SF: what are we voting for?

Scotland's FutureThe SNP published a White Paper on Scottish independence in November, and while the ebook has been sitting on my reader, I haven’t yet pushed my way through it. So. for 2014, I’m embarking on a blogging project. Every Thursday, I hope (with July exemption) to write deconstruction on the SNP’s vision of what we’ll be voting for if we vote Yes.

Scotland’s referendum on 18 September 2014 is a choice between two futures.

This is a splendid opening line. But: one reason for the high turnout in 1992 and 1997 is quite possibly, that on both occasions, Scottish voters wanted the Tories out – and wanted Labour in. After the poll tax and the destruction of heavy industry in Scotland, voters were energised, aware, and hugely angry. We really did feel there was a choice between two futures – the grim grey Toryism that had, by 1997, been plodding on for 18 years of hell, and a bright hopeful New Labour future with Tony Blair. (Yes, I know what that sounds like now. But we did.) And to be fair – I had infinitely rather Labour won in 1997 than we’d had another five years of Conservative rule. Whatever New Labour’s flaws and failures, and they turned out to be huge, the Conservatives had done worse before 1997 and are doing worse now. (And yes, a Tory government would have done exactly what Labour did over the Iraq war, but faster and with bells on.) No other election since has felt like 1997 did.

Still: if enough of us vote Yes on 18th September, Scotland becomes independent in March 2016, and for good or ill, that is a huge change. So, yes, two futures. Fair enough.

After nearly two years of thinking about the independence referendum, I’m still undecided. If that changes, you’ll be the first to know.

If we vote Yes, we take the next step on Scotland’s journey. We will move forward with confidence, ready to make the most of the many opportunities that lie ahead. The most important decisions about our economy and society will be taken by the people who care most about Scotland, that is by the people of Scotland. The door will open to a new era for our nation.

Scotland’s future will be in Scotland’s hands.

Below a national level, Scotland is the least democratic country in Europe. The SNP have no plans to change that. The SNP is not the party for putting local decisions into local hands: they’re more known for putting decisions into the hands of billionaires than the people of Scotland.

If we vote No, Scotland stands still. A once in a generation opportunity to follow a different path, and choose a new and better direction for our nation, is lost. Decisions about Scotland would remain in the hands of others.

The idea that between 1999 and 2013 Scotland has “stood still”, has chosen no “new and better direction”, is an extraordinary claim for any political party, still less the one that’s been in government for nearly six years. If the SNP believe it impossible for the Scottish Parliament to accomplish anything good for Scotland, if they believe they have no power to make decisions about Scotland, what are they doing in government?

We, the people who live here, have the greatest stake in making Scotland a success. With independence we can make Scotland the fairer and more successful country we all know it should be. We can make Scotland’s vast wealth and resources work much better for everyone in our country, creating a society that reflects our hopes and ambition. Being independent means we will have a government that we choose – a government that always puts the people of Scotland first.

Both the Yes Scotland campaign and the Better Together campaign have at times really, really irritated me: I’m no fan of the SNP and still less of prolifer Alex Salmond. (If you want to tell me, and I’m sure you do, that I shouldn’t be thinking about the SNP when I think about voting in the referendum, my views on that haven’t changed since I wrote this: and also, if the SNP don’t want us to think about their party policies, they shouldn’t have included their party policies in the White Paper for independence.)

At the beginning of December, Kieran Oberman published a rather foolish article for the Just World Institute where he wondered if Scotland had a right to secede. (The article was republished this week by The Future of the UK and Scotland, which is where I tripped across it.)

At the end of the article, Oberman says that if a majority feel that Scotland and Catalonia should get to decide by internal referendum whether or not they want to be independent, then that’s how it will work:

But notice that this argument for the “let the disputed area decide” rule is parasitic on people’s belief in that rule; it cannot justify that belief. If there is a deeper argument for why, as a matter of principle, it should be left to Scotland, Catalonia or any other region to decide its future, the argument remains mysterious.

The SNP made a manifesto commitment to hold an independence referendum after they’d won two elections. They won in 2007 and in 2011: no matter that the 2007 win was the guddle of the ballots and the 2011 majority seems to have been caused by Scottish rejection of the LibDems rather more than acceptance of the SNP, still: the SNP have an undisputed democratic mandate to hold an independence referendum before the next Scottish Parliament election, and if a majority of those in Scotland vote Yes, there could be no dispute whatsoever that Scotland should become an independent nation. That’s not a “mysterious argument”: that’s democracy.

But it’s not as simple as that.

Looking at the proportion of registered voters who turn out for national elections and referendums in Scotland, in 1992 and 1997, voter turn-out was 75.5% and 71.3%: the turnout for the Scottish devolution referendum in 1997 was 60.4%.

In the seven national elections held since then:

  • 1999, SP1: 59%
  • 2001, UKP: 58.2%
  • 2003, SP2: 49.4%
  • 2005, UKP: 60.6%
  • 2007, SP3: 51.8%
  • 2010, UKP: 63.8%
  • 2011, SP4: 50.4%

The SNP have a right to hold the independence referendum. And the letter of the agreement is that a simple majority will win the referendum either way – 50.1% of those who voted, not of the whole electorate.

But if voter turn-out for the independence referendum is not at least equivalent to the Scottish devolution referendum – 60.4% – then the SNP have lost the democratic argument, even if they get a majority win from those who voted, because it will be clear that despite their campaigning for the referendum to happen, they were unable to convince voters that there was something to vote for. The worst possible argument for independence would be a turnout of less than 50% and a tiny majority within that turnout – a win of 50.1% of the vote when this amounted to less than a quarter of electorate.

The devolution referendum was based on a national discussion, which the SNP and the Conservatives excluded themselves from, to create a Scottish Parliament. By 1997, this discussion had been continuing for eight years. We can tell from the turnout that at least 60% of the electorate were aware of the discussion and its importance, and we know that the majority of those who voted, wanted the Parliament with tax-raising powers.

Have the SNP succeeded in creating the same level of interest and the same clarity of what we’re voting for? We’ll find out the level of interest on 18th September this year, but I do not believe they have achieved the same clarity.

What the White Paper puts forward is the SNP’s “vision” of what an independent Scotland could be like – if enough of us vote Yes and if the SNP is in government again after 2016. But this White Paper, not being officially a manifesto, ties the SNP to no democratic commitment.

This is what being independent can deliver for Scotland and it is why the Scottish Government believes the people of Scotland, individually and collectively, will be better off with independence.

Will we?

1 Comment

Filed under Elections, Indyref White Paper, Scottish Politics

One response to “SF: what are we voting for?

  1. John

    Just came across your blog and I do find myself swaying towards a ‘no’ vote but still open minded. Unfortunately the debate has been dominated by politicians who have the ability to speak but say very little of significance.

    The reason I currently lean towards a ‘no’ vote is because there are too many unknowns that haven’t been or maybe can’t be answered until independence is delivered. As examples of unknowns or uncertainties – the effect of tying into the British pound; EU membership; NATO membership; corporate bullying such as INEOS (Grangemouth) and would Edinburgh retain its position as a financial centre?; national bullying such as when UK related defense industry jobs are under threat. Also, how would an independent Scotland have coped when RBS went belly up? Would Scotland be able to hold on to its best people or would they still haemorrhage to London? Also, more government usually leads to more politicians, civil servants and costs.

    I voted for independence in the last referendum and I do recognise there could be benefits – no threat to EU membership; Scotland’s affairs being handled in Scotland; less London dominance (who, in Scotland, isn’t cheesed off when the national BBC news is dominated by health or teaching issues which have nothing to do with us?) and the benefits of oil revenues being managed in Edinburgh would be significant. I also think local arts and culture would thrive.

    My main concern with the referendum is – why do we need it now? Independence is forever so why couldn’t the SNP adopt a strategy of applying pressure on the UK government for more powers – maybe Devo max? Manage the additional powers effectively for a number of years then independence would be less of a leap of faith and more of an evolutionary progression.

    I still believe the vote will hinge on the belief of the average citizen on how better or worse off he or she will be post independence and I don’t think any side has made a truly persuasive case so far to convert the undecided voters in mass numbers.

    Hopefully, over the coming months more well informed experts will dominate the debate rather than the politicians……

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