Spinning the Wheel

Parts of my post of a few days ago were months-old in draft, but the catalyst to finish it was this MetaFilter thread going into the final weeks of the campaign. I’ve joined the discussion there now, and written some more lengthy comments which I’ll excerpt below. But first, some links that are worth a look.

If Scotland votes for independence: the key questions answered. Sort of.

Wrestling with smoke.

Why this optimist is voting No (and the shorter version at the Guardian) by Carol Craig of the Centre for Confidence and Well-being.

Rupert Murdoch hints at support for Yes. Flee, everybody, while you still can.

Former President of the European Parliament Pat Cox on how Scotland is likely to be received by the EU. Reads sensibly to me, but a lot hinges on his suggestion that “done thoroughly and expeditiously an internal enlargement could be negotiated during this interim period between the referendum and the independence of Scotland in 2016”. If it doesn’t turn out to be expeditious it’s going to be an enormous spanner in the works.

Plenty of Yes supporters are making mileage out of the inherent negativity of the word No, and by transference anyone who disagrees with them in this referendum. If they lose next week and the next one asks us “Should Britain leave the EU?”, what will they say?


My longest comment on that Mefi thread was addressed to a specific Yes supporter, but could have been addressed to many others:

When you posted this thread a couple of weeks ago I had a look at your blog, and thought to myself that here was a reasonable Yes voice I could engage with, as opposed to some of the unreasonable ones we all know are out there on both sides. I still think that. But you’ve complained that “this sort of statement is constantly being made from a position of risk analysis” and then responded with exactly the same thing, a risk analysis of your own. It isn’t fair to suggest that No voters are afraid because their risk analysis is different from yours, any more than it would be if they said that you’re “afraid” of a possible future you would rather not see happen. Nobody’s calling the Yes campaign Project Fear of the Tories.

Saying there’s “no option within a continuing Union” is just as much a statement about a possible future as any, not an absolute truth. And saying “the UK is becoming a steadily less pleasant place to live” just depends on what timeframe you select and what aspects you concentrate on. When I first visited the UK in 1985, half the buildings in the country were still black from a century of smog and soot, the air was full of leaded petrol fumes and cigarette smoke, the food choices were limited, there were only four channels on TV, nobody had the Internet, crime was rising, you had to pay to visit public museums and galleries, Thatcher was riding high, the prospect of a Labour government looked impossibly distant, racial and LGBT minorities were having a hard time of it, Northern Ireland was a battlezone, the IRA was bombing the UK mainland, anything to do with Europe was interpreted through the lens of a world war that had finished only forty years earlier, and everybody still thought they could die any minute because the West hadn’t quite realised that Gorbachev was serious about glasnost and perestroika. Scotland still had a fully functioning nuclear bunker to house its civil servants in the case of nuclear war, a hundred miles away from where I sit, and it sure didn’t have a Scottish Government or anything like it. On every single one of those measures, the UK has become a steadily more pleasant place to live (assuming you think Thatcher = bad and Labour = better, otherwise it’s every one of those measures except those two).

I just don’t buy that Scotland has some special insight into how to govern well that somehow escapes the rest of the UK. We had the chance in the UK to ditch first-past-the-post in Westminster elections, and Scotland voted against it at almost the same rates as England. We went to war in Iraq, and in a 2007 BBC poll that decision was supported by a higher proportion of Scottish respondents than any region of England apart from Yorkshire, over twice as high as London. You talk about lies and fear, but how about those Yes claims of the NHS being at risk from the Tories? Control over NHS Scotland is already devolved; it will only be privatised if our MSPs sell it.

When I moved here it was only two years after devolution, and I thought then that it was only halfway to where Britain needed to end up, which was a properly federal arrangement. But I also saw it as a positive step along the way; reaching that federal destination would need the UK to get over any hang-ups about it being a system for Americans, Australians and Germans, and devolution could help. In the meantime, Scottish voters have had more control over more levels of government than anyone in England. I can vote in council elections, Scottish parliament elections, UK general elections and EU parliament elections, having my say each time as part of polities with underlying populations of half a million, five million, sixty million and three hundred million. Having input into four levels of government is extraordinary! In my federal homeland I only ever had a say in two or three—council, state and federal elections in my home state, or territory and federal elections when I lived in Canberra—and the biggest of those was only ever for a national population of twenty million.

So I just have a different assessment of democratic risk to you, even though it sounds as if we’re on a similar wavelength in terms of our general political leanings. That doesn’t mean that I think Westminster is perfect, or that the UK will be the same post-No as it was before this all started. But it does mean that the tipping points for my own risk assessment lie elsewhere. In my blog post I talked about the cultural aspects that tie into my own identity—that I like being part of the country that has produced so much of the English-speaking cultural landscape—which would no longer be true if Yes wins; and about how I personally have no prospective boost in Scots identity to compensate for that. But I’ve also weighed up the talking points about the EU and finance and environment and so on, as all of us must, and have ended up at a different position. Fundamentally, I don’t want to live in a small country dependent on the fate of oil; that’s less attractive to me than living in a big country that has a relatively lower dependence on it per head of population. I haven’t particularly enjoyed watching my home country become increasingly dependent on coal exports this century, either. It feels like being dragged to the roulette table and asked to bet everything on black.

11 September 2014 · Politics

A commenter at MetaFilter pointed out that the effects of the Barnett formula and TTIP would mean that funding for NHS Scotland would potentially shrink if privatization of the rest of the NHS continues apace, forcing Scotland down the same path. TTIP isn’t a done deal yet, and is facing a lot of opposition, but the point about the Barnett formula implications hadn’t quite clicked with me before, and has given me pause. But I firmly believe that the Tories are going to lose in 2015: in 2010 the vote was split on the left by the Lib Dems, but next year it will be split on the right by UKIP and whatever remains of the Lib Dems, and in a four-way race under first-past-the-post Labour is more likely to win, not less. Labour aren’t about to see their finest creation destroyed on their watch, even if undoing the damage done by the coalition is difficult.

If it’s close, though, our five million votes and 59 seats will make all the difference; a single seat can make the difference. And being part of saving the entire NHS would be a greater accomplishment than being able to say we saved our 10% of it. The NHS is a huge and important counterexample to the healthcare mess in the US. An equivalent a tenth the size wouldn’t carry anything like that weight. If the UK left lose that battle because Scotland is gone, when our votes could have made the difference, we can forget the idea that we’ll get along better when we’re independent equals, that it will be good for the rest of the UK too. The sense of bitterness will be extreme.

Added by Rory on 14 September 2014.