“A pound spent in Croydon is of far more value to the country than a pound spent in Strathclyde” – Boris Johnson, 2012
By far the most important factor for me is the question of how to improve our democracy and representation. We have an opportunity to say goodbye to a system by which Scotland elects 8.7% of MPs to a parliament 300 miles away (MPs whose numbers almost never affect who runs Britain after a General Election). Instead, we can choose to guarantee that at every election, Scotland votes directly for its own government. It really is as simple as that. This is what every other nation in the world gets every time (although the behaviour of politicians after election can never be guaranteed) – everyone, that is, except for us, a few other rogue examples such as the Kurds and the Catalans, and unelected dictatorships. Essentially, despite the mirage of voting in general elections, we do not currently decide who has ultimate control over our country.
Scotland, very unusually, has three governments – Holyrood, Westminster, and the EU. Which to dump? It is my belief that Westminster is fundamentally unfit for purpose and will never reform itself – not its antiquated FPTP voting system (which means that generally, only key marginals ever make any difference), nor its party-appointed, aristocratic upper house, nor its sequence of Prime Ministers and cabinet members from a single public school, nor its still lavish and vastly over-generous MPs’ expenses system, nor its close links with private enterprise, e.g. MPs who sit on boards of private health companies and other outsourcers while forming health policy from which they will directly profit (ref: every issue of Private Eye, ever).
Holyrood might not be squeaky clean – but I strongly believe that as it is smaller, newer and closer to the people who elect it, we can more reasonably expect accountability and efficiency and few, if any, characters like, say, Jim Murphy MP, who has claimed over £1 million in expenses (almost entirely legitimately… although not quite!), over and above his salary, since 2001, and who is therefore, like many other Westminster “Labour” MPs, petrified about his own impending loss of privilege.
- Fair and Focused Spending
Here’s a summary of the end results of the current system:
“… when you compare the map of where the wealth ends up with a map of where the UK’s wealth is generated, they don’t tell the same story. The union drains wealth from Scotland”.
Westminster follows the (mistaken) belief that London is by far the most important driver of the entire UK’s economy. A “world financial centre” full of “wealth-creating” investment bankers, who enjoy as few regulations and as many tax loopholes as possible. This belief, though, leads to spending decisions (using taxpayers’ money from across the UK) which do not have any parallel in anything the rest of the UK sees (such as the following examples):
- High Speed 2 Railway from London to Birmingham (with – haud the bus/train – branches to Manchester and Leeds, via Sheffield, planned by 2032 (at additional cost, if it happens at all; it may even reach the icy wastes of Scotland 20 or 30 years after that!) – £42.6bn
- Crossrail London – £15.8bn
- Even the (proposed) London Garden Bridge – £175m
Contrast these sums with a highly publicised Cameron pledge/bribe on 4 July:
- Glasgow’s infrastructure over the next 20 years – £500m. This was pledged in a referendum campaign and was not previously available. Incidentally, this is comparable to what Transport for London has decided to splash out on new buses at the moment (£300m).
Or perhaps the above (especially HS2) should also be compared with:
- Investment by the UK government prior to devolution in dualling Scotland’s main arterial road, the A9, upon which 10-15 people die each year: £0. Post-devolution, the Scottish government is now doing this (the plan is the biggest ever transport project undertaken in Scotland and will cost £3bn by its completion in 2025).– because, after all, it’s making decisions about what is best for Scotland (not the south-east of England). Would this have happened without our own parliament? Why should this example of a precise focus on what Scotland really needs – and can afford to do – not be carried into all areas of policy?
The referendum is not a vote about current personalities on either side. In general I would not cite any individual’s political views as a reason to vote Yes. However, as I’m discussing spending and Tory (one of the two options open to the UK) policy, it’s worth mentioning that Boris Johnson (quite possibly the next PM of the UK), commented just two years ago that:
“a pound spent in Croydon is of far more value to the country than a pound spent in Strathclyde”.
Now, lovable and eccentric BoJo may (or may not) distance himself from that now, but to me, it’s a good summary of a prevailing attitude among the governing classes in Westminster – whether or not they say so directly in public, spending clearly shows us this: Spend in London and prosperity will be (somehow) be created for all of Britain. I don’t believe that this focus on the UK capital is going to change any time soon, and I’d like Scotland to stop having to plough billions into this crazed obsession.
Nothing is guaranteed even after a Yes vote – but it’s hard to see how anything other than Yes can generate a fresh outlook, more sensible priorities and an actual, dedicated focus on what Scotland needs from its government.
- We’re ready and we can afford it
As I said, I believe this is mainly about smaller but more direct government through which we can make our own decisions, spend our own money, and therefore, be fully responsible for our own failures and successes – no more blaming anyone else. We also need to be confident we can afford it:
http://www.businessforscotland.co.uk/10-key-economic-facts-that-prove-scotland-will-be-a-wealthy-independent-nation/ – covers the bases and is a key reminder that we don’t just have oil – we export food and drink, and manufactured products ,etc. by the billion too. Will our markets dry up after independence, and will companies leave, especially if corporation tax is competitive? Some companies threatened to leave on the eve of devolution (e.g. Standard Life). Amazingly, they then stayed.
http://archive.today/vcQ78 – A succinct Financial Times summary before the debate became more heated.
One argument doing the rounds has been that oil wealth (which I would always argue is a bonus, not a foundation, for Scotland) is in some way a liability because it offers unstable returns. A large fall in revenue from 2012-13 is repeatedly cited. What that ignores is that GERS figures show that Scotland has made net contributions to the UK treasury (expressed as balance in £ per head) in three of the last five years – 2008/09 … +1,085; 2009/10 … -257; 2010/11 … +28; 2011/12 … +553; 2012/13 … -389 (GERS). Also, since 1980, Scotland has averaged a net contribution to the UK Treasury – i.e. paid in more than has been received back – of over £700 per person per year) (GERS figures again). I think the problem of up-and-down oil and gas returns is one we can deal with well enough, and neither it, nor the issue of which currency we use, should trump – or block – the chance to take control of our own affairs.
Scotland is a wealthy country. Not quite a Norway or a Switzerland (I think the ship has sailed on an oil fund which would benefit residents of Scotland in future decades) – but, we have a far better starting position than many (most, or perhaps even all) other newly-independent states. Neither the Czechs nor Slovaks have Scotland’s established institutions or wealth and they are doing very well as stable countries with good economic growth.
Last but not least, we can choose to spend less on defence having dropped British “world power” pretensions – and in doing so, we can also of course get rid of the nuclear weapons currently berthed a few dozen miles from our largest city.
Returning to the issue of good, competent governance now, at the Edinburgh agreement (which ruled out a chance to vote for ‘Devo-Max’ and then during the campaigning, Cameron and the unionist parties were all completely against devolving more powers to Holyrood. They then made vague promises in the 48 hours after the first poll showing a Yes lead in early September 2014. They then followed this week with a ‘Vow’ which has already been undermined by elected MPs: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/scottish-independence/11098825/David-Cameron-faces-Tory-bloodbath-over-unfair-cash-for-Scotland.html The question we must ask is – is this the quality of governance which Scotland deserves? Rushed, unclear, quite possibly undeliverable promises, made with just days to go at the end of a two year campaign? Nothing whatsoever was on the table when the ‘Better Together’/’No Thanks’/’Eat Your Cereal’ parties thought they were safely winning.
So, that’s it – for me, this is about 1) democracy; 2) governance focused 100% on Scotland, not 10% on Scotland if nothing else more important to Westminster needs to be seen to; and 3) a sensible directing of Scotland’s wealth to the benefit of everyone who lives in Scotland. We can expect none of those three things at the moment. Let’s guarantee ourselves the first two, and boost our chances of the third.