It’s time for serious information on Scotland’s independence debate

Written by Scott Campbell. Scott Campbell
Published at 23:37 on 1 May 2014.
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It was Cecil Frances Alexander who wrote, “The rich man in his castle, The poor man at his gate, God made them high and lowly, And ordered their estate” in his famous ‘All Things Bright and Beautiful’ text 164 years ago; it’s those famous four lines of that hymn’s third verse that feature heavily in the campaign over Scotland’s future, despite being often omitted nowadays when the hymn is spoken or sung.

Should we stay united; a strong Scotland in a stronger United Kingdom, or go our own way, become an independent country and build a new society? Personally, I think the actual referendum question sums it up best: ‘Should Scotland be an independent country?

In their 2011 election manifesto, the Scottish Nationalists said: “We think the people of Scotland should decide our nation’s future in a democratic referendum and opinion polls suggest that most Scots agree.” The party pledges that “We will, therefore, bring forward our Referendum Bill in this next Parliament”, if they were to be elected (2011: 28).

On Thursday, May 5th, 2011, Scots went to the ballot boxes; and, – speaking as somebody at the North Lanarkshire election count, in Ravenscraig – the results that followed stunned most. However, it has to be said, that the results were more surprising to those in the SNP, rather than the opposition parties.

For Cumbernauld and Kilsyth, the SNP’s Jamie Hepburn was elected. He was returned with 13,595 votes – a 53.8% share of the overall ballots cast, and 3,459 majority over Labour’s Cathie Craigie, in a result which the ‘Cumbernauld News’ headlined as ‘Curtains for Cathie’. Mr Hepburn has increased the SNP vote by 13.7 per cent; Labour lost 7.9% of their vote, the Conservatives lost 0.9% of their vote, and the Liberal Democrats lost 4.9 per cent of their vote, compared to the 2007 election. 

Cumbernauld and Kilsyth SNP MSP, Jamie Hepburn. Picture: BBC.

Nationally, the mood had also moved to put the SNP at the helm of Bute House, in Edinburgh, and their fresh-faced, enthusiastic MSPs on seats at Holyrood.

The Nationalists had won 69 seats in the Scottish Parliament – an outright majority, with a 45.4 per cent of all constituency votes, and 44% of the ballots cast for regions of Scotland. Alex Salmond said he had the “moral authority to break the matter of Scotland’s constitutional future to the people. Indeed, the term became somewhat synonymous with the SNP leader, after he told church leaders on Monday, May 25th, 2009 that political institutions had lost their “moral authority” after the expenses scandal down south. The victory must, nevertheless, have only had widened the “smug grin” that Alan Cochrane, the Telegraph’s Scottish Editor said the First Minister was exhibiting, ahead of the 2011 Holyrood election.

Alex Salmond has been arguing for Scottish independence since the start of his political life, but the battle over independence had effectively started in 2007, after the ‘Scottish Executive’ (as it was known then) published its ‘Choosing Scotland’s Future – A National Conversation’; the 59-or-so page document asked Scots for their views on Scotland’s future, and any referendum that might follow. The battle was on; the gloves were off.

I can’t say I knew much about the situation then; neither did I follow the political ‘scene’ as I do now. I was only 13 at the time, after all. However, the reaction that the 2007 result delivered has arguably put us Scots, Brits, Europeans and world citizens into the position of where we are now – should Scotland break away from the UK and become an independent country.

Back in 2007, however, I do remember loving ‘Modern Studies’ – which is ‘social studies’, to those of you who achieved O grades, and the study of built environment, crime, people and politics, to those who still don’t know what ‘Modern Studies’ is. In one of my teachers’ classrooms, there were about four posters; one was the US Bill of Rights, the others were of the 2003 Holyrood election results, the 2005 UK general election results and in the later part of the year, a poster of the 2007 Holyrood results. I woke up, and began to realise – politics matters.

Now, seven years on, and Scotland is staring down the barrel at a referendum on our place, not just within the United Kingdom, but within the world. We’ll be in charge of our future between 7am and 10pm on September 18th, this year; and, whichever you support or lean towards, you should concede that these will be some of the 15 most remarkable hours of Scotland’s history.

Unfortunately, as those 15 hours draw closer, the arguments of whether it is ‘UKOK’ or ‘Yes Scotland’, are starting to be based upon political and ideological differences; the ‘Yes’ campaign promote equality and fairness; the No side, on the other hand, try hit the ‘Nationalists’ hard. Players on each side are also keen to chip in their two bits. David Cameron has love bombed us – I’m still waiting on a phone call, incidentally; George Osborne has said if Scotland walks, the pound won’t follow; when I watched his speech in Edinburgh, fifteen days ago, all I thought is it resembled a child having a strop – maybe he headed a clip around the hear, or maybe a ‘Glesga kiss’ would be more suitable, given Cameron’s ‘phone a friend and tell them you love them’ approach.

Meanwhile, we’ve had the opposing side cry foul. They’ve said they are being ‘bullied’ and that Scots will see through the ‘bullshit’ – to put it bluntly. It’s argument that has been trotted out over the past few years. First Minister Alex Salmond, for instance, wrote in October 2011 of how “The ham-fisted antics of David Cameron and George Osborne in recent days will, I have no doubt whatsoever, only increase support for independence.” Soon after, the party launched ‘Your Scotland, Your Future’, at their autumn conference – a document which they said included “unprecedented” detail on how they would aim to win an independence referendum. 

Previously, the political squabbling would only have been apparent to those who were ‘in the loop’, and followed politics. Today, though, people are starting to realise how political the referendum is. Scotland Tonight’s latest despite caused a storm criticism through social media, with commentators and campaigners on both sides of the argument hitting out the debate between Deputy First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, and Scottish Labour Party Leader, Johann Lamont.

What STV called “exchanges” was really a screaming match. All I really got from the debate was that Ms Lamont was “astonished” and Ms Sturgeon invited the UK Government to pre-negotiate claims over currency, the EU, NATO and such alike ahead of September’s ballot. If you’ve yet to watch it, I highly recommend having some paracetamol to pop by the end, or even wikiHow’s ‘6 Ways to Get Rid of a Headache’ saved on your browser.

So, where politicians fail, I turn to theorists and those whose texts have drastically influenced politics across the globe, over years. It was Thomas Paine, for instance, who wrote: “A constitution is not the act of a government, but of a people constituting a government; and government without a constitution, is power without a right.” (1792: 129). Charles Stewart Parnell spoke of how, “…no man has the right to fix the boundary to the march of a nation. No man has a right to say to his country: ‘Thus far shalt thou go, and no further’”, in a public address in Cork, in January 1885; and, John Stuart Mill wrote of how: “The only freedom which deserves the name is that of pursuing our own good, in our own way, so long as we do not attempt to deprive others of theirs, or impede their efforts to obtain it.”

Some people will look towards the arguments of the Yes campaign and see their calls for a more equal society as an alternative to the current situation; a constitutional scenario where the devolved administration of Scotland is forced to dip into its limited block grant and pay out for the despicable ‘bedroom tax’, which only 4 Scottish MPs voted for, in a country which is the fourth most unequal in the OECD.

On the other hand, independence has risks and uncertainties – effectively it’s a ‘see how it goes’ scenario, with some of the key questions still unanswered, some might argue. Those who advocate voting no in September and remaining a part of the United Kingdom would argue that Scotland has no need to leave the United Kingdom and should remain an integral part of the union which has spanned 307 years.

Scotland has a strong economy – whether it’s part of the UK or not. We have £17 billion construction industry, a tourism industry worth £9bn; a £2.8bn creative industry, a rural and island economy worth £32bn, a food and drink industry worth £13bn; whisky exports worth £4.3bn and £2.3bn from the historic environment, with 5.3million people, 28% of whom work in distribution, transport, accommodation and information services; 34% in public services, 19% in financial and professional business organisations; 3 per cent in agriculture, forestry and fishing; 6% in construction, 7% in manufacturing and 3% in mining, quarrying and utilities.

The Scottish Government’s white paper on independence, ‘Scotland’s Future’, concedes that devolution has been “good for Scotland”. And, as the debate continues it is clear that the question will become status quo or an independent Scotland built upon the principles of the devolved Scottish Parliament. What is needed, though, is a clear decision for Scots to vote on; politics is strangled our country’s ‘national conversion’. 

'Scotland's Future'. Picture: Cumbernauld Media.

Politicians are visiting Scotland; love bombing us from London, claiming Whitehall of ‘bully’ tactics, and playing a massive game of chicken over currency. It’s no wonder that the number of voters who say they are undecided remains stubbornly high – people don’t feel informed. They don’t care about Cameron’s pledge to fight "head, heart, body and soul" for the United Kingdom or Nicola Sturgeon’s claims of bullying. What the public do care about is answers. And, it’s this viewpoint that businesses appear to be taking now too, with a survey for the Scottish Chambers of Commerce revealing that 45 per cent of 759 businesses viewing the quality of the independence debate so far as being “poor”, with 11 per cent classed it as “Dismal”.

Scots want to be informed on the decision ahead of them. They want a debate between the Prime Minister and the First Minister, instead of London love bombs; they want a negotiation, to officially outline the details of a separate Scotland, rather than political point scoring. Scots want a media that’s impartial, in articles where the meaning of every word is crucial.

Voters are often criticised for being cynical. I think on this occasion, people have the right to be so; politicians need to set their differences aside and realise this isn’t about us versus them, it’s about the future of Scotland. People demand, want and deserve some sort of certainty. It’s time for both governments to get their acts together, and get the answers that the voters deserve - it’s time for serious information on Scotland’s independence debate.

Scotland analysis – The UK Government’s document collection on the future of Scotland, and its referendum on the proposals of Scottish independence: https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/scotland-analysis

Scotland’s Referendum – The Scottish Government’s website on the future of Scotland, and its referendum on the proposals of Scottish independence: http://www.scotreferendum.com.

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