Some readers may know that I used to be actively involved in politics. I wrote about it all the time. Five years ago I decided to write mainly about other topics instead. So far I have not written much about the independence referendum.
Scotland is facing a big decision, and it has to get it right. This is not like a normal election. We cannot just give independence a shot and see how it goes. We would be stuck with it forever.
If Scotland votes no, the independence movement can return to the issue in future if it wants to. If Scotland votes yes, there will be no going back. So with just a couple of weeks ago until polling day, now is the time to speak up.
I am committed to arguing the positive case for Scotland’s role in the UK. But inevitably with an issue such as this, I must also analyse why I disagree with the yes campaign’s vision and the way they go about their campaign.
I do not seek to tell anyone how to vote. That decision is for each individual alone. But many people have asked me to explain why I will be voting no. Now is the time to speak up.
I hope people find this article an interesting and useful contribution to the debate. Please keep any comments about this civil.
We face challenges for humanity, not just for Scotland
I have a lot of things in common with independence campaigners. We all dream of a better future. All of us do. Constantly striving to improve is what makes people what they are. That is true of any of us, no matter where we live.
Independence campaigners imply that the rest of the UK doesn’t dream of a better future.
The yes leaflet I got through the door promises the following:
Policies that work… More jobs, more childcare, more opportunities. Protecting pensions, education, welfare and public services.
Who wouldn’t want that? These could be the vague manifesto pledges of any mainstream political party in any country in the world.
These are not Scotland’s problems. They are familiar the world over. They are the challenges we face as humanity.
The question is: how do you achieve it?
The yes campaign wants you to believe that voting for independence would automatically make Scotland a better place. That is not true. Here is why.
Scotland is better together
During the BBC’s televised debate, an audience member asked, “if we are better together, why are we not better together already?” What that person missed was the fact that we are better together already.
The yes campaign knows it, and this is where they have to tread a fine line. This advert could not be more correct about the ingenuity of Scotland’s people.
But there is something that they hoped we would not notice.
Every single one of these inventions and discoveries has been made while Scotland has been part of the UK. There could not be a better illustration of why Scotland is better together with the UK.
Scotland is an extraordinary place. It excels on the world stage in science, business, literature, music, art and sport. It does this all as part of the UK.
The seeds of Scotland’s enterprising spirit were sown by joining the UK. The Scottish enlightenment took place as a direct result of being part of the UK. From that springboard, Scots made a host of intellectual breakthroughs in economics, medicine, philosophy and many other fields. When it joined the UK, Scotland changed the world.
Glasgow has just put on a proud show on the world stage when it hosted the Commonwealth Games. It did that as part of the UK, and it is an event that would not have existed without Britain.
The UK has more chance of being fairer
The UK brought us our welfare state. The National Health Service is the UK’s.
These wonderful UK institutions work because they are based on a system that can share resources among a larger group of people.
A welfare state in a country of 63 million people has a better chance of succeeding. It has a better chance at being fairer than in a country of 5 million people. That is just basic maths. There is more scope to redistribute when you have more people to redistribute among. And the risks that come as part of life are shared among a wider pool.
The UK was set up in order to share the risks and rewards of the economic activities that take place on these islands.
Of course things can always be improved. But I am as concerned about poverty in the rest of the UK as Scotland. We have a better chance of being fairer as part of the UK.
(I am also equally concerned about poverty in the rest of the world. That is why I would like to see our place in international organisations guaranteed, as they are while Scotland is part of the UK.)
Scottish politicians are not inherently better
When the Scottish parliament was set up, we were promised things would be different. We were told it would be the end of yah-boo politics in Scotland.
That promise never came to fruition, sadly. First minister’s questions in Holyrood is just as rowdy and misbehaved as prime minister’s questions in Westminster.
Anyone who watched the televised debates between Alistair Darling and Alex Salmond will be well aware that Scottish politicians are not automatically well behaved. Whether they are in Holyrood or Westminster, politicians are still politicians.
The last three prime ministers each have extremely close connections to Scotland. Tony Blair and Gordon Brown were both born in Scotland. David Cameron’s father was Scottish. If you think independence would mean better politicians, you would be disappointed.
Unfortunately bad politicians and bad governments are found the world over, no matter how the boundaries are drawn.
Scotland is not under-represented at Westminster
Independence campaigners often say that Westminster under-represents Scotland. This is a lie.
Scotland makes up 8% of the UK population, but it has 9% of the seats in Westminster.
Before the boundaries were reviewed after devolution, Scotland had 11% of the seats.
On top of that, Scottish MPs have power over devolved matters in England, while English MPs do not have any power over issues such as health and education in Scotland. That is a constitutional oddity, and one that should be addressed. But it is just the opposite of Scotland being under-represented.
On top of that, we have all our MSPs.
If you think that Scotland is lacking in electoral representation, I dread to think just how many politicians you think there should be.
The illegal war was pursued by Scots
I am constantly seeing reference to illegal wars from yes campaigners.
The prime minister who took us into the Iraq war was a Scot. The war was bankrolled by a Scot. The government they led had a higher proportion of votes from Scotland than from the rest of the UK — both before and after the start of the Iraq war.
What on earth makes anyone think that Scottish politicians would be any better than politicians in the UK as a whole? It was Scottish politicians who took us into the Iraq war, with the electoral approval of the Scottish voters.
I am in favour of independence — for people
Some independence campaigners say that it is about giving Scottish people control over their own destiny.
I firmly believe that people should be given more control over their own destiny. I believe in independence. I strongly value my independence.
But what does it mean to be an independent country? An independent Scotland would not be any more an independent country than the UK is.
What I care about is the amount of control people have over their own lives. That means better, smaller government. It means a government that trusts people to make the decisions that are right for them.
The SNP wants all the power to itself
The recent record of the SNP government has shown that they have no interest whatsoever in people’s independence. They have removed decision-making from local places. They have stripped away local responsibilities on council tax. They have centralised police, fire services, colleges and more.
The yes campaign’s agenda is not to bring power and public services closer to the people. It is to centralise as much of it as possible. Their plan is to have as much power as possible concentrated among a controlling clique in Holyrood.
Independence is the wrong sort of constitutional reform
I am a passionate supporter of constitutional reform. But the yes campaign’s vision is a dangerous plan.
On top of centralising as much power as possible to Holyrood, an independent Scotland would not have a second chamber.
That means that the power of the government would be all-consuming. There would be no check on this unfettered power.
The first minister in an independent Scotland would only need to seek the approval of his own clique. The “independence” agenda is not about independence at all. It is all about concentrating power among a small political elite in Edinburgh.
With this hunger for power, it is no wonder Alex Salmond let slip that he is such an admirer of Vladimir Putin.
The beauty of devolution is that powers can be distributed among different people in the appropriate places. Local councils, the Scottish parliament, the UK parliament and international organisations all have a role to play in our society.
Distributing power across different levels helps prevent politicians becoming megalomaniacs. It keeps a lid on corruption.
I do not like David Cameron. I do not like Alex Salmond either. And I am extremely thankful that neither of them has the power to impose their full agenda on us.
Independence is an old-fashioned solution to a problem people are beginning to solve themselves
The story of the 21st century so far has been one of people standing up to archaic institutions and taking control of their own lives. With the rise of the world wide web, people are better connected and better organised than ever.
Big businesses and even entire industries have been brought to their knees. Oppressive governments have been overthrown, and our own governments are scrutinised more than ever. The establishment has never been held in more contempt.
Be it the banks, the politicians, the media or big business, the people are getting on top of them.
The world is transforming faster than it ever has done before. More and more elements of our society are being democratised. People are able to self-organise more.
This is what true independence is about.
Meanwhile, the yes campaign seeks to place our future in the hands of politicians. The democratisation of society does not fit its centralising agenda. It seeks to concentrate as much power as possible among politicians.
Scotland is not a “Tory-free zone”
Independence campaigners will often tell you that the only way to keep the Conservatives out is to have independence. This is a lie.
The Conservative party is the only political party to have got a majority of Scottish votes in a general election since the second world war. In 1955 the Tories got 1.3 million votes in Scotland. That is over half of all votes.
Unlike Scotland, the UK as a whole has never given a majority of its votes to the Conservatives since we fought the Nazis.
An electorate evolves over time. If anyone should know that, it should be the SNP. In 2010 they spectacularly managed to gain a majority in the Scottish parliament with a voting system that was designed specifically to prevent it. It was a turnaround the like of which had never been seen, and was not foreseen.
Voting patterns change. What happened in 2010 demonstrated that voters can be sophisticated in the way they vote so that they can beat the system.
Nor is Scotland a “Ukip-free zone”
Scots vote a certain way today. But they are sure to vote another way in future years. No-one can say that the Conservatives, Ukip or any other undesirable political elements would not be present in an independent Scotland.
Support for Ukip is lower in Scotland than the rest of the UK. But they still gained more than one in ten Scottish votes in this year’s European parliament election.
The rise of Ukip and other nationalist parties — in Scotland, the UK and the EU — needs to be tackled on a more fundamental level. Scottish independence would not eradicate them.
There are geographical differences within Scotland as well
My point is not to say that there is not a difference in the way Scotland votes compared to the rest of the UK. There is a big difference. But there are also differences within Scotland itself.
Labour are more likely to find support in urban areas (just like the rest of the UK). Lib Dems do relatively well in more rural areas. The SNP have historically done better north of the central belt. The Conservatives are strongest in the south of Scotland.
Geographical differences exist in democracies all over the world
The UK and Scotland are not the only places where you find geographical differences. In fact, a study of many electoral maps would find something similar in many countries.
Take US presidential elections for one example.
The map evolves over time, and there are changes from year to year. But there are clear trends. There is the left coast. North eastern states tend to vote Democrat as well. Meanwhile, the central and southern areas are more likely to vote Republican.
Is this a reason to split up the US?
Are these reasons to split up Germany?
Even the lauded Norway has different voting patterns in different parts of the country.
Indeed, they can be found all over Europe.
That’s democracy for you. You are not guaranteed to get the government you want, no matter where you draw the border.
There is no philosophical difference in making an argument that, say, Orkney and Shetland should be independent from Scotland.
The independence movement implies that Scotland is inherently the best demos; that there is something magical about drawing a border in a certain place that makes democratic results more “correct”. Unless you actually believe that Scots are naturally better people, this cannot be true.
A yes vote would cause uncertainty about Scotland’s place in the world
The SNP and the wider yes campaign has always sought to convince us that an independent Scotland’s place in the EU would be secure. That might be correct.
The truth is, no-one knows what would happen to our EU membership if Scotland were to become independent. Such a situation has never happened before. Our destiny will then be in the hands of the diplomats and the bureaucrats.
What do know is that the Scottish government’s line on the EU has changed time and again.
First they told us that EU membership would be “automatic”. That was shown to be untrue.
Then they told us they had received legal advice on the matter. But they wouldn’t tell the Scottish people what that advice was.
It later transpired that was because the advice never existed in the first place. They spent £20,000 of taxpayers’ money trying to cover it up.
An independent Scotland’s membership of the EU is by no means a certainty.
A yes vote would cause uncertainty about our currency
Here is something else the SNP has changed its tune on in recent years. The SNP used to advocate the use of the euro. But that became a toxic idea to voters. So the yes campaign has thrown together a half-baked plan — to attempt to form a currency union with the UK.
That means our monetary policy being set in a foreign country. That means the lender of last resort to Scotland’s large and important financial institutions being based in a foreign country.
It is not clear why this is supposed to be desirable for the people of Scotland. It is not even clear why we would expect the continuing UK to agree to it.
The yes campaign has tied itself in knots over this. They tell us on the one hand that Westminster acts in the worst interests of Scotland. But then they attempt to tell the Scottish people that under independence Westminster would volunteer to expose itself to potentially having to bail out a foreign country’s financial institutions.
The yes campaign’s “plan B” is to ignore all that and just use the pound anyway, without the backing and protection of a central bank. That would leave Scotland horrifically exposed.
As Faisal Islam has outlined, “Something rather large would have to give.”
When Alex Salmond is questioned about it, he goes into meltdown. Here you can see him explain that the reason his plan would work is because “Alistair Darling muffed his chance” in the televised debate.
If an independent Scotland did join the EU, it would probably have to use the euro
Alex Salmond has batted away that suggestion, citing Sweden as an example. It is downright mendacious of him to do so.
As an existing member state, Sweden has an opt-out of using the euro, just as the UK does. But new EU member states have no such ability.
Lawyers for Yes say so themselves: “The politico-legal reality is that rUK will be accepted as the continuing state by the international community.”
This means that Scotland could only be a member of the EU as a new member state. That means it would have to use the euro.
The yes campaign’s plans for tuition fees would be illegal
The Scottish government’s white paper says that an independent Scotland would seek to continue charging tuition fees to students from the rest of the UK while keeping them free for Scottish students.
Not only is that unjust, it would also be illegal.
An independent Scotland in the EU would either have to stop charging students from the rest of the UK, or it would have to start charging students from Scotland. It would most likely be the latter. But whatever way, the yes campaign is lying about tuition fees.
Scotland cannot be like Norway, and it might not want to be anyway
The yes campaign has also changed its tune on what countries an independent Scotland would be like. They used to tell us it would be like Ireland and Iceland. They are strangely quiet about that idea these days.
Now the yes movement is constantly telling us that an independent Scotland would be like Norway.
They would like voters to believe that drawing a border and crossing our fingers really hard would magically make everything like a utopian Nordic state. The truth is, of course, far more complex.
Norway and Scotland may have oil in common. But they have very little else in common.
For instance, Norway is not a member of the EU; nor does it seek to be. Norway has a different culture — one that is more conducive to a social democratic society.
Moreover, Norway got where it is today through decades of very hard work. There were many compromises along the way.
[W]hen pro-independence Scots look to Norway as a role model it’s obvious that they only see what they want to see and largely ignore the facts. It took us a long time to accumulate the wealth we now enjoy, and it wasn’t just a result of oil. Remember also that Norway voted on its independence in 1814, and the financial depression in the years that followed was the worst on record…
[C]onsumer prices in Norway are astronomical. VAT stands at 25 per cent, you pay £9 for a pint in the pub, and the price for a new, five-door Vauxhall Corsa is £20,490 (in the UK the same car is £9,600).
We only have one shot at spending oil money
The independence movement often relies on oil to bolster its economic argument. Whether you view such a heavy reliance on oil as a positive or a negative depends on your point of view. We all know it is a volatile commodity. But if things happen to go well, it might be a bonus.
The problem with the yes campaign’s promises is that it says it would pay for so many of its promises with the oil money. On top of that they say that they would put the money into an oil fund for Scotland’s future.
Here is a basic economic fact. You can only spend the money once. You cannot spend the same money multiple times on different promises. And you cannot spend it while saving it at the same time.
Whose oil is it anyway? Orkney and Shetland’s independence movement
Moreover, that oil is not necessarily Scotland’s oil. The oil does not belong to anyone. It is a natural resource that is found in the North Sea. It is then extracted by multinational organisations who take the lion’s share of the winnings.
An independent Scotland would have to tread carefully to ensure it kept the residents of Orkney and Shetland on side.
Independence would hack away at the BBC
The yes campaign seeks to dismantle the BBC, one of the UK’s proudest institutions. The Scottish government’s white paper outlines a plan to set up a separate Scottish Broadcasting Service. It assumes that it would easily be able to form a partnership with what would remain of the BBC.
The BBC’s former director general John Birt has explained that this plan is yet another fantasy:
The BBC is, thankfully, independent of government so whatever is asserted wishfully in the white paper, the BBC will have no alternative but to act in the interests of its licence payers and to seek the best possible commercial terms for the sale of its programmes in Scotland, not least because of the financial impoverishment it will just have suffered…
One way or another, after independence, Scottish viewers would have to pay to receive BBC services.
The BBC is a proud British institution that was built in the vision of a Scot, John Reith. It is a wonderful example of what the UK can achieve when it is better together.
The yes campaign wants to abolish the BBC and replace it with a weak new Scottish broadcaster.
An independent Scotland would open the door for Rupert Murdoch
Meanwhile, Alex Salmond has cultivated an unusually close relationship with Rupert Murdoch.
Mr Salmond’s readiness… to stand ready to assist News Corp is striking…
[I]t is clear that he was prepared to lobby UK Ministers in furtherance of News Corp’s case.
Alex Salmond has since described Rupert Murdoch as a “remarkable man”.
It has also emerged that Alex Salmond has held a secret meeting with Rupert Murdoch. It is not difficult to imagine what their shared agenda might be.
An independent Scotland would seek to dismantle the BBC on Rupert Murdoch’s behalf. It would leave the door open for Rupert Murdoch to invade Scotland with yet more of his unique brand of hackery.
Rupert Murdoch and Vladimir Putin are not the only strange bedfellows of Alex Salmond and the yes campaign.
The arch homophobe Brian Souter has donated £1m to the SNP this year alone. He has also donated £100,000 to a campaign group called Christians for Yes. This is an attempt to get around the official spending limits set for the yes and no campaigns.
Brian Souter has attempted to hold his own private referendum to build up his anti-gay agenda. This person is an affront to democracy.
But independence-supporting organisations are more than happy to receive his vast sums of money.
Abuse and intimidation are hallmarks of the independence movement, from the grassroots all the way to the very top
I have many friends who will be voting yes. Many yes campaigners are good people who mean well for the future of Scotland. Their opinions should be respected.
However, it remains an uncomfortable fact that abuse and intimidation are hallmarks of the yes movement.
We can also think of some incidents when no supporters have behaved badly too. I strongly condemn this. All abuse and intimidation is to be condemned. It should have no place in any campaign no matter what your opinion is.
But whenever you point out yes campaigners being abusive, they will always tell you that it is an isolated incident. Let us be clear. They are not isolated incidents. Is is a consistent feature of the yes campaign.
When Jim Murphy was physically attacked in Kirkcaldy, the yes campaign hit yet another new low. It was just the latest in a long line of verbal and physical attacks from yes campaigners.
I feel sick at the prospect of people like this being in power.
There are idiots on both sides of the debate. But this kind of behaviour can be found all the way through the yes campaign like a stick of rock. You see it in the grassroots. You find it at the very top, at the centre of Alex Salmond’s office.
The yes campaign cannot get away from the fact that personal attacks and intimidation are part and parcel of the movement. One of Alex Salmond’s closest staff members has been caught red handed in the act.
Nationalism is an inherently intolerant ideology
Scottish Nationalism…..What’s not to like? pic.twitter.com/2JSjWu2xEf
— Agent P (@AgentP22) August 29, 2014
Nationalism is poisonous, and you can see it in the way many yes campaigners behave. There are many independence supporters who do so for fair and principled reasons. But the fact is that nationalism is the rotten foundation upon which the independence movement is built.
Oh, and before a cybernat says it: no — supporting the UK does not make you a British nationalist.
Many yes supporters are respectful campaigners. I have had some constructive debates with some of them. Their opinion is to be respected, no matter how much I disagree with them. It is a shame that sensible supporters of independence are drowned out by their rowdy fellow campaigners.
Free speech has already taken a blow in this campaign
The independence movement’s record for intimidation and aggression has made many Scottish people fearful to speak up for what they believe in. No posters in public are routinely destroyed. Photographs of this vandalism are gleefully shared on social media by yes supporters — even by some I thought were decent.
Cybernats hound you online. In the street, yes campaigners shout you down. They call you a traitor. They call you a quisling. Sometimes, things get really nasty.
There have been stories of people being chased down the street by yes campaigners, just for saying they are planning on voting no.
I know of people who are scared to wear a no badge because they are frightened of the aggression.
I have been told by one person that he is frightened of putting a “no thanks” poster in his window for fear of getting a brick thrown through it. To be honest, that is the reason I have not put any no posters up either. It is also the reason why I have not really written or said anything about the referendum until the past week.
This is a sorry state for a democratic country to find itself in. When people are frightened to speak up for their own beliefs, freedom of speech has already taken a massive blow.
Deceptive or just in a fantasy world?
Yes campaigners have told so many tall tales during this campaign. It leaves you wondering if they really are that deceptive, or if they genuinely just live in a fantasy world.
There are the fantasy plans for the use of the pound, membership of the EU and tuition fees. They fantasise about being a Nordic state. They cross their fingers and hope for the best on oil. They have invented a partnership with the BBC that is unlikely to happen.
All that is almost understandable. But what is not acceptable is when they tell outright lies.
They have been caught out scaremongering about the NHS. Their claims about an NHS foundation were strongly dismissed as “codswallop” by its boss.
The yes campaign has made up a story that Scottish businesses are charged for using the services of UK embassies. There is not an iota of truth in the story.
And they have the cheek to call the no campaign “project fear”.
Scotland needs to get this decision right
Yes campaigners are always quick to tell you that this referendum is not about Alex Salmond or the SNP (this is despite the fact that they keep on trying to make the referendum about the Conservative party).
But the fact is that in this referendum we will be voting about the SNP government’s white paper. That is the only agenda that would be on the table if Scotland voted for independence. This vote is about delivering Alex Salmond’s plan. Those backing the yes campaign are complicit in supporting it.
A better chance to build our future together
We all want a better future. What we disagree on is how we can achieve it.
As part of the UK, we have a chance to build our future within a stable and certain framework.
We know we will be part of the EU. We know we will be able to use the pound as our currency. We know our financial institutions can stay in Scotland. We know that we can share the risks and rewards of economic life among 63 million people, not 5 million.
This vote is about uncertainty versus stability
The independence white paper makes all sorts of assumptions about what decisions international and then-foreign institutions would make. Alex Salmond cannot tell other countries what to think. Under independence, those decisions would be in the hands of them alone.
If the Scottish people were to vote yes, it would open the door to uncertainty. There is indeed a chance that if Scottish independence takes place and we all cross our fingers really hard and hope for the best, a lot of these issues might be sorted out.
Things might be better in an independent Scotland. But no-one knows for sure. It is a massive gamble.
This vote is all about how much you are willing to take this risk in return for the uncertain chance that things might be better.
If you think it is worth the gamble, then that is fair enough. But remember that this is not an ordinary election. We cannot try it on for size. If Scotland were to become independent, it would be stuck with that decision forever.
This vote is about more centralised control versus devolution
There is no doubt in my view that Scotland — and local areas within Scotland — should have more powers.
A no vote would deliver the constitutional reform we really need. More control for the Scottish parliament over tax and borrowing has already been guaranteed by the Scotland Act 2012. These extra powers emerged as a result of the Calman Commission, which the SNP opposed. All of the UK’s main political parties support plans for more devolution. The SNP do not.
A yes vote would not give local people the power they deserve and need. The yes campaign seeks to centralise all power in Edinburgh. More devolution can only happen with a no vote.
I firmly believe that the best way we can build a better future together is with the UK. That is why I will be voting no thanks.
Update: I have updated the article to include reference to the fact that the Scottish parliament voted for the Iraq war. Thanks to Ian Gent for reminding me.
Update: The article now includes a link to the Economist’s piece about the electoral map of Europe, which I discovered since publishing it.