I wrote a previous blog discussing Cambodia’s relationship with Viet Nam and suggested that the best way for Cambodia to find peace and security was through ASEAN. When writing that, I realised that this argument could also be applied to Scotland remaining part of the UK, and indeed Claire's wise (cracking) father picked up on this.
Most of the independence discussion has focused on money. How much will it cost? How much extra will we get? The consideration is not irrelevant but the questions themselves will not help you. Firstly, economic prosperity will depend on what policies are taken by whatever government is ruling Scotland, whether independent or not. And those policies are as unknown in a UK setting as they are in a Scottish setting because of democracy and elections.
Secondly, whatever economic conditions may exist today may not exist in the future, even just in five or ten years time (2007 - boom, 2008 - global collapse). It has been over 300 years since Scotland became part of the UK and the economic conditions that existed then do not now. We are talking of a similar timescale for the decision about independence; this is a decision for centuries not for the equivalent of primary school.
Thirdly, the track record of economists in predicting the very near future is absolutely dismal and there is no reason to trust that their judgments over time spans of centuries will be any better.
There are some people who are crying out for objective facts that will tell them whether Scotland will be better off or not. They criticize people for not making these available, but do not appear to realise that these objective facts do not exist. They do not exist because the decisions that will determine future economic prosperity, and other things, will occur after the referendum and are currently somewhat unknown. We don't even know who would make these decisions; an independent Scotland would have an election, and the UK will have an election in 2015. This makes it impossible to say whether we will be richer or poorer.
For me the question of independence is not about the economy or, at a more base level, whether I'll be a few quid better off. A great consideration should be war and peace. Scotland and England had many years of wars before joining in union and have enjoyed many years of peace since. Some may think it is inconceivable that Scotland and England could ever war with each other in the future so we should not worry about it if there is independence. I don't think that we can be so complacent, because the long-term future is so uncertain.
However, neighbouring countries need not go to war with one another. USA and Canada have certainly not been doing too much warring against each other recently as they enjoy a semi-union of culture, and of economy through NAFTA. Scotland and England are of course culturally similar and there is the possibility of economic or even monetary union.
Some warn that if Scotland uses Sterling, Scotland would suffer because monetary policy for Sterling would be decided by the government in London, predominantly considering the needs of England. This is exactly what happens now so it would appear to be an argument for Scottish independence having its own currency, rather than an argument for Scotland to be in the Union.
It is also unlikely that England could prevent people in Scotland using Sterling if they wanted to. The only way to stop it would be for the English, Welsh and Northern Irish Government to completely ban the movement of Sterling out of their country; a policy which would make you delighted to be independent from any government that thought it a good one.
One concern is that Scotland might not be able to join the EU and if it does it will have to use the Euro. On this second part, I don't know. However, regarding the first, people in England are more likely to want to leave the EU than those in Scotland. With growing enmity towards the EU, particularly in the rest of the UK, there might be a greater risk of Scotland being outside the EU if it remains within the UK.
As I read or hear arguments against independence, I find myself being less convinced of the need to stay in the Union so I have begun asking a different question. Scotland was an independent country before it joined the Union and joined it as a matter of convenience - because it suited us to do so. The questions I'm now considering are:
- Do the conditions that brought Scotland benefits from being part of the Union still exist today?
- If they don't, then why should Scotland be a part of the Union?
Scotland has never become independent from the UK before, so there are many things that are unknown and it is understandable for people to fear such uncertainty. But uncertainty about Europe, about the economy, about the BBC, even about the weather, will exist if Scotland remains within the UK. The real question to be decided is who do you want to be responsible for dealing with that uncertainty.
Do you want a government voted only by people living in Scotland or a government voted by people living in the whole of the UK?
Some other little thoughts
PS: The question about whether Scotland should still be a part of the Union if there is no benefit to us, is admittedly selfish. I think there are real issues about the impact on the rest of the world if the UK was to be dis-united. Would the UK successor still have a Permanent Seat on the UN Security Council? Would it be good or bad for the rest of the world if the UK didn't?
PPS: The charge of being anti-English if you vote yes is a bit inflammatory. Why are we not being anti-Welsh? Are the Brits being anti-French by not wanting join in Union with them? However, it does cut at something real in two ways.
Firstly, maybe it is a vote against "England". "Scotland" could want to be seen as being something different. In the 80s, the English were perceived as being football hooligans so the Scots decided to become the complete opposite at international football games. This could be translated into policy too.
Secondly, many Scots have close relationships with many English. What would separation do for these personal relationships? I have thought about this and do have a fear that my English friends may stop liking me. Then I think about the friends I have from Netherlands, Australia, Canada and Cambodia and realise that we are friends without having the same government. Nevertheless, if we were to separate, would there be a separation of the bonds between the two peoples? (if you accept that the Scots and English are indeed two peoples and not just one whole British people) If yes, will we have lost something there? Will independence enable closer bonds with other people? Will we gain something there?