I’ll be voting against Scottish independence this year. Here’s why. In Summary:
- The cultural vision is weak
- The specifics are bad
- It’s a terrible time to be doing it
- I don’t trust the offer, especially in this political climate
Background: I’m Greek and have lived in Scotland since 1988. I’d be in favour of Scotland becoming an independent Celtic state like Ireland, or joining Ireland. But I think the offer on the table by Alex Salmond and the SNP is bad in the specifics, and since we can only say yes or no to specifics it’s a no. Missed opportunity. I’d like to see a better offer by someone else.
Weak cultural vision
Salmond’s brave new vision for an independent Scotland is to be like England, keeping the Queen as head of state and the pound as currency. Presumably these are symbolic gestures of continuity, intended to sell the project as independence-light so that older people feel there’s no change.
One has to ask why change to be the same. Scotland will change from being a full party of the United Kingdom to being a disaffected and confused member of the commonwealth. If Scotland wishes to be modern and independent, as I think it should, it needs to kick out the Queen, the pound, and other symbols of Britishness and paint post boxes blue. You either want to be British or you don’t.
I do believe that states have meaning in an era that has hopefully gone beyond race, religion, and nations. What’s left, if you don’t want to base your state on these parochial and dangerous concepts, is culture. It’s folk culture like gaelic and haggis, and high culture such as law and institutions of the enlightenment. Culture matters. It’s what makes Brittain different from France or Saudi Arabia. Culture means what kind of state you want to live in. So far Salmond’s answer is “not Britain, but like Britain”. I feel that vision is weak.
Bad in the specifics
The specifics of Salmond’s plan for Scotland are very badly thought out. They will most likely leave Scotland in a terrible position, and only an incurable optimist should go ahead with a plan like this. I’m an incurable optimist and still saying no. Let’s go through in turn:
- Currency union with England (keeping the pound). This is a disastrous economic design. It’ll leave Scotland in an arrangement like the Euro where Germany and Greece are the only members. Don’t do it. England will constantly pursue policies beneficial to it, Scotland will sooner or later be bankrupt, and England will be its overlord and bailiff.
- On a related note, who will bail out RBS next time it becomes insolvent with a balance sheet ten times the size of the Scottish economy? Oh wait, it’ll move to London the day after independence is announced. Maybe that’ll be a good thing.
- Salmond sells the concept that Scotland will develop North Sea oil wisely like Norway, but Norway has done that from the beginning. Britain’s North Sea oil is already sold out to British multinationals BP and Shell and Scotland will be in no position to change these arrangements.
- Don’t assume that the oil fields will become Scottish territory unequivocally. They will if nothing changes, but if Scotland were to nationalise them England could declare the existing platforms sovereign English territory and build a pipeline to Newcastle.
- Scotland doesn’t know if it’ll be in or out of the EU the day it becomes independent. For the large numbers of Europeans who currently live in Scotland, and Scots who live in Europe, you have to do better than that. We assume Scotland will be in eventually, but the transition is unclear.
- A large part of the British army is based in Scotland and staffed by Scots. If the plan for independence has any meaning, these people would either have to quit the army or renounce Scottish nationality, become English, and move to England. I’m happy with that – I don’t like the British army. But have you asked the Scottish people if they’re happy too?
Overall I believe Salmond’s plan for Scotland is so badly flawed in the specifics that it has to be rejected. This is a historical missed opportunity but we have to wait for a better plan by someone else.
Although independence has been Scotland’s dream forever, now is a terrible time to be engaging in nationalist projects in Europe.
Scotland would thrive in a conception known as Europe of the Regions, where there’s a strong federal government at European level with an elected president, a strong parliament, and agencies such as social security unified across the continent. In that structure the nation-states of the past 300 years such as France and Germany vanish and are replaced by older, culturally authentic regions: Burgundy, Occitania, Catalunya, Tuscany, Saxony, Bavaria, etc. If Europe were heading in that direction it would welcome Scotland, but unfortunately it is not. Today’s Europe is a dysfunctional inter-governmental relationship among large states and you need to be large to matter. Unless the UK is dumb enough to leave the EU altogether, Scotland will get a better EU deal as part of it.
Also, please don’t feed the monster of nationalism at this time. Throughout Europe, the parties that promote a nationalist message or agenda are also espousing right-wing intolerance, scapegoating, and an us-and-them mentality. Scottish nationalists may resent being painted with that brush, but you have to acknowledge that your timing is off. While Europe is seriously at risk of falling apart in ugly national separatism Scotland ought to hold off the wave of nationalism rather than opportunistically try to profit from it.
Lack of trust
Ultimately I don’t trust Salmond or the SNP. I see Salmond as a very weak politician compared to Blair, Brown, Cook and others, who made his career out of the single issue of independence. He has been at it for a good twenty years and was not taken seriously until the financial collapse of 2007-08 and subsequent austerity crisis changed Europe’s political climate significantly for the worst.
Across Europe, confused and disaffected centrist voters are voting randomly, swapping major parties or voting far right to an alarming degree. The SNP profess to be very different from UKIP, AFD, or League of the North, but I feel they owe their current surge of power to the same continent-wide wave of separatism and recrimination that is fuelling those. Even if the SNP are more like Die Linke and are exploiting the wave of nationalism opportunistically, I believe that’s not a good thing.
The symbolic parts of Salmond’s plan, keeping the Queen and apparent continuity with Britain, worry me especially. The people of Scotland either want a boldly independent identity, like Ireland, or they want to stay British. The referendum needs to test which it is, and any tensions involving royalists, unionists, etc. need to come out and be resolved. A plan that doesn’t present that as a clear choice is dishonest and will be toxic in the long run.
The most common counter that I hear in defence of the referendum is that independence is forever, while Salmond and the SNP aren’t. Let’s secure independence now, and then if the SNP proves to be an awful governing party once their single agenda item is achieved the people of Scotland can vote for another.
Well, no quarrel about the governance of Scotland itself. For better or worse I’m sure that can be changed, but the relationships that Scotland forms with international entities such as the Bank of England, the British army, the EU, the big oil companies, etc. not so much. You can see the mess that the Eurozone finds itself in after joining an ill-thought out structure with rules that don’t work but are nonetheless being enforced by Germany. At the time, European nations joined in optimistically, knowing that the structure was inadequate but believing it would be amended by future generations of leaders to make it work. That did not happen. Scotland, if it jumps into a dysfunctional form of independence now will be stuck with a bad deal and suffer under it for decades to come.
This is why I’ll be voting no to this particular plan for Scottish independence. I’d like to see a better offer by someone else.