Saturday, 23 August 2014

Don't trust someone who would say anything to win independence

I'm honestly not sure who will win the independence referendum. I follow polling and the odds that bookmakers give, but it is perfectly possible that they have made some huge systematic error.  We’ve never had an election like this before. Therefore I will continue to have doubts about whether my side will win right up until the final count. It’s always best anyway to suppose that your opponent has a good chance of winning. Aesop showed us this in his tale of the Hare and the Tortoise. Nationalists keep telling me that their canvassing shows that they are leading. I suspect that such canvassing has a certain inherent bias, but perhaps they are right, perhaps they are going to win. Anyway it is best for us to continue to worry and campaign as if they might. What would happen if they did?

There are two competing visions of what would happen after a Yes vote. These visions are to a large extent governed by our political persuasions. The trouble with politics is that it is rather like two lawyers in a court case. Each lawyer is trying to persuade a jury. But the ability to persuade is not necessarily related to truth. The innocent are often convicted, the guilty often go free. In any political campaign one party attempts to point out that everything would be so much better if we won and so much worse if the other side won. Thus likewise in the independence referendum the Yes camp attempts to point out the advantages of independence versus the disadvantages of remaining in the UK, the No camp does the reverse. Both sides are equally positive and negative. Sometimes both sides tend to exaggerate. All politicians in the end are about as trustworthy as lawyers. Sensible voters try to see through the spin.

There’s a tendency among nationalists to portray Westminster [i.e. whisper it softly English] politicians as uniquely dishonest. Until the independence referendum I’d never heard of the McCrone report or Alec Douglas Home’s apparent cheating of Scotland in 1979. But I find that the nationalists have been “nursing their wrath to keep it warm” all these years. At the same time if I point out aspects of their history that they would rather forget, they ask what relevance does this have to the referendum today. We know that Mr Salmond spent a large sum of public money in order to keep secret non-existent legal advice on the EU and Mr Swinney misrepresented or rather made up non-existent negotiations with the Bank of England about a currency union. So let’s admit that both Scottish and English politicians sometimes lie and in their attempts to persuade, just like lawyers, sometimes depart from the truth. Sensible voters try to see through these people and reach the truth for themselves.

Most nationalists want independence come what may. They are like the lawyer who wants to convict or acquit his client. There is nothing I can do to persuade a committed nationalist, because he would want independence even if it would make us poorer. But the task is to persuade the jury that Scotland would be richer. That’s what he would say even if he knew that it was not going to be the case. When someone is clearly desperate to persuade, it’s always worth remembering that he will try to come up with any apparently persuasive argument in order to win his case.

But would Scotland be richer? I honestly don’t know for sure. I believe that Scotland neither subsidises the other parts of the UK nor do we receive a subsidy. Of course this varies from year to year, but we come out of the arrangement about equal. How things would go with independence crucially depends on things we don’t know. In order to continue breaking even, we would need the arrangements that we have right now to continue much as they do. We would thus need a currency union, sterlingisation would leave us worse off, perhaps much worse off, we would need the UK single market not to be disrupted, we would need the EU single market not to be damaged and for us to have continued access to it and we would need negotiations with the UK after a Yes vote to be harmonious. If any one of these things did not happen independence would be liable to leave us worse off.  

Independence is clearly possible. If countries like Latvia can become independent Scotland obviously could also. But most Scots probably haven’t talked with Latvians about how independence went. If they did, they’d find out that independence was a bit of a struggle and that the struggle continues today. I’d have an awful lot more respect for Scottish nationalists if they were similarly honest and simply said independence would mean we’d have some difficult, uncertain times ahead, but in the end it would be worth it. I might not agree, but I’d respect the position.

So how would things go after a Yes vote? The SNP position with regard to the crucial issues of currency union and EU membership is that everyone else is lying but us. Again this is like in the trial; the lawyer is trying to persuade the jury that the defendant is lying, not because he necessarily thinks that he is lying, but because he needs to say this in order to persuade the jury. The biggest problem with this argument though, is that politicians depend on public opinion. It’s just about possible to maintain that the wicked English are attempting to con the Scottish public again, that after a Yes vote they would announce solemnly that they were kidding us. It’s just about possible that years later we’d find secret documents showing how they'd set out to trick the Scots. I can see the appeal of this to someone who is rather paranoid and who doesn’t much care for the English anyway. But English public opinion is overwhelmingly opposed to a currency union. They are not going to vote for a politician who suddenly changes his mind after a Yes vote and says we just said it to con the Scots.

I hope that if Scotland votes Yes that the UK and Scotland would remain on good terms. It’s in the interest of both sides to do so. But there is much uncertainty about how the negotiations would go. Threats have been made and it looks as if UK public opinion is minded to drive a hard bargain if we choose to leave the marriage. The problem for Scottish nationalists is that nationalism begets nationalism. The EU does not want to see a new wave of nationalism spreading from Scotland to the continent. Places like Spain have been democracies for a relatively short space of time and do not need secession movements to add to what is at present an economic catastrophe. Closer to home there are signs that Scottish independence might encourage English nationalism. If England became independent, Wales and Northern Ireland would have to cut public spending by around 35% in order to break even. That would be some legacy for all those supposedly left-wing independence supporters, who have no sense of solidarity with their fellow citizens of 300 years.

The future is uncertain. But we know that Mr Salmond’s independence plans depend crucially on the cooperation of others especially the UK and the EU. Failure to obtain that cooperation would for a number of years put Scotland in the position of facing a struggle, as is common when countries become independent. We’d probably have to tighten our belts and face some difficult years. It’s possible of course that everything after a Yes vote would turn out as Mr Salmond promises. Everyone else may be lying. But remember he is just like the lawyer. He doesn’t have to believe it himself, he just has to try to persuade the jury. i.e. us. 


  1. I read and I enjoy (but speaking purely as a lawyer, I didn't enjoy it 100%! Everyone picks on us.) ;-)

    I appreciate the analysis - I too find myself withing the nationalists would just say, the road may be rocky, may even be bumpy for words, but its worth the pain if we want it. Like you, I'd respect that position, even if I disagreed with it. The point really is that this entire endeavour seems fraught with lies and tinged with a nastiness from which none of us will recover.

    Its that we all know what lies are being pedaled (by all sides - to some degree, but mostly in pursuit of separation). But we still stumble through this and are expected just to carry on. It has the surreal feeling, like life and country is being stolen away and I am powerless to halt it.

    Also like you I have thought much on the prospect of what the world will be like post September 18 and I am rueful. I am powerless to turn back time - but with my way - there never would have been a Scottish Parliament.

  2. People have been having a go at lawyers since lawyers began. But my point is for people to recognise that it's the lawyer's job to defend his client or to try to prosecute the defendant. He'd be a bad lawyer who failed to do this to the best of his ability. So too with politicians. No doubt that's why so many of them trained to be lawyers. But if I'm sitting on the jury, like we all are in Scotland, it's our job to see through the techniques of persuasion and try to get at the truth. Too many Scots, especially on the Yes side are being persuaded by emotion rather than thought. They would be liable to find themselves rather disappointed if independence did happen. The same economic and social problems would face us and they would be just as difficult to solve, perhaps more difficult as we would have less cooperation from the other English speaking people with whom we have to share our small island.

    I have mixed feelings about the Scottish parliament. I see countries like the US and Germany with federal structures and power devolved to a local level and it all appears to work well. On the other hand the idea that a Scottish parliament would kill off nationalism in Scotland has been proven to be false. However, we have devolution and there is no going back to how it was. The task then is to make it work in a UK context by addressing the unfairness of England's having no devolved power of its own. Perhaps in this way we can find a harmonious united kingdom once again.

  3. "Westminster [i.e. whisper it softly English]" - I hate this insinuation. When I say Westminster I mean WESTMINSTER. It is about politics Effie, no matter what you think. And I distrust all politicians equally wherever they come from, it just helps to have them a little closer to home that's all. Also I want to blame MY government when things go wrong, like the citizen in every other (normal) country. Devolution has given politicians on both sides of the border a scapegoat. It also allows citizens of Scotland to believe there is another, outside and immovable source to all their ills. The Union infantalises us and lets us believe in an "us and them". It turns us in to a nation of complainers and gripers. Why would you wish to continue with this.

    This debate should have eradicated beyond all doubt the misconception that YES supporters are bigoted or anti-English. Considering the potential with social media it could have become very nasty, a horror show of bigotry as the true dark heart of Scottish nationalism was revealed. The wonderful truth is that there has been very little of this - despite the media doing its best to trawl Twitter after JK Rowling and so on. It has been a relatively tolerant and well meaning process. There IS NO dark heart and what we have being saying is true all along. A YES vote will reframe our relationship with England. No more blame. No more sharing a wallet. We can communicate as equals and that will do wonders for national relations.

    Your little insinuations Effie are so so tired. As usual you want to perpetuate the myths, put words in our mouths which were never there to begin with. You have learned nothing and still you want to push on with this outdated, uncomfortable, awkward Union. With its pathetic sniping and sniveling. Trust me if we vote NO things will get much much worse.

    "Too many Scots, especially on the Yes side are being persuaded by emotion rather than by thought" - I moved to YES from NO. It was thought that made the choice.

    "perhaps more difficult as we would have less cooperation from the other English speaking people with whom we have to share our small island. "
    I don't believe this. Again you are thinking the worst in people. Not a nice trait Effie.
    Problems will be easier to solve because we will have a more fluid democracy. Proportional Representation. Established blockers such as unelected peers. Groups like Radical Independence and Common Weal are already looking to form new parties. Tories and Labour will need to bring back all its Scottish heavyweights and reform without their secondary Westminster paymasters. They will work for us now. And we will have one of the most politically literate and engaged societies in decades. All ready to participate. Democracy solves problems and a YES vote will be like a shot of adrenaline for our withered old democracy.

  4. There is Anglophobia in Scotland. It's just about our worst character trait, though the sectarianism of particularly the west of Scotland is still more unpleasant Anglophobia is usually pretty low level, but it comes out of the woodwork every now and again. It is pretty much universal in Scotland, but academic studies show that it correlates with support for nationalism and with people who define themselves as Scottish and not British. Thus while Anglophobia is kept carefully hidden, like any other prejudice it is one of the foundations of Scottish nationalism. Without it we simply wouldn't be having the referendum. It is for that reason that certain people use code words for England. One of which is Westminster.

    Social media has been a horror show. I have tried to make my points in these series of blogs and tweets using reason and argument. Naturally I use techniques of persuasion as I'm trying to persuade. But I try to avoid personal attacks instead attacking policies and arguments. What do I get in return. Endless insults. Your post is relatively mild, for which reason I am replying, yet it still contains personal attacks. There are good people on the Yes side, but far too many of them have let themselves down and have harmed their cause by online behaviour that has disgraced Scotland. I should really thank them. Without them Yes would have a much better chance of winning.

    Groups like Radical Independence and the Common Weal would make Scotland much poorer if they were allowed any sort of influence in an independent Scotland. No serious academic economist believes this stuff.

    I'm not really in the business of trying to persuade those who are definitely going to vote Yes. I have neither the time nor the energy to do so. The conversation rarely makes any progress as I'm sure is also the case now.

    1. As to the Anglophobia comments. Have a read , a real read at comments on the Daily Mail website on any article relating to Scotland or the independence debate.

      We have our share of eejits it clear but much of that I put down to the crazy situation where we can all point fingers across the border, when it goes wrong.

      What about all that Anglophobia expected at the commonwealth games ? I'm sure the papers and some commentators were gutted.

  5. You could reiwrite that whole post and swap Nationalist for Unionist and it would read pretty much the same, you view it wholly from your current position.

    I think Westminster(see that) is inherintly dishonest as it has shown a number fo times in my lifetime a wanton disregard for Scotland. Some of which you quote around 79 devolution/home rule and McCrone.

    The destruction of manufacturing in Scotland being another price seemingly worth paying.

    I want a fairer Scotland. One where if it goes wrong I'll be able to look at the man in the street and say its our fault. I want kids to have same opportunity for free education that I had and I want pensioners to get a much better deal.

    I have 10 years of NI contributions in German state pension. It will be more than my UK pension of nearly 30 years contributions. We have lowest state pension level in EU....

    To change this and keep the things I like, some of them being classed as 'something for nothing'. I cannot therefore vote for Labour or the Tories and clearly not the Lib dems...who do I vote for ?

    I need to vote for us and hope we'll manage it between us. The majority in England already agree that what I like and want much of it they don't.

  6. I'm glad to have found this post (via tracking back on a Twitter thread about Rev Stuart Campbell - shudder). It reassures me that the whole nation has not gone stark raving mad. Thank you.