The referendum on independence and the economy

The debate on independence continues to disappoint.  While I was amused by Alistair Darling‘s cutting comments on the SNP’s position on the Eurovision Song Contest,  it’s hardly the stuff on which decisions are made.  Scotland’s Future, the White Paper, treats the independence debate as if it was a short-term election manifesto; the Better Together campaign has harped largely on issues that, even when the criticisms are justified, are largely capable of being settled in short order through minimal negotiation.  The strongest arguments for independence are arguments for self-determination, diversity and independent decision making;  but the principal advocates of independence, the Scottish Government, are radical centralisers, who have limited the financial powers of local authorities, unified police forces and fire service, and currently are legislating to centralise social care.  The strongest arguments for union – Gordon Brown made them last year – are arguments for solidarity and equal rights, but the UK government is firmly committed to neoliberal principles, and it has been working assiduously to discard both.

For several months, John Curtice has been arguing that people’s views on the Scottish economy are shaping their preference for independence.  An ICM poll this morning suggests that Yes Scotland is gaining ground, and that more people are likely to think that Scotland will benefit economically from independence.  I wonder whether the link runs in the direction that John assumes.  There’s a literature on ‘motivated reasoning’; people are as likely to find evidence to support their views as they are to form their views on the basis of evidence.  If someone is looking for a reason to support independence, saying that it will make the economy better sounds rather more reasonable than saying ‘I just feel that way’.  In other words, some people will be saying the economy will improve because they favour independence – not the other way round.

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