Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Price of Scottish Independence

With three weeks to go, the Scottish referendum debate has been worse than disappointing: it has been dishonest. The fact is that neither side has got to the crux of the argument. Although some have suggested that the Better Together campaign has looked to the head, while the Yes Scotland looked to the heart, in fact both have ignored the fundamental question of identity and the depth of the crisis that Scotland faces.

The Better Together crew have failed to provide an effective emotional defence of the common state. The have mostly focused on the issue of what currency a separate Scotland would use. because they are a more heterogeneous group, they have failed to articulate a vision for the future, and to be honest just talking about the economy, while unquestionably winning the intellectual argument, does not inspire passion.

By contrast Yes Scotland has all the passion, but their positions, from currency to Europe, from pensions to health care have been more or less complete bullshit. Salmond's bluster is provably false, and his shtick that Scotland would repudiate its debts if a currency deal is not reached, is way beyond irresponsible- it is economic suicide.

Yet at this point, the battle is still not yet lost and won, and the reality is that the politicians on both sides have not levelled with the Scottish people. The crisis of Scotland is not- or at least not merely- a crisis of governance. Scotland has horrendous problems: an unhealthy, ageing population with epidemics of heart disease, diabetes, cancer and all the other problems of bad diet and no exercise. Hundreds of thousands do not make any economic contribution, but rely on a variety of welfare payments- the state sector is the majority of economic activity and the result is a requirement to maintain constant deficits and increased debt. All of this comes on top of an over reliance on the financial sector for both jobs and tax revenues. Scotland needs not merely investment, but a whole change of attitude. Yes Scotland thinks they have a moral argument, that self reliance will come from political separatism, but this kind of social masochism shows a pretty dubious sense of human nature.

An independent Scotland- particularly if it intends to be a member of the European Union- must cut its deficits and reduce its debt burden. This must take place at a time when the banking sector, and its tax payments will be moving South. The entire shape of the Scottish economy will have to change, and- as when such wrenching changes took place in Eastern Europe- it will be whole generations that will get hurt. The pensions system is unsustainable, for example, as is the NHS without significant overhaul. 

The long term might show that these sacrifices would be worth it, but no one has had the courage to tell Scotland that the price of independence will cost a whole generation.

Of course continuing in the UK has a price too- there will need to be similar changes no matter which constitutional future is chosen. Yet, as part of a bigger state there would be more resources to deal with the crisis, which is why I have supported the Better Together campaign from the get-go. 

However it is not just about the money, it is not just about the need for radical change, it is about who we are. The break up of the UK ends my country. My loyalty is with a multi-national, European state with a rich culture, a proud history and the best flag in the world. If the break up happens, I will be stateless.

Worse, the debate until now has been civilized- if shallow, dishonest and misguided. Divorces usually only get nasty when the lawyers are called in. If we call in the lawyers on September 19th, you can bet that there will be a backlash- much that we have taken for granted will be lost and bitterness and rancour will inevitably emerge- even in the most civilized divorces much is regretted.

So I plead with my fellow countrymen and countrywomen- for the sake of the children, of whom I am one, keep the common state and work to solve our problems within it. Independence carries a huge cost, which Salmond has refused to talk about- he offers roses all the way, without saying that it is a road of blood, sweat, tears and toil to build a new state: that dishonesty alone is appalling, but the economic, political, social and emotional cost of the end of the UK is a price that will take a century to recover.

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