Should Scotland be an Independent Country? If we were asked that question in a school or college exam and we gave only the positive case for creating a new nation we would surely not expect to pass. Yet we are being asked to vote YES on the basis of only the most optimistic forecasts – on the pound and pensions, on oil revenues, the economy and the constitution, on welfare, education and defence, on speedy entry into the EU. All will be well according to the Scottish Government.
There is now a febrile atmosphere in Scotland. As polls narrow, you can almost smell the excitement on social media, in the national press, on radio and television, and it feels increasingly dangerous to me: a reckless rush to a brightly illuminated exit sign without any knowledge of what lies on the other side.
If Scotland votes Yes what kind of country will it be? How will the constitution be made, who will write it? Will it be a truly democratic exercise or decided by the elite?
Answers are hard to come by – not least because the people who ask questions are shouted down by aggressively vociferous opponents, and people who might know better talk a lot of nonsense – but it seems there are still many people urgently seeking a clear and impartial discussion of what independence would mean. Which must be why there have been more 60,000 downloads (and counting) of a book of questions published by the David Hume Institute.
Scotland’s Decisions: 16 Questions to think about before the referendum on 18 September seems to me a challengingly impartial and clear appraisal of the main social, constitutional and economic issues. I use the word ‘challenging’ because I seek convincing reasons to explain why I am voting No (I will come back to that in a separate post because I am a passionate No) and I have to acknowledge there are a few sections where the discussion suggests that independence could bring benefits. In the longer term, that is, and depending on the outcome of negotiations. In the short to medium term, the authors agree, there will be uncertainty. No-one can be sure what negotiations will bring. The one certainty is that – Yes or No – Scotland is in for a period of austerity. Who that will hurt most depends on the choices made by the Scottish Government and I would argue that is open to question. (The Scottish Government has been adept at devolving tough decisions to local authorities with frozen budgets).
For me one of the most interesting sections of Scotland’s Decision concerns the constitution. And here are intriguing new thoughts (for me anyway). How democratic is a written constitution? How would it be made? Would it transfer power from parliament to judges? Will today’s preoccupations restrict democratic choices in the different world of an unforeseen future? Many layers of complexity are presented by Stephen Tierney, Professor of Constitutional Theory at the University of Edinburgh and Director of the Edinburgh Centre for Constitutional Law.
I know people (good friends and family) who will be voting yes on 18 September believing that an independent Scotland is a chance to create a fairer and more equal society. Yet as Tierney points out nothing is certain about the constitution. “The White Paper provides that, following the elections of May 2016, a constitutional convention will be established to ‘prepare the written constitution.’’ Exactly who is on the convention and how they are chosen will be decided by the Scottish Parliament.
“In other words,” writes Tierney, “we don’t know yet if a referendum will be used to ratify a permanent constitution for Scotland.”
So back to that hypothetical exam paper. Let’s at least consider that in the real world nothing is without risk and complication. Whether we vote Yes or No we should have an opportunity to consider the less optimistic possibilities and who will be affected most. Presented as facts, not political propaganda. It is more than interesting to read Carol Craig’s eloquent and authoritative argument on the need to balance optimism with pessimism in a decision with such profound consequences in real life. Why this Optimist is Voting No.
My small contribution to the debate includes tweeting the 16 questions of Scotland’s Decision in reverse. With nice symmetry that means the last question on 17 September is the crucial one. The economy is Number 1 in the book which starts with David Bell, Professor of Economics at Stirling University asking:
What would the outlook for Scotland’s economy be if the vote is Yes/if the vote is No?
I urge anyone reading this to read the answers before voting.