The GW has asked me to write a piece about the current hot topic north of the border. No, not who Andy Murray's new coach is gonna be (!), but that other wee thing - Scottish independence. Or as we know it in the social mediasphere: #indyref.
The GW knows I'm someone with an interest in Scottish culture, history and politics, and she knows I'm voting Yes on 18th September. As a Scot down south she thought it would be interesting to get a view of a trusted old pal as to why he is voting that way, and to scotch (!) a few myths along the way.
Before we start I should say that all views are my own as a guest blogger and do not reflect those of the Ginger Warrior!
Braveheart, right? Freeeeduuummmm!
Firstly, let me get one thing straight. If you read or hear anything from anyone - on either side - who decides to mention 'Braveheart', then just walk away. Put the paper down, change the channel, ignore it, and go and look for better sources of info.
Dismissing Yes voters as 'Bravehearts' is a marker, in my view, of people who are not properly engaged with the debate and unaware of the real issues at stake. They are people who like to be seen to have an opinion, but frankly the 'Braveheart' put-down is the giveaway that they have nothing else to say.
Similarly, I don’t share the views of a minority of people on the Yes side who may be voting for the righting of ancient wrongs lost in the mists of battles and Bannockburn.
Scotland is currently ablaze with Scots reading voraciously, self-educating about the pros and cons of independence. We’re happy to sell Braveheart to the tourists, but we’re not daft enough to base our politics on a 20 -year-old film, or a 700-year old battle.
It’s Scotland vs. England, no?
We love you England, but it's not about you. It's us, and our need for change versus the tired UK political system. We're fed up with it. And we know most people in the rest of the UK are tired of it too.
In fact, the referendum is not really about being any nationality at all - which might sound strange if you're used to the tabloid descriptions of the #indyref debate. It's about taking advantage of the opportunity presented to those of us who live and work in Scotland, from whichever background, to change the politics and - hopefully - society of the way things are done here. We are lucky enough to have an immediate chance to make radical change, and we hope that positive action on our part will have a knock-on effect elsewhere, against the out-of-touch elite who run the Westminster system.
The journalist Ruth Wishart put it quite nicely when she said "A Scot is someone born here, and anyone who has paid us the compliment of settling here." My wife is German, and used to a completely different system where votes and representation on the political scene are actually much closer to the people. Scotland is, by comparison, the least democratic country in Europe below the national level.
Aren’t Scottish voices represented at Westminster though?
Our voices don't count and haven’t counted much for decades at UK general elections.
Here's a simple fact. Not an opinion, but (honestly!) a real fact. Only twice since the Second World War have voters in Scotland managed to change the colour of government at Westminster – 1964 and 1974. And even then by a hair's breadth and one of the governments lasted only months because the majority was wafer-thin.
People worry that if Scotland and its 59 MPs leave the UK, it will condemn the remaining UK to endless Tory governments. Anyone who tells you this is factually incorrect. The only way a Labour government can be elected again is for the voters in rest of the UK - and mainly England - to vote Labour in large numbers. They have to vote to change it themselves. But can they, really?
The Voting System
Herein lies my main reason for voting yes. Most people probably don't know that there's a real difference between the way the parliaments in London and Edinburgh are elected. People just see "politicians" on the news and don't think much of it. From conversations I've been having over the past few months, it's clear even large numbers of people in Scotland aren't aware of the difference.
Basically to become an MP at Westminster, you just have to come 'First Past the Post'. That means that if you win 25% of the vote in a constituency, and the other 75 % of votes got to, say, five other parties combined getting 15% each, you win. The 75% of people who voted the other way don't have their voices heard.
We still have that part in Scotland for our "constituency" MSPs, but we also have what's called an Additional Member System. That means that after the first past the post MSPs are elected, the total number of votes for each party are added up, and they are given extra MSPs to reflect the total share they received.
It's a type of what you may have heard referred to as "proportional representation" [PR]. It's not a perfect system, and there are many variations used across the world, but you would surely agree that it's a much fairer way to represent the voices of the people than what is used at Westminster.
Why not stay in the UK and try to change the Westminster system?
Well we actually did try that - as part of the Tory-Lib Dem coalition agreement in 2010, the Lib Dems led a referendum on AV (another kind of PR) in May 2011. It was defeated 68% to 32%.
Isn’t voting Yes all about Alex Salmond and the SNP?
Given the tabloids’ liking for bashing him at any opportunity, you could be forgiven for thinking so. But no. It’s worth noting that the SNP were elected by a landslide in 2011 under a proportional system that was designed (by the Labour government who set up the parliament) to be impossible to win outright. As such they were in a position to seek a referendum based on a strong electoral mandate.
However, the Yes campaign has been deliberate to include people of all persuasions. Under the Yes umbrella, as well as the SNP there are the Scottish Green Party, the Scottish Socialist Party, Labour for Independence, and a rainbow of other interests. The chairman of the Yes campaign is the former Labour MP, Dennis Canavan, and its chief executive, Blair Jenkins, used to work for the BBC.
I'm working with TradYES, a group of traditional singers and musicians who are the folkie wing of 'National Collective'. That's a group of over 1,000 artists and creatives who over the last couple of years have been involved on the ground with a non-party campaign for independence.
Every week now a figure from Labour or the Lib Dems is announced as a Yes voter. To date that includes the former leader of Strathclyde Regional Council, the former Provost of Glasgow, the former Chief Executive and Treasurer of the Scottish Lib Dems, and most recently the Dowager Duchess of Hamilton - whose late husband the Duke of Hamilton carried the Royal Crown into the Scottish Parliament during the opening ceremony in 1999.
And Alex Salmond? Well he won’t be around forever. But he is someone who has stuck to his position and principles for the past 40 years, and he is the only one still active on the political scene. And he is, in my view, the most able politician in these islands and completely across his brief.
What about the Scottish banks?
How would we have bailed them out? The banks are historically Scottish, but for decades have been operating globally. Banks are bailed out depending on the jurisdiction where they operate. It’s a little-known fact – hardly reported in the mainstream media – that British banks were bailed out to the tune of $1 trillion /£640bn by the US Federal Reserve. This included RBS ($446bn) andBank of Scotland ($181bn). Barclays – an English-headquartered bank - weren’t bailed out by the British taxpayer. But they were bailed out by the US Fed Reserve with over $500bn.
Oh and while we’re talking of bailouts, didn’t that wee country Ireland (my Dad’s home country) take a big hit in the crash? Yes, true – but it’s worth noting that in Ireland’s time of need, George Osborne authorised a loan of several billion pounds, calling Ireland "a friend in need", a major trading partner with a banking sector closely linked to the UK's. Makes a mockery of the UK government’s “don’t come running to us” line.
And whatever your views on tax avoidance controversies, their hard-won independence has brought about a business-friendly environment, home to a few companies you might have heard of – Intel, IBM, Pfizer, Hewlett Packard, Dell, Google, Apple, Paypal, Microsoft, eBay, supplying thousands of jobs.
What about the oil?
It’s true that oil is running out. But it’s also true that people have been saying this for 20 years. It’s generally accepted that there’s only about 40 years of oil left in the North Sea. But remember, it was only discovered in the 1970s. And investment in the North Sea is at an all-time high. So we have a chance to make a proper job of managing the second half of the lifespan of this important resource.
Norway set up what’s commonly known as an “oil fund”, which is by and large a big pension pot for the country, basically a rainy day fund, generated from the income from oil taxation. In January of this year, the oil fund reached over 5 TRILLION Kroner – the equivalent of $820bn USD / £450bn GBP. Norway is a country with a similar population to Scotland, circa 5 million. That means theoretically every Norwegian is a Kroner millionaire.
People say it’s too late to start an oil fund in Scotland. Well, Norway’s only began in 1990. The UK could have done this. But it didn’t, and even Alistair Darling admitted it should have done.
There are also potential oil reserves in the Firth of Clyde that have never been explored. Why? Because of the location of the UK’s nuclear submarine fleet at Faslane.
Oh and if you haven’t read the McCrone Report on Scotland’s oil wealth in the 1970s, which was released in 2005 under Freedom of Information legislation, it would be worth taking a look.
What about the environment?
You might think oil = bad. Well, that’s mainly true , in environmental terms. However, we can use the resources wisely in a mix with renewable technologies. Last year, Scotland generated almost half its energy from wind and hydro power, and in total 15% of the UK’s overall energy needs– with about 8% of the population. We are on course to generate 100% of power from renewables by 2020. Sounds a bit different to the UK government policy, eh?
What else could we choose to do? Soapbox time.
We can choose to rid Scotland of nuclear weapons, and save billions of pounds in the process.
We can choose not to become involved in illegal wars.
We can divert our share of monies from wars and weapons of mass destruction towards addressing the fact that officially a fifth of Scottish children live in poverty.
We could have a written constitution, unlike the UK.
We can do away with the unelected House of Lords.
We can treat the poor and disadvantaged with compassion and the dignity they deserve, by ridding the welfare system of scandalous "fit for work" tests which we have all seen in the newspapers time and again.
We can abolish the outrageous bedroom tax.
We can stop the disgrace of food banks blighting our towns and cities, with the Red Cross distributing food aid in the UK for the first time since World War II.
I’m not interested in having “global influence” or “punching above our weight”. I simply want Scotland to be a peaceful country, where we make our own mistakes, take our own decisions, “reap our own harvest and ring our own till”, with greater equality and opportunity for all, and a welcoming place for people in need.
In closing, we have to ask ourselves several things:
- Why are the current UK government so desperate to keep Scotland in the Union?
In spite of all the lovey-dovey statements about togetherness and shared history, remember - they're politicians. They know the way their bread is buttered, and behind all the statements are concerns about economics and power. 90% of the UK’s oil reserves are in Scottish waters, and contributes around £30bn towards the UK’s balance sheet. Taking that out of the UK’s “accounts” would have a significant impact on the UK’s credit rating, for a start.
- If the question was the other way around, namely, would Scotland seriously vote to join the Union if it was the thing being offered?
- Aye, Have a Dream. Isn’t it all just romantic nonusense and nostalgia?
Yes voters are often characterised as idealistic dreamers. But where is the No campaign’s equivalent to Scotland’s Future, the 670-page detailed, practical document outlining the Scottish Government’s proposals for how independence would look?
Remember, we used to think it was ok to deny people the vote, to smoke in pubs, to discriminate against people because of the colour of their skin, their gender, religion or sexual orientation, and we would pay them less, or even imprison them. Now our pubs are smoke-free and gay people started getting married on equal terms this week. Someone once said there would never be a black president of the USA.
The debate on the ground in Scotland is very different to that being played out by the mainstream media elsewhere in the UK. People are getting used to a sense that they have the power in their hands to make a change, and to make a difference. We need to instil that confidence and belief in our friends and neighbours that power does and should come from the people, it’s not a “them and us” situation. For too long we’ve been told “ye cannae”, but this time, yes, we can.
Change takes courage. I watched Nelson Mandela’s release from prison when I was 11 years old. A few months before I had watched the Berlin Wall come down. My wife grew up behind that wall in the former GDR. She has seen history happen, and having looked at the objective, rational case for better, local democracy, in a place which just happens to be called ‘Scotland’, she is voting Yes. And if you have a vote, I think you should too.