Sentiment will drive the indy vote and it’s a terrible mistake
A week today (Friday 19th September) we shall wake up to a new Scotland. Nothing will be the same again. But the referendum will not mark the conclusion of a long and exhausting campaign. The vote itself will be part of an ongoing process, whichever side triumphs.
Triumph is probably an inappropriate word, suggesting conquest, and it will be wrong for the victor to believe they are entitled to the spoils of a battle which has split the country in two. The unintended legacy of the campaign will be a divided nation in which the “loser” will not be prepared to lay down their arms. The battle may be lost, but the war will go on.
Make no mistake, a “victory” next Thursday for either side will be Pyrrhic and arguments will continue either in the process of building a new nation against half of an electorate that doesn’t want it, or in convincing frustrated Yes campaigners that they will be satisfied with compromises offered by Westminster.
Much has said about the emergence of a true democratic debate and the engagement of those who previously have shown little interest in politics. That may be so, and it is refreshing in many ways. But the daubing of nazi slogans on a Yes campaign office and the tearing down of No posters in the Scottish countryside show Scotland in a poor light. If this is democracy in action then I would hate to see what happens when democracy gives way to direct action.
Amid all the fighting and verbal exchanges it has been difficult at times to hear the voices of reason. This is largely because sentiment is playing such a large part in voting intentions. Whatever the governor of the Bank of England says, or some eminent US economist, or North Sea oil baron, there are those will vote Yes simply because they desire independence. In some cases , sad to say, it will be anti-English, for many it is anti-Tory. There are certainly a lot of people who believe that independence will “correct” the democratic deficit, giving Scotland the government it votes for.
Let’s look at the facts here. In the 2010 General Election 491,000 votes were cast for the SNP, but 412,000 were for the supposedly hated and invisible Conservative party. That does not look like a democratic deficit, more of a serious problem with the voting system. Were it to be more representative there would be considerably more than one Tory MP in Scotland.
A Yes vote will signal the greatest change, but what sort of change, and will those charged with leading it be up to the job? Fundamentally, will the economy be damaged or enhanced by the birth of the New Scotland?
The nationalists say they can solve the currency issue by agreeing a currency union. Aside from the fact they already have one (it’s called the UK!) they continue to disbelieve the other parties who insist they will not agree to such an arrangement. Nor are they prepared to listen to officials who repeatedly warn of the costs that Scotland will face if it chooses separation. On Wednesday Bank of England governor Mark Carney revealed that a Scottish government using the pound without a formal currency union would need to find billions in reserves. This would be money denied to Holyrood to deliver the growing list of promised reforms to public services.
A worrying belief that has taken hold is what might be termed the land of milk and honey syndrome. Those who believe an independent Scotland will become a fairer and more equal society are entitled to try building one, but they must take a number of factors on trust.
Firstly, to make society more equal implies that pay and welfare benefits for the lower income households will rise. How does the Scottish Treasury intend to achieve this? It cannot expect a sudden explosion in economic output that will drive greater revenues into its tills. It has few publicly owned assets of any scale that it can sell, apart from Scottish Water, and it is already saddling itself with basket cases such as Prestwick Airport. So, the answer must be to tax the wealthy and their assets. Jack up income taxes for the rich and increase the cost of doing business. That should do it. And, believe it or not, there are thousands out there who believe this would be a good idea.
Result? Businesses would pour out of Scotland faster than Usain Bolt hitting the final straight at Hampden. Already we have had a string of banks and retailers issuing warnings about the potential risks of a Yes vote.
But will anyone really leave Scotland? The financier Sir Angus Grossart has called for calm and Ross McEwan chief executive of Royal Bank of Scotland confirmed that its potential “move” would be a brass plate exercise. These voices echo views I have expressed in Scotland on Sunday and The Scotsman that these warnings are in danger of sparking hysteria. There is little likelihood of companies shifting hundreds of jobs to England because the costs of doing so would outweigh the benefits.
However, the movement of head office management and key office holders cannot be so easily discounted. And where these people are based is where decisions are taken. It is where they raise finance, where they hire lawyers, accountants, auditors. The old connections on the Scottish golf courses will be irreversibly broken. Scotland, in such a scenario, would roll back years of entrepreneurial endeavour and revert to its post-war role as a dependency economy, a country of support, or back office workers. And when the next round of cuts comes along it is these workers who are more vulnerable.
These truly are uncertain times but they are not suited to flag-waving and chest-beating nationalism. The tartan army knows the true cost of delusions of grandeur. I just hope the rest of the country is not about to follow their misguided dreams of victory.