The Real Arguments For Independence

I have been fortunate to come into possession of the below paper which was written recently by a friend of a friend, named Angus MacDonald.  Its an inspirational view of Independence and I hope you enjoy it:


I am writing this partly out of a sense of frustration that a significant amount of public debate with reference to the independence referendum of September 2104 has been, to date, involved with process and procedure and disputation over often speculative facts, misinformation and trivialisation. For the first time in over 300 years the people of Scotland have an opportunity to have a real say in their future and how they would like their country to be shaped. This should be a time of real excitement and serious discussion of principle but such has been the negative nature of arguments in favour of the status quo and the irrelevance of many issues from both sides of the debate that I have tasked myself with trying to articulate a rationale for independence. This is so that there can be an understanding amongst those in favour of the Union of a perspective that is different so that votes can be cast with a full grasp of the fundamental issues that should underpin this critical decision.

I make no apology in leaning on Stephen Maxwell’s ‘Arguing for Independence’ in providing this synopsis nor in stating at the outset that no change is without risk, although I would argue that ‘no change’ carries even greater risk. Such a view comes from a perspective that regards the current societal and economic trends as being ones that carry the real threat to the sort of society that I believe Scotland could produce. If there is naivety and idealism under-pinning that view then pleading guilty to it is preferable to collusion with the current direction of travel.

Even a cursory examination of the historical perspective would suggest that Scotland is drawing inexorably apart from its neighbours in so many ways-culturally, economically and politically- that it would appear that it is only a matter of time before the British Empire returns to its constituent parts. As Andrew Marr expressed it in his History of Modern Britain, “ it is like the pulling apart of a piece of pizza”-gentle but insistent, and it is testament to what has been achieved together that violence which characterised so many 20th century struggles for autonomy has never been a serious issue. It might be noted in passing that no nation that has ever re-gained its independence has ever felt that reverting to a different status was ever on the agenda. The direction of travel is clear. The trend towards the break-up of super-national blocs into constituent parts (viz. the USSR) has been a theme of the last 50 years just as cooperative multi-national groupings have bound these independent entities together again  to the mutual benefit of each other.

Complexity of political argument means that there will inevitably be scope for reasonable doubt. What is being embarked upon is a judgment between the value of a desired outcome and the risks we are willing to take to secure it. Just as individuals choose independence over dependence because they believe that its promise of more benefit and satisfaction outweighs the risks, so nations may face the choice between a safe but constraining dependence and a riskier and more fulfilling independence. Perspective, whether conservative or radical, can, for example, suggest that fiscal autonomy might lead to a major budget deficit because of annual variations in oil revenues or can be weighed against the probability of Scotland being able to borrow against the security of her energy assets in an era of rising prices. For some people, the fact that the argument for independence cannot deliver certainty is an insuperable barrier. Some Scots have an aversion to risk that is so strong that they will be deaf to a case based on probability, however strong. ( Such lack of confidence might well have an historical and institutional causality but that is another debate entirely.) What does need to be refuted is that the scope for a rational decision should be doomed to failure because some people interpret the argument as being about ‘blood and belonging’, instinct or emotion, not reason. For the vast majority of Scots this is about a claim for independence not the nature of Nationalism.

It may be possible to argue that independence would strengthen Scottish self-confidence but the view taken here is that the benefits of a rational, evidenced case for independence is rooted in the imperative of improving life in Scotland for all those that live here, regardless of their cultural or national identities. (It is ironic that it was Unionist Gordon Brown who tried to appeal to a conflated  sense of British nationality wrapping himself metaphorically in the Union Jack) In general Scottish sense of identity is too complex and eclectic to provide the grounding for a case for independence, which is not to deny the signals of language, mood, common experience, rhythms of thought and feeling that bind many people north of the border together. It would be wrong to make a case for independence based on the sort of ‘little Englander’ outlook reflected in support for the BNP ( and under-pinning some of the rhetoric emanating from UKIP, a party with barely a toehold this side of the Tweed.) This is about the best way to produce the benefits of democratic self-determination as the surest route to a good and accountable government and a vigorous public culture and there is no reason why it should not appeal to those who feel themselves British not Scottish.

Nor is this an argument about political parties or whether one likes or dislikes, trusts or mistrusts, Alex Salmond. When Vladimir Meciar led Slovakia to independence in 1993 the electorate soon took his parliamentary majority away from him and he was out of power within a year. An independent Scotland will elect whichever party has most appeal as a totally separate process. Many will no doubt vote in September following old tribal loyalties but this is a referendum not an election and parties that try to make it so are distorting the argument.( It is regrettable that historic home rule parties like the liberals are campaigning with bed mates who they have historically opposed on this type of issue.)

I am hopeful that by touching on the democratic, economic, social, international, cultural and environmental case for independence that it will be realised that there is, as Maxwell eloquently if emotionally put it, “strength in a small country knowing it is small rather than binding itself to the weakness of a small country thinking it is large; that Scotland will free itself from taking its identity as a society in ownership of weapons of mass destruction or in judging itself on a cultural identity handed out by imperial preference or cosmopolitan self-obsession, or that it becomes subsumed by a society that takes its pride in the ostentation of its wealth rather than the health of its poor, which is a society demanding repudiation.”

The democratic case

The right to vote is important because it empowers people to choose governments which reflect their own priorities and values. However, if the current coalition survives to its full term Scotland will have been ruled from Westminster for 32 of the 70 post-war years by governments it had rejected at the polls. Furthermore, the governments of Heath, Thatcher, Major and Cameron have all been distinctly to the right of Scottish public opinion, a widening chasm reflected in the 1997 election where the 17% Tory vote won no seats at all in Scotland. Mrs Thatcher enjoyed a massive £160 billion inflow of oil revenue (at 2008 prices), overwhelmingly from the Scottish sector of the N.Sea, at the same time as Scottish rates of unemployment and poverty doubled and Scottish manufacturing employment fell by over 33%. Irrespective of what part of the political spectrum one occupies it cannot be right that the consistent centre left perspective of the people of Scotland is so frequently ignored or over-ruled by the centre right perspective of voters outwith the country. As the major Westminster parties vie to occupy the same political territory so the Scottish electorate is becoming increasingly disenfranchised..and apathetic.

A second democratic reason for preferring independence is that today the UK is one of the least democratic of the world’s established democracies. It lacks a written constitution defining the powers of the different levels of government; it has continued to award a role in law making to an unelected second chamber composed of government appointees, a selection of hereditary peers and 26 bishops of the Church of England, which has no significance presence in Scotland. Moreover, the first past the post electoral system for the House of Commons regularly returns large overall majorities for parties that have won a minority of the popular vote. Since WWII no single party at Westminster has enjoyed a majority of the popular vote. An independent Scottish government, elected by proportional  representation, would be not only more democratic but more accountable, not least because access to politicians in Edinburgh is so easy relative to Westminster. Making a new start will enable a constitution to be constructed that reflects our position in the 21st century without the baggage of an historic legacy which has usually been suspicious of decentralisation from London.

It is no coincidence that the UK has only had one referendum (1975), which was not only two years after the UK formally joined the Common Market but also did not result from a constitutional provision that enshrined the right of the people to have their say on their constitutional future. It was, of course, non-mandatory and resulted from one of the Westminster party diarchy needing to avoid a perhaps fatal split.

The shortcomings of Westminster democracy to scrutinise the executive have disappointed democrats of all colours. The failure of both the Cabinet and Parliament to properly interrogate a PM intent on war with Iraq or to censure him afterwards is an egregious illustration of a system incapable of performing its most basic duty of holding the executive accountable to the voters.

These weaknesses in the political institutions of UK democracy are compounded by the extreme centralisation of media and cultural power in the UK. A consequence for Scottish democracy was vividly illustrated in the 2010 election campaign when the three biggest UK parties enjoyed four and a half hours of free debate time unchallenged by representatives of the dominant National parties in either Scotland or Wales.

That the UK is now ranked 19th equal with Spain in the Economic Intelligence Units 2010 Democracy index is concerning enough but the dominance both in the Cabinet and Shadow Cabinet ,and also in parliament as a whole, of so many Oxbridge graduates from an independent school background illustrates the increasing dissociation between voters and the ruling elite.( 35% of MPs were public school educated in 2010 , 30% being Oxbridge  graduates. Since 1999 only 4 people educated in fee paying schools have served in a Scottish cabinet.) The contrast with the Scottish government is striking with the current Scottish Cabinet being all educated in the public sector and attending Scottish universities. The point is not to be critical of either Oxbridge or ‘public’ schools but to question who is better placed to represent, act on behalf of and in consultation with a voting majority who have not enjoyed this background.

It can be argued that devolution has helped to address some democratic issues though it has, in turn, led to the unanswered West Lothian question of why Scottish MPs should vote on domestic English affairs, a situation that can only practically be resolved by independence. In practice, however, successive devolved administrations have pursued a range of  distinctive policies -on land reform, free social care, free university tuition fees, mental health, prescription charges, electoral reform, charity law, smoking and alcohol policies- that have seen the gulf between Holyrood and Westminster widen. Yet policies set by Westminster over pensions and the welfare state, not least the notorious poll tax and the unwelcome so-called ‘bedroom tax,’ ride roughshod over government priorities north of the border. How sensitive of his northern counterparts was it of Chancellor Osborne to recently decrease  duty on beer in the UK when Scotland has legislated for a minimum price of alcohol in the face of her particular health issues? Despite Scotland’s political differences and her healthy fiscal balances as reported consistently by the Government Expenditure and Revenue in Scotland (GERS) reports, the most a devolved Scotland can hope to do in the face of a 36% cut in capital spending and a 12% cut in current spending (to 2015) dictated by Westminster is to mitigate at the margins the impact of Westminster’s approach to the UK budget crisis.

Not least among the democratic downsides of all this is that the opportunity to try a different approach, arguably to the benefit of all parties, is denied by current arrangements. If Scotland was to create its own democratic and fiscal solutions to suit its circumstances then perhaps Westminster would learn and benefit from Scotland’s successes and failures, and vice -versa. How appropriate the ‘one size fits all’ approach is to the different situations faced within the UK is very much open to dispute.

This section on democracy cannot ignore that an independent Scotland- no less than the UK as a whole- would be part of the global interdependence between societies all round the world which limits freedom of all states. However, even if larger states typically have more power in setting the terms in international institutions it does not follow that political independence has become irrelevant. Independence is consistent with limitations of the exercise of sovereignty but the examples of joint representation by the oft quoted Nordic countries, Austria and Switzerland (or Canada and Australia) show how effective strategies of cooperation can be. The question for a political community such as Scotland, ambitious for more self determination in an interdependent world, is how far independence would secure a net increase in its own interests? The fishing community in Scotland, looking enviously at the strength of its Icelandic fraternity, would argue forcibly that the betrayal of its interests by the UK government in EEC negotiations was a classic illustration of how the interests of the periphery were sacrificed to that of the centre and that independence would offer a voice to their interests in international forums that is currently denied to them. If that voice was allied to that of their neighbours so much the better but either way it would be preferable to being subsumed or ignored altogether. Statistics from the OECD in how government revenues are distributed nationally illustrate the freedom that entities enjoy, taxes varying ,for example , from 52% on the average worker in Germany to 22% in Ireland. Small states also choose which organisations to join-Switzerland is outwith the EU but within EFTA, Sweden is within the EU but not in the Euro zone or Nato, whilst Norway is a member of EFTA and the European Economic Area and is a non-nuclear member of Nato. The lesson for Scots is that democratic freedom is exercised by numerous members of the international community with populations comparable to or smaller than Scotland’s, and that an independent voice is preferable to a muted or non-existant one.

Finally, the quality of democracy in Scotland and its rates of participation either in relevant forums or in local and national elections ,is in apparently irrevocable decline. Apart from the SNP, membership of political parties is falling. If ‘learned helplessness’, disenchantment or a sense of resigned frustration is at the heart of the weaknesses then the chance to re-invigorate our institutions, think tanks and civic involvement is presented by changing Scotland’s subordinate political status. Continuation of the status quo is likely to see further democratic apathy develop.

In conclusion then, the democratic case for independence rests on two irrefutable claims-that it would guarantee that the government of Scotland was aligned with the preferences of the Scottish voter, and that the reach of Scottish democratic decision-taking was equal to that of other countries; and one plausible claim-that by distancing Scotland from the conservatism of British political culture it would create new opportunities to extend democracy in Scotland and lead to a strengthening of the civil institutions and public culture necessary to sustain a healthy democratic culture.

The economic case


It was President Johnson who said that,” making a speech on economy is a lot like pissing down your leg. It seems hot to you, but it never does to anyone else.”  Nevertheless, there will undoubtedly be more attention given to this element than to any other aspect of the independence debate, despite it being the most difficult area to establish what is truly likely to happen. Predictions from both sides of the argument need to be treated with equal caution. The SNP argues that Scotland is the 8th richest country in the world, pays 9.9% of UK taxes but only receives 9.3% of spend and has a 4.4 billion pound better fiscal balance than the rest of the UK, supposedly making it £824 per head better off with independence.  It was Andrew Marr in his ‘History of Modern Britain’ who wrote about the Treasury official whose memo to a dissembling Harold Wilson indicated that, “income per head in Scotland would be 25% or 30%  higher than that prevailing in England in the 1980s given independence.“ Amongst all the obfuscation  from both sides, two things seem clear- predictions as to what the future health of any economy will be remains in the realm of speculation; all parties recognise that Scotland can stand on its own two feet as an economically viable entity. Justification for independence should not lie on whether one is better off by £500 per head, or £5 or even worse off; the economic case rests on the ability of Scottish people living in Scotland to make decisions on behalf of economic conditions that are significantly different than those pertaining in the SE in particular, which is where macro-decisions are taken that impact on the nether parts of the UK.

Apart from a fundamentally different approach as to how to tackle Britain’s current economic problems, there are numerous examples of legislation  designed to meet a situation in the SE that does not pertain in Scotland to the same degree , if at all. Migration and immigration is a case in point, with Scotland’s need for a growth in population being ignored by restrictions imposed by Westminster not least in order to appease the haemorrhage of support to  UKIP or even the BNP. Scottish universities have been particularly critical of the damage done to overseas recruitment by the tone of political remarks emanating from the south.

As with a previous remark comparing individuals and nations it would seem self-evident that independence, not dependence, is the status most likely to promote initiative and a robust sense of self-responsibility. Institutional dependence on others to take key decisions encourages fatalism, cynicism in groups as well as individuals, and a blame culture. It is all too easy to castigate distant others for our own inertia and there is a critical need for us to take responsibility and ownership of our own future. If this encourages Scottish politicians to take tough decisions there is comfort in the knowledge that such decisions are easier to scrutinise on a more local level than otherwise-look at the waste and duplication in the EEC to see what happens when this is not the case.

By extending the range of public careers in Scotland and the satisfaction to be had from them independence would improve the incentive for the most able Scots to remain in their homeland so improving not just job opportunities but also the quality of public debate and decision taking. It was recently cited by an anti-independence proponent that Scotland would need to set up a separate MOD headquarters for its armed forces. Quite-this is not the least of the hidden subsidies and economic drivers that are currently based outwith the country, concentrating employment and spending power in the area of the UK that needs it least.

In his book, ’Who runs Britain’ Robert Peston emphasized the increasing concentration of economic wealth not only in the SE but also in individuals. The top 0.1% of British earners have a combined income of £33 billion-treble what they possessed when Tony Blair became PM. The aggregated wealth of the top 1,000 earners was £360 billion- or about 50 times the size of the Uruguayan economy. The gap between the rich and the poor has widened exponentially over the last 50 years irrespective of who is in political power. Remuneration of the average FTSE 100 boss is now 75 times that of the typical employee in his firm, whilst it was 19:1 less than 20 years ago. As Peston points out,”this is not healthy for democracy. The new super-rich have the means through the financing of political parties, the funding of think tanks and the ownership of the media to shape Government policies or to deter reform of a status quo that suits them.” Peston also points out that, “ the biggest cost from the swelling of the super-rich class is an erosion of the fabric that holds together communities and the nation.” So, not only is Scotland’s economy affected by decisions taken to meet the needs of the distorted, bloated (and fragile) financial sector in London, but there is also the social consequence of a trend towards wealth concentration in a small area of the country. An independent Scotland may not be able to totally avoid an international as well as national trend towards income disparity but it would surely resist the most egregious examples and could take hope from some neighbouring countries that have resisted the trends very successfully.  At the least, the social, political, cultural and economic climate north of the border is likely to minimize the imbalances that carry in their wake dangerous levels of injustice and maldistribution. Or, as Peston soberly stated, “it is no longer clear that the kind of society being created passes the fairness or efficiency test.” The UK is increasingly being ruled by an unelected oligarchy and it would be not the least of an independent Scotland’s aspirations to avoid the worst of such potentially volatile excesses.

The conventional economic case for independence draws on two main categories of evidence-comparative data on Scotland’s economic performance relative to the rest of the UK and to other comparable European states and specific instances where Scotland’s economic interests has been damaged by the rest of the UK.

Between 1977-2007 Scotland’s average GDP growth at 1.9% lagged behind its most obvious European comparators (Iceland 3.4%, Norway 3.1% Denmark 2.0% Finland 2.9% Sweden 2.3% Austria 2.4% and the UK 2.4%) Such data suggests that Scotland is failing to achieve its economic potential , although it could be argued that Scottish potential for growth is lower than the rest of the UK and elsewhere. Proponents who focus on our high educational standards, disproportionate contribution of its universities to cited research publications, wealth of energy resources and stable government will argue that the conditions for doing better are all in place, but this is not open to statistical demonstration.

There is a sizeable body of writing by political scientists to explain the relative success enjoyed by Scotland’s Nordic neighbours, Austria and Switzerland. The cited advantages range from the greater homogeneity of political preferences found in most small countries, the role of short internal lines of communication and feedback creating flexibility in adapting to changes in the international environment, the incentives for creating niche industries and the imperative of small states to maximize the quality of their scarce human capital by high and well targeted public spending. The generally robust performance of these states in the banking crisis continues to support this thesis ( including Iceland now on 2.5% growth), although it cannot be assumed to apply to all small democracies. As Latvia’s story since independence illustrates,” it is one of the advantages of being a small country that you can, if you have the courage, take tough decisions and implement them successfully resetting your economy with speed.”(Charles Carnwath). Whether one quotes the arguments used in Schumacher’s ‘Small is Beautiful’ or recognizes that 4 out of the top 5 most prosperous economies belong to small nations the evidence certainly does not point to small scale as being anything of a handicap, quite the opposite. Whilst there is no guarantee of success within or outwith the Union the history of neighbouring countries supports the probability that the answer supports the independence case. No one can prove that Norway (with its £300 billion oil fund and no.1 position in the UN’s Human Development Index) would be more prosperous under Swedish rule or that Denmark would have been better off if it had joined Bismark’s Germany in 1864 but the only answer that sits comfortably with historic evidence is ‘very unlikely’.

The clearest economic premium from independence will come from the improved capacity to align Scotland’s policy with her needs and opportunities. An obvious example is oil, where the proportionate value of the reserves to the Scottish economy would help to contain the cost of Scottish public borrowing. £5-10 billion p.a. over the next 40 years will, however spent, impact on Scotland whereas the benefit to date has been hard to appreciate. Defence would be another example. Given the different foreign policy dynamics of a small country and the political preference of Scottish voters, it is probable that an independent Scotland would follow a markedly different defence strategy to that of the UK, without most of the heavy capital items considered essential by the UK to its view of itself as a world player. The removal of Scotland’s share of Trident and the Elizabeth class carriers would save up to £200 million p.a. between 2010-30. (On the same basis non-involvement by Scotland in the Iraq war would have saved the Scottish budget £600million p.a. between 2003-09). Immigration and alternative energy are further areas of divergence, the pioneering work in the 1970’s by Stephen Satler on wave energy being negated by the closure of the UK Wave Energy Programme in 1982 reportedly under pressure from the nuclear industry.

A significant difficulty with the current devolved set-up is that Scotland’s capital budget is determined by Westminster needs. For example, decisions on the funding of English universities or the NHS in England determine Scottish allocation through the Barnett formula, irrespective of different needs. There is also little fiscal incentive for the Scottish economy to grow its revenue base. If investment in training schemes for the unemployed boosts Scottish jobs both the increased tax revenues and the savings on unemployment benefits would go to the UK Treasury. The Treasury’s arbitrary power has sabotaged initiatives like the Scottish Futures Trust as well as local income tax and , whether these policies would have benefited Scotland or not, current arrangements restrict the scope and incentive for Scottish policy innovation.

Unionists will cite the collapse of RBS and HBOS in 2008 and the subsequent £6.5 billion bailout as firm economic proof that Scotland could not go it alone. This, of course, assumes that an independent Scotland would have followed the same economic model of development as the UK and would not have diversified its economy; it ignores the fact that these were city institutions trading from and investing London’s finances and that, at any rate, it would have rescued them out of self-interest; it also ignores the swift recovery of the Icelandic banks which were allowed to fold and whose corporate stock holders paid the price, much to the advantage of the Icelandic economy. Moreover, there are no grounds for dividing the cost of a bank bailout than anything other than the conventional proportional UK criteria, which is well within Scotland’s capacity to service. At any rate, it is a perverse argument to cite Scottish consequences of UK’s over-reliance on the banking sector as reasons to hang onto the Union rather than discard it. Indeed, if Scotland was as big an economic basket case as some Unionists suggest then those in favour of independence are entitled to argue that the UK is incapable of governing Scotland competently. Whatever the short term situation, which is where so much debate has focused, in the longer term there is no reason to suppose that Scotland would be unable to correct any imbalances in just the same way that the newly independent Nordic states were able to correct their legacies of economic and social failures in the early 19th and 20th centuries.

  The social case

On most measures of social health Scotland compares poorly with the rest of the UK which, in turn, compares badly with most other developed countries. In 2008 21% of Scottish children were living in poverty (below 60% of median national income) compared to 9.1% in Denmark, 9.6% in Norway and 12% in Sweden. The 1973 ‘Born to Fail’ report from the National Children’s Bureau indicated that 1 in 10 children in Scotland were severely disadvantaged compared to 1:16 in the UK.

In a summary of Scotland’s political values Rosie and Bowd (2007) concluded that, “ whilst simplistic views of Scotland as a naturally progressive country cannot be sustained there is an underpinning for social democratic forms of policy.” This social democratic bias in Scottish politics is supported by the record of the devolved parliament already noted. The ‘Achieving Our Potential’ social strategy document is unusual for a UK government in identifying economic inequality as a cause not simply a symptom of poverty ( Scottish Government 2009). In contrast to Thatcherite policies and those of the current coalition, perhaps the most that can be said is that there is both an increasing divergence in approach either side of the Tweed and that there would be a stronger pressure to pursue social democratic policies to tackle the deprivation in an independent scenario.

A further reason to suspect Scotland would pursue a more consistent response to Scotland’s social challenges lies in the social context of Scottish policy making. It is reasonable to conclude that the ‘psychosocial’ distance between Scotland’s politicians and other members of Scotland’s public institutions and the Scottish population living on modest or poverty income is shorter than between England’s public elites and the comparable section of the English population. All this makes it more likely that Scotland’s social needs will at least receive attention from politicians and, perhaps more importantly, that there is likely to be a more consistent approach to these needs as the chances of a centre-right government taking the helm in Scotland is looking to be an increasingly remote possibility.

Whether these pre-conditions for change will, in practice, lead to the issues being resolved is problematic. However, within a small country many of the key groups in Scottish civic society-trade unions, the churches, the voluntary sector, environmental campaigners- already have organisational and personal links. What could reasonably be expected from Scottish independence is a sharpening of the sense of Scottish responsibility for Scotland’s social health.

The international case

The key question here has to be whether independence would lead in an increase in Scotland’s ability to defend her national interests? It should be noted that the number of independent states in the United Nations has grown from 51 in 1945 to 192 today, of which about half have a smaller population than Scotland, all of which suggests that the answer is likely to be a positive one. Every state is located somewhere on a broad spectrum of capacity for effective unilateral action from the USA at one end to a small S.Pacific micro-state at the other end. It would appear that the best option for communities seeking greater powers of self-determination is to find a constitutional status which allows for maximum mobilisation of internal resources in support of its development whilst managing its sovereign powers with other states with shared interests and values.

Unionists tend to argue that the status quo self-evidently allows Scotland to punch above its weight internationally, the Steel Commission (2006) reporting that, “ the Union enables us to have more influence in Europe, the UN, Nato and other international bodies than we would otherwise have.” This avoids the obvious questions-who is the ‘we’ and has that greater punch been deployed to promote Scottish interests and policy preferences? Arguably the most obvious external advantages of the Union to Scotland derived from the Empire, which brought major economic benefits, though  at a disproportionately high cost in lives lost in Imperial wars. Elsewhere things are more problematic and it is debateable if Scotland gains more in negotiating clout from being a part of the world’s 7th largest economy than she loses from having only modest influence over the ranking of Scottish interests in the UK’s negotiating platform. The record of smaller developed countries does not throw up conspicuous examples of trade discrimination-NZ post EEC membership by the UK possibly excepted. Indeed, the Benelux and Nordic countries have diluted their dependence on their dominant neighbours by multi-lateral trade agreements or economic unions.

Scotland’s participation in global affairs as an independent state is likely to lead to promotion of Scotland as a quality brand as well as increased awareness among Scots of the opportunities and risks of their international environment.

It would also probably result in a reduced risk of terror attack as it is the UK’s imperial past and its association with and support for the USA that identifies it as such an obvious target.

Interestingly, a knock-on international repercussion of independence might well be to weaken the rest of the UK’s position on such bodies as the Security Council, not least because of the enormous difficulties in practice of re-housing Trident south of the border. The decision to base Polaris within 25 miles of where half of Scotland’s population live is unlikely to have been sanctioned by a devolved administration and it is hard to see Westminster finding willing recipients. Perhaps independence will enable Westminister to adjust its sights to be more in keeping with its true status as a small country on the fringes of Europe rather than harbouring post-imperial notions supported by the world’s 4th largest defence budget.

A cultural case

This is not the same as cultural nationalism, which is the promotion of a particular cultural tradition held to define a national identity. A recent assessment by Joyce McMillan, one of Scotland’s best known cultural critics, affirms the power of the arts in Scotland “ to transform Scotland’s view of itself- to reframe the nation not as a problematic provincial backwater but as a powerhouse of 21st century creativity.” The healthy state of the majority of the arts post devolution suggests that a surge in creativity and national self-confidence is likely but is not guaranteed post-independence.

Broadcasting is a clearer case where it would be anticipated that there would be an independence dividend. The poor representation of its national life that Scotland receives from the BBC and commercial broadcasters is clear. That the Scottish Commission’s recommendations for a Scottish Digital Network were ignored by UK broadcasters makes the point. There are no easy solutions to the challenges presented by the printed media nor does independence provide a panacea to London’s dominance of creative industries, with 1 in 8 of its population being employed in the sector. Whether an independent Scotland could successfully challenge the privileged access to public funding and commercial sponsorship which the SE’s public arts institutions currently enjoy (£583 million in 2011) is a mute point but the opportunity to do so scarcely exists with the current hegemony.

Politics lies at the heart of culture and a vigorous political and intellectual ethos is essential to a healthy culture. By surrendering their rights to decide so many fundamental questions such as inequality or military involvement Scots accept a division between thought and action which weakens Scotland’s culture. Whither the 7:84 company now? The idea of having a moral community is an arguable and intangible concept and may pander to a sense of egalitarianism that might be partly mythical and a social compassion that may or may not be provable. Yet it was Mrs Thatcher’s “ no such thing as society” speech that struck such a particularly discordant note in Scotland ,as did the whole of her ‘Sermon on the Mound ‘to the Church of Scotland assembly . Moreover, whatever the rights or wrongs of the decision, it was Justice Secretary Kenny McAskill’s use of his powers to release Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi on compassionate grounds that was consistent with the provisions of Scots law and its underpinning values. The real issue here, as pointed out by Prof. John Haldane to the Commission on Scottish Devolution is that, “ if education,(religion) and social services are not reserved (to Westminster) why should broadcasting, abortion, human fertilisation and other matters bearing directly on moral values not also be devolved?” Or, it could be added, issues of war and peace, social justice and international development? Attempts to provide a distinctive moral autonomy in Scotland are undermined by a metropolitan concentration on the finance sector, erosion of civil liberties, privatisation of health and education and abuse of office as epitomised by the Westminster expenses scandal and the bonus culture. No-one could claim that Scotland is impervious to some of these problems but for the Calman Commission to appeal to the existence of a UK ‘social union’ flies in the face of the distinctive direction of travel in the last decade. As Haldane put it, “there is a historic tension between Scottish welfare communitarianism and English liberal individualism.” A significant obstacle to viewing itself as an autonomous moral community is that so many of the representative Scottish institutions-the STUC, political parties, media and voluntary sector- support a moral rhetoric but endorse the Union and limit themselves to urging agencies outside Scotland to act on Scotland’s behalf. A clear example is that all parties accepted the 1989 Claim of Right asserting the sovereign right of the Scottish people to choose their own future before the Labour party and Lib.Dems opposed the referendum.

By equipping Scots with the authority and responsibility to cut across a whole spectrum of issues independence would expose Scotland’s moralising rhetoric to sterner tests than it will ever face under devolution and will confront voters with the consequences of their collusion with the political consensus. How much redistribution of income and wealth are the better off prepared to accept in the name of a fairer and more compassionate Scotland? How many short term jobs are we prepared to sacrifice as the price for terminating our role in the UK’s arguably delusional defence strategy? The answers may be unsettling but our public culture would be the better for being able to subject its politicians to the test of practical responsibility.

The environmental case

Particular features of the Scottish political scene have encouraged a more radical approach to environmental policy and the challenges of global warming than in the rest of the UK. One influence  is the strength of the anti-nuclear movement in Scotland, perhaps stimulated by Scotland’s exposure to the fallout from the 1986 Chernobyl disaster. The SNP’s belief that Scotland has been denied potential long-term benefits of N.Sea oil has strengthened its determination to secure a leading role for Scotland in the global drive for renewable energy.

Scotland has a quarter of Europe’s capacity for generating energy from offshore wind and tide and a tenth of Europe’s wave power capacity. Although speculative this could lead to 130,000 jobs in Scotland’s low carbon economy (Sc. Gov.2010) and has in turn led to a mandatory target for reduction of net carbon emissions of 42% by 2020 and 80% by 2050.

Although there are costs, uncertainties ,controversies and risks in this strategy the case rests on four judgements-that the prospect of global warming will continue to drive political demand for low carbon; that the price of fossil fuels will continue on an upward trend in response to increasing demand from developing economies and falling supply; that the relative price of renewables will fall as their technologies mature and the market grows; that the nuclear option will continue to be suspect as costs of dismantling are factored in and as safety issues (Fukushima) remain unresolved. The strongest environmental argument for independence is that to develop her natural potential for green technologies Scotland needs the complete spectrum of powers, notably borrowing powers. The frequent plea for investment of a portion of N. Sea oil revenues in alternative energies was ignored by London allowing other countries, notably Denmark and Germany, to establish a lead in first generation wind-powered generation. As a small country Scotland was sensitive to the need to invest its oil money as a legacy. The limitations of the Scottish capital budget forced the Scottish Government to approve the Beauly Denny line instead of burying it at a cost of £1 billion or using sub-sea cables instead. Similarly, Scotland’s desire to develop carbon capture and storage has stalled due to lack of consistent support from a UK government of necessity pursuing other priorities including import of gas from Europe and the development of next generation nuclear plant.

Arguably the greatest environmental risk to Scotland remains the nuclear base at Faslane and independence would eliminate what has already been a considerable area of exposure to so many people, not least through a series of accidents and incidents that are largely hidden from the public.

As with so many areas already highlighted the divergence in policy between Westminster and Holyrood is a reflection of different needs, assets and priorities. It is not a question or right or wrong, but simply that one set of priorities should not dominate at the expense of other people’s wishes and aspirations.


As stated in the introduction there has been little attempt here to delve into speculative issues such as whether Scotland would be a succession state in Europe or not or which currency she would adopt. This is part of what will inevitably be unknown and subject to negotiation. It will be resolved in due course in Scotland’s best interests by a future Scottish government, elected by Scotland’s people using Scottish principles of governance. That the people of this country should enjoy the same status as the rest of the world’s population in making decisions for itself seems so clear that it is incumbent on proponents of the Union to suggest why it should be otherwise , as it is hoped has been demonstrated in this paper.

The status quo ties Scotland to a future economy that, apart from its parlous state and huge debts, is dangerously dependent on the fragile and  volatile financial services sector; it binds us to a future where social inequality and the dominance of  a wealthy oligarchy and narrow governing elite will increasingly distort  decision-making and grate against a social consensus north of the border that is diverging from Westminster at an ever-increasing rate. The people of Scotland have a once in a lifetime opportunity to establish something different and more exciting( a Commonweal?); to start anew and to establish the sort of society that reflects its values, not those of others; a society where decisions can be taken by the people that know it best and where it can face up to the responsibilities of its own actions. The chance to re-invigorate our politics, economics , civic society and institutions is within our hands and to be once again ignored and ‘kicked into the long grass’ should the Scottish people vote for dependence and dominance encapsulated by a clearly defective system of government is hard to contemplate. Dependence is relying on others; independence is freedom. The choice is stark and it appears self-evident that it is the latter position that presents a more attractive proposition. It was Edward Gibbon that said,” the first of earthly blessings is independence.” May we be blessed come 2014.

A.Macdonald.  April 2013


5 thoughts on “The Real Arguments For Independence

  1. Sorry to say that too many words and I switch off,I can read a book but too many words on-screen and I cant seem to stimulate myself to read them all.That said my penny’s worth is that I believe in an independent Scotland,and I have the faith in those that are smarter than me to run the country for the benefit of the people all of the people not the select few.I cant understand those that continually put us down by all sorts of claims that we are unique among the people of the world in that we are incapable of running our own country.They usually qualify it by saying that they would just prefer that London and Westminster do all our thinking for us.

    • CPoB SAYS
      “I cant understand those that continually put us down by all sorts of claims that we are unique among the people of the world in that we are incapable of running our own country.”

      Maybe its because they feel we’re “A BIT SPECIAL” in a kind of stage whispered way when people are talking about a mentally deficient relative?

    • Just re read this (in its entirety) and found the whole piece absorbing, and compelling reading, its a pity the first post was so negative, I sincerely hope it didn’t put others off reading it

  2. Excellent article, very well written, very well thought out, very well argued.

    I read the whole thing – people need to be prepared to do a little research if they intend to vote (note just from the main stream media). This is evident in the continuing calls from unionists and undecided for information and answers, even though the Scottish government White paper has now been published – a document that provides more detail and planning than any nation contemplating its independence in history has ever benefitted from. And as this article says, there have been a great many nations who have become independent in the last 50 years. As this article also says, there are unknowns, that simply cannot be known until we vote yes and negotiations start – this is not a reason to vote no. Uncertainty is part of life. As this article suggests, on balance I rather believe in my nation and my people to make Scotland a successful independent nation, all the evidence suggests we can and will.

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