Why I support Scottish independence
I’m a Scot living in Oxford. Every week now I seem to be asked my opinion on Scottish independence. And every time, when I say I support it, this elicits the same response – “don’t leave us”. We all know the arguments: Scotland skews Britain away from the Tories; England, Wales and Northern Ireland will be blue forever.
There are some easy responses: very few Labour governments have relied on Scottish MPs; the Tories have only won a majority of votes in England once since 1900 – it was in 1955 and they won a majority in Scotland too that year. Etc.
Or I sometimes respond that without Scotland, Blair would have won all three elections, but he couldn’t have introduced top-up fees: since devolution, Scottish Labour MPs have been used to impose on the English working classes things they would never allow for their own constituents. Labour has for too long used Scotland as a bulwark against its failure to mobilise the English working class. Independence would force Labour to turn out its winning base, or wither them to the point that a left party would emerge who could.
And it’s too easy to respond in kind: just as Scotland keeps England left, England keeps Scotland right. Independence is the easiest way to end Tory rule. If it is a yes vote in 2014, this’ll almost certainly be why: 52% of Scots (£) say they are likely to vote yes if they believe the Tories are going to win the 2015 election. Independence doesn’t guaruntee more progressive policies, but it gives a much better chance that we will win them. The 52% figure speaks for itself – as does the fact that university is free in Scotland, and our NHS isn’t being sold off. But that’s not why I believe in independence.
I support a yes vote because I believe government should be closer to people. I think each of us should have as much say over the decisions which affect our lives as possible. Democracy ought to be the system where we each get to take part in decisions in so far as they effect us. And if tens of millions of us are all affected in different ways by the same decision, then we each get less of a say. If only five million need to come to a consensus, that’s easier.
Now, for me, this isn’t about national boundaries. Where possible, power should be handed to streets, to villages, to towns. But where a bigger unit is needed, five million is more wieldy than sixty.
There is a word for what happens when decisions about our lives are taken from us: alienation. It is usually used by Marxists to describe markets: workers have removed from them the power to decide what is done with the wealth they create. But I believe the same happens when decisions which are still in theory made through democratic spheres are removed from our communities and handed to distant bureaucracies. We become alienated from them. The reality of our say in them is so remote that it seems to us impossible to exercise.
Now, none of this is to say that we don’t need ways to make decisions across units of many millions of people. If the principle is that we should all have a say in decisions in so far as they affect us all, then there are some decisions which probably ought to be made together, by the people of this island. And there are some which probably ought to be made by the people of our continent, and others which ought to be made by humanity as a whole.
It is clear that a post-independence Scotland will almost certainly end up in the EU* and the UN. No one is saying that there won’t be any decisions which we still make together as the inhabitants of this island. Alex Salmond (though I don’t) wants us all to have the same currency. I am sure we could all get behind the idea of a shared publicly owned Ordnance Survey, with some kind of mixed board. I hope the idea that journeys from London to Edinburgh could be run by a rail company with a cross border public ownership model isn’t too controversial**. The point is this: independence does not mean Holyrood would make all the decisions. And quite right too. We live in an interdepend world, a global community.
So what do we mean by independence? Well, for me, it is about two things. First, it is saying that the people of Scotland should have the right to decide their constitutional future. At the moment, Holyrood’s constitution is an act of Parliament at Westminster, and can be changed at any time by English MPs. Independence would mean Scotland choosing which powers to negotiate sharing with other countries. This is crucial, but it’s boring.
The next question then, is, which powers should Holyrood choose to hold? And which powers are better left at Westminster? It’s a question which leaves most Scottish Labour unionists I have asked stammering.
Here’s my answer: I think Holyrood should have the power over the main economic levers, to set its foreign policy, and decide when to send its teenagers to kill and die in war. I can’t think of any major powers I’d rather have remaining at Westminster, and which wouldn’t better be (and aren’t already) held in Brussels or by the UN (not that the Ordnance Survey isn’t important…).
I think the Scottish government should have power over tax, currency, industrial strategy, and nationalisation. I believe this because each of these is a sensitive lever. It is hard to pull each in a way which is best for the different bits of a large country at the same time: look how Euro interest rates set for Frankfurt have hammered Athens. It is easier to have an economic policy which is successful for Scotland if it only has to be set for Scotland.
I want a Scottish rather than British foreign secretary because I think large, bullying counties are bad for international relations. I think that defence policy is better done by smaller countries because I want a government minister to think that there is a high chance that the soldier she sends to kill and die is loved by someone she knows.
And once a parliament has sovereignty, economic powers, and foreign and defence powers, it is as independent as any state in our interdependent world.
So for me, independence is not about the nationalistic question of the Saltire or the Union Flag. It is about empowering people. It is about a process of handing powers to the most local level possible. And if the left made a mistake in the 20th century, it was our trust in centralisation, and our loss in faith in ordinary people and communities. We need to start a process of handing that power back. It doesn’t end with Scottish independence, but, for people on the northern end of our island, this is where it starts.
*a brief note on this: there has been much scaremongering from unionists about this: if Scotland leaves the union, we are told, it may have to leave the EU. Without getting into the legal debate about this, the argument misses a crucial piece of context: the UK government has promised a referendum on the UK’s EU membership. A majority of British citizens are against. Whatever the question mark around Scotland remaining in the EU if it’s a yes vote in 2014, there is surely an equal question mark over whether Scotland would remain in the EU if it’s a no vote.
**I’d probably vote for something like an elected board with 33% Scottish people, 33% English, and 33% the train workers. But I never seem to get what I want.
I am also another Scot living in Oxford and every week, I see and hear yet another reason why Scots and everyone in the UK should take this chance to hope that Scotland goes independent. The Scottish SNP led government is consistently making the right decisions and has long term ideas to create a fairer society and invest in Scotland’s bounty- renewable energy. Meanwhile, what is Westminster doing? It wants to frack our envirnoment, build nuclear power stations, privatise the NHS and invest stupid amounts of money in train line projects which have no feasible benefit to the vast majority of users.
Britain is literally making all the wrong decisions and Westminster is every year, impoverishing ever larger parts of our nation- myself included. The future for the UK looks so pessimistic because apart from the Green party, none of the mainstream Westminster parties even recognise the basic problems for ordinary people: inflated housing costs linked to banks that refuse to invest in infrastructure and SME’s, when they can continue making a buck on lending to the artificial housing mortgage market. Homes are now businesses and the vast majority of ordinary people, starting out now, cannot buy a home and are paying inflated rents while the top 1% who own houses to rent out get their mortgages paid for by housing benefit which then burdens the economy. The whole system is insane and neither Labour nor Lib Dems recognise and have any vision for an alternative. However, we do have an alternative in Scotland, so lets not waste it!!!
A centre-left green led Scottish independent government would show by example to the rest of the UK, what voters and political parties elsewhere in the UK could be doing. The current Labour party lost its direction years ago and it has no over-riding vision beyond window-dressing policies. It deserved to be booted out, even if that meant a Tory led government. I can’t stand Tory values but that doesn’t mean that I am opposed to every idea they may put out. The problem is there are too many obsessed Labour voters who think that the LEFT needs Scotland to stay in the UK. The opposite is the case- Labour party needs a reckoning and only be Scotland showing English voters how there is an alternative, will we ever have a left wing party that delivers and doesn’t say one thing then do another.
If you vote Green, vote YES
It you are left wing, vote YES
If you are liberal, vote YES
If you don’t trust political status-quo, vote YES
Only if you are a blood sucking selfish Tory who cares more about your own house price, then should you vote NO.
Don’t be stupid, Scots, wake up and use this chance to augur a new and more representative and progressive grassroots government- and show the rest of the UK that we don’t have to become the next state of the USA.
and @glyn. Nope. I argue that foreign and defence policies should lie with Scotland. In the world as is, that’s clearly independence, not federalsm.
“If only five million need to come to a consensus, that’s easier.”
…but not much easier. In fact, impossible. Not to mention undesirable.
Don’t you stop trying to reach a consensus at some point and rely upon, oh I don’t know, representative democracy instead of direct democracy? 🙂
Bob – and I know a fifth (uless we overlap) – a pint sounds excellent. I’m on adamramsay ‘at’ gmail dot com
Hi Adam interesting article but i think you are not arguing for nationalism in Scotland at all! what you have said you are for could just as easily be served with a federallism across the british isles. local parliament and one island congress in Birmingham or somewhere central. have you read this? http://www.freedom-for-ocalan.com/english/download/Ocalan-Democratic-Confederalism.pdf 🙂
The only question that I want to ask is “Why not independence?” WE never voted for the union and neither did our ancestors and yes mine were here at that time.No matter what unionists say it comes over (to me anyway) as big weans hanging onto their mothers apron strings!
Hi Adam, this makes three Scots living in Oxford who are for Scottish independence. I know a fourth. That sounds like good reason for a pint.
I do think that folk back home who are sceptical about voting Yes need to take a hard look at how things are going under the Coalition. The other day a doctor at the John Radcliffe hospital was explaining to me how he could not any longer talk directly to a research section of the same hospital. No, she had to ask me to ask my GP to request that facility to do something. This is the world of the NHS “internal market”.
My son attends a local secondary school which has just been gerrymandered into academy status by the head and a clique of governors, with the compliance of the Tory County Council which can’t give the schools away afar enough. In effect Oxford no longer has a secondary education system – it has several schools all “competing” against one another.
So far this sort of nonsense – in which the only social model is the business model, and everything has a market solution – has not unfolded in Scotland. If the vote is No, has anyone any faith these measures will not be introduced by a revitalised London government which thinks it has finally put a limit on Scottish self-determination? (And I do not think a New Labour government under Miliband would be any protection. It was New Labour who introduced academies.)
I’m retired now. I worked in education and many colleagues I found were puzzled why Scotland did not declare independence years ago. Many of them felt that Scotland could be an example they could quote as proof things could really “get better”.
Good article. The essential point for me is that decisions should be taken at the most local level possible, and that means independence. Eg, the decision to stay in (or leave) the EU should be Scotland’s, not England’s.
Colin W. do you have any facts to back this up? The NHS – really! At least we have an NHS here which is true to the founding principles of being free at the point of delivery. You’re talking mince and I think you probably know it. As Portree kid says if you don’t like it then go back and rejoice in the complete dismantling/privatisation of the NHS, welfare state, police and education. We won’t miss you.
Colin W, where are you getting your opinions from. The Daily Mail? If you don’t like the Democratically elected Scottish Government then GTF back to Toryland
para 4 ” . . Independence doesn’t guaruntee . .” rather lets an excellent article down 😉
Just one little point, Adam – why do you say Wales would be blue for ever if Scotland let the UK? I’m guessing you’re assuming that Wales wouldn’t get independence and would continue to be ruled from Westminster – but if Wales got independence too, which is also a goal for many Welsh people, than Wales would be extremely unlikely to ever have a Tory government again. England, on the other hand, without the effect of the Scots and Welsh seats, might never have anything else …
I’m broadly in favour of independence for both Scotland and Wales, but the prospect of a permanent Tory Government at Westminster is somewhat worrying, especially when I consider the fate of the people I love who live in that green and pleasant land!
Good blog, well written.
For me, I think everyone is kidding themselves that independence would either be a catastrophe or the start of a new era.
You get some decisions closer, but you also lose your place at the top table which comes with being part of a bigger unit. You get to set different policies, but also lose the lever you had on influencing other policies that impact you. You might get some extra oil money for a time, but you’ll have to pay those extra healthcare costs too. You’ll get to have a different industrial policy, but you’ll also miss out on the risk sharing and some opportunities for investing at scale.
It’s nice to have more say closer to you, but its also nice to avoid bankruptcy if your biggest banks blow. It’s great to have an independent foreign policy, but also useful to be on the Security Council if you want to shape the world (even if you think it is rotten). Much easier to be the good little guy/gal, much harder to to have an impact on your own.
Scotland is extraordinarily influential within the UK when there is a Labour government, because the traditional safe seat has allowed people to have a base in Labour even in the lean years. Just look at all those Scottish ministers in the New Labour years. The problem is when the Tories win, which is why I think a stronger devolved parliament would provide more of a democratic buffer without losing all the collective benefits.
And also why how any realistic threat of Tories being re-elected in 2015 will be a decisive argument in 2014…
As a half-Scot in Senegal, I’d vote no. But i cant, so I’ll just spam your blog instead 😉
I am also a Scot living in Oxford, and I agree entirely. People on both sides of this debate, both pro-independence and pro-unionist, need to be thinking about the long term, and not equate this referendum to a choice between SNP and the Tories. I, for one, think independence could be a huge opportunity. I am almost always against any form of nationalism. But with the voting English public being increasingly swayed by right wing media rhetoric and their isolationist agenda, the irony is that Scottish nationalism could lead to a greater and deeper engagement with both Europe and the rest of the world. And if the Scottish public vote for independence, we don’t have to stick to the SNP! Unfortunately, however, if I don’t find myself wondering up the road over the next two years, I won’t get a say, and rightly so as residency is really the only pragmatic criterion for eligibility.
As an Englishman living in Glasgow, I will be voting Yes.
I’m an Englishman living in Arbroath, Scotland. I will be voting No as the SNP are ruining Scotland. Since they got in the NHS, roads, crime drug abuse and many more have got worse under their near dictatorship.
Eloquently put Adam!