As we enter the final weeks of the referendum campaign, a number of key question still exist for No and Undecided voters, but in many cases such individuals feel that there are just one or two hurdles blocking their path to voting Yes. With that in mind, here is a quick response to some of the most persistent questions.
Aren’t there risks to us becoming independent?
Yes there are and, while the No campaign are keen to paint Yes campaigners are denying this, everyone accepts that there are some risks to Scotland gaining independence from the UK. The argument, in essence, is that these risks are small, manageable, and worth taking, giving that the prize is the chance to build a better country. Risk is an emotive issue, but human beings deal with risk every day – every single thing we do involves risk. Of course, no discussion of the risks of independence can possibly be complete without a discussion of the risks involved in remaining in the UK: institutions such as our health and education systems are currently threatened by Westminster economic and social policies; the number of children growing up in poverty has increased significantly over the last few years; Britain is on course to become the most unequal country in the developed world (it is currently fourth); nuclear weapons will continue to be housed close to our most populated city; and we face the prospect of being dragged out of the EU via an impending in-out referendum. The question to ask yourself if whether Scotland faces more risk through independence, or remaining in the UK?
What currency will we use?
The pound. Yes, the unionist parties are working hard to scare you into voting no by saying that we “won’t be allowed” to use the pound, but given that there is literally no way in which Scotland (or any other country) could be prevented from doing so this is clearly just a ridiculously transparent strategy. The next step in the scare tactics are to say that there will be no currency union, but the consequences of this are simple: if Scotland is not “allowed” any of the assets that it has helped to build up over the last 300 years (such as the pound) then it cannot be expected to take on the associated liabilities (the debt), so no deal on currency means no deal on debt (otherwise known as Plan B). What would this mean? Well, it would mean that Scotland would begin with no sovereign debt -as the UK government has already confirmed that it will be responsible for all of the debt under these circumstances, this would not even mean an official debt default from Scotland – and still use the pound. During the recent TV debate Alistair Darling suggested that using the pound without a currency union would make us like Panama (which uses the dollar), but Panama has one of the world’s most reliable financial sectors and is one of the most stable countries in central and south America precisely because using the dollar requires them to be very careful with the money in their economy – given that the roots of the banking and economic crisis are to be found in appalling levels of risk taking within the financial sector (and by governments such as those run by Darling himself) would this really be such a bad thing? Currency has become the key plank of the unionist campaign because they believe that maintaining doubt will produce enough fear to prevent a yes vote, but in reality their arguments do not stand up to proper scrutiny.
Can we afford independence?
Without a shadow of a doubt. At present (and despite what much of the right-wing press would have you believe) Scotland is a net contributor to the UK, meaning we pay in a bit more than we get back. The economic deficit in Scotland is also lowers than it is in the rest of the UK. Factor in the potential savings on expenses such as Trident, HS2 and even the House of Lords and there is no real doubt that Scotland can afford independence. Scotland is also incredibly well placed to become, for example, the European leader in renewable energy, so even taking oil out of the equation there is no reason to fear our ability to pay our own way.
Are we too small?
In a word – no. Some of the world’s most successful countries are comparable in size to Scotland, and there is no reason that we could not be just as successful. On the other side of that argument, remember that while the whole UK is bigger than Scotland, it is dwarfed by the USA and China (and the emerging powers such as India, Indonesia and Brazil) – this is why EU exists, and Scotland will be part of the EU (although, with an In-Out referendum on the cards in the near future, the UK may not). In many ways, an independent Scotland within the EU would be ‘bigger’ than Scotland as part of the UK existing outside of Europe.
Do we really have enough talent in Scotland to go it alone?
Of course we do. Scotland has the most educated population in Europe and, since devolution, the track record of our government in Holyrood puts Westminster to shame (think abolition of prescription charges, fee-free education etc.). Furthermore, independence would mean that the best Scottish MPs would be able to run for election to the Scottish parliament and, whilst some may find it difficult to do so having campaigned against independence it will be up to them to make their case to the electorate. Independence would also mean that future talent is not lost to London. Finally, when looking for examples of the sort of politicians that could represent us in an independent Scotland I would encourage you to look at Patrick Harvie (of the Greens) and to remember the great Margo MacDonald – Scotland (like any other country) has more than enough potential to govern itself.
What if I don’t like Alex Salmond?
Fair enough, but this has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with the independence referendum. The crucial distinction to make is between a referendum (a vote on a single issue) and an election (a vote to choose the governing party of the country). A vote for independence does not mean that Alex Salmond will become the first leader of our newly independent nation – that will be up to the Scottish people to decide at the first election to an independent Holyrood.
Isn’t this just all about the SNP?
Much like the previous point, a vote for independence is not a vote for the SNP. Whilst the No campaign have been keen to paint this issue as one driven exclusively by the SNP and its members, the campaign for independence is, in actual fact, the largest, most diverse grass-roots political movement in Scottish history, with almost every conceivable group and set of beliefs represented by someone in the broad coalition of those working for a Yes vote. Much of the anti-SNP argument essentially centres on the idea that they will benefit most from a Yes vote, but this is not logically the case at all; if anything, a Yes vote will present a huge ideological challenge for a party which contains a number of different factions held together by their belief in Scottish independence, and it is quite conceivable the the party will not continue in its current form should they successfully achieve their stated goal. In actual fact, if you are going to be suspicious of the people who seek to gain the most from your vote (either way) then cast your eyes to the Scottish politicans currently working in London – these individuals, at the end of the day, are currently campaigning to keep a hold of their £70k-a-year salary (plus expenses).
Would we end up with border checks between Scotland and England
No. Ed Miliband did, cynically, suggest that border posts might be necessary, but if this were the case why are there no border posts between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, or the Isle of Man and mainland UK? In reality, there is absolutely no reason for border posts between Scotland and rUK to exist.
What about international influence?
A number of No campaigners have made the point that the UK is a powerful player on the international stage – a member of the almighty UN Security Council (UNSC) able to exert considerable influence upon international affairs. Factually, this is of course accurate, but it deliberately ignores the fact that the UK’s international standing (as well as that of the UNSC) has been seriously tarnished by years of ineffectual policy, terrible policy and – let’s face it – illegal wars. It is also worth asking whether we really want to cling to the sort of power that is symbolised by the UNSC – an out-of-date nuclear-only members club capable of blocking the settled will of the entirety of the rest of the UN.