Monday, 8 September 2014

You're thinking of voting yes? Seriously?

As I write we are 10 days away from the Independence Referendum which will decide whether Scotland leaves the United Kingdom, and becomes an independent country or not.  The polls have narrowed and the result seems uncertain.  The Yes campaign has made up ground and seems to have gained some traction, in particular based on scare stories about the future of the NHS.

I believe the Yes case is actually a rather weak one, driven by nationalists who have always wanted independence simply because that is what they have always wanted - opportunistically taking advantage of a malaise across the western world of global financial crisis and disillusion with political establishments.

And the Nationalists have been joined in this enterprise by some from the left and a hotch-potch of idealists looking for change.  A disparate group.  The problem is everyone is projecting their own dreams onto Independence. It can't be about all of them.

In fact the Yes case seems to be not much more than this:  Bad things happen.  Westminster is to blame.  Vote for independence and bad things won't happen anymore.

My concern is I have seen very little, if any, serious analysis of why we have had an economic crisis and austerity, and I have seen no solutions offered up by the Yes side.  There is much said about poverty and inequality but no serious discussion about how we can tackle these issues.

What we have instead is plenty of faux anger and overstated argument.  Plenty of demonising and othering of scapegoats - mostly summed up by the concept of 'Westminster'.

The Yes campaign see themselves as the real change makers, the catalyst for a thousand lights of radical thought to make a better nation.  They believe they are civic nationalists building something new and good.  Civic nationalism of course takes its inspiration from enlightenment thought and the American Revolution of the 18th century. One of its great writers was Tom Paine. His seminal work "Common Sense" would resonate with many a Yes supporter almost as much as it inspired the revolutionaries of 1776.  In it he wrote, “We have it in our power to begin the world over again".

But here's the thing.  The Scots are in truth quite conservative.  The future that is on offer through independence, far from being progressive about how we can take forward a modern free market welfare state adapted for the 21st century, seems rather more likely to be a regressive step back to the 1970s.  This is a vision that if realised would be unlikely to achieve the results hoped for.

The challenge for Scotland remains, whether we vote Yes or No, how do we spread the prosperity we undoubtedly enjoy in the East to central and western Scotland, and how do we improve our health issues.     

But don’t take it from me.  The nationalists' case is disingenuous and a false one and there are many good reasons to remain part and parcel of Britain.  I have set many of them out below each with some background should you want to read further.

1.  It's not just about the numbers 

It's not about the numbers (Kevin Hague in Chokka Blog)

Why our shared values matter

"At the heart of Britain there is a fusion of Scottish principles of solidarity, egalitarianism and civil society entwined with English values of liberty, tolerance and pragmatism that has created a union for social justice where we pool and share risks and resources across the entire United Kingdom."

(Gordon Brown Labour)

We are not just part of Britain, we made Britain (Ruth Davidson Conservative)

I will vote No because I love Scotland (Ming Campbell Liberal Democrat)

Head and Heart (Archie McPherson)

2.  More Powers

The argument is that Scotland already enjoys the best of both worlds - we have a strong Scottish Parliament, with full control of the NHS, schools and policing, and also the strength and security of being part of the UK.

And each of the three political parties supporting Better Together has, over the last two years, considered developed and published thought through proposals for more powers and further ‘federalising’ the UK.  The three parties have made a public and joint commitment to work together to deliver more powers after a No vote.  Parties working together originally delivered devolution in 1999.  The parties have now delivered a detailed timetable about how they will move swiftly to implement this after the referendum.

Labour’s proposals

The Conservative proposals

The LibDem proposals

3. The economy

Scotland could go it alone but is better as part of the UK (The Economist)

66% of the Scottish economy is in the private sector.  About 40%, or 859,000 jobs, are dependent on trade and ownership links to the UK, while the remaining 26% are linked to the wider world economy. (Prof Ashcroft Strathclyde University - Scottish Economy Watch)

Our economy within the UK is highly interlinked and London is actually (on balance) an asset to the Scottish economy. 
(Prof Ashcroft Strathclyde University - Scottish Economy Watch)

The effect of having a border - trade flows, migration flows and capital flows are significantly lower across international borders than within a unified country. 
(Prof Ashcroft Strathclyde University - Scottish Economy Watch)

Scotland's exports to the rest of the UK accounts for 70% of our 'exports'
(Prof Ashcroft Strathclyde University - Scottish Economy Watch)

Small countries are neither more or less successful than large ones but are more volatile.  (Prof Ashcroft Strathclyde University - Scottish Economy Watch)

Some small states can do well out of independence in some ways. 
(Prof Ashcroft Strathclyde University - Scottish Economy Watch)

The greater tax receipts we have received as a result of oil were invested for the people of Scotland, creating jobs and investing in public services.  We have in effect had our oil fund all along.
(Prof Ashcroft Strathclyde University - Scottish Economy Watch)

We would not be £8.3bn better off under independence.  This is untrue. 
(Kevin Hague in Chokka Blog)

A summary of some other key talking points (Kevin Hague in Chokka Blog)

- Companies in Scotland that trade with the rest of the UK would probably be damaged and suffer job losses by the effect of establishing a border.

- GDP per head does not tell you how rich a country is - an independent Scottish economy would be a middle ranking economy with high levels of foreign ownership.

- Scotland would face some significant hurdles to EU membership and any terms on which we joined.

- The start up costs for an independent are probably close to £2.5bn after analysing the range of estimates.

- Business for Scotland does not represent business in Scotland and is not a serious think tank in any way.

4.  The NHS

The Nationalists are lying about the NHS to gain electoral advantage. (Dr Gregor on the BBC)

Health service spending in England is increasing in real terms, there is more spending per head of population on health in Scotland under devolution, the Scottish Government makes extensive use of private firms to provide healthcare, there is no political party proposing ending the NHS in England - it would be political suicide to do so.  What political arguments there are in England are over the best way to provide healthcare with an ageing population and increasing costs of technology - not over taking away free healthcare.  

5.  Poverty

The SNP's record on poverty is not a good one.  In 7 years in government in Scotland, despite having full control of health and education the SNP have not introduced a single redistributive policy - not one!

6   The EU

An independent Scotland would start her life outside the EU; even thereafter Scotland would enjoy EU membership on terms far less beneficial and generous than those enjoyed now by the UK.  (The definitive guide to the process to joining the EU following leaving the UK by Prof Adam Tomkins, Glasgow University)

7.  Pensions

Pension schemes operating between Scotland and the remainder of the UK would be classed as ‘cross-border’ under EU law if Scotland votes ‘yes’.  This means EU solvency requirements would have major cost and cash flow implications for employers with cross-border pension schemes.  This would be a major financial challenge for employers. (ICAS report)

Scotland faces a challenge to provide pensions after independence for both state pensions and private pension schemes.  (Malcolm MacLean, Pensions expert writing in Money Marketing)

Scotland faces a pensions timebomb due to our ageing population. Pooling resources across over 60m people to provide pensions is one of the big advantages of the UK.  (Daily Record)

8.  Financial Services and bailing out the banks

An independent Scotland would have seriously struggled to bail out the banks in the crash of 2007/08.  In this it is vital to understand the the distinction between giving distressed banks short-term liquidity help and bailing them out. During the crises, UK banks were, for instance, given short-term liquidity help from both the UK government and other governments where they were operating, such as the US government. The bail-out of UK banks, however, came from the UK government, to the sum of somewhere in the vicinity of £66 billion, or over half of Scotland’s GDP in 2010 (which stood at about £110 billion).  (Brad MacKay, University of Edinburgh "The Future of the UK and Scotland")

9.  The advantages of being part of the UK

If you are serious about looking into how Scotland works within the UK and the benefits to Scotland of being in the UK, and there are many, read the Scotland Analysis papers from the UK treasury.

Some of the key advantages of the UK to Scotland include

- Being part of the UK energy market

- The pooled resource across a union for social justice in pensions

- Being part of an integrated single market and currency union

- Science, research and our universities sector within the UK.

- Our financial services industry and banking within a UK sector which due to regulation, tax and currency would have to fragment after separation.

-  The value of UK Defence industries and military shipbuilding to Scotland

10.  The Nationalists' questions

Is there a democratic deficit in Scotland? (Effie Deans blog)

The McCrone Report myth - the extent of North Sea Oil was never a secret.

The Wee Blue Book from extreme nationalist website Wings over Scotland is erroneous in many of its details or deliberately misleading as it is written with an agenda of nationalist propaganda.  Consider this evidence. (Kevin Hague in Chokka Blog)

Business for Scotland do not represent businesses that employ anyone or that deal cross border.  They have no credibility.  The detail (Kevin Hague in Chokka Blog)

It's not about the SNP - yes it is! (Effie Deans blog)

Wings over Scotland is an extreme nationalist blogsite with an agenda of nationalist propaganda.  It is homophobic and mysoginistic.  It also has a consistently angry and outraged tone aiming poisoned articles at its targets.  This is negative and provokes needless hate and division and as such has no place in the debate over Scotland's future. (Edinburgh Eye)

Think again - (Nupateer.Com)

Friday, 20 June 2014

The identity and the future of the nation

Last night I watched Prof Tom Devine, one of Scotland's greatest living historians, on TV.

I like Tom Devine and I like what he has to say. He has as fine an understanding of Scotland and what it is to be Scottish as anyone. Talking about the Independence Referendum we take part in, in three month's time he said, "This is about the identity and the future of the nation". I agree with Tom Devine on this.

He described how a collective sentiment of 'the people of Scotland as a nation' exists. He also described how our sense of Scottishness and Britishness changes over time too. For it is a duality that we have, and it is elastic and adaptable to different times. But nonetheless it is a duality of identity.

I believed 2 years ago and believe today that this referendum is a head and heart thing. That while there are many factors for each of us to consider, it is at root about two things - the practicalities of economics and our identity as a nation. Are we simply Scottish or is that duality of Britishness and Scottishness still relevant?

I believe that that duality is still relevant and therefore a devolved settlement with a structure that is as federal as possible is the way forward. For me independence is not the way. It is not a solution that is either practical or best reflects who we are.