I recently read an article on Scottish Independence at Bella Caledonia giving several reasons why the author had opted for independence. While I agreed with many of his thoughts, I disagreed with his conclusions. So I thought I’d address each of his points, below.
1) Less Extremist Government
I don’t disagree with the argument, but I do with the conclusion. If, as the author contends, Scotland is more left than rUK (which I do agree with), he states that the logical conclusion is for Scotland to secede as it can have little impact on the Westminster government and the madness that will emanate from there. I disagree with this conclusion – Scotland can, together with other parts of the UK, help tame the excesses of a kneejerk lean to the right. Just because your parties aren’t in the majority doesn’t mean you can’t help make an extremist government less extremist, by voting against laws, participating in debates, and convincing the backbench MPs who will be willing to vote against their own party.
So, which is better for Scotland? A leftish Scotland with a more extreme right-wing neighbour to the south, or being part of a less extreme union, and with more devolved powers to further lessen the impact in Scotland? I contend that the latter is better.
As noted in the article, Scotland is blessed with lots of opportunities for Wind and Hydro power, which helps account for Scotland’s success in this area. I am also disgusted by the current rush to fracking.
Where I think the author is in error is his hope, and later assumption, that an independent Scotland will put in place an energy policy that is pro-renewables. There is no evidence this will actually happen. However, there is plenty that a Scotland within the union could do in this space, through planning rules, and there is no reason why energy policy couldn’t be devolved to Scotland – meeting the author’s aims without independence.
3) Nukes and a Neutral State
Nuclear weapons are safe, until detonated, and it’s highly unlikely that this would happen accidentally – in the 69 years from their creation it has never happened, despite the oft crude design of early versions. HMNB Clyde is 12 miles from Dumbarton, the closest town of any note, and this is well outside the blast and flash radius for any warhead stored at HMNB Clyde. Yes, there could be a fallout problem, but that would affect all of Scotland, and so the location is irrelevant.
So their proximity to Glasgow is irrelevant, other than in a case of nuclear war, in which case their location would be moot as Glasgow would almost certainly be nuked anyway.
As a neutral country, Scotland wouldn’t sit on the UN Security Council other than very rarely, when they may be elected as a non-permanent member for two years. They wouldn’t have the power of veto. So a neutral Scotland would be largely as important on a world stage as Ireland – that is to say not especially.
The Scottish arms industry involves 30k people, plus Scots make up around 7-8% of the UK military – getting out of the arms industry sounds noble and is, but what are you going to do with the ~50k newly unemployed and £1.8billion loss to the Scottish economy?
4) Not being at war
Again, I can’t disagree with the authors hopes, and I agree that a weakened Scotland and rUK will be less likely to go to war. I understand that the author probably doesn’t care that the Falklands would likely be invaded by Argentina and we would be unable to recapture it – hell, given the current state of our armed forces I wouldn’t be surprised if it happens anyway. Realistically though, Scotland should just do away with its armed forces altogether – £2.5 billion won’t buy you much, and it won’t be useful for much.
I’m being serious here – why even bother having any armed forces?
5) To Remain in Europe
While it may seem logical that if Scotland secedes that it should be automatically accepted into the EU, that’s not what any treaties say. Scotland will need to apply for membership. Some countries like Spain may put up a fight – they don’t want to set a precedent for their Basque community. Others will fight for. Likely Scotland will be accepted, but at the earliest this will take several years – what happens in the interim?
As soon as Scotland is independent, it loses EU membership. What happens between then and the point in the future when EU membership would be resumed?
As for the argument about the rest of the UK, I too am nervous, but only a little. I don’t expect a majority of the country would back our leaving the EU – protest votes for UKIP likely won’t equate to actual action. To be fair there is terrifyingly a chance that a voting majority may – the incompetence of the Better Together and Proportional Representation camps has me worried about their abality to get out the vote. With Scotland as part of the UK it would be less likely that the vote would go UKIP’s way.
Similar to (1), which would you prefer – an independent Scotland which will not, for an unknown but likely non-neglible period of time, be a member of the EU, possibly with a non-EU neighbour to the south, or a unified UK which will most likely remain a member of the EU.
6) More Immigration
Likewise I’m sickened by the xenophobia in the UK. However, one reason why Scotland may be less xenophobic than England (excluding xenophobia by Scots against the English, of course) may be that there has been much less foreign (i.e. non rUK) immigration to Scotland than the rest of the UK.
We should also differentiate between ‘legal’ and ‘illegal’ migration – there has definitely been vastly less impact from illegal migration in Scotland vs southern England purely due to the fact that England is a big buffer zone which will filter the majority out long before they reach Scotland.
Personally I am very pro-immigration – they have been a net benefit to our economy and I hope it will continue. There are issues, but these can be addressed without blocking immigration. Yes, Westminster is making noises about getting stricter on immigration but this is to address the problems, and not the benefits – for example should an immigrant be able to immediately claim benefits on entering the country? I’ve no problems with people migrating to the UK to work, but there is a minority who come here for other reasons.
A pro-immigrant Scotland could suffer from the same problems as England, unless it also tried to put similar controls and restrictions in place as Westminster is considering. Given this, would you be any better off as an independent country?
As an aside, as a member of an independent Scotland that isn’t part of the EU, the author wouldn’t have been able to live and work in France in their 20s – which comes back to (5), above.
7) Against Mass Surveillance
Again, I find myself agreeing with author’s thoughts, but disagreeing with his conclusions. Laws such as RIPA, despite their many faults, do partially limit the surveillance within the UK. An independent Scotland would have no such protections – as a foreign country the UK intelligence agencies would essentially have carte blanche to spy on Scottish citizens for whatever reasons they wish. Scotland will have no real counter-intelligence capabilities. And as stated, Holyrood care as little about privacy as Westminster – the author’s hope that a constitution would reduce levels of citizen surveillance are unlikely to be met.
It should be noted that the aims of the intelligence agencies include strengthening the economy of the UK. How well do you think Scotland will do against rUK when you have zero intelligence-gathering capabilities and are up against experts?
8) NHS Privatisation
The author seems to be arguing with himself here – NHS Scotland is already safe (prior to devolution, in fact). Furthermore, Scotland spends more per head than England – are you sure this will be affordable in a future independent Scotland?
9) Electoral Reform
I also am in favour of electoral reform, although I seem to be in a minority because I actually quite like the House of Lords, as a necessary evil in stopping or at least slowing down kneejerk legislation.
However, an independent Scotland is just as likely as a non-independent one at having any kind of reform – there’s no chance. Only just over a third in Scotland voted for PR, despite 50% turnout (the second highest in the UK).
As an aside, “while we can all arrive at an informed opinion” it’s still depressingly rare that people do so – and when a participatory democracy relies on the education of the participants then this is much more dangerous than a representative democracy.
10) Scottish Republic
Largely irrelevant for this argument.
11) To Avoid the Backlash
This argument could also be used for voting against Scotland. An independent Scotland will still need to rely on rUK for a great deal, and a petty Westminster could say “screw Scotland”.
Examples include shipping all our illegal immigrants into the pro-immigration Scotland, closing the large amounts of rUK public sector offices etc in Scotland and moving them to rUK (thus causing an immense glut in unemployment in Scotland), disallowing use of the Scottish pound, choosing to primarily import electricity from France rather than Scotland, charging much more for treatment of Scottish nuclear waste at Sellafield, and so on.
12) For A’ That
I think the author is underestimating the importance of economy. Yes, Scotlands per-capita GDP is high, while Oil and gas is flowing, but that’s hardly a certain future. After that, Scotland has problems. But that’s an argument for another day.
Overall, I greatly sympathise with the author’s views, but not his conclusions. Overall his view seems to be “I don’t like Westminster, and the direction things are going, so rather than help fix things I’d rather Scotland go it alone and leave the rUK to screw things up themselves.” Personally I believe a strong Scotland as part of the UK could help limit the damage of the current lurch to the right, just as a strong England has at times helped limit the damage of a Scottish lurch to the left. We’re better together – apart there is an increased chance that the short-sighted idiocy of a few may cause problems for the many.