We’re better together

In a matter of weeks Scotland will be voting on independence. I firmly believe that we are better together as a united kingdom.

Some of my thoughts are outlined below.

 

We are not financially crippled by the UK

Income generated in Scotland, regardless of how revenue from North Sea oil is accounted for, is not being siphoned off to fund spending in the rest of the UK. On the contrary spend per head is higher in Scotland than the rest of the UK. I am not going to get in to an argument about oil, we already know that it is valuable, that it is ever more scarce, and that it has already been accounted for. The oil money from previous years that the SNP claim they would have used for a sovereign wealth fund has been spent on public services in Scotland; and going forward, unless we significantly cut our spending in Scotland, there won’t be funds left over to create a sovereign wealth fund.

Business for Scotland, in the booklet that they helpfully sent me just the other day, notes that taxes per person in Scotland (2012 / 2013) were £10,000 compared to the UK average of £9200. During the same period spend per person in Scotland was £10,152 (HM Treasury, identifiable spending only) or £12,265 (Scottish Government identifiable and non-identifiable spending). However you look at it Scotland is better off, albeit only slightly, as part of the United Kingdom. Even if Scotland were to be richer as an independent country, which I don’t believe it would be, I find the idea of breaking away purely for financial gain distasteful. Most of us would would not, after all, divorce our partner or abandon our families if they were poorer than us; we would intervene to support them. Let’s not forget that the the UK government propped up Scottish banks with vast sums of money when the financial crisis hit – a benefit of being part of a strong and diverse economy.

Like the rest of the UK an independent Scotland would be running a deficit, the exact amounts are up for discussion. Currently the UK Government borrows money to fund spending, including spending in Scotland. As part of the UK we can borrow money relatively cheaply in comparison to other countries, allowing us to continue investing in infrastructure and public services. It is unlikely that an independent Scotland would benefit in the same way, particularly given the uncertainty around currency and the ludicrous suggestion that Scotland should default on its share of debt.

 

We have control over how Scotland is run and the extraordinary international reach of the UK

How we do education, run the NHS and other public services, and where we direct our capital expenditure is already controlled by the Scottish Government and our local councils. In fact, almost everything that we experience on a daily basis living in Scotland has been shaped by the Scottish Government. There’s plenty of information on the Scottish Government website about what powers are currently devolved.

Within this framework we have the benefit of being part of the United Kingdom, with access to an extensive diplomatic service around the world who campaign for the interests of the UK as a whole. I won’t dwell on the risk of alien invasion, however there are also obvious benefits of sharing defence with the UK – particularly given the ongoing instability in the Middle East and Eastern Europe. While some recent wars fought by the British Army have been unpopular, the broader reality is that for decades the UK has played a valuable role in peacekeeping and humanitarian missions around the world. This recent article about Nato’s creation of a high-readiness force, and the British involvement in this, is worth reading. As an independent nation, would Scotland be able to contribute so effectively on a global level? It seems unlikely.

I enjoy living in Scotland and I believe in the accountability of the Scottish Government in delivering local and national services, but I am also immensely proud to be part of the UK and of the positive contribution that the UK makes to peacekeeping, humanitarian, and development initiatives around the world. For those who feel that the way in which Scotland is run could be more directly accountable to the Scottish Government, under existing plans more powers will be devolved to Scotland in the next couple of years.

 

The Scottish Government and the UK Government are democratically elected

I am frankly bemused by the argument that we are being dictated to by a government that we didn’t vote for. Following that line of thought calls in to question the very nature of democracy itself. In a democracy you don’t always win. I don’t agree with every policy made at Westminster, nor do I agree with every policy made at the Scottish Government; I do believe that in this country we have an extraordinary ability to shape how our governments act and to hold them accountable at every level. If we were truly ruled by an oppressive dictatorship, I would fully understand the political desire for independence. This is not the case however, the UK ranks at number 14 in the Democracy Index 2013 (requires registration).

It only takes a glance at the 2010 election results map to quickly establish that the Tories are not all that popular in Scotland, but rewind to the 2005 general election however and Labour won 41 of the 59 Scottish seats. Labour also won the general election that year. During Labour’s last term in government we had Tony Blair, born in Edinburgh, who was Prime Minister for over a decade; Gordon Brown, who followed as Prime Minister; and Alistair Darling, who was Chancellor. I hardly think that Scotland has been under-represented at Westminster, or that we can claim to be suddenly governed by a foreign and unelected power simply because the current government is unpopular in this part of the United Kingdom.

This rather questionable ideology of breaking away because we don’t always get exactly what we want undermines the very principles of democracy and resembles a feudal and insular perspective – an extraordinary contrast to the messages of cultural awareness, global collaboration, and open discussion that define much of how we seek to interact globally today. It suggests that there is a measure of what we find acceptable within a democratic environment, before we refuse to participate any longer. Given the powers of the Scottish Government, the many years of a Labour UK Government that was well supported in Scotland, and how quick we have been to point the finger at a Tory government with statements of “unelected overlords”, it seems that we don’t hold democracy in particularly high regard. I am not at all convinced this is a healthy principle on which to build a new nation, or even a valid argument to vote in favour of independence.

Let’s glance at the election results map from 2001. If every part of the UK sought to break away when they didn’t get the election result that they want, it seems to me that London should have been fighting for independence many years ago when Labour was in government.

 

Opportunities in Scotland are enhanced by the union

Our part in the United Kingdom enhances opportunities in Scotland for national and international commerce, education, research, and the arts. In fact, more than 1 in 10 jobs in Scotland are linked to trade with the rest of the UK. While I enjoy the image of a vibrant and entrepreneurial Scotland – a land of opportunity – that Alex Salmond has painted for us, I believe that land is already here, today, as part of the UK. I can see no logical reason why independence would boost opportunities in Scotland, particularly given that the government will have no additional funding available without additional borrowing, our relationship with the EU will likely need to be renegotiated, and the unanswered question over the pound. We would also have the distraction of setting up new infrastructure for government, both in the UK and potentially abroad.

Do I believe that all of these issues could be resolved? Yes. Do I believe that it is necessary to do so for the current and future prosperity of the nation? No.

In Scotland today we have free education, including higher education. We are in an extraordinary position where there are minimal barriers to accessing knowledge. Without charging students from England, Wales, and Northern Ireland to study in Scotland, something that probably would not be possible if Scotland were to become independent, it is unlikely that universities could remain free. I will not get in to a debate about the moralities of charging for higher education in this post. As part of the UK our universities have access to UK research funding, and attracted 13% of UK last year, far above the 8.4% of the population that live in Scotland – this may be jeopardised by independence. We have five of the world’s top 200 universities in Scotland, educating future leaders and producing cutting-edge research. Let’s focus on building on this, rather than putting up barriers.

When it comes to creating startups, building on Scotland’s heritage of entrepreneurship, and growing business, we have a national enterprise body who implement initiatives based on Scottish needs, Scottish Enterprise. We also benefit from the financial stability of the United Kingdom and our links with research, finance, specialist skills, and other industries throughout the UK. I do not in any way understand how by risking and possibly losing some of these links, Scotland will gain more opportunities. Our links with the UK are important for the continued growth of business in Scotland.

 

Discord and conflict within nations emerges as a result of many things, but it is particularly sad when it happens in a country that is as full of opportunity as that of the United Kingdom. To argue for independence solely as a matter of national pride is one thing, but to construct an argument around wealth or with claims of democratic unfairness belittles the real issues of wealth and democracy faced by so many countries around the world. If every country or region pursued a split for these reasons and in this context, we would be living in a very sad world indeed; one in which there is an extraordinary polarity between those who have wealth and power, and those who don’t. I’m not going to be the voter who chooses to set that as an example for future generations.

Andrew