I was born and brought up in South Africa. Although still perhaps an incomer, I have lived and worked in Scotland for forty -four years. There are so many anomalies in the registration of voters for the referendum that I feel I need not hesitate to voice an opinion. South Africa is still going through the major transition from apartheid some twenty years after it was abolished and the first Rainbow elections were held. The attitudes and the culture of the different groups have yet to change and it will take generations for a unified nation to emerge. If the Scottish electorate vote for independence in 2014 Scotland will need a similar if not so dramatic period of transition to develop the culture of an independent nation. Nationalists will rejoice, Unionists despair but there will also be businesses large and small, farmers, Highlanders, Islanders, Borderers and those from the dominant cities of Glasgow and Edinburgh to be brought to the table.
In the media if not yet in pubs, the debate on Scottish Independence is alive in spite of the length of time before the vote in September 2014. Neither side is terribly convincing. Alex Salmond could have produced a statesmanlike blueprint, balancing the pros and cons, and still made a convincing case. He has, unfortunately, not been able to resist the politician’s usual use of spin and misinformation. This makes him vulnerable and reduces his chances of pulling off a Yes vote.
My opinions and thoughts are probably not substantially different from many others who are wrestling with the information or lack of it on which they have to base their vote. However, I did choose to live here in the UK in preference to South Africa, a republic with massive human rights and other issues. Many people who have not experienced life in another country may not appreciate the benefits of living in the UK. We have our problems but a brief look abroad should convince everyone as to how lucky we really are. Moreover, many of the benefits come from the size and global reach of the whole UK, so consideration should be given to this aspect of the vote for independence. The original formation of the United Kingdom was at least in part for mutual support.
The case for independence is finely balanced. There is the emotional pull of a brave new nation. There is the continual drifting apart in attitude and customs between Scotland and England. Under the Tory / Lib Dem government England appears to have lurched to the right, cracking down on welfare benefits while protecting the interests of the capitalist elite. UKIP has pushed the Tories into a corner over the EU to such an extent that this may force a referendum in a few years which could very well take the UK out of Europe. This will undermine the position of the whole UK in global terms. This is sentiment not logic, carefully orchestrated to emphasise the negative aspects of belonging in Europe and pandering to the jingoistic tendencies of so called “Middle England”. Scottish votes for Europe in a UK wide referendum would be swamped.
Scotland, by contrast, has marked socialist tendencies nearer to European Social Democrat ideas than market-orientated capitalism. That is a broad comparison but nevertheless very relevant to the debate. However so called “devolution max” could provide a solution to most issues apart from the EU. Foreign affairs would of course remain a Westminster responsibility, so one argument for a Yes vote would be a desire to take a different approach to world politics. If an independent Scotland were to take a stance in the world that is better suited to a small nation, our armed forces would need to be much reduced. Scottish regimental traditions would become history, but these are a source of pride to many people and could be a factor in favour of a No vote.
The details of achieving an independent nation are much more complex and are the subject of a growing propaganda war. This is where Alex Salmond has missed a trick and lost many people’s respect. His apparent desire to win the vote at all costs has led to a number of misjudgements some of which have revealed the spin behind the story. There are major issues such as EU membership, the currency, oil revenues, the benefits system and UK wide IT systems, treaty negotiations and rights of citizenship but there are also a myriad of what might appear minor snags such as freight links to continental markets given that most lorry freight travels through English ports, passport controls at the border if Scotland had to accept the Schengen agreement(think Calais and illegal immigrants), air traffic control of fly-over flights, overseas representation in embassies and consulates. That other small nations do operate successfully is due to the fact that their nation status is relatively long established and their structure and position in the world has evolved. We live in an era of globalisation which makes it easier in some ways but adds to the complexity and puts constraints on freedom of action by individual nations. It would be ironic if Scotland were to become independent of the Westminster government only to find itself with less freedom for individual action by being a new member of the EU, forced to accept more intrusions into our affairs from Brussels. It could be that Scotland undertakes the massive upheaval and costs of becoming an independent state for only very marginal and symbolic gains in its freedom to decide its own future.
Is it possible that Alex Salmond is playing a game of double bluff? His Scottish National Party will lack an overriding purpose if it wins independence whereas the possible extra devolved powers after a No vote would leave Alex Salmond in a more powerful situation. The Labour party or some new coalition might well become dominant again in a post-independent Scotland leaving the SNP on the fringes. A campaign failure which can be blamed on colleagues and the perfidy of the English could leave Alex in power. That scenario might better fit with his personal ambition. Leaving much of the campaigning to far less competent ministers and bungling some of his own interventions might be a game worth playing.
In addition, I am worried by the poor quality of the members of our political class. The SNP played a blinder by rebranding the devolved administration as the Scottish Government. It is of course nothing of the sort. A more accurate term would be super local or regional authority. No politician in the present parliament has any experience of running the really significant departments of state, particularly the Treasury, the Foreign Office and Defence. In spite of some recent faltering, Alex Salmond stands head and shoulders above the rest of the administration but he also is deficient in those areas.
The present Westminster government is a complete anathema to many of us who will vote in the referendum but will a government composed of some of our present MSPs just be a bungling mess?