A friend asked for information on the independence ref, and I realised that I’d never actually sat down and written an essay on the stance I’ve reached on the matter. This is partly because for the first few months, I think, after I decided I was a Yes, I was ‘in the closet’ about it, too worried that I was being naive and childish about the whole thing. It’s also because the ins and outs of how I feel on the topic do shift and change, even if my gut feeling does not.
Anyway, I figured it was time to get the whole thing written down in one place, so I wrote my friend an essay – a ‘yessay’ if you will. It’s emotive and passionate of course because I’m incapable of being otherwise, and I don’t pretend that it’s unbiased – I’m a bleeding-heart lefty and I wear that on my sleeve – but I don’t THINK it contains any lies or obfuscations. So caveats over, here we go…
I’m a Yes voter for essentially idealistic reasons and I make no apology for that. Westminster has rejected voting reform that would have moved us toward (slightly) better representation there, and their dismissive, negative attitude toward coalition government in both principle and practice highlights just how out-of-touch they are with a voting public who are increasingly less and less split between red and blue and nothing else. ‘First past the post’ representative democracy simply does. not. work. when there are more than two parties, and Westminster have staunchly refused to accept this, making a mockery of their own electorate in the process. The Scottish Parliament, by contrast, already has a great voting system that actually represents, proportionally (almost), the voting choices of the people.
So that’s the first reason: fair representation.
Another big factor for me is that a No vote isn’t just a vote for the status quo. ‘More of the same’ from Westminster doesn’t just mean more like this, it means worse than this. Austerity isn’t temporary; it’s the way the Tories want it, and Labour are too cowed by the way public perceptions have been skewed to mistrust public spending and demonise the poor and sick to promise to do ANYTHING really concrete about it – sure, they oppose a policy here, tweak a number there, but it’s just a variation on the same melody when what they need to be doing is picking a completely different hymn. I believe that most of Scotland wants to be singing that different hymn. Our government has done its best to insulate us from the worst of Westminster’s attacks on the Welfare State and the NHS is mercifully devolved, but we can’t hold out forever.
A personal factor on this front for me is immigration. Firstly, I passionately believe in freedom of movement, and cutting through the crap the fact is that young foreigners are presently propping up our health service, our service industry and our retail sector, and moreover are paying our pensions and for the care of our old and sick through their taxes. Immigrants give back more to the country than citizens and get less back for it. The current tide in immigration reform was described a couple of years ago by the Dundee Uni principal as the worst threat to academia faced in the UK, and the Home Office persist in making it harder and harder for people to come here to live, which, in a world where we are more and more making connections all over the world through the internet, strikes me as tragic.
Secondly, my personal anecdata: The post-study visa that allowed Erin to stay in the country with me after her degree: gone. The two-year probation we’re presently on as a legally partnered couple: now five years. And scariest of all if we had applied for her latest ‘further leave to remain’ visa only four months later, my partner would have been deported because my salary was a few hundred pounds beneath the ~£18k minimum for partners of immigrants. We had been living together four years. We have a Civil Partnership. She was in full-time employment earning £6k more than me. Wouldn’t have mattered. She would have been deported to a country where I could not legally enter as her civil partner because at a central governmental level same-sex partnerships weren’t (at the time) legally recognised. I would have been forcibly and indefinitely separated from my legal spouse for the sake of a few hundred pounds a year. I don’t want to be emotionally manipulative here but I’m sure you can imagine that tears well-up even as I type that.
To me that is utterly terrifying, and everything I have read and everything that I’ve seen leads me to believe that Scotland does not hate its immigrants, does not buy the line that The Daily Mail and the like feeds it, and will institute fair and reasonable immigration legislation in the event of independence. And then Erin and I can begin to sleep a little easier at night, safe in the knowledge that our right to be together isn’t going to be spontaneously ripped away from us. Immigration reform cannot happen at a devolved level – even under ‘devo max’ – it just doesn’t work that way. It can only happen in a fully independent nation.
So that’s the second reason: self-determination. In an independent Scotland we get to make these decisions for ourselves – ALL these decisions, not just the ones afforded to us by the central government that is unfair, unrepresentative and has its own agendas that are entirely unrelated to the will of the people. Does the Scottish Parliament make mistakes? Hell yes. Will there be corrupt and self-interested folk in it? There already are. But in a wee country of 5 million where our vote – EVERY vote – actually counts, we can hold these people accountable, and we can boot them out if we don’t like them. They will work (more) for us, not big business or The City or the rich. It’s not perfect, but it’s a much better starting point than the situation we have right now.
My worries: I think a formal currency union with the UK£ is a terrible idea. I don’t think there is any question whatsoever that the Tories would agree to a formal currency union. The people who stand to gain most from a formal union are the Bank of England and The City. The biggest losers would be the people of Scotland themselves. We give up complete financial autonomy if we have a formal union, rendering independence largely pointless and downgrading it, in effect, to a rubbish brand of devo-max where we don’t even have MPs representing us in the country where our interest rates are set. It could also cause trouble for our EU membership terms as we would have the BofE as our central bank and lender of last resort – particularly awkward if the UK then voted to leave the EU! Labour have promised to block a union and for all that I think they’re the wrong people doing it for the wrong reasons, I hope they stick to that. In the event of a Yes vote I will certainly be campaigning against a currency union. This is a stance shared by many in the ‘non-SNP-Yes-camp’, but we don’t really get our voices heard much over the din of “Oh aye we’ll do what we like”. A break needs to be a clean one. As a no-voting friend of mine put it (riffing on a particularly odious Yes blogger’s analogy), it’s never a good idea to get divorced and keep sharing a car, particularly not if one partner’s in charge of the keys and the fuel-ups and you only get to use the car as and when they say so! Even if you plan to stay friends it’s a recipe for disaster.
I also worry about their undemocratic plans to write a ‘draft’ constitution without a constitutional commission made up of people outwith the political establishment.
Finally, I think that their timeline is woefully short. There will be a great deal to do in the event of a Yes vote, and their attempts to rush everything through in time for the next Scottish Parliamentary election are both suspicious and ridiculously optimistic.
Unfortunately, while there are plenty of independent Yes voters who share such worries and would like to see the alternatives investigated fully before any key decisions of this kind are made, a combination of media bias and sitting on our hands has left us basically hoping that we can reverse this stuff when really we should be campaigning for it now. The issue is that what the SNP are pushing is the line that’s most likely to get a Yes, by saying that very little will actually change for those who fear it. Maybe this approach will gain more votes than it loses, I don’t know. I do know that it’s cynical and pragmatic to a fault, not to mention patronising and insulting to the people of Scotland (even if it’s a wee bit true). But I don’t think that this dishonest approach by some makes independence itself a bad idea.
In short, I have my worries, but these worries are not enough to remove my convictions that Scotland will be better off on its own. There may be hard times – there’ll be job losses and job creation, there’ll be upheaval, there’ll be fluctuations in funding in some sectors while stuff is sorted out, and we might be a wee bit poorer before we’re richer (though even pessimistic projections say it’s only a very, very wee bit poorer), but for me it’s worth it because this isn’t a decision for me or my next five years’ comfort; it’s a decision that will shape the future of the whole country.
We DESPERATELY need to change the way we do things.
Welfare ‘reform’ is putting children on the street, sending working folk to food banks, and hounding the ill and disabled literally to death, with inequality between the richest and poorest increasing at staggering rates, rates that make you sick to your stomach when you think about them. Can Scotland make those changes alone? Do we have the stomach for it? Do we have the guts to swim against the tide, put equality above ‘growth’ on our national agenda and change the world we live in, setting an example for what a wee nation of inventors and writers and crazy gingers can do when we set our hearts AND our minds to it?
Maybe? I mean, it sounds really, really hard, but MAYBE? I really, really hope so. I will say that I have given up all hope of that sort of change coming from London. Ever. Maybe that’s defeatist of me but I’d call it pragmatic. At the very least, though, I can see the possibility of a better way, and so I, for one, will be grasping for it with both hands.
Non mainstream campaign ‘Yes’ links
And here’s the indyref filter on the blog of a No voter and friend I respect a great deal, and who turned me on to many of the worries I have about the SNP’s Yes campaign (though I’m more optimistic than her about being able to change them obviously):