So tomorrow is a big day for Britain. It’s basically making up it’s mind whether to stay in one piece or become two entirely separate countries, as Scotland votes on independence.
The first thing to note is that Scotland itself has been toying with independence since devolution. Dissatisfaction with the government in London led to further powers being devolved, but the nationalist parties in Scotland, notably the SNP, continued to gain strength, especially after the financial crisis.
It’s worth remembering that that particular trend also occurred in the UK as a whole, UKIP has garnered increasing support since the 2010 election, and this is not really surprising. The biggest financial crisis since the Great Depression was always going to have a similar move towards isolationism by all countries, even in the States where the Electoral College disguises what was, in reality, a very close vote in 2012 between outwards looking Democrats and inward looking Republicans. Scotland is no different, the already present dissatisfaction was magnified to the point of considering divorce as the SNP continued it’s assertions that Westminster simply did not have a mandate to run its affairs.
That argument is perfectly valid. Very few of the Westminster MP’s representing Scotland are from the coalition, and even then they’re from the smaller half. Since Thatcher, the Tories have consistently lost seats across Scotland, until eventually they lacked a single representative north of the border, and their mandate to govern Scotland is flimsy at best.
This is where an argument in response can be formed, however, which is that independence is a response to the electing of a Tory government whose policies those in Scotland they do not support. Taking this way it makes sound as though had Labour been in power, where their mandate would have been significantly stronger, independence would almost certainly not be considered by the majority. In short, it’s reactionary and short sighted and not to the long term benefit of Scotland to throw itself out of the union because it’s part of a country where the largest proportion of citizens voted Conservative last time out.
Labour, of course, therefore see Scotlands abandonment of the union as a major threat to their electoral chances in 2015 and beyond. A “Yes” vote would take-away a large number of left-wing leaning seats from Parliament, something that the Tories are happy to keep quiet while the campaigning takes place. It’s noticeable that while all the pro-union parties are campaigning, Labour is it’s primary figurehead, with Brown and Darling, hardly the people you want running anything given their track record, their chosen voice. That’s because Labour is the party with the most to lose. Cameron’s attempts to keep the country together have hardly been acts of desperation on his part.
But that remains pretty much the only argument with a grounding in reality at this point. We’re 24 hours away from a referendum to decide Scotlands future, but there are no guarantees from either side as to what that future will look like. Salmond wants a currency union, the one person who can give him that is Mark Carney and he’s stated his opposition to it over and over. Salmond has promised to protect the NHS, but the figures he gives leave a £400 million funding gap inside the organisation. He wants to join the European Union, but after the financial crisis just having been a member of the UK is unlikely to grant you automatic admission.
But the same is true for the Pro-Union campaign. Until last week they’d promised new powers for Scotland should it vote no, but had given no idea of what that might be. Then the panicked selection of powers they gave were quickly dismissed by the higher members of the Conservative party, further muddying the issue, rather than resolving any of the problems it was supposed to solve. It also added fuel to fire of those in the Conservative party that some members were placing politics over tradition, and if there’s one thing that the Tories don’t like it’s the abandonment of traditions.
The campaigning on both sides has also been filled with subterfuge and game-playing, lowering the tone of the debate significantly. Initially, the Yes campaign was well behind until the second debate. Alistair Darling managed to screw up, rather than Alex Salmond getting one over on him, and left the door open for the momentum to swing back the other way. Undecided voters, who now had no more debates left, saw Salmond (probably rightly) as the stronger of the two. Salmond was still being consistently rebuffed however, Mark Carney said no to the currency union, the European Union gave no guarantee of Scottish Membership, and several companies of importance in Scotland noted their support of the Union, leaving the SNP with no real foundation to their claims. The debate about the amount of Oil in the North Sea continues to rage, and we won’t really know the result of that until it hits.
So the SNP changed it’s language. It focussed on emotional attachments to Scotland, rather than statistics or logical arguments. It reverted back to it’s nationalist type, forcing the No vote onto it’s turf, one on which it couldn’t hope to compete with a Tory government in power. More recently it’s begun an attack on the mainstream media, which has been almost universally against the Union breaking up (mostly thanks to it leaning to the right in the UK). That came to a head in a press conference where Salmond accused Nick Robinson, the BBC’s political correspondent, of “heckling” him. He didn’t, he asked a question that would have forced Salmond to refer back to statistics, so he initially evaded the question, then allowed the supporters he’d brought into the press conference (for which there is no other reason to do so than to intimidate the journalists inside the room) to heckle Robinson. The BBC itself has been impartial thus far, a good measure of impartiality is how many complaints it receives from both sides, and while there haven’t been protests outside Glasgow from the No vote, both sides are complaining pretty equally about the coverage given to their campaigning, or to the campaigning of the other side. The No vote complained endlessly that the schools chosen were for the Big Debate were from Yes voting areas, and the hall was indeed filled with Yes voters, to the point of that side of the hall being so full that they were forced to seat Yes voters in the No section (as much as the Yes side wants to believe that that was the BBC being partial to the No vote it simply had no choice precisely because the Yes vote is so popular amongst younger voters). The Yes vote did itself little favours by attacking the BBC and it resulted in the National Union of Journalists asking for an end to the intimidation of journalists, a good indication that some members of the Yes vote had been riled up enough by Salmond to put their views forward stronger than is acceptable in a democratic society.
But that’s not to say that the No vote hasn’t been equally guilty of trying to game their way back in. When the Yes vote appeared to gain momentum it started out by suddenly promising new powers should Scotland vote No. The Yes vote was right to point out that this was as a result of “panic” because up until the second debate there had been little indication that Scotland would actually vote to leave. After itthe momentum gained quickly enough for the No campaign to start adding in ideas that had previously been dismissed, and Labour realised it needed a stronger figurehead than Darling. So it brought in Gordon Brown, upped it’s promises and tried to counter Salmonds emotional response by continuing to try and get written assurances from companies that they were considering leaving Scotland should it go independent. That came to head when it leaked a letter to the BBC about RBS having contingency plans to move down to the UK. Why it did this is beyond common sense, had it simply waited for the announcement, far more damage would have been done without the need for a clear route for the SNP to counter. It then tried to get companies who had even made a mention of increasing prices in Scotland after independence (the logical thing to do, in order to combat risk) to put it into writing, which of course was also leaked and resulted in further embarrassment for them.
So basically neither side knows what will happen, so neither side can actually make any promises. Yesterday Salmond asked people to ignore statistics and political arguments going into the polling booth. This obviously appeals to the mentality that has worked so far leading up to the polls, but there is an element of truth in it. Independence brings with it massive risks for both sides, risks that are far more likely to cripple Scotland than the UK should they be taken and not succeed. But the Union has been slowly separating since the 80’s and Thatchers abandonment of the North, and Scotland has the right to decide it’s own future should that be different from the right of centre parts of England (Nationalist parties will basically get their “English Parliament” for one, something I don’t think they saw coming, as Wales will inevitably asked for more devolved powers as well)
So, it basically comes down to the old adage of “go with your gut”. I’ve wavered between supporting either side. Until the Yes vote started intimidation tactics and reverting to nationalist fervour I was more on their side, but if that is how the campaign is won, I see troubled waters ahead. Nationalism works until the nation realises it’s split on what it wants. If Scotland goes independent, it should have been on the basis of co-operation with the UK, on negotiation. Instead Salmond resorted to pressing the nuclear button on it’s debt requirements should it not get a currency union, which would effectively result in Scotland defaulting immediately after independence. That’s not going to do anyone any favours. Equally though the hard-line taken by the No vote was the thing that initially put me against them in the first place, so the day before the vote I can’t say I know which side to go with.
So Scotland, make your choice…