When I published Leaning Towards No, I expected reaction from Yes voters who’d been hoping I would come down on their side of the fence.
I wasn’t expecting the reaction to be so supportive of the SNP. From the reactions, [hardly anyone]* who plans to vote Yes intends to challenge the SNP’s plans to install devomax “currency union” in place of our present devolved system, and while some actively support the plan, many simply don’t see changing the SNP’s policy as possible.
*Not quite “no one”, as I initially wrote.
It therefore seems likely that – much to my annoyance and disappointment – I really don’t have any choice but to vote No. I don’t support devomax. I never did. I won’t vote Yes to have devomax replace status-quo devolution, and that’s what the Scottish Government’s White Paper says is going to happen.
Let me go through the various objections I’ve received to this, beginning with the silliest. (None of these are direct quotes from anyone, so if you recognise yourself in them, it’s purely coincidental.)
1. You’re just saying this because you hate the SNP/Alex Salmond/get all of your information from mainstream media!
Never voted for the SNP for my MP or my MSPs, but I don’t hate them. Can’t say I like Alex Salmond all that much, but I’ve never planned on basing my vote in the referendum on my feelings about Salmond, any more than people are voting Yes because they “hate the English”.
I got all of my information about the Scottish Government’s plans to install devomax if Yes wins from the Scottish Government White Paper Scotland’s Future and from the Fiscal Commission Working Group‘s report.
You may obviously disagree with the conclusions I’ve drawn from the facts available, but the facts are there in the policy documents provided by the Scottish Government.
2. It doesn’t matter what SNP party policy is, the SNP are just one party and may become irrelevant in Scotland after independence!
The SNP are the Scottish Government (and the majority party in the Scottish Parliament. They have declared that independence day (if Yes wins) will be in March 2016. The next Scottish Parliament elections will be May 2016. The Scottish Government have published a White Paper setting out their plans for Scotland if Yes wins. The Scottish Government – no one else* – is empowered to negotiate with the UK government the terms of devomax set out in the White Paper, which will have to be in place by March 2016. Aside from the “you hate the SNP!” this is easily the silliest argument I’ve heard, and yet I hear it all the time. What the SNP/the Scottish Government say they intend to do if Yes wins, matters.
*Yes, the SNP say they’ll include other parties in the negotiations. They’ll still be the majority party and they are the Scottish Government.
3. This is just one point! Why refuse independence just because you don’t agree with this one thing?
I’m not refusing independence. This is not independence: it’s devomax. And the notion that the Scottish economy is “just one point” is – well, shortsighted to say the least. All the best and finest aspirations for an independent Scotland depend on our getting away from the London/Westminster control of our economy.
4. The next government after 2016 can just change anything we don’t like!
First of all: institutional structures set up early on tend to endure.
Secondly: there is nothing in the Scottish Government’s White Paper (chapter 3) to indicate that they intend their “currency union” to be a temporary arrangement readily changed by the next elected government.
Thirdly, to the people who handwave “oh well, we can change this after 2016” – what exactly do you intend to vote for in order to get this changed?
The parties standing for election in 2016 with a hope of getting representation in Parliament will be the SNP, Labour, the Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats, and the Scottish Greens. (If Yes wins, new parties may well come into existence, but as early as 2016, they won’t win any significant number of seats.) Devomax is the SNP’s own policy; they will hardly stand on a platform to just reverse it. Labour, the Tories, and the LibDems, will all have been campaigning up until September 2014 to stay in the UK: if Yes wins, the SNP’s policy of devomax is effectively for Scotland to stay with rUK as a subsidiary state. The manifestos they will have to prepare for 2016 can hardly include a sudden reversal on such a major campaigning policy within the past five years.
The Scottish Greens have two MSPs. Supposing that they do as well in 2016 as they did in 2003 – they might! – they could go from having two MSPs to having six. That won’t give them enough political power to make the Scottish Government after 2016 change the devomax setup.
If you don’t want devomax for Scotland, the time to tell the SNP that is before they set it up. The longer that institutional structures stay in place, the less “realistic” it becomes to think of changing them. (This is why the fearmongering talk among Yes voters that voting No would mean the next UK government would abolish the Scottish Parliament or diminish its powers is unrealistic and should be ignored, just as all scaremongering campaign tactics should be ignored.)
5. But if it turns out not to be good for Scotland, obviously we’ll get it changed!
Long-term – and voting Yes or No on 18th September is a vote for the long term – devomax will be disastrously bad for Scotland.
The White Paper calls this a “currency union”, and I frankly think it was devised from the campaigning idea of promising voters that they can safely vote Yes because nothing will really change. Same pound in your pocket, same Queen on the throne, same newspapers in the shops, etc, etc.
But the plan in the White Paper isn’t directly about currency. It’s about setting up a system whereby Scotland doesn’t have it’s own central bank: only two other countries in Europe are in that position, the microstates Monaco and Andorra. Instead, the UK’s central bank – the Bank of England – would become the lender-of-last-resort and set monetary policy in Scotland. No Scottish voter would have any democratic control whatsoever at any point over monetary policy in this plan, and never could.
The Bank of England is not independent of the Westminster government. No central bank ever is. The Bank of England is granted by 1998 Act of Parliament the power to set the interest rates independently (though the UK government can, if deemed necessary in extreme circumstances, instruct the Bank of England to set interest rates as directed for a limited period – a power as yet unused). The Chancellor of the Exchequer directly appoints the four external members of the Bank’s Monetary Policy Committee (the four who don’t work for the Bank of England), has a high level of influence over appointing the BoE’s Governor and the deputy governors – who also sit on the MPC – and is also consulted over the appointment of the final two Monetary Policy Committee members from within the Bank. The Chancellor of the Exchequer also sets the inflation targets that the Bank of England must meet.
To grant any of this authority away to a foreign government would require legislation at Westminster and cooperation from the Bank of England. It would not be trivial. It would certainly not be agreed to if there was any thought that a new government in Scotland could be allowed to unilaterally tear it up and institute a new system. In the eurozone, each country still has its own central bank, but cedes some of the authority to the European Central Bank. That is an entirely different setup from the one envisaged in the Scottish Government’s White Paper, where the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee and Westminster’s Chancellor of the Exchequer continue to set fiscal and monetary policy for Scotland and Scotland does not even have a central bank of its own. (And the international agreements that set up the eurozone allow that new countries may join but no country may leave: Greece is still in the eurozone though it has been clear for some years that it is disastrous for them.)
In the vaults of the Bank of England, there is sterling which underwrites the bank notes issued by the Clydesdale, Bank of Scotland, and Royal Bank of Scotland. This sterling is what – I believe – Scotland’s Future refers to when it describes Scotland as a “shareholder” in the Bank of England. Were Scotland to become independent, this would be Scotland’s share. Retaining that “share” in the Bank of England would not give Scotland or Scottish voters any rights to appoint any member of the Monetary Policy Committee or to influence the decisions of the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
So if Yes wins in September, and the SNP institute their plan as set out in the White Paper, after March 2016, the Scottish economy will be controlled by decisions made in the Bank of England and by the Westminster Chancellor of the Exchequer. It would not matter, ever, how Scotland voted: the Scottish economy would always be what London wanted it to be. Assuming no malice or illwill towards an independent Scotland at the Bank of England or at Westminster, the decisions made by the rUK government and by the Bank of England would be to ensure financial stability in rUK. That’s what a central bank does. If Scottish governments remained content to skate along in partnership with rUK, always following the London lead and never trying to do anything too differently from rUK, then this could probably continue without disaster for some years.
But eventually, something would go wrong. National economies are complex. A central bank and a national government work in partnership to ensure financial stability. Independent Scotland wouldn’t have a central bank according to this plan: it would be dependent on the decisions of a Chancellor and the MPC of the Bank of England, whose primary responsibility would be to ensure the financial stability of rUK.
At this point – or whenever it became clear to ordinary voters that the setup instituted before March 2016 had become a disaster – yes, I’m sure there would be political will to end the devomax agreement and for Scotland to set up its own central bank and have its own currency – at a point of financial disaster when a new Scottish currency would have no value internationally and a central bank of Scotland would have the most unsteady start possible.
6. But you don’t know that would ever happen!
Yes, I do. No national economy larger than a microstate was so stable it just didn’t need to have control of its own monetary and fiscal policy but could give that job to a larger neighbour.
To be clear: I have every confidence that Scotland could be an independent country with a stable and flourishing economy. I don’t have any confidence at all in a plan which makes Scotland “independent” but declines responsibility for running its own economy.
7. But Scotland will be independent! We’ll have a seat at the UN, control over foreign policy and defence!
If that’s what’s important to you about independence, fair enough.
I find that what attracts me to independence is not the thought that there’d be a seat at the UN labelled “Scotland”, or Scottish ambassadors in capital cities around the world, nor that Scotland would have its own army. It is a plus point that countries the size Scotland would be don’t tend to get involved in bigscale illegal wars, but it’s not a given: as George W. Bush was fond of reminding people, Poland was part of the “coalition of the willing” when they invaded Iraq.
What attracts me about the ideal of independence is the thought that we could – perhaps – create a better nation. And for that, we’d need control over our own economy.
We also wouldn’t be able to join the EU – except as a subsidiary partner of rUK. This I base on the Articles of Enlargement as well as the White Paper. Six of the Articles require the joining nation to have the kind of control over their economy that Scotland wouldn’t have. The Bank of England and the rUK government would have to stand guarantors to Scotland: making it even more difficult for Scotland to ever exit the devomax relationship, since leaving devomax would mean leaving the EU and having to re-apply.
8. Yes, I want Scotland to be properly independent too. But at least this is a step in the right direction.
No. Devomax is a step in the wrong direction. Scottish voters (and 59 Scottish MPs) don’t have much democratic input over the Chancellor of the Exchequer – not even, really, when the Chancellor is a Scottish MP – but the setup as described in Scotland’s Future removes entirely what little democratic input we have. Forever.
(Also, see point 3 about ease-of-change.)
9. Changing the currency is too big a change to happen immediately. People will worry about their jobs and their pensions.
Yes. This isn’t a silly argument at all, by the way: it’s a very sensible point. Independence is necessarily a huge change. It may be the right thing to do – before I realised the SNP planned devomax instead, I was genuinely undecided, and in many ways still am – but it’s a big, big change. People living in Scotland will have pensions with English firms and savings in English banks, and the same for people in England. An honest White Paper would have dealt with the plans to ensure that no one lost out because they had pensions and savings across the border. But changing a nation’s currency is something that has to be planned and worked out carefully. If you don’t want that to happen, the honest thing to do is to vote No.
Sorry, but there it is. Campaigning for “Yes” and promising people nothing much will change, is thoroughly dishonest politics.
10. Majority vote for “No” will be taken to send a message to Labour and the Conservatives that we are happy with their policies.
Quite possibly, and very annoying that is. I won’t deny that the thought of the expression on David Cameron’s face if Yes wins is a genuine joy. Still less can I deny that Labour’s capitulation to the right-wing is appalling and their refusal to campaign for “Better Together” with plans to roll back the Conservative/LibDem disastrous “reforms” of the NHS, the welfare state, and the austerity cuts, is just … well, stupid is the kindest word for it.
But if I’m making my vote in the referendum for the long-term future of Scotland, I have to vote No because I can’t in good conscience vote Yes for devomax: if I want to “send a message” to David Cameron and Ed Miliband, I’ll have to use email.
11. If you’re not a member of the SNP you have no right to campaign to change their policies.
Two responses to that: Firstly: yes, I do. I’m a voter. The SNP wants my vote. I have every right to tell them how to set their policies to get my vote. (They have no reason to pay attention to one uninfluential blogger, I admit, but the notion that I don’t have a right to campaign to change their policies, that it’s “not my place”, is just… wrong.)
Secondly: Unless we’re imagining that the SNP as a party does not care either way whether Yes or No wins indyref, which I do not think is true, this referendum is actually a situation where a party wants my vote: the SNP wants me to vote Yes. But their plan to institute “currency union” is why I won’t be voting Yes. Why argue that I should be silent about this? Why shouldn’t the SNP know that their devomax plan is my reason for deciding on No? (They may not care: I can’t see any reason why they should: but neither can I see any reason for not telling them.)
Actually, a third reason.
The White Paper is not – officially – an SNP policy document. It’s a document produced by the Scottish Government, paid for by the Scottish taxpayer. It sets out the Scottish Government’s plans for what they will do if Yes wins. The notion that it’s not our place to object to that, that we mustn’t rock the boat or object to what the government decides to do – an argument I have heard consistently and repeatedly from self-identified Yes voters – is to my mind as thoroughly wrong or wronger than devomax. It’s every citizen’s responsibility and obligation to tell the government when what they plan is wrong.