Thursday, September 18, 2014

Scotland's Choice

Scotland will make an historic decision on Thursday. Either way, the United Kingdom will never be the same again. But if Scotland decides to leave, both the Scottish and remaining British people will be weaker and poorer.

There are two main arguments for Scottish separation, one is political the other economic. The economic argument made for separation is clearly ill conceived and utterly flawed. Both Scotland and the UK would be worse off economically, with the UK eventually readjusting and driving on, while Scotland languishes behind. The economic case against separation is well established elsewhere. The effects on Scottish and UK politics are what I'm interested in here and it's not an attempt to persuade Scots to vote one way or another.  

Of the two, the political argument is the strongest. The yes to independence campaigners correctly point out that Scotland has, for many years, had a substantially different political outlook to the rest of the United Kingdom (especially England, where the vast majority of the UK population resides). One of tactics of the Yes campaign to entice people into voting their way is the promise of permanently getting rid of the Tories. What should be a constitutional debate about the long term future of a nation is often reduced to petty policy propagandising. The promise of a socialist utopia, made by both sides, is seen by many Scots as a positive selling point. You often see promises made to reinstate benefit subsidies for spare rooms (aka the scrapping the "bedroom tax") at least for those in public provided rented accommodation; to nationalise the Scottish railways and any other industry that falls out of favour; to tax the rich and bankers out of existence in Scotland; to leave the NHS unreformed; to provide "free" (i.e via increased taxation and borrowing) this that and the other, etc etc. It's like Ed Miliband's wet dream, and it genuinely appeals to many Scots.

The truth is, politically, Scotland is further to the left than England. Considering it accounts for a reasonably small proportion of the total UK population, Scotland is unduly influential in our national politics, dragging the political centre to the left. If they were to separate they really would be able to guarantee they got what they voted for. God help them.

The effect on the rest of the UK would be felt in that the centre would return to where the (predominantly English) voters want it. Currently we see Ed Miliband aping Fran├žois Hollande's old style populist socialism (before he won power in France with it and failed miserably) and he's leading the opinion polls (albeit marginally). Labour only needs a small lead to win a healthy majority, so currently (with Scotland) your money should be on him being the next PM. Without Scotland, it would be likely that Labour would need to shift back to a more Blairite "3rd way" position if it wanted to win again.  

The truth is the Scottish vote hasn't often made a difference to who ends up in power in UK general elections. On the couple of occasions it did, it was to give Labour a majority where it would have not otherwise have had one (but still have been the largest party) or deny the Tories a majority (as in 2010). But it has enabled a more leftist narrative than would otherwise be palatable to the English to survive. While a Scotland-free UK may only notice a shift in the political centre slightly to the right, Scotland would be able to build its socialist state up in a way the English influence has denied her in the past. Scots will then be able to lie in a bed of their own making.

So, Scottish independence would mean putting Scotland at an economic disadvantage but handing her political destiny to her with no dampening effects from the English. This lurch to the left, in turn, is likely to damage, if not destroy, her economy but that, at least, would be her democratically made choice.

From my perspective, I hope Scotland votes No. Not because I want to see our politics remain skewed to the left (obviously I don't) but because I believe the UK is greater than the sum of its parts. We'll all be weaker as a result of their exit. As a nation we are emerging from the effects of the deepest and most damaging recession and debt crisis for generations and this would set us all back terribly. Plus, most importantly of all, it will mess up our union jack, which is undeniable the best flag in the world.

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