This is a guest post from a good friend and current Phd student, Charlie Langan.
A quick disclaimer to start: I will not be voting in the Scottish referendum. When there was the possibility of having a postal vote, I believed that neither side had provided any substance to vote for . Since then however, I believe that the Yes campaign has provided a story to believe in. Given the opportunity, I would vote Yes.
Yes for a chance to change both Scotland and the UK for the better.
The starting point of the debate though, which is often overlooked, is whether there is a problem with the state of the Union.
There is evidence that the system is not currently working. I am more and more ashamed of the news stories about the UK that make it to Uganda where I live. Despite not being patriotic, I find myself with, increasingly regularity, volunteering my Scottish status to separate myself from these stories. This is something I have never done before.
The turn to aggressive, confrontational and emotive attitudes and policies on immigration, the European Union, tax and social welfare among other issues coming from the UK, seems to me at odds with the progressive political agenda coming from Scotland.
As an environmental economist working on climate change, I recognise the strength of Scotland’s devolved policies based and founded upon science. However, I do believe that Scotland is running to the limit of its powers and is being constrained. Without being able to set taxes and create incentives, it is difficult to nudge people into making decisions that are better for the society we want to be.
Scotland has shown ability and aptitude to develop strong policies giving, at least me, assurances that Holyrood could probably handle sectors such as the economy (and by most measures better than the current UK government performances in health, education and environment sectors).
I think there is a lot of similarities between the current debate on independence and climate change.
Climate change is a problem, but it took a long time to really understand how it affects us all. Scottish and UK society, national priorities and policies aren’t in harmony, and the differences are perhaps becoming irreconcilable.
In this light, the debate boils down to do we need to change or not. It is a lazy argument that change is too risky just because it’s change. Those who refute change on the principle of change are often those have gained too much power under the status quo and don’t want the boat rocked (the equivalent big oil lobby against the green economy and taking action on climate change). The argument heard is often it’s too expensive to change, and closer examination such claims are generally unfounded.
If there is a consensus that a problem exists and there is a need for something to be done, the debate turns to what is the solution for a better Scotland and a better UK?
The problem here is evaluating any solution, as this requires making predictions of the future, or a new future or a new paradigm. Climate models using hundreds and thousands of years worth of data are made to look like child’s play compared to trying to model the complexity of economies. Those who claim certainty are un-honest, and there are many uncertainties making definitive answers difficult. But we are quite good and familiar at managing the risk of unknowns.
In many respects the Yes campaign has been taking a systematic approach to think through the key issues and logically trying to plot the best course that Scotland could follow if independence is chosen; i.e. identifying risks and proposing management. I don’t like Alex Salmond, nor do I attribute all the successes of the Scottish parliament to him, but I have become to believe that he and the Yes campaign continues to capture the progressive nature that exists within many Scottish policies. Drawing upon the scientific wisdom, it’s not the result that counts, but the method used that shows your success.
The Better together campaign have never unpacked themselves; is it “we are better together” or “we would be better together”? I have already dismissed for the former, but the latter – how – what could Scotland gain? What could the UK gain? What can both parties bring to the table that is not already there? What solutions is the no camp providing? Why have we never seen a better together vision for the future of Scotland? What will be on the table if a no vote is returned in the referendum and discussions turn to devolution max? How valuable would UK membership be to Scotland, if we all find ourselves outside the EU?
The nature of the independence and climate change debates has also been similar in that: the no campaign has been taking on the role of the climate sceptics, focusing on trivial or false corner stones of the debate (the hypothetical currency), distorting the wider picture of the debate (its all about the economy), and resorted in threats (you can’t depend on oil). I look forward to future comparisons with the UK debate and eventual referendum on the EU membership; will it also focus on these boring issues?
But here perhaps we are better together, working toward building commonality between Yes and No, then we can rationally and logically take the final step to spilt or not. I would like to see real discussions on pros and benefits of both camps visions’ for the future of Scotland.
Scotland should be giddy with the opportunities in front of it, not cowed into worrying about making the wrong choice. After all, the debate should be a celebration, change is already in motion and in this sense Scotland has already won!