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.