in the UK including Oxford (where Westminister decision makers are typical alumni) don't teach alternatives. There is no excuse as Adam Smith, the founding father of capitalism, knew better. Many politicians would do well to enlighten themselves by reading his works and not simply select wee bits of his writing that conveniently supports their views. They would see that corporate responsibility and respect underpin all his principles. Without accounting for these principles, neoclassical economics models are wrong and unethical.
We would do well to remember that those who govern us or seek to do so are often guilty of lazy intellectual idolatry. They use convenient economic 'evidence' to support rhetoric rather than wanting to go in search of the truth. The 'truth' in the independence debate probably sits somewhere in the middle of the polarised opinions being presented by both sides. That means that the consequences are unlikely to be dire regardless of whether there is a Yes or No majority. Anyone saying otherwise would get my vote to be the next Dr Who!
In politics, the party line is king! There's good reason for this; pandemonium would ensue otherwise. Unfortunately, since politics became about the party leaders and a few select henchmen, debate has been stymied and we now have dictatorial governance. What ever happened to consensual politics? Of could leaders must be mindful of those who would stab them in the back, of whom there are many. However, politics has become about protecting one's back and slithering up the career ladder rather than being for and about the people.
If we follow social democratic principles, it's very likely that many more people would be better off than through following a neoliberal agenda. These principles work on the basis that all is done for the benefit of society and the common good. That doesn't necessarily mean low taxation or cheap food. In the 1970's and early 1980's Britain was inefficient, standards of manufactured goods were low and there was social unrest. This was partially due to a union culture of "fight the power" and do as little as possible for as much as possible". Such behaviour is partially human nature but union leaders had too much power. Thatcher tipped the balance far too far the other way and now we have a dysfunctional and wholly marketised system, often monopolised by protectionism and underhand tactics. Efficiency is based on profit and loss rather than doing the right thing for society. Adam Smith would turn in his grave. "Not in my name!" I hear him say.
But we're in the here and now. Let's now consider the We're Better Together Argument. There is no doubt as someone living in the North West of England that I believe we are indeed better together. There are few votes to be won by the Tories in most constituencies where I live and there's a distinct lack of investment as a result. However, there must be something funny going on. The Tories would be in a more secure position in England without the Scottish vote. Some say that the Scottish vote has rarely changed who got into government, but few could deny that probabilities change. They also argue that Scotland receives disproportionate investment than England from the treasury. With oil income declining, Scotland's economic worth can only decrease, they would have us believe. Are the 'we're better together' arguments not dichotomous with such statements?
We rarely hear that Scotland represents 8.4 per cent of the UK’s total population, but they generate 9.4 per cent of its annual revenues in tax — equivalent to £1,000 extra per person. The exact reason why it would be better to preserve the union for the UK is the same reason why independence may be better for Scotland.
That said, there are lots of dodgy statistics being bandied about on both sides of the debate, with some refuting the ones I've just quoted.There's also threats from corporations and rich businessmen saying what they intend to do if one or the other happens. "We'll move to a country which allows people to be paid well below the living wage" they say. Well I say....the purpose of growing an economy should be to benefit of those who contribute to it's prosperity, not so that greedy individuals like you can fill your boots. Let the immigrants stay and you can go!
They would have us believe that Scotland more secure being part of the UK? We will be if you think the £130 billion or more replacement for Trident adds to our security. It's a ridiculous argument. Yes, Vladimir Putin may be a threat to our security but only because other ego-centric men in suits pay attention to and tease this clown. Islamic fundamentalists may pose a small threat but this is a two sided thing. Does Scotland actually need to help pay for the 5th biggest armed services in the world? In a time of austerity, where we're all in it together, do we need 6% of the entire UK budget going on defence? That's the equivalent of me hiring a gun at over £100 per month just in case someone in the village comes to get me. As I smile at and am nice to people, regardless of their race, religion or social standing and simply avoid eye contact from bampots, such investment is of negligible benefit.
Does Scotland need HS2? Admittedly, I've used HS1 a few times and whilst I think the colour scheme is a little cold, it's saved me around an hour of my life. I'd like to see the sums that have been used to demonstrate economic benefit to anyone, let alone Scotland from HS2. Little old ladies who need to visit Tameside General, a cesspit of a hospital, would much prefer a more regular bus service. Those in the Northern Rail area would prefer post 1960's rolling stock that didn't break down all the time and maybe the odd customer focused member of staff. I've just suffered a 100% fare hike because of underhanded tactics and government preparation for the renewal of the rail franchises too.
Ultimately, investing in a well educated, relatively secure and healthy society will lead to greater happiness. This requires a leap of faith to accept that it's not all about the bottom line or short-term gain. That doesn't mean to say the bottom line is unimportant because it is. Rather, it's about value for money, working hard, doing a great job and promoting long-term sustainability.
The problem is that most of the major global economies, the IMF and the World Bank don't work like that. Countries who retain a degree of independence such as the Scandinavian ones do a great job. Taxes and the cost of living is high but education is better, there's less crime and more evenly spread prosperity. Some South American countries have tried the same but they've been conspired against by the USA and others with sanctions and protectionist rackets.
Taxation is an important subject. It's a wee bit like when the congestion charge was proposed for Edinburgh. People voted against it because they thought it would cost and inconvenience them more. Instead a wrong option was chosen in a new but limited tram system. The council and thus council tax payers are the losers...the new system only benefits people on a set route, other public transport suffers and my guess is that the roads will become more congested. Oh....and some in business will have made a pretty penny as a result. The rich get richer and the rest of us get pissed off.
Party politics has disenfranchises most of us. On recent evidence Alex Salmond talks a better game than Alister Darling but the choice isn't simply between the SNP, Labour, the Tories or even UKIP. From my perspective, Natalie Bennett the leader of the Green Party is one of the few politicians that uses evidence based practice rather than rhetoric to form policy. If you've ever watched her on Question Time, you'll notice she answers questions directly, says stuff that the audience likes and always gets the loudest applause. Yet, the party has only one MP and not many councillors. Their policies are social and democratic. However, they fly in the face of 'the system' and get next to no press coverage! The choice in the current referendum isn't one between political parties though. It's the choice between being part of a neoliberal or a social democratic state.
In political terms, England is broken. No one seems to talk about politics. Most young people don't vote, the political landscape is dominated by vitriolic nonsense and rhetoric. It's about cow towing to the party line, personal ambition and career rather than social democratic values. This is wrong on so many levels. Older people, many of which have outdated views are the ones who vote. This happens in Scotland to an extent, but looking from the outside, I believe it's a more consensual system.
So, what would I vote if I could? North of Watford, England needs Scotland more than ever and on that basis, I would vote No! England is better together politically and economically with Scotland. I'm sure the nationalists of the claymore rattling, kilt swirling beardy haggis chomping type don't care about this. Should they.......?
Things like a common currency, belonging to Europe and so on will be dealt with if Scotland gains independence. Companies who are threatening to pull out of Scotland will only do so if it makes economic sense and my guess is the only sums they've done so far are to support their own arguments and political leanings. Their threats are idle ones. I think Scotland has good chance of becoming a successful independent nation with more progressive governance if they go it alone. Being a global player has it's benefits, but mainly for those who require an ego massage.
A small government run on social democratic principles is better for the people of Scotland. I'm convinced of that. The views of Scots are not and unlikely to become validated in a United Kingdom, that's for sure. Ok, devolution or dev max is a good compromise but it won't stop Scottish taxpayers money going towards Trident, illusory wars on terror, HS2 or other frankly money making and pointless diversions which satisfy the egos of misguided and delusional idiots. It won't save the NHS.
Whatever decision you take won't be based on evidence as there are too many smokescreens preventing evidence based decision making. It's got to be taken on what feels right....there are too many unknowns to do otherwise. Ask yourself who 'we' is in the 'We're Better Together' slogan.
A Wee Conclusion
The purpose of writing this was to decide "what do I think" and I've achieved that. If I lived in Scotland, I would vote for Independence. My gut tells me it's what's right for those who live North of the Border. England is imploding and only Westminster or a people's revolution can save it, not Scotland. Get to the lifeboats when there's a chance.