“On Thursday we will take the biggest political decision in Scotland’s history. If we vote to leave the UK there would be no going back.”
This quotation from an e-mail the No campaign sent to me sums up the importance of the Scottish independence referendum. For 300 years, Scotland and England have been working together. The Yes campaign, led by the ever-smug Alex Salmond, wants to tear Great Britain apart whilst the No campaign, led by Alistair Darling the former Chancellor, is fighting to save it.
Why Should Scotland stay?
Many Scottish, and English, have been asking that question, and many of them are still waiting for an answer. In the final rush to secure votes before Thursday, it is hard to determine what the No campaign is actually saying. My aim in this section is to present the arguments of Better Together, and evaluate them.
The “It’s Scotland’s Oil” campaign of the ’70s formed the basis for modern Scottish nationalism and the foundation of the SNP. The No campaign recognises that there is oil left, but they claim that it cannot be used to fund a state like Scotland. The SNP have based all of their economic plans on the basis that the price of oil will be $113 or more per barrel.
The current price of oil (as of the 15th of September) is $92.27.
Furthermore, industry expert Sir Ian Wood, who wrote a report on North Sea oil for the government earlier this year, has said that the SNP’s prediction for how much oil there is left is wrong. He also predicted that the SNP’s claim of getting £7 billion per year from oil was wrong, and that it would be closer to £4.7 billion.
The No campaign’s oil predictions have yet to face criticism.
The NHS & other public services
One of the biggest nationalist arguments is that staying in the United Kingdom puts the Scottish NHS and other public services at risk. This forms part of the broader nationalist policy of ‘We Hate the Tories’ which is a central part of their campaign. Better Together reject this argument, saying that changes in England and Wales do not affect the Scottish NHS and they have also criticised Alex Salmond over his NHS policy.
So, who has the best argument?
Well, the Scottish NHS is a devolved matter. This means that the Scottish Government has exclusive control over the Scottish NHS, so the English NHS could be privatised and it would have no effect in Scotland. Therefore, we can conclude that Alex Salmond is being economical with the truth or, in rather unparliamentary language, lying.
It also seems that Mr Salmond in a hypocrite. A couple of days ago, the BBC managed to obtain confidential papers suggesting that the SNP are planning to cut the Scottish NHS budget by £400 million, regardless of the result. Either Alex Salmond doesn’t pay attention to his own government, or he is a hypocrite with a fondness for misleading voters.
I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions.
The argument over currency has dominated the campaign since the beginning. The Yes campaign want to use the pound whilst the No campaign insist that they will not be able to use the pound if they have independence.
Alex Salmond’s refusal to give an alternative currency option is… worrying to say the least, although his valiant battle against Westminster may well make him more popular amongst Scottish voters.
Nobody can tell for sure what currency an independent Scotland will use. It may turn out that the Prime Minister was bluffing, and they will be able to use the pound. They might even have to use the Euro if they wish to join the European Union (more on that later).
If Scotland were to use sterling, then large parts of their fiscal policy would have to be set by the Bank of England in order for the currency union to actually work. However, having your monetary policy set by a foreign bank really does contradict the point of having independence.
Scotland is one of the more pro-EU parts of the United Kingdom, and the SNP have said many times that an independent Scotland would automatically be a part of the EU. I can tell you now, that this is a lie. The President of the European Commission himself said that Scotland would have to apply to join.
This raises some interesting, and possibly troublesome, questions.
1. The Euro. Since the Maastricht Treaty in the 1990s, all new EU members must also adopt the Euro. The fact that Salmond want the pound means that he may be refused entry to EU unless some sort of special exception is made.
2. Spain. At the moment, the Spanish are having trouble with separatists in Catalonia and many think that a Yes vote in Scotland would encourage them. Some people have suggested that Spain would veto Scotland’s entry into the EU, so that it doesn’t encourage Catalonian separatists.
When I first learned that Alistair Darling was leading the No campaign, I was quite surprised. Why choose him when there are so many other, more prominent politicians? But then I realised. Alistair Darling’s unremarkability is his greatest asset.
In the minds of the Scottish people, he is not associated with Westminster in the same way that David Cameron or Ed Miliband are. Darling stands on that thin line where people know who he is, but not why they recognise him.
It is this unremarkability, combined with the fact that he is Scottish, which makes him such a good choice to lead Better Together. He can be a capable and passionate spokesman, but he can also fade into the background when necessary.
Gordon Brown’s sudden intervention was met by cheers from some, and incredulous looks from others. What surprises me the most, is how well received he was. His fiery rhetoric seems to have made people forget all about his time as Prime Minister between 2007 and 2010, when he presided over the worst economic crisis since 1929.
His seemingly unilateral promise of extra devolution was equally stunning, more so, I suspect, for David Cameron and Ed Miliband who would have to act on that promise or face great anger. However, this well-timed intervention may well have saved the No campaign which seemed to on the brink of destruction after that infamous YouGov poll which showed Yes at 51%.
On the eve of the referendum, I thought I would make a prediction on what the result will be. With a couple of exceptions, all of the polls are saying that there will be a narrow No victory, although there have been times where they’ve got it very wrong.
I’ll also take into account the fact that the polls may underestimate support for No, because people are too embarrased to admit their support when asked by polling companies. This commonly happens in general elections with the Tories, and is known as the ‘shy Tory factor’.
Taking both of those things into account, I predict that the result of the referendum will be:
51% – No
49% – Yes
But the polls don’t really matter any more. The Scottish will get more power regardless of how they vote, and the West Lothian question (the lack of English Parliament) cannot be ignored for much longer.When we learn the result on Friday morning, Britain will never be the same again.