current affairs politics

Scotland – it’s about democracy

I’ve thought about it a lot over the last few months, but I’ve chosen not to engage in the Scottish independence debate on the blog. I’m not Scottish, don’t get a vote, and since I think Scotland wins either way, I haven’t felt the need to add my comments. But a couple of readers have asked, so I thought I’d sum up my views.

The way I see it, there’s really one fairly simple reason why Scotland ought to be independent. That’s the fact that we have a Conservative-led coalition government, and Scotland doesn’t vote Conservative. Out of the country’s 59 MPs at Westminster, there’s just one Conservative.

And therefore, the Westminster government does not reflect the views of Scotland and has a weak mandate. This is known as a democractic deficit, and it’s a recurring problem in Scotland. If you believe in representative democracy, the Yes vote is a no-brainer.

Now, independence is not the only way to fix that deficit. As many of us expected, the powers at Westminster have thrown in the ‘devo max’ option that wasn’t on the ballot as a late attempt to save the union. That further devolution, along with a change to the voting system in Parliament, would solve the problem. My ideal, as an Englishman, would be a more federal model with more proportional representation. Unfortunately electoral reform, whether full PR or one of its alternatives, is not a priority issue in the rest of Britain. Without it, a further-devolved Scotland will still lack fair representation on matters such as foreign policy and defence.

As usual in our depressingly partisan politics, the campaign as represented by the mainstream media has been full of exaggeration and scaremongering. The Yes campaign has overplayed the threat to the NHS, and generously overestimated the extent and significance of North Sea oil. The No side has painted the direst possible picture of independence, and the refusal of all three Westminster parties to talk about negotiation on key issues has been shamefully self-serving. Fortunately, there has been a more positive debate at the grassroots level, more focused on the issues and the values at stake, rather than the big personalities and traded insults of politicians. That debate is something to celebrate in itself, given the political and media bias towards No.

Of those ‘issues’, the ones that have dominated the discussion are often questions that will require extensive negotiation. Do the English political parties genuinely believe there can be no currency union? Or that Scotland would be frozen out of the EU? I doubt that, and a yes vote will signal an immediate change of tone. Nobody would be served by a politically isolated and economically compromised Scotland. The parties would rally round to find solutions and compromises, and the current intransigence of the political elite will be exposed as the posturing and scaremongering that it is.

That doesn’t mean independence is without risk, but it’s hard to tell what the real risks are amidst all the panicky nonsense, threatening one minute and imploring the next.

One of the nice things about the debate is that whatever the outcome tomorrow, Scotland will end up with more power, more say in its own affairs, and the potential to shape a fairer, more sustainable country – assuming Westminster delivers on its devolution offer. But whether it gets a true democractic reset, we will have to wait and see.


  1. I think you will find English and Welsh public opinion will be firm against giving Scotland an easy ride. Few people take rejection well. There won’t a currency union. It just isn’t in the interest of rUK to share the pound. I can think of only one thing Scotland has to offer to get that, and the SNP has ruled out Trident staying at Faslane.

    The EU membership isn’t down to the UK. Spain doesn’t want Scotland to join quickly to determine their own seperatists, so it isn’t just scaremongering from UK politicians.

    Personally I feel the Scots should do what makes them happy. If they go I won’t be bitter but I’ll expect English and Welsh interests to guide the negotiations.

    That said, if they stay the West Lothian question will have to be solved. After all it would be just as undemocratic for England to vote Tory and get a Labour government.

    1. I’m not sure. I think there will be a general sadness, but then we’ll realise that life goes on exactly as it was before, and there won’t be anything to resent. As for the political parties, I’m pretty sure that regardless of public opinion, they’ll rally round and make sure the new Scotland is a success. It would be in our interest to do so, given how interconnected our economies would be.

      I suspect the EU will feel the same. Although it would pain the Spanish govt to do it, it would look terrible to be seen to block a free democratic state and former member. To play hardball with Scotland would probably make things worse for them domestically. But I might be wrong. If they found an ally or two it could get nasty.

      And yes, the West Lothian question will need a fairly swift solution.

      1. Remember, rUK is more important to Scotland than Scotland would be to rUK. I’ve talked to a lot of people in Wales and England. None would give independent Scotland an easy ride.

        The Scots will get cross and we will find them fairly insignificant so we won’t care.

  2. It is also about money. Wealth gets sucked towards London and the South East. The peripheral regions of England are affected in the same way.

  3. I have just voted and the polling station was busy, perhaps an indication of a high turnout, at least that is my hope. I have just returned from Iceland where they were lamenting that at their last election there was ONLY a 70% turnout. I was too ashamed to tell them what happens here.They have idealistic notions of an independent Scotland becoming part of a Nordic union. I agree with the federal idea but in a confederation of ‘communities’, rather than nation states. Nationalism should be a cultural idea not a political one.

  4. Yes, I’d favour a more federal system around regions rather than nations per se – at the risk of stirring up some new brand of Yorkshire or Cornish separatism… It would be a federation of communities, of which a couple of them would be nations.

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