The latest polls show the vote for independence running at 47%, to 53% saying no. The campaign for the Union has been blighted by a very low standard of argument. There is a long catalogue of poor arguments listed by Paul Kavanagh at Newsnet Scotland; he lists nearly seventy, most of them without merit. There are lots of other arguments I could add to that list (including several I’ve noted in this blog, such as the idea that Scotland couldn’t borrow, that it couldn’t support a finance industry, that it would have to import pound coins by the lorry load, that it would be at the back of queue to join the EU or that immigration rules would have to be policed at border). To my mind, however, the argument that is weakest – and the one which Better Together has relied on most – is that the future is uncertain, as if we didn’t know that. Being told that the outcomes are subject to negotiation is not much of a reason to vote “no”; that’s politics.
There are bad arguments for independence, too. Among them are claims that
- institutions should be treated as ‘assets’ and divided
- there will be a long series of continuing unions
- people will be voting for the agenda of the White Paper
- the UK government will agree with the Scottish Government’s assessments of what is in their interests
- policies in a wide range of fields will remain as they are (this is not a commitment that can be guaranteed before independence , or
- people will be better off in the short term (a very bad reason for changing a constitution).
Whatever the outcome, I think there is one theme that has emerged clearly and strongly from the debate. It is about the failure of politics as usual in the United Kingdom. George Monbiot writes in the Guardian:
What would you say about a country … that had no obvious enemies, a basically sound economy and a broadly functional democracy, yet chose to swap it for remote governance by the hereditary elite of another nation, beholden to a corrupt financial centre? … To vote no is to choose to live under a political system that sustains one of the rich world’s highest levels of inequality and deprivation. This is a system in which all major parties are complicit, which offers no obvious exit from a model that privileges neoloiberal economics over other aspirations. … Broken, corrupt, dysfunctional, retentive: you want to be part of this?
The core of the problem rests with the highly centralised control of finance and economic policy from the Treasury. Devolution cannot work without the devolution of economic power: that implies not just taxation, but policies for wages, benefits, public employment, and independent public borrowing through the issue of bonds. Edmund Burke, considered by many to be the father of the Conservative party, once wrote: “A state without the means of change is without the means of its conservation”. Unionists of all political persuasions need to come to terms with that.