Friday, September 12, 2014

Scottish Secession: Final Deliberations

We're down to less than a week until the referendum, and there's a lot to catch up on. This will most likely be my last post on the topic before the referendum, the day after which I'll post some of my thoughts.

Early this week, the big news was that the Yes(!) campaign polled ahead of Better Together for the first time. This seems to have taken just about everyone by surprise. Although the nationalists were bound to close the gap to some degree, they've consistently polled so much lower that their ability to win even a single poll came as a surprise. (There are rumors that there was a coordinated effort by nationalist activists to mob the YouGov poll, but I can't speak to this aside from reporting the rumors.) Since then, al Jazeera has reported twice (1, 2) that regardless of that one YouGov poll, the Scots are likely to vote to remain within the United Kingdom by a six point margin. British bookies tend to be a surprisingly reliable indicator of coming events, and it looks like the betting pools were unconvinced by the YouGov poll.

Although the betting markets weren't affected, the financial markets were: the British economy took a significant hit upon the announcement of that YouGov poll. A couple of weeks ago, varying businesses were either questioning or endorsing secession. Meanwhile, there were reports (1, 2) that Scotland would be unable to join the European Union without a central bank, or without its own currency, neither of which are included in the SNP's stated plan. The list of companies that have pledged to leave Scotland in the event of a secession vote, or simply warned of negative economic consequences, has also grown. These include: the Kingfisher Group, John Lewis, Asda (the British incarnation of WalMart), and Marks and Spencer; the Royal Bank of Scotland; Sainsbury's and Virgin; Clydesdale Bank and Standard Life; Tesco Bank, TSB, and Lloyds. Aside from these warnings about relocation and/or price increases for Scottish consumers, the warnings from the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) and Clydesdale Bank should be clarion calls, as these are two of the three banks that issue Scotland's bank notes. (Most sterling is issued by the Bank of England, but Scottish banks issue their own bank notes; Bank of England notes are accepted but uncommon in Scotland, whereas the Scottish notes can be difficult to spend outside Scotland.) The idea that Scotland would keep the pound sterling when two of the three Scottish banks that issue it plan to vacate Scotland in the event of a "yes" vote should be unnerving to the nationalists.

Oil continues to be in the news. Better Together Orkney reposted the accompanying comic from a Scottish newspaper, which takes jabs at both the SNP's estimates of remaining oil, and presumably at First Minister Alex Salmond himself. The BBC recently ran a fairly balanced and diplomatic headline: Scottish independence: Experts set out oil prediction views. However, those who make the claims of a future renewed Scottish oil boom seem to do so without presenting any evidence to support their claims, and tax revenue from North Sea energy exploitation has fallen in recent years. In fact, Better Together has recently and devastatingly highlighted a six billion pound shortfall in the SNP's proposed post-independence budget, a gap that would impact the welfare state that the SNP has repeatedly promised as the result of a "yes" vote.

Unfortunately, with the vote fast approaching, the rhetoric has devolved in the last few days. I've discussed the referendum with two friends from back in the old country, and received these thoughts, which I won't attribute:
"Scotland’s not much fun at the moment. It’s all very divisive and I’m hoping earnestly that the Nats will not prevail. On the plus side it’s a lovely day."

* * *

"I'm worried. I'm quite happy with the way things are right now, so I don't want change. The independence referendum is dividing families at the moment because some members are voting yes and some are voting no. It's quite serious."
Conduct has been a bone of contention lately. One of the issues that First Minister Salmond and his party have been most vocal about is the so-called "Bedroom Tax"; last week, Better Together highlighted the fact that when a vote to repeal the bedroom tax was recently held in Westminster, all of the SNP's members of parliament were no-shows.

In another story from last week - this one Orkney-related - the Chairman of NHS Orkney, John Ross Scott was made to apologize for comments made in the Press and Journal favoring independence. Aside from questioning the veracity of his claims about the future of the NHS under an independent Scotland, Orcadians at the Better Together Orkney page offered their varied skepticism:
"If that is the case council leaders and other high profile people who have been told to keep quiet by the YeSNP should be able to give their "personal" opinions. (link)"

* * *

"Give the man a sweety Alex."

* * *

"I don't have a problem with JR-S expressing a view and making it clear that it's not the corporate view of NHS Orkney. Where there's a difference as between him and a Steven Heddle or a Bill Stout is that the latter are ultimately accountable at the ballot box whereas JR-S is not. I think that means JR-S just has to be incredibly careful about how he prefaces what he says."

* * *

"JRS's view are well known which is fine. Whether he should use (or has used) the Chair position as a pulpit to politicise is a different question altogether, especially as the truth of this statement is very far from clear."
The first comment alludes to repeated allegations of bullying and attempts to stifle debate on the part of the Yes(!) campaign. Personally, I question whether anyone in the public sphere, as Mr. Ross Scott is, can claim to give their "personal view" - the comment about using his position as the chairman of NHS Orkney as a soapbox for advancing an agenda that a private citizen couldn't rings particularly true.

This week, something unprecedented happened: the leaders of the United Kingdom's three major parties, the Conservatives, Labo(u)r, and the Liberal Democrats, made a joint trip to Scotland to urge a "no" vote. According to a report I heard on the BBC Global News podcast on Friday (probably from one of the Thursday editions, if I remember correctly), they were greeted by protestors, some of whom went so far as to say that those who were against independence "weren't welcome in Scotland". Late in the week, former SNP deputy Jim Sillars was quoted as threatening a "day of reckoning" for those businesses that were urging a "no" vote, even going to far as to threaten the nationalization of their businesses in the event of a "yes" vote - again, hardly the conduct one would expect of responsible leaders.

One questions whether the endorsements of newspaper editorial boards carry the same weight that they once did, but essentially every newspaper, to include The Scotsman, The Financial Times and The Guardian, have endorsed a "no" vote. The Guardian's editorial endorsing the Union carried the following tagline: "Nationalism is not the answer to social injustice. For that fundamental reason, we urge Scots to vote no to independence next week."

(I would be remiss if I didn't honor CN Ness, himself a passionate Better Together campaigner, by noting that while China is wary of Scottish independence, Kim Jong Un of North Korea has allegedly endorsed secession.)

I've read it, and I question whether it carries any information that I haven't already covered ad nauseum, but CNN ran an article earlier this week entitled Scotland's vote on independence: What you need to know.

It's quite long, and I haven't had a chance to read it, but the BBC did something I've been waiting for someone to do: they actually got someone to write a thoughtful, detailed analysis of how the Scots came to this point. It discusses the political history of recent decades, as well as some of the reasons why Scots feel alienated from and/or subordinate to England and the rest of the United Kingdom. It's written by Allan Little, and it's entitled Scotland's Decision.

I've been covering this referendum here on the blog for a very long time now - going on two years, in fact - and as this is the last post before the referendum, I want to share some observations before I close this post. These may be a bit stream of consciousness, and they're not as organized as I'd normally work toward, but hopefully they'll give some insight into what I've observed and come to conclude over the course of the last two years.

1) One of the most frequently repeated complaints I've heard from the nationalists is that Scots are tired of voting in elections, only to see their votes ignored and Conservative governments elected to Westminster. Scotland is a reliably Labo(u)r constituency, and like various other constituencies in the United States with which I'm familiar, the nationalists don't seem to understand two concepts. The first of these is that, regardless of whether Labo(u)r is in government (under the parliamentary system, of course), the Scots are still being represented in the minority, and their MPs still get to vote. In other words, it's not an all-or-nothing system, parliamentary politics is specifically designed to maximize the influence of the political minority. In fact, I suspect that there are many English Conservative voters who could have said the same thing during the tenures of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown; unfortunately, that's the way democracy works, and although it's flawed, it's better than the alternatives - in fact, it was Winston Churchill himself who said that "democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others." The other concept that the nationalists don't seem to understand is that any government will be more responsive to swing constituencies than to reliable constituencies, regardless of whether those constituencies are demographic or geographic in nature. In essence, the disconnect between the Conservatives and the Scots has been a self-fulfilling prophecy for decades, and for no particular reason that I can discern.

2) It could be because I'm American and there's far more difference between the Democrats and Republics than there seems to be between Labo(u)r and the Conservatives in the United Kingdom, but I really can't wrap my head around the irrational hatred that Scots seem to have for the Conservative party. They most frequently mention their hatred of Maggie Thatcher, their reason being Thatcher's institution of the Community Charge, which they pejoratively refer to as the "Poll Tax". I've heard many of the nationalists claim that Maggie Thatcher was making a concerted effort to deliberately harm Scotland by instituting the "Poll Tax" in Scotland first, apparently oblivious to the fact that Scotland was the logical place to first implement the system for a number of reasons. They also seem to completely ignore that the Community Charge was the predecessor of the present day Council Tax system that they all take for granted. Perhaps someone will give me a more comprehensive explanation someday, but given the intellectual depth of the Yes(!) campaign's rhetoric, I'm skeptical that that will happen.

3) The SNP and its supporters portray Scotland as an oppressed colony of England, rather than acknowledging the historic partnership between Scotland and the other component nations of the United Kingdom. When lamenting Scotland's alleged lack of influence in the United Kingdom, they constantly ignore the disproportionately widespread representation that Scots enjoy in various UK government ministries, to include the fact that the United Kingdom's most recent Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, is a Scot. In fact, Better Together leader Alistair Darling was Labo(u)r's Chancellor of the Exchequer (the United Kingdom's version of the Secretary of the Treasury) - a position arguably more influential than that of the Prime Minister.

4) One thing that continues to frustrate me - and the same thing frustrates me in American elections, so I suppose I'm being consistent - is that the entire independence agenda revolves around the welfare state. The infamous SNP white paper, Scotland's Future, along with all of the SNP's rhetoric, is little more than a utopian laundry list of government-funded social services, financed by the nebulous promise of limitless oil wealth, and wrapped in a decorative package of faux populism and rose-tinted nationalism. Having studied history, strategy, and international relations, it boggles my mind that the Yes(!) campaign can be having a last minute surge in popularity when it's quite obvious that the responsibilities and challenges of seceding from a successful three hundred year union with the rest of the United Kingdom have yet to be addressed, or even considered.

5) In addition, the argument for secession displays a paradoxical historical disconnect. On the one hand, voters are mainly basing their votes (for or against) upon how secession would benefit or harm them in the next five or ten years, rather than the long term. Better Together tends to talk about the risks and the uncertainties, and seldom discusses how much better Scotland's grandchildren and great-grandchildren will be as members of a United Kingdom. The Yes(!) campaigners promise the moon and stars for the next five or ten years, never discussing what Scotland will do about its current challenges, or the challenges it's set to face in the future. For such a historically consequential vote, one would think that a discussion of the long-term ramifications would be a higher priority than it appears to be, particularly for the Yes(!) campaign. Despite discussing a nebulous future, there seems to be little consideration of how the vote will impact future generations, or even something as simple as how future generations will be impacted by the end of the oil supply. I find that highly frustrating, because I love Scotland and I want it to be successful and prosperous. Instead, I believe that a "yes" vote would put Scotland in serious danger of becoming another Ireland, a nation which I suspect few would care to emulate on a political of macroeconomic basis.

6) I also find it exceptionally frustrating that First Minister Salmond has been caught out for a variety of lies and distortions, and it doesn't seem to make any difference. This goes for the false claims about Scotland's future status with NATO, the European Union, the pound sterling, the post-secession budget... The list goes on. The whole thing is incomprehensible.

7) In all honesty, I think that much of what's happened in the last year and a half has been the result of Alex Salmond being called out on a bluff. When Holyrood and Westminster were negotiating the terms of the referendum, Salmond wanted two questions on the ballot: the first would address whether Scotland should leave the United Kingdom, while the other would address further devolution of powers from Westminster to Holyrood. Westminster rejected that suggestion and said that the referendum would be one question, yes or no. I suspect that Salmond may have really been pushing for devolution, but had backed himself into a rhetorical corner and felt that he had no choice but to go all in. In addition, support for secession has always been contingent upon mutually exclusive conditions, which has precluded Salmond and his subordinates from being sufficiently clear on their alleged plans for fear of losing support from one voting bloc or another. In my opinion, a man of integrity would have, at some point, walked back from the brink and said, "I can't do this, this is bad for Scotland and, as a Scottish patriot, I can't do something that would damage my nation." In a few days, we'll find out whether Prime Minister David Cameron was right to call Salmond's bluff, or if Cameron's gamble will backfire and damage Scotland in the process. Regardless, the cynic in me (who, I might add, tends to be right) believes that Alex Salmond, like too many elected officials throughout the world, is a politiican concerned with what's best for his party and his career, rather than a statesman whose sole concern is for the welfare of his nation.

So, those are my thoughts. I suspect few Scottish voters, if any, will actually read this, but if you do and you're undecided: please vote "no". I've lived in Scotland, and I love Scotland. I want Scotland to be prosperous and successful as a nation. From the outside looking in, and based upon my lifelong study of history and strategy, I see no way in which the universal desire for Scotland's prosperous future is in any way compatible with its secession from the United Kingdom under the circumstances outlined by the SNP. I have seen no evidence that Alex Salmond has a credible plan, a credible budget, a credible strategy for the Scots to govern themselves; if there were a plan and I just disagreed with it, that would be one thing, but the Scotland's Future white paper isn't worth the paper it's printed on. When you go to the polls on Thursday, please, please, do what's best for Scotland by voting to remain a partner in one of history's most successful and productive political unions. Scotland and its partners in the United Kingdom are truly better together. Please, please, please, vote to sustain that partnership.

No comments:

Post a Comment