August 18th, 2014

Back slowly away

My thoughts on the Independence Referendum

I find this difficult to write, for a variety of reasons.

I know I don't _need_ to write it - most people I know have settled for saying "Yes", "No", or "Will you all please shut up about the bloody referendum!" But I've wanted to for ages, and have repeatedly put it off, because I find it all a bit stressful - the last thing I want is to cause _more_ stress to people, or to have people arguing awfully in the comments. (Which isn't to say that you shouldn't feel free to disagree in the comments. Feel free to correct matters of fact, add in new facts I've left out, and explain your own reasoning and priorities.)

But nevertheless, having had a couple of people actively ask for my opinion, and having procrastinated about it most of the weekend, here's what I think.

However, a brief preamble. This is _my_ decision. If you have different priorities and beliefs to me then this will not be _your_ decision. And that's fine - it's perfectly possible for two people to look at the same facts and disagree about what should be done, because they weigh the outcomes differently. I know people who are voting both Yes and No for perfectly good reasons for themselves, and that's the very essence of democracy.

What doesn't affect my decision
1) History. I just don't care about the Scottish/English history. Well, I _do_ care, because it's fascinating. But what the English did to the Scots in the 1700s, or indeed the 1980s (and what the Scots got out of the relationship in return) doesn't influence my decision now. I care about the present, and the future, not the past.

2) Nationalism. My decision isn't about "Scotland" as an idea, or "Britain" as an idea. I don't really believe in "Countries" as anything more than "a bunch of people living in a particular area." And that's what I care about - whether the people, living in a particular place, are better governed in a smaller, local manner; or whether they are better off in a close union, sharing a single government with the countries around them.

3) Political Affiliation. I've never voted SNP. I don't intend to start tomorrow. The thought of voting for or against the future of a country based on one party, which is only held together by the dream of independence and thus will probably fall apart a short while after they get it, seems insane to me. I don't agree with everything in their white paper. But then again I don't need to, because they won't be in power for long - an independent Scotland will, after all, still be a democracy.

4) Money. Which may seem like an odd one, because everyone cares about money. But I only care about money if it makes the difference between "feasible" and "not". If Scotland isn't capable of going it alone, then that's an issue. But all of the evidence says that it is. The BBC's economics editor spent a lot of time digging through the various facts being thrown about and came to this conclusion:
If I had a vote, I would not be casting it purely on the basis of the economics - because it does not seem to me that the amounts of income and wealth at stake are life-changingly huge: Scotland, certainly in the longer term, is likely to be a relatively rich and successful economy on either road. a way it is reassuring that a question about self-determination and identity can be decided by Scots largely pondering who they are, rather than how rich they may or may not become.
Or you could ask David Cameron, who said "It would be wrong to suggest that Scotland could not be another such successful, independent country."

5) Banking. It would worry me to have a set of banks the size of RBS and the Band of Scotland in an independent Scotland, because frankly they're larger than we could support if they went under. However, it seems that it doesn't matter how I feel about it - if Scotland became independent then both of them would have to relocate to the remainder of the UK, because of EU regulations about having your head office where the bulk of your business is carried out. Which, of course, doesn't necessarily mean moving all of the actual _workers_ to London (or Yorkshire), because you can have people answering the phones from anywhere with a phone line (or an internet connection), but it means that I don't have to worry about bailing out the banks, because they won't be an independent Scotland's problem.

So, having excluded History, Nationalism, Money, and Banking, what does that leave?

1) The way the country is run. I mean, that's it really, isn't it? The reason for choosing whether Scotland is run from Edinburgh or from Westminster comes down to which one you think will run the country better? Which one has a better chance of acting in a manner that responds well to the wishes of the population? Which one is going to produce a government that's the government that people want?

2) That's it.

Frequently Asked Questions
1) You mean you don't like the way that the current government is running the country, so you want independence? Isn't that a bit short-termist? At the next election we'll be back to Labour, and then everything will be marvellous again!
Ahahahaha. That would be a Labour party that tried to bring in ID cards, that brought in the Digital Economy Act, that massively expanded the use of private financing for the NHS and schools, that has effectively become a slightly less right-wing Conservative party, that kickstarted a lot of the privatisation of the delivery of the NHS currently going on, that's backing Conservative policy on Welfare, that backed the welfare cap, that helped rush through emergency retroactive legislation after the government was told it couldn't make people work for free.
If you support Labour, that's utterly your choice, but don't pretend they're an actual left-wing party. If I thought that the next Labour government would bring in STV, reform the House of Lords, stop driving disabled people to suicide, stop forcing ISPs to store data on all communications, stop demonising the poor, and drop secret trials then I might be more tempted to stay.
2) What about currency?
This, to me, has been the only reason to be nervous. Because I don't actually think that using The Pound is in Scotland's best interests. I think we'd be better off moving to our own currency that can float freely, and won't be driven by what works well for investment banks in the City. Manufacturing has slowed in the UK following the recent rises in the pound, because it's harder to sell things abroad. But I'm not too alarmed by it. Firstly, because an independent Scotland would be able to change its mind later, and do something more sensible. Secondly because the consequences will not be as bad as they could be if we were having to worry about banks going bust (see above). However, if this _does_ worry you, then I completely understand - and you'll probably find lots to agree with here.
3) But if we say No then we get more powers anyway, all of the parties made a pledge!
True, there has been a pledge. But it's remarkably nebulous. There are no specifics, and you've already got people like Boris Johnson saying that there's no reason for Scotland to have more powers. I don't know what we'd get out of that, but I wouldn't expect much.
4) But surely there's nothing that can be done to improve things? There'd be a lot of costs here, and it wouldn't help, because everywhere is as bad as us.
No. This is one of the things that really annoys me about some people - the idea that things are rubbish, but they can't be improved. If you _like_ the way things are, then that's up to you, but if you think it's bad, but that's just the way things are, and nothing can be done to make life better, then you're poisoning the debate for everyone else. Britain is _weird_. Read this rather good article showing that the way that Scotland differs from the rest of the UK actually makes it more like most North-European countries. Sure there'll be costs to set it all up, but the chance to be a more civilised country is, in my opinion, totally worth it.

A brief thought experiment
I'd like you to ask yourself something. Imagine for a moment that we currently lived in a small, reasonably well-off independent Scotland. Not the world's most prosperous place, but reasonably well run, reasonably humane, pretty dull all round. And a referendum was held to ask if you wanted to join with the country next door.
One that had a habit of getting involved in unpleasant wars in foreigh countries. One where they still had people in parliament because they were high-ranking members of the state religion, or because they'd inherited the right. One which had recently turned down the chance for voting reform. One which held trials where the defendants (and their lawyers) were not allowed to see the evidence agains them. One which had the third-longest working hours in the OECD, the fourth-poorest pensioners in Europe, spends three times more on childcare than the European average, and is in the top 25% of unequal countries in Europe.
Would you be leaping at the chance to join this country? Or would you be rather happy to be independent?

Original post on Dreamwidth - there are comment count unavailable comments there.

Interesting Links for 18-08-2014

Original post on Dreamwidth - there are comment count unavailable comments there.