In recent months, the Scottish independence debate has become the hottest of political hot potatoes. Passions are running high, with a recent ICM poll reporting that 21% of Scots questioned said discussions with friends and family had “degenerated into rows” (though this poll may not have taken into account the Scottish appetite for a good rammy).
It is hard to tell if support for Yes has actually fallen in recent months or if previously undecided voters have decided to come out for No, but with less than three months to go, the Naes seem to have it. Forget the polls; the bookies are giving odds of 1/6 for a No vote, with the probability of Yes at 19.2%.
Why does the case for being better together now seem so certain?
It is possible that recent announcements by big business, world leaders, and the likes of JK Rowling have changed a few minds. Perhaps the sum of £1.5-2bn in start-up costs – calculated by independent economists – is too much for some voters. Maybe others have started to look into the numbers for themselves and realised that the SNP’s predictions of an oil-rich, socialist utopia are based on spurious assumptions and misrepresentation of the data, and they no longer trust in a future based on crooked foundations.
More likely, the case for independence has withered because it has not been made.
Many of us who follow the debate held our breath last November when the Scottish government published “Scotland’s Future” – the 700 page White Paper detailing every argument for independence- and then collectively exhaled; the irrevocable truths the SNP had been guarding these past 80 years didn’t seem to exist.
Indeed, in every important argument – trade, oil, currency, banking, pensions, labour markets, foreign affairs, fiscal sustainability- being a part of the UK is fundamentally good for Scotland.
But is it good enough?
Owning one’s own home is a fundamentally good thing- but the size, type, and location of that home vary greatly.
The UK’s over-centralised model has, for generations, bred out-of-kilter economic policies and regional inequality and resentment. Of all the constituent parts of the UK, London and the south-east resemble the others the least- they are in the minority- and yet economic policy is geared towards them.
This bias is manifest in the setting of interest rates, the supremacy of finance over industry, the provision of better public services in well-off counties that need them least and the lack of power for local government to do anything about it. It is telling that London- which enjoys more autonomy and spending than elsewhere- has the same population as the next six largest urban areas combined – in most countries, this figure is two or three.
A United States of Britain – 12 ‘states’ based on the existing regions and countries, and each with their own powers and taxes- is the logical option. Sadly, this will not get off the ground while there is no appetite for devolution in the regions of England, but as history has shown, where Scotland leads, others often follow.
With this in mind, the Scottish Tories have performed an historic volte face, offering Scotland – after a No vote- the full devolution of income taxes; the Lib Dems have gone further adding inheritance and capital gains. Devolution’s former champion, Labour, has become the laggard!
The electoral mathematics of increased devolution may not favour the party, but the appetite for change in Scotland is too strong to resist, and the party that fails to realise this, will be the one that is left behind.
What’s more, it is the right thing to do for Scotland, and for the UK.