Ten questions for the No Campaign
The strategy of the British nationalist “Better Together” campaign against Scottish independence is clear: it aims to sow uncertainty. What will happen with the EU? What will the currency be? Etc. The idea is to make people afraid of voting yes. But this misses something key.
As Andrew Tickell of Lallands Peat Worrier fame has pointed out, the very name ‘Better Together’ is absurd. No one thinks the UK is getting better – even the latest Bond film is about its decline: not the gentle decline since the Victorian era, but a new, different, rapid decline. For every doubt about the specifics of how an independent Scotland would run, there is, right now, an equal doubt about the UK.
So, here are my questions for Mr Darling and his friends at Better Together:
1. Erm, Europe?
What with Cameron launching his half decade of debate on how much we hate the French (or whatever it is he’s playing at), this is the obvious question: which Britain will we be staying part of – one which is in the EU, or not?
And we need to delve deeper with this question too. So, 1b) is this: Cameron wants to renegotiate Britain’s place in Europe. So, erm, what will that look like? If we vote no, what are we signing up for?
2. Can the no campaign guarantee that the Westminster government won’t alter the Barnett formula?
Senior Tory MP Priti Patel uttered what many, many on the Tory benches are thinking: The Scottish Parliament should have its funding cut. The Barnett formula – which allocates funding to devolved administrations – should be altered, they say. A quick fiddle with this arrangement would pull vast amounts of money out of Scotland and send it to the English constituencies more likely to vote Conservative.
3. Can the no campaign guarantee a future Westminster government won’t cut public spending even further?
Whatever the changes to funding allocation across Britain, there is also huge uncertainty about the total level of public spending in years to come. Once upon a time, there was a social democratic consensus in the UK. The evenness of the consensus then is matched, perhaps, by the sharpness of the radicalism we see today – with the deepest ever cuts to public spending coming down the line at us, the Britain we all know and love is rapidly being broken.
4. Can the no campaign guarantee that Scots who are sick or disabled won’t have their benefits cut any further by Westminster after 2014? Or that they won’t be driven into forced labour?
How most specific funding cuts might be allocated will be up to Holyrood. But one significant matter which is reserved to Westminster is benefits. The current UK government is already forcing sick and disabled people in Scotland to work for no pay – a policy I cannot imagine spewing from Holyrood even on its most brutal days. What will the Tories force on disabled people next? Can the No campaign guarantee the safety of disabled Scots?
5) Can the no campaign guarantee that Scottish soldiers will never again be sent to die in a war that most Scots oppose?
I need to be upfront about this one. The Scottish Labour party is sufficiently reactionary that the majority of MSPs in 2003 voted in favour of the Iraq war. However, I don’t think anyone sensible thinks that an independent Scotland – with a Labour party freed from its Westminster wrecking-ball and chain – would have sent Scottish troops into that particular calamity.
Can the no campaign guarantee that there will never be another equivalent of the Iraq war?
6. Can the no campaign guarantee that a future Westminster government won’t destroy the BBC?
Another area which is reserved is telecommunications. In my experience, one of the questions people often ask about independence is what will happen to the BBC. So, here is my question: the BBC has been cut by 20%. The BBC World Service has essentially been cut entirely: from 2014, all of its funding will have to squeeze into the same licence fee pot as the rest of the Beeb. The current government has waged a war against public broadcasting – so, if anyone votes no for the sake of the BBC (and I know some people who might) can the no campaign guarantee that the beeb will be saved? Or is their best bet for a public broadcaster to vote yes?
7. Can the no campaign guarantee that a future Westminster government won’t lower the abortion limit?
Various MPs have been calling for this, and only 39% if people in England want to keep or extend the time limit at which abortions are legal. 46% of Scots, on the other hand, want to keep things as they are or extend the limit. As certain breeds of Tory reach for culture war, will Scottish women have their right to choose cut back if we stay in the union?
8. Can the Westminster government guarantee that it will introduce sufficient changes to financial rules to ensure there won’t be another financial collapse?
People sometimes ask whether Scotland alone could have bailed out its banks – the answer to which surely, lies to our North, in Iceland. But let’s ask the reverse question: Scotland was a major centre of global finance, and still hosts many jobs in financial services. The risk to the Scottish economy of failing to properly change the operation of these industries is vast. Yet it is now pretty clear that Westminster has no plans to implement significant changes.
9. Can the no campaign guarantee that a future Westminster government won’t reduce further the number of Scottish MPs?
When Northern Ireland had its own Parliament from 1921-1972, it had fewer MPs per capita at Westminster than the rest of the UK – which was seen as a solution to what later became known as the West Lothian problem (ie that N. Irish MPs could vote on matters which didn’t affect their constituents). Scotland used to have more per-capita than England, but (quite reasonably, I think) this was cut back for the 2005 elections. Once the threat of independence is gone, will this debate rear its head again?
10. Can the no campaign guarantee that a future Westminster government won’t require all immigrants to carry ID papers at all times?
I give just one example, but the general point is the important one: as Britain declines, it is kicking those who are already down harder and harder. Immigrants are all too often those being bludgeoned – something that Scots aren’t nearly as keen on as our English neighbours. International students in Scotland are already having harsh conditions imposed on them by the Westminster governments (both Labour and Tory) despite protests from the Scottish government.
If we stay in Britain, can we expect it to continue to treat immigrants to our country more and more brutally?
Now, obviously, no one knows the answers to these questions. But my point, if it isn’t clear, is this: there is no certainty in a no vote. That the union has, in recent years, been one way does not mean it will be. The question asked in Scotland’s referendum is not about stability – unfolding history is never stable. It is about which future gives us more hope.
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Connor – precisely.
I disagree entirely with this presupposed notion that the outcome of a “Yes” vote is inherently more uncertain than the outcome of a “No” vote. A “Yes” vote give us the assurance that never again will the social and economic needs and priorities of Scotland be ignored in favour of that of the south-east of England; it guarantees we won’t have another Thatcher, nor will we be locked into a bipartisan hegemony where our only alternative to the Conservatives is the equally neoliberal New Labour. Right now, “Yes” seems like the only choice after which I will not be afeart for the future of my family and I. The Union, then, is the choice with uncertainty.
I agree with you Thomas Salter:
1. subsidiarity – devolve to the lowest possible level
2. don’t throw away ‘natural/historic’ strata (e.g. UK) but happily extract more powers from such strata in order to optimise 1. above.
3. consider applying this model globally
PedanticPS losing something traditionally has only one “o” but increasingly people are writing “loosing” and I predict it will soon “officially” be spelt with the double oo.
Xander – could you stop the “filthy sassenach” shite, eh? Only bigots think like that, and this is not a site for bigots or those who attribute the language of bigots to this place.
Good debate between Roger and Adam. It’s hard to find an informed voice that is independent of an emotional attachment to independence or the union. I try asking people on either side whether they would still vote for their preferred option if it were to mean we (the citizens of Scotland) were significantly poorer as a consequence – independent hypothetically of whether that is likely to be the case or not.
I like the principle of subsidiarity. It’s unfortunate it’s a word that does not speak it’s meaning to English speakers readily. I just looked it up to check its use in the EU and found this from the Treaty of Lisbon.
‘Under the principle of subsidiarity, in areas which do not fall within its exclusive competence, the Union shall act only if and in so far as the objectives of the proposed action cannot be sufficiently achieved by the Member States, either at central level or at regional and local level, but can rather, by reason of the scale or effects of the proposed action, be better achieved at Union level.’
I like that essentially federal principal for the UK, as for Europe, and so will probably vote for devo plus or max of some sort, should I be offered it at some point, so that the UK level still exists for Scotland, especially as regards the principal of regional economic redistribution. Whether that can be retained while gaining foreign and defence policy independence strikes me as unlikely – though that is what I would like. Voting yes would mean loosing UK regional redistribution as a policy option. This appears to me to be the price of gaining full control of economic levers, defence and foreign policy. The long term loss of this means of regional redistribution should be recognised as such by those supporting independence, whatever the short term vagaries of Westminster incumbents tax and spend and social policies. Likewise it may be worth recognising more clearly that voting no means loosing the chance to get control of defence and foreign policy in a country that has consistently voted centre left. The sticky point for me is what the best level, according to the subsidiarity principal, is for the collection and redistribution of taxation. That may be different from the national political entity citizens have come to identify themselves with. It is also unclear from the GERS figures the probable level of tax revenues in an independent Scotland. These will have to fund the welfare and social services my disabled son and others like him are so dependent upon. So it’s quite an (unresolved) issue for me. If it was clear they were to increase I would vote for independence with federalism. The circle of identification for many Scots seems to end at the border when it comes to governance. That said some generally nationalist leaning Scots friends still identified with ‘team GB’ at the Olympics – so it’s interesting how that circle of identity varies according to the context. ‘Team Europe’? The only thing I could think of was Golf (the Ryder cup). Maybe we need more ‘team Europes’ – football being an obvious candidate, for intercontinental competitions if we’re to build a stronger European field of identification and moral political community. Are Europe’s citizens prepared to pay tax to fund the Greek bail out? Do we hold the Greek people culpable for the crimes of their elected representatives? How does it compare with the willingness of Germans to fund regional tax redistribution from West to East Germany after the wall came down? Fellow Germans is a stronger emotional connection than fellow European. We Europeans funded tax transfers to Ireland and Portugal but even that has helped UKIP and the like elsewhere. A somewhat tragic state of affairs – relying on the UKIP vote to split the Tories. That’s a swing to independence for me. But if one’s moral identification is with humanity the principal of the Barnett formula, European regional funding and bail out funds should be extended to the whole world and not restricted to the UK or Europe. When workers are taxed and governed within democratic nation-states the global congruence of their interests becomes unlikely. Our field of political identification is drawn to the national level by all the banal forms of nationalism that surround us. While Britain exists emotionally for the British the Barnett formula can survive. A Scottish national identification that significantly weakens that level of identity, expressed through independence, is likely to begin the unravelling of a British political identity for the English and Welsh and Northern Irish, as well as the Scots. That is likely to spell the end of the political consent for economic redistribution within what was once Britain.
When I hear the words ‘self-government’ I think to myself which self?
Convincing analysis, and thank you for the suggested counter-questions. Now I know how to respond when ‘NO’s’ use the ‘future uncertainty’ tactic!
my trouble is I’m not attracted by either of the 2 options available and, although they appear mutually exclusive and exhaustive, I don’t believe they are actually exhaustive.
What I favour is continued step-by-step independence/devolution without having to “sign off” to the nationalists that they may go as far as they dream of. That way, we (the people) would continue to be included in the discussion on the route as the “journey” proceeds.
It would mean that we would be able to stop devolving if/when we thought it worth stopping at that point. It is my view that the SNP would rather we weren’t able to discuss each step along the road but just urge us to sign up to an end-goal which nobody can know is optimal, and then march unquestioningly towards it thereafter.
What about devoplus? Does that make more sense that devomax?
This web-page gives a nice model spectrum of options (perhaps people think it’s nonsense) for ignorami like myself to consider:
Alastair – whatever your views on abortion, did you read what I wrote? – I am making no assumptions about people’s opinions. I’m quoting a poll of, you know, ordinary people.
… by putting a cross next to the box which says ‘yes’? 😉
I’ll take a look at your arguments in favour.
I wasn’t aware that DevoMax was so tightly defined nor so close to total independence (which, as far as I can tell, is also not well defined).
If the 2 (“indie” and “DevoMax”) were as you describe, then I agree, that, for me personally, total independence would seem more attractive than independence plus military inter-dependence.
Maybe I’ll need a different way of spoiling my ballot paper.
1. That this discussion should be about democracy – I agree and so I start with a belief in having as much devolution down the way as possible at all levels (NB the SNP do NOT seem to believe in this having centralised power to Holyrood away from the LA’s).
2. That increasing inequality will reverse under independence – it sounds great but I doubt it, inequality is increasing in most states of all sizes at the moment. I think this is happening because we have global business but not global government.
3. Democratic deficit – I think you are right that the No campaign needs to answer that one – maybe they have attempted to do so. The democratic deficit you describe always occurs when a small group loses power to a larger grouping. That is also why UKIP/Tories want independence. As Scotland has little say at Westminster, even more so my village has very little say at Holyrood and I personally have little say in my region. It comes back to my fundamental for devolving as much power to the lowest level possible. However, we are interdependent as so we have to cede some power up the way in order to have what we call society and civilisation.
4. Nukes. I agree, Scotland is less likely to have nukes under independence. Whether that is sufficient for me to justify independence I’m not sure. I’d rather start from a point of principle (that of devolve as far as possible) than to let the tail of specific policies wag the dog of democratic structure.
Question 7 is not a good one. You’ve let the side down there.
I would hope that a lot of Scottish pro-lifers would vote yes, because control of the law in this area should be ours, whatever the outcome of the argument after the fact.
But you’re playing on the false assumption that people on the left are more likely to supprot abortion, and this is not true. It may be true for politicians, but not for ordinary people.
Taking the life of one to maintain the privelege of another is pretty much the opposite of liberal.
Some more for the no campaign:
How many years from now will you ensure there is a vastly reduced working week given technology now does much of the work and we, like much of the world, have a far more workers than there are jobs? If so, how would a decent, dignified life that best ensures their privacy, security, potential such that they can enjoy their time on this beautiful planet, be guaranteed for each human in the UK? We all will have our own homes, warmth, food and leisure activities regardless of inherited wealth, obviously won’t we?
How does the no campaign propose to guarantee the environment of Scotland and the rest of these islands will be a safe habitat for humans? Will you be enshrining not only our Human Rights, but the Rights of Mother Earth in a new, modern written constitution and when will this happen? You do have written action schedules you will be publishing shortly do you?
thanks for your comment. We could argue till the cows come home about any of the given policies, and I’m happy to if you want to. But I should be clear that none of these is exactly why I’m in favour – if you’re interested in that, I’ve written it up here:
I have some sympathy with devo-max. But here’s what I don’t understand. If the question is (as I think it should be) “which powers do you want to lie with Holyrood” and “which do you want to lie at Westminster” then if you say devo-max, your answer is, in effect, “I want to have everything at Holyrood, apart from foreign and defence policy”. Given that defense policy is one of the few things you list above as swaying you towards a yes vote, why is this the one thing you want to leave at Westminster?
Why the hell does anyone worry about the BBC. There is so much deeply wrong with our status quo that is quietly condemning millions of our own citizens , not alone billions of people not within our shores but nevertheless effected to lives of misery. Consumerism , promotion of toxic food, toxic work ethic scapegoating of the most vulnerable , toxic pharmocology, , climate change denial,war all mostly supported by the BBC and the majority of panelists it chooses to represent its/our views. The BBC is just the mouthpiece of some of the most despicable people in the world in my opinion. I would miss R3 and the occasional tv drama but can hardly justify its existence for that. BBC RIP and I don’t think I would be sorry.
Roger Humphry, it isn’t any individual’s misty-eyed dream that you should concern yourself with – just the simple matter of democracy & what will be best to enable social and economic progress. The path of the UK has been clear for a long time and leads to continued growth in inequalities (http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2012/06/20126258129880930.html).
2 questions for the ‘Better Together’ campaign that I believe to give a significant swing to the Yes vote.
1. In the UK Scotland has a democratic deficit which means we have very little influence on the outcome of UK elections. This has meant that for more than half of my life Scotland has had a government that it has emphatically rejected. Why would it not be better for Scotland to have full control over our democracy and government?
2. It has been reported that Scotland voting independence is the only scenario that will stop £100billion being spent on a next generation nuclear weapons system (scheduled to start in 2016). Do you think the No vote presents a better option by spending so much money on weapons of mass destruction?
Why would you prefer Devo-Max to independence? All that will continue to serve is the continued rule of megalomaniacs in Westminster.
Good article – these were my 5 questions a while ago: http://www.scottishrepublic.eu/scottish/5-questions-no-unionist-will-answer/
RE Certainty – I agree with Adam that there is not much certainty either way. There probably would be greater uncertainty immediately after a yes vote but we could cope with that – we’d negotiate with Westminster and slowly independence of whatever flavour would evolve.
However, rather than uncertainty, this topic I believe ought be decided upon one’s view of the optimal levels at which to stratify democracy.
In practice it seems it will probably be decided by emotion and nationalistic (either way) feelings.
Personally I’m hoping someone might start a mass devomax-spoilage-of-ballot-paper option for those (biggest single group according the polls) who wish to facilitate greater independence but don’t want to sign off on Salmond’s misty-eyed utopian dreams.
10 Questions for reasons of completeness.
1. Europe – due to Cameron’s in/out declaration there is now more uncertainty whatever the 2014 outcome is – there is no guarantee of EU membership either way – to imply that there is certainty under a Yes (or No) smacks of someone whose position is set and who wishes to twist whatever the topic is, in favour of his set position. No Swing.
2. Can the no campaign guarantee that the Westminster government won’t alter the Barnett formula? Of course not. It is true that a Yes in 2014 will bring greater certainty – in the sense that Barnett-based support will presumably just be removed completely (otherwise I don’t think it can be called independence). No swing.
3. Can the no campaign guarantee a future Westminster government won’t cut public spending even further? Of course not, neither can the Yes campaign be sure there wouldn’t be a cut in public spending (of course there would be from Westminster). Another straw man – No Swing.
4. Can the no campaign guarantee that Scots who are sick or disabled won’t have their benefits cut any further by Westminster after 2014? Or that they won’t be driven into forced labour? No, of course not, neither can the yes campaign. No swing.
5) Can the no campaign guarantee that Scottish soldiers will never again be sent to die in a war that most Scots oppose? No of course not, and neither can the Yes, but almost surely, it is less probable that, under independence, Scots would fight in a war that was opposed by Scots. Swing towards Yes.
6. Can the no campaign guarantee that a future Westminster government won’t destroy the BBC?
Of course not. My guess is that the BBC -within Scotland- would be at greatest risk from independence. Salmond has already suggested an Scottish Version http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-politics-19374818. It seems unlikely that we could support a SBC of the same quality as the current BBC. Swing towards No.
7. Can the no campaign guarantee that a future Westminster government won’t lower the abortion limit? Of course not. Adam’s stats suggest currently Scotland is more sensible. A wee smidgen swing towards Yes.
8. Can the Westminster government guarantee that it will introduce sufficient changes to financial rules to ensure there won’t be another financial collapse? Course not. There will always be another collapse at some point. It’s not clear to me if it is better to be a wee nimble country that crashes badly and then gets up quickly (Iceland) or a big massive country (EU) which moves slowly. No swing.
9. Can the no campaign guarantee that a future Westminster government won’t reduce further the number of Scottish MPs? Of course not – (but the Yes campaign can guarantee Westminster will!). No swing.
10. Can the no campaign guarantee that a future Westminster government won’t require all immigrants to carry ID papers at all times? Of course not, neither can Yes guarantee an independent scottish govt won’t. No swing.
Not persuasive to me, either way.
Xander – two things. On the first – that these are short term questions – is basically the point I am trying to make. My point is that the no campaign are asking lots of questions about specifics in the short term. And if that’s what they want to get into then the same questions apply both yes and no campaigns. The real question, as I say at the end, is which system we believe gives us more chance of building better lives and communities.
On the second question, about identity – yes, I am British too – I was born in Dundee, grew up in Perthshire, and now live in Oxford. I am also a Ramsay, from a rural area, an uncle, and many other things. You can have whatever identity you choose. That’s fine. As Lewis says, you can still identify as being from this island. I certainly will in many contexts. i just don’t think it’s the best way to choose a constitutional system.
You don’t need to live on an island with a unified foreign policy to still be from that island…
Those table thumping questions all look pretty short term to me Adad. How many of them will be explicitly relevant in 50 years?
My take on devolution is that it may well have a quantifiable benefit (who knows?), but what you’d lose can’t be quantified, and once its gone, you might never get it back.
On a personal level, I was born in London, and I sound like a filthy sassenach, but if you asked me where I’m from I’d say Kirriemuir, where I grew up. My nationality is British. If devolution happens, what am I?
Adam there is far more certainty in a vote against independance than for. Look at the current storm around the reporting of the statements by the Irish minister. Overall I am concerned by the beahviour in both camps … We need to get down to an honest debate about this and stop throwing round over emotive questions that people know they cannot answer at this time.