Yesterday I attended a referendum debate with speakers from either side of the debate.
Putting my cards on the table, I firmly believe that decisions should be taken as near to the communities affected by those decisions as possible. In the UK we have a system of governance that places too much power in the hands of a few people and takes control away from the people affected by the policies that centralised government enact.
Philosophically, therefore, I tend towards the view that independence would be a good thing as it would bring even more decisions under the control of Holyrood and out of hands of politicians who have little knowledge or concern for lives lived outside of the city-state of London. For the record, since 1950 Scotland has voted Conservative for just 6 out of 63 years but has been governed by Tories from Westminster for 38 years. This in itself should raise concerns about fair representation.
What has concerned me in the independence debate, confirmed yesterday, is the poor quality of the ‘better together’ arguments. I’m pleased to see that some of the early scare tactics about the ability of Scotland to stand alone as an economic unit have stopped, all sides agreeing that Scotland ‘could’ go it alone. The argument should now be about whether Scotland ‘should’. However, what they have still failed to grasp is that this is not about the track records and current manifestos of the political parties. While the ‘no’ campaign is right to suggest that Scotland should not vote yes just because the current UK government is unpopular in Scotland, it should also expand the debate beyond implying that a yes vote is a simple endorsement of everything the SNP says. I’ve heard many ‘no’ voters say that they couldn’t vote yes because they couldn’t vote for Alex Salmond. The headlines in today’s Scotsman newspaper, which really should know better proclaims, “Alex Salmond is within reach of victory in the independence referendum”.
This is nonsense. Alex Salmond happens to be First Minister at this time in Scottish history. Voting no just to spite Alex Salmond is wrong-headed and short-sighted. Voting yes because you like Alex Salmond is equally absurd. It would be like making decisions about the Union on whether or not you like James VI. True, we quite probably would not be having this vote had it not been for the persistence and tenacity of Alex Salmond, but Scotland existed before his premiership and will exist long after his demise.
Much of yesterday’s ‘no’ debate, spear-headed by Labour MSP Margaret Curran, was a speech about what a Labour government in Westminster would do, or has done. Frankly, this is irrelevant for exactly the same reason given above. Scotland is not voting on which party it wants to be governed by. We are voting on where we want to be governed from. And actually, pointing out that it was a Labour government at Westminster that brought in equal pay legislation only serves to highlight the 44 years that have passed in which successive Westminster governments have all failed to ensure that the act is actually implemented. The gender pay gap persists despite the Equal Pay Act. And it would be just as valid to spotlight the lies that led the Labour government to wage an illegal war in Iraq, but to do so would also be missing the point. The people of Scotland will have plenty of opportunity to vote on who we want to be governed by and at that point Labour, SNP, Conservatives, Liberal Democrats, Greens and whoever else will be able to lay out their respective policies before the Scottish electorate. The independence vote is about where the parliament will be sited and, therefore, how much power those elected will be able to wield in best serving the people of Scotland.
As an aside, apart from the fact that their full name, the Conservative and Unionist Party, would make it difficult to be anything other than pro-Union, I can’t see why the Tories aren’t pro independence. Not having 50+ Labour MPs returned to Westminster as a matter of course would seem to make it much more likely that the Conservative Party could govern the rest of the UK in perpetuity. The fact that they still think that we are ‘better together’ indicates that there is maybe something in Scotland, other than our votes, that they want. Oil and gas maybe? Just a thought. By the same token, I can see why Labour are against a yes vote. Without Scottish MPs the Labour Party could find it near impossible to form a majority government at Westminster. Since David Cameron has promised that further powers will be devolved to Holyrood post-referendum irrespective of the outcome, Scottish MP’s will become more and more impotent, since the range of issues they can vote on in Westminster will decrease. At this point Labour may have a numerical majority but not a working majority and be unable to govern effectively. The very fact of holding the referendum may well already have signalled the death knell for future Labour administrations at Westminster.
The only persuasive argument put forward is that Scots should not leave the disadvantaged areas of the UK behind to face their fate alone. That voting ‘yes’ would be turning our backs on those communities who are suffering similar privations at the hands of this ConLib government. I’m from Liverpool, brought up at a time when, under Derek Hatton’s leadership, the city council was regularly at odds with the Tory government of Margaret Thatcher. My parents live just outside, and my father worked for nearly 30 years, the Potteries and I know just how hard that part of England is being hit by the current austerity measures. Unfortunately, at this moment in time, progressive forces in Liverpool, and the other great northern cities, don’t seem to be as interested in challenging the distribution of power and wealth in British society as we are in Scotland. These cities are not demanding more local control, are not demanding their own regional assemblies. Scotland appears to be unique in wanting to create a society where social justice is top of the agenda. The fact that other areas of the UK are not shouting for more control is puzzling to me but is not an argument for Scots to do nothing. Rather by creating more local control and accountability should act as a catalyst to other regions to show what can be done.
So, I’ll be voting ‘yes’. Not because of the SNP or the current First Minister but because I want whichever party the people of Scotland vote for to be in a position to truly represent the wishes of the people of Scotland. More devolved powers won’t ensure this, independence will.