Hearts and minds in conflict.
With one day of campaigning left in the Scottish referendum, the polls, pollsters and commentators are saying that the result is too close to call. I think they may be wrong but I’ll come to that in a moment.
The ‘Yes’ campaign relies heavily on the heart making the decision whilst the ‘No’ campaign has relied more on the mind. Both approaches are, of course, flawed. They are too simplistic. From the interviews that I have seen and heard, the ‘No’ voters are obviously worried about the risks of independence and most express a strong attachment to the United Kingdom as it is at the moment. I detect some romantic yearning for independence but hard-headed pragmatism wins the day for them.
The ‘Yes’ voters seem to me to be long on optimism—mindless in some cases—and more than willing to take a lemming-like leap in the dark—yes I know that recent research has shown that Lemmings rarely take the famed suicidal plunge. What is worrying, for all the talk of educated debate, is that amongst the ‘Yes’ voters there is a distrust of politicians—a healthy thing—until it comes to the SNP. Then they seem to suspend that distrust and any judgement. I’m afraid that I sense more anti-English sentiment than much real pondering the implications of a ‘Yes’ vote.
From an outsider’s point of view, outsider in that I don’t have a vote, there are just too many unanswered questions. The point has been repeatedly made in the last twenty-four hours that Alex Salmond seems to be banking heavily—to the point of virtual suicide one might say– on the political parties in Westminster agreeing to all his negotiating positions and the ‘Yes’ voters appear to believe him. To me that seems one hell of a risk to take with the future well-being of your country. Salmond thinks that we’re all going to be great chums post ‘Yes’ vote, specifically that Westminster will see that the interests of an independent Scotland continue to coincide with the interests of the UK. From where I am sitting I would have thought that there have been enough warning shots across the bows to throw that contention into serious question.
Right now, Wednesday 17th September 2014, the polls seems to be broadly agreed on 48% ‘No’, 52% ‘Yes’ and between 4% and 7% undecided. I’m going to stick my neck out here—always unwise. I ‘predict’ that in the event of a ‘Yes’ majority vote there will be a narrow margin but in the event of a ‘No’ vote the split could well be approaching 60%-40%. I honestly think that when a person is standing in the polling booth, pencil poised over the paper, many doubts will suddenly surface. The enormity, the irrevocability of a ‘Yes’ vote on will become very real. No doubt many who vote ‘No’ will do so with tears in their eyes. What happens in post referendum Scotland—whichever way it goes—will be interesting, perhaps sad, to watch. Passions are running understandably high and there have been some ugly scenes in the streets.
My heart and mind are in conflict.
My heart wants the Scots to vote ‘No’. I buy into the idea that ours has been a very successful union, on the whole. I can understand and sympathise with the desire for an independent nation but I do believe that we are ‘better together’. Looking at it from any standpoint—economic, defence, standing in the World at large—I believe we all will be diminished if there is a split. I simply don’t buy the arguments put forward by the ‘Yes’ campaign.
My mind, however, is a different matter. Firstly I think that the United Kingdom would fare better than an independent Scotland if there were a split. Whilst heart still wants a United Kingdom including Scotland, mind is beginning to wonder about the cost of ‘keeping the Scots onboard’. The sheer number of powers that Westminster party leaders have promised to devolve to Edinburgh will mean that Scotland would be in effect a federal member of the United Kingdom—which as it stands is not a federal state. Quite apart from the fact that the Westminster party leaders may find it more difficult than they imagine to deliver the promised increased powers, there will be demands for further devolution in Wales and Northern Ireland. That will mean there will have to be a devolution of powers to England. Meaning there will have to be an English Assembly—and any devolution of powers from Westminster to the English regions will have to be decided by that English Assembly. My mind says that the people of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland must not have any say in that devolution of powers to the English regions. Matters which are dealt with in the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland Assemblies because of the devolution of power should not be discussed or voted on in a UK parliament. I don’t think that I am alone in thinking this and there a major problem rears its ugly head.
The problem, in a nutshell, is this. In a more fully-devolved Scotland it is likely that Scottish voters might return a majority of Labour MPs to the Westminster parliament. They might conceivably return a majority of SNP MPs but it is pretty damn certain that they will not return a majority of Conservative MPs. This could mean that the majority party in a UK-wide Parliament would be a Labour one and there would be a Labour Government BUT in an English Assembly it is probable that the majority of elected assembly members would be Conservative. England would have a Conservative Government whilst the Scots might have an SNP Government. The Welsh and Northern Ireland Assemblies might also have governments formed by nationalist parties. Presumably then, as a consequence of the already proposed increase of powers to a Scotland which voted to stay in the UK and following the establishment of other fully-devolved assemblies, the Government in Westminster would have no say over the raising of taxes in the constituent countries, would have little say over energy policy and no say in planning policy. A UK-wide Government would certainly have a say in defence, but little else. Maybe immigration, maybe not. The whole method of governing the United Kingdom would have to change. Indeed, one could envisage that instead of a UK government as such, it might be better to scrap the Westminster parliament as it now exists and have a meeting of ‘Chief/First’ Ministers of the respective countries to decide on areas of common policy. Failing that, and it probably would be unworkable, perhaps we need an American system. That wouldn’t work either because although the American system is federal, the individual states do not appear to have the level of individual policy making that it is being proposed a more devolved Scotland would enjoy. If Scotland gets those powers then voters in England, Wales and Northern Ireland would demand them too. It’s a hell of a mess whichever way the vote goes and my mind is not sure that the price of keeping Scotland in the Union is worth it. There will be many, many constitutional matters raised if Scotland remains in the Union. Whilst I am not necessarily against change I do not want my country ‘bounced’ into those changes. I want a measured debate and I want to be consulted, via the ballot box, about any proposed changes.
My heart says ‘stay’ but my mind is beginning to say ‘go’—even with all the problems that that would bring.
If, as an Englishman in England, I had a vote on whether Scotland should be independent or not, I think I would vote ‘Yes’—and that, to me, is both surprising and a little scary.