Like many I’m disappointed with the results of the referendum. As I wrote a few days ago, I was never someone who thought independence would immediately produce a better nation, but it was far easier to visualise progress in an independent Scotland than in the status quo. A couple of thoughts:
1. Independence is probably inevitable
Michael Ashcroft has released results of a survey carried out after the vote. As with all polls it difficult to know how confident to be in its accuracy, but the results are interesting.
Yes won in every age group except 55-64 and 65+, which seems to suggest a majority in favour of independence is inevitable. As someone once said, I can’t remember who, bad ideas generally don’t die out because they are shown to be wrong. The reality tends to be far more literal than that. It isn’t certain to go that way of course, it depends on what happens to the UK over the next 20 years or so. New factors could emerge that change this pattern.
It is also interesting to look at why people voted the way they did:
2. A permanent resurgence of democratic participation is certainly not inevitable
I’ve lost count of the number articles I’ve read and of people who said to me that given the mass participation that has taken place around this referendum, on the street and in the voter turnout, there is no way things can go back to how they were. I’m not at all convinced.
The referendum campaign has been incredible in getting people engaged with politics, I agree. I hope everyone can now accept that the general public do care about what is going on around them, and that we are more than capable of engaging with complex issues. We don’t need an ‘educated elite’ to make decisions for us.
The reasons people have engaged with this process so enthusiastically I think are quite simple.
1. There was a genuine choice on offer.
2. The was a genuine outlet for affecting the outcome.
In most of the elections citizens are asked to participate in neither of these have been true, as there is almost no meaningful difference between the UK’s major political parties and our electoral system(s) place citizens at a great distance from the actual decisions that governments make. I don’t see this changing anytime soon, and unless it does I fully expect the energy built up around the referendum will start to dissipate.
For this kind of participation to continue then we just have to figure out ways to make these factors an ongoing feature of political life. There are lots of way that could be done, so I’ll end with a shout for a group who working on just this problem, SoSayScotland. They’ve already done a lot of interesting work around democracy in Scotland and now that this referendum is over I’m hoping to get involved with them however I can. I hope others do too.
I’ve been meaning to write something along these lines for some time, but due to a combination of being simultaneously too busy and too lazy I’ve left it until now. I’m not writing it because I think my opinion is particularly valuable, but because this is how democracy works. We express our views, listen to the views of others, and update them as necessary*. So you never know, I might just change someone’s mind.
I’ll be voting yes on Thursday, but not that enthusiastically. I should clarify that a bit. I’m enthusiastic in the sense that I’ll be spending much of the next week delivering leaflets and talking to people on the street etc, and I never for a second considered voting no. But at the same time I don’t believe independence itself will tackle the most important issues Scotland faces, and accept that the new Scotland that might emerge in 2016 will still fall someway short of what I’d like it to be. A yes vote on Thursday will be the end of one fight and the beginning of another. Nevertheless I think the case for yes is compelling, and that an independent Scotland offers the path of least resistance to the kind of society I’d really like to see. Here’s why:
In an independent Scotland the government will be elected by the STV version of proportional representation, as opposed to the corrupt system of ‘first past the post’. It is this system that allows Green Party to have roughly 10 times as much representation in the Scottish Parliament as in Westminster for example, and more generally makes it possible for a more diverse range of voices to enter government. An independent Scotland will also free itself from the indefensibly archaic House of Lords.
I’m actually not particularly enamoured by STV, nor by representative government of any kind, at it happens. These days I’m happy to describe myself an anarchist, which very briefly means I think people should be involved in making decisions about how the society around them is organised on an ongoing basis (for a fantastic introduction to how Scotland might start to make steps in this direction read this outstanding essay by Oliver Escobar). Clearly these kind of ideas have been nowhere near the current debate. Nor has there been any discussion of eliminating the influence of ‘big money’ from politics, probably the single biggest distorting influence on democracy (I’ve written a bit about this here).
But a government elected by PR is a massive step forward, and this reason alone is probably strong enough to have persuaded me to vote yes.
This is the second clincher. I’m voting yes because I don’t want to be ruled by conservatives, be they blue, red, yellow, or some combination of those. The reality is that there is very little meaningful difference between the main political parties in Westminster. The Manifesto Project do great work work on this kind of thing, and the graph below shows how the political alignment of the three main parties has changed over the last half century. The scale used by the manifest project runs from -100 to +100. The three main parties occupy a range from -1.5 to 17.5.
Of particular note is the rightward shift of all parties since the 1970’s, indicating the common acceptance of neoliberalism.
One of the most interesting political books of recent years has been The Spirit Level by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett. Very briefly, it points out that within developed nations there is a strong correlation between how equal a society is and how it performs in a variety of social indicators such as those for health, education, crime, social mobility, and many more, so that ‘more equal societies almost always do better’. The UK is one of the worst performers in nearly all of these measures. The UK is also one of the most unequal societies in the developed world, marginally ahead of the USA and one or two others depending on which measure you use. This has all come about since the 1970’s, coinciding perfectly with that rightward shift above.
One of the central arguments of the Yes campaign has been that in independent Scotland will look to model itself on countries such as Norway, Sweden and Denmark, which are the most equal and most prosperous countries in the developed world, while the UK government continues to look to America for inspiration. Scotland has never bought into neoliberalism, it never voted for Thatcher (though it did vote for Blair/Brown), and the successive elections of recent SNP governments, despite a supposed indifference towards independence. Incidentally the SNP receive a score of -13 from the Manifesto Project for the last three elections. This is a pretty strong argument to me.
I’m no Social Democrat, nor am I a fan of the SNP. While there is much to admire in the Scandinavian countries the Nordic model does not answer any of the major 21st century questions facing humanity. As the Swedish journalist and and novelist Jesper Weithz remarked to Post, ‘it would require three earths if everyone on the planet were to live like Swedes’. It is particularly difficult to be part of a campaign where so many are so enthusiastic about the wealth Scotland might receive from its oil reserves when scientists are telling us the vast majority of that oil must remain in the ground if we are to avoid impending climate catastrophe.
But I’d still take the SNP over the neoliberal parties without question, although I don’t happen to think that that is the choice. It is true the the current SNP government will lead the post-independence negotiations over the coming months and years, but beyond that the future is unclear. The democratic arguments given above means there is far more room for alternative voices to help shape Scotland’s future (such as the Green’s, but others too), while the future of a post-independence SNP itself is similarly unclear, given the extent to which the often diverse opinions within the party are united by shared enthusiasm for independence.
Currency, the economy, etc. etc. – why I’m not scared
I’m not particularly impressed by the counter arguments to independence. I don’t think the worst case scenario’s wouldn’t change my mind, and I don’t think they are going to happen anyway.
In the long term I’d like to see Scotland adopt a new currency, though I can see why a currency union might be a good idea in the transition. I expect the UK government will compromise on this after the campaign is over, though it wouldn’t make a huge difference to me even if the threat was genuine. As Salmond pointed out in one of the recent debates, there are over 190 countries in the World, all of which some kind of currency arrangement. Scotland will have a currency. There are a number of feasible options, all workable. The Scottish Goverment is arguing for a currency union, if it has to settle for a ‘plan b’ it will be perfectly workable. I’d probably prefer that anyway.
Similarly with EU. I fully expect Scotland would be welcomed into the EU, without requiring to adopt the Euro. The European Union is an expansionist organisation, and Scotland has a lot to offer in terms of resources (oil, renewables, fish), so I’d fully expect Scotland to be welcomed into the EU. But again even if that wasn’t to be the case it wouldn’t affect my vote. You don’t have to look very far to find examples of countries outside the EU who are more prosperous than the UK. There are genuinely strong arguments for not being a member of the EU anyway, given the very weak democratic processes at its core and the control it has over member states. The issue of sovereignty is an enormous one, and it is one that the independence referendum doesn’t really touch on all that directly. Going back to neoliberalism again, one of the key features of recent decades has not just been the privatisation of public services but the privatisation of public power itself. The current, secret, negotiations around the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, which will allow corporations to sue governments that try to regulate markets for social benefit, are a clear example of that. These are issues Scotland will have to think carefully about whatever happens on Thursday.
Then there are more general economic arguments. A lot has been made of corporations threatening to leave Scotland, and markets responding negatively. Admittedly there is good reason to be concerned in the short term transition, if the threats are indeed genuine. But then you shouldn’t make long term decision on short term consequences. Looking forward, Scotland really needs to build an economy that is less reliant on foreign capital, and particularly it must look to build an economy that is less reliant on financial services, so that in the long term these companies wouldn’t really be missed. But although Scotland is a very wealthy country, and I think it’ll manage the transition to independence, I do hope that transition is as ‘turbulence’ free as possible. Frankly though, I’d have been more worried if corporations had responded positively.
There is obviously a lot more I could say here, but I’ve tried to keep it relatively brief. I’d be interested to hear what people think, especially from people who haven’t yet made up their mind as we enter the last few days. Finally, some further reading/viewing that I’ve found enlightening, and fun.