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!
7 responses to “The Scottish vote for independence should be a celebration – change is happening.”
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Thanks Pete and Domaversano.
Its an interesting point to raise about jobs and shipyards in Glasgow supported by the UK. Unfortunately I don’t know much about it. Presumably Scotland will need to invest in (non nuclear) defence so there would still be jobs at Faslane. As for the shipyards, many have already closed and suffering under the current situation, but I can’t say that independence would them help, but perhaps it might as it is obviously an important sector/employer affecting Scotland most populated area – (http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2014/aug/15/ferguson-shipbuilders-close-70-jobs-redundant).
Domaversano- the point I was trying to make was that Scotland could have a strong economy with or without oil, and nor is it true to say oil corrupts all.
My point on currency is the debate has been (and can’t escape this) all about posturing, as is the same with European membership.
In terms of disagreeing with Yes- I think you say it all in your first line with a “functioning nation”. As you say California is very different and enjoys great freedoms under federalisation. I would suggest that this is way to go, but staying as the UK or leaving Europe doesn’t offer this option either.
Your link about the closure of the Fergusson commercial shipyard makes me wonder why the SNP feel Scotland’s industrial base will prosper under independence when some parts are clearly struggling when still part of the UK where it might be regarded as a ‘preferred supplier’.
As to defence, I have no idea what the SNP have in mind with regard to the armed forces. I suspect that they believe adopting a neutral status will save them a fortune and in a worse case scenario they will always have NATO to come to their rescue. To my knowledge Scotland’s membership of NATO has not been discussed by the media.
Alex Salmond and Nigel Farage both expound the theory that leaving a union (the UK and the E.U. respectively) will result in the nation concerned suddenly becoming revitalised and successful. To my knowledge there are no shackles on either Scotland or the existing UK that prevents them being successful globally now, and membership of an exclusive club i.e. the UK and / or the E.U., is surely beneficial rather than detrimental?
My guess is that Alex Salmond feels that the SNP and Scotland will be further empowered whatever the result of the referendum as rejection by a narrow margin will still provide the SNP with a very strong bargaining position with regard to devolved powers. I have no idea what Nigel Farage feels the UK has to gain, as our leaving the E.U. is not sufficient threat to our European partners to make them comply with our wish to change the rules.
I agree that there is a great deal of posturing going on, and I think Darling’s contributions embody that. I did not foresee how much the debate would change, or Scottish opinion.
Scotland might be able to have a “strong economy”; my concern is that it could end up a case of four legs good two bad, with elitism and corruption taking over, and the economy not serving the general population. We then have to deal with two corrupt uncoordinated centres of power on one island, the Scottish one only seems good and pure because it does not yet exist.
Greater independence is one thing – and one I understand – but drawing a thick line in a reactionary manner will have consequences that go beyond the initial euphoria and excitement of splitting.
I think it’s a false future, one that can offer temporary hope but is ultimately regressive. I oppose other forms of separation, from the Cornish to Catalan. The world should be coming together and integrating, not regressing into flags and borderlines.
A very interesting and thought provoking piece Charlie.
Whatever my reservations about referenda (major decisions reduced to a simplistic choice for the electorate) this is nevertheless democracy in action and I welcome Scotland being given the opportunity to decide.
With a population of approximately 5.25 million and an economy boosted by north sea oil revenues there is no reason to think the future for an independent Scotland won’t be bright. However, there are a number of inconsistencies.
My understanding is that the SNP are anti-Trident, a difficult position to take bearing in mind the jobs at stake at the Clyde Naval Base. There is no way I can see the UK continuing to send future MoD contracts to an independent Scotland. Also I sense that the SNP are more pro-EU than the current British government and so the negative feedback from European officials about an independent Scotland being able to retain EU membership is a matter of concern.
I believe the currency issue is of more concern but not because of the ‘red herring’ debate on whether or not an independent Scotland would retain sterling. I am no economist, but even the most superficial assessment of the Euro-zone woes reveals that monetary union without full economic and fiscal union is unworkable in the long term. No matter what option an independent Scotland chooses it must have full control of its economy.
It is a good argument, but ultimately not one I can agree with. I do not think functioning nations devolving into small states is the way forward for the world. I know it is not quite the same thing, but California could ask for independence from the USA: it is more liberal, has a strong economy, and a distinctive identity – even if it is not a national one. Does that make it a good idea? I don’t think so.
To directly address some points in your article. You mention “resorted in [sic] threats (you can’t depend on oil).” As climate economist I am surprised you call that a “threat”, it is quite clearly the truth. Oil is already an unstable resource, and one that will only get more unstable over time. Every country that has heavily relied upon it – from Venezuela to Saudi Arabia – is a mess, and riven with corruption.
On the subject of currency – though I agree that there has been too much focus on it – it is far from a “trivial” or a “false corner stone” of the debate. It is risible that the serious consideration required for a future currency, has not happened, and to ask for independence but to retain the pound, was a humiliating spectacle. The Euro hardly seems like such a great option, so it will possibly mean an independent currency. Is that a great idea? I don’t think so.
I agree that there are two debates: one of principle, and one of practice. But I think independence fails on both, and judging by the polls, so do the Scottish. Though there is a lot of drama in the media, if you study the polls they are quite steady, so I will be shocked if it is anything but a victory for the No campaign in the end. I have got a feeling it’s not something that will be swayed massively by debate, because a lot of people will have made their mind up independently of politicians and media, and prior to the entire campaign.
Thanks for this thought provoking article Charlie – I actually agree with a lot of your arguments and it’s great to hear them voiced so articulately. I am just sad that you didn’t apply for a postal vote. A referendum is a chance to have a say just as a vote in an election is. I believe it is a constitutional right to have a say in government and also to vote – and extremely sad when people choose not to. I hope you’ll get a postal vote for the next election!