Some thoughts on the Scottish independence referendum

We are in the midst of one of the most crucial votes in recent decades. Those living in Scotland will be asked:

‘Should Scotland be an Independent Country?’

The political, social, cultural and economic stakes could hardly be higher. A ‘yes’ result will mean total independence for Scotland, a dramatic severing of the union. A ‘no’ vote meanwhile will preserve the UK grouping of nations, albeit probably through a new ‘devo max’ or ‘enhanced’ devolved relationship granting Scotland wide ranging powers in a whole variety of areas. Thus, whatever happens tomorrow, things will never be the same again.

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In what follows, I’ll share some of my thoughts on the two campaigns.

  1. Salmond has played a blinder

Whatever you think of Alex Salmond, his nationalist politics,his party (the SNP) and his overly smug demeanour, one has to admit that politically, the First Minister has played quite the hand. It is widely held belief that Salmond and the SNP’s preferred option regarding devolved power was ‘devo-max.’ That is, Salmond envisaged that this would be a more realistic and attractive option to the voting public in Scotland than all out independence. So it seemed did Messrs Cameron and Co, who duly refused the SNP this privilege. Fast forward to today, it now appears that Salmond can’t lose. If he’s defeated and ‘No Thanks’ prevails, he gets what he originally asked for in the first place, devo-max now being promised by Westminster in a last ditch attempt to secure victory for No (although some dispute whether what is now being offered actually constitutes ‘devo-max’). Yet if he wins, he gets something which some in Scotland could only dream of.

  1. Complacency has cost the No campaign dearly

As discussed above, it appears that having initially kicked the devo-max option into the long grass, Cameron, Milliband, Clegg and the No campaign thought that would be that, as to be fair did many others including myself. Yet, the assumption that a twenty point percentage lead and a favourable referendum question would result in an easy stroll to victory could turn out to be a very costly error. Given what’s at stake, and given the consistently closing gap in the polls, it is quite staggering that it took both the No campaign and the Westminster machine until 10 days before the vote to realise how desperate things were. Had it exercised a bit more foresight and proactivity even 6 months before the vote and campaigned properly (to put it bluntly) it’s not inconceivable to think the No camp could have saved themselves a lot of trouble.

  1. The Social Democratic dream

One of the tactics of the Yes campaign has been to try and sell Scotland the notion that an independent Scotland would not only free the nation from the shackles of the Westminster system, but from ‘Tory right wing politics.’ That is, the Yes campaign has sought to reassure Scots for better or for worse that an independent Scotland would drive down inequality, combat poverty, get rid of Trident and the rest of it. Moreover, those in favour of independence have perhaps gone even further in arguing that the ONLY way to achieve the ‘Social Democratic dream’ is to vote in the affirmative. This, I’m fairly confident has won over more than a few individuals.

  1. A new way of doing politics

The pro-independence movement has also successfully capitalised on the general disillusionment with the general political process, which it must be said has been going on far longer than the events surrounding this referendum. Salmond and Co have been effective in persuading those cheesed off with ‘the system’ that independence offers ‘something new’, even if the disillusioned haven’t been given a clear vision of what this might look like. It seems then that for many, the prospect of a supposedly fresh political approach in Scotland is a compelling motive in itself to vote in favour of independence. Indeed, in a time where General Elections of recent times have seen turnouts of below 60%, whatever the outcome of tonight’s vote, it is inspiring to see so many people engaged with the political process, with turnout in some areas rumoured to be as high as 94%!

  1. ‘Policy-lite’

The debate has been surprisingly free of in depth policy debate, at least in the mainstream. That is, despite the massive implications for Scotland, England, the rest of the UK, Europe and perhaps even the rest of the World, some hugely important questions have been left unanswered by Scotland. What would its currency be? Would it have a Central Bank? How would its existing trading relationships be affected? Would it be able to join the EU, and if so how long would this take? Would employment levels change in the short, medium and long term due to independence? To my mind, these issues have hardly been touched upon by Yes. Given the closing gap seen in the polls, the pro-independence movement will argue that they were right to largely ignore these substantive queries. Yet if they are successful in their bid, they will have to come up with answers, and quickly. It’s also worth noting that some major political, social and economic players have given some stark warnings should Scotland go it alone.

  1. Sad to see Scotland go

Despite liking to think of myself of something of a ‘factoid’, I’d be sad to see Scotland leave the UK. I see Scotland as an integral and inextricable part the UK’s identity. That is, I see Scotland as a key part of our collective heritage, and if Yes get their way something about who we are as a British people and nation changes, and not in a good way. Moreover, I’d like to think that as a UK nation together we can combat important issues cited in this campaign such as political disillusionment, poverty and so on. Of course, I realise that this argument is relatively free from evidence and analysis, but I think that’s kind of the point. As much as policy matters here (and believe me it does) we must not neglect the more ‘emotional’ factors at play; losing Scotland would mean losing a considerable part of Britain and our identity forever, and that I think that’s a bad thing.

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