Thursday draws near.
Our chance to choose: stay within the UK, or strike out on our own.
Tricky one, isn’t it? If you were hoping for some last-minute, deeply insightful analysis that would provide that final bit of justification to whatever decision you make then I can only apologise. My main reason for writing this is the slightly desperate hope that, once I see the ink of my logic on the page, I can make my own mind up.
There’s a lot of noise at the moment, a lot of frantic arguments, personal attacks and bluster. Odd details plucked from obscurity and trumpeted as a clinching epiphanies.
I’m going to skip all that. Here are the four big things at the top of my mind.
Whatever happens, Scotland will survive. And we will all benefit from the discussions that have happened.
There are somewhat more than 190 countries across the globe today, depending on your political views. Some cling to survival, others dominate their neighbours, and some have the power to bring succour or suffering to vast populations on the other side of the globe. Predicting which will thrive and which will wither is no easy task: after all, how many of us dreamed that so many economies would collapse so completely over the past decade? Did you spot, back in 2000, that Ireland and Iceland would have such a rough time of it?
Maybe some economists did. But did they also predict how Ukraine would shatter internally, and how Russia would position to invade European states? How the US would push its allegiances to the brink through spying, data theft, and refusal to agree to UN anti-torture agreements. How the Middle East would suffer?
How quickly the environment would start to alter? What about Ebola? When’s the next batch of killer ’flu going to drop by?
Predicting which countries will do ‘well’ (and why) is tricky. We live in a developed country (whatever that is meant to mean), and will perform similarly to a lot of other comparable nations, whether we stay in the union or leave it. If an independent Scotland implodes because North Sea oil runs out, you can bet that very few other European countries will do any better.
On a more cheerful note, the last figures I saw suggest more than 95% of us will turn out to vote. 95%! The last general election rate was only 65%. It will be a brave (and probably short-lived, career-wise) politician who decides to renege on a promise made to such a massive chunk of the population. And given how young much of electorate will be, do you really want the first political memory people have of you to be your lies? Ask Nick Clegg how well that works out…
It always seems to have been a given that statements made during elections (and referendums) could be quietly ignored in the following years. I hope that the passion that has swamped the whole UK over the past few months might change that.
Neither option available on Thursday will cause a disaster, and the fact that we’ve had such a spicy, inclusive debate in the first place means everyone’s a winner, even if your choice doesn’t win out.
Can we afford to leave the global stage right now, even if only temporarily?
Currently, Isis are committing genocide in Iraq and Syria. It might have been happening in Gaza too (thanks to the tireless work of Raphael Lemkin, even an attempt to eliminate a national group is genocide—a fact conveniently forgotten by those obliged to act to prevent it. A post for another time.)
One in nine people on earth don’t have enough food to live a healthy life.
Until today, Russia looked poised to annex a good chunk of the Ukraine.
Global warming is happening. Fast.
As part of the UK we have a loud voice. We’re one of the “special five” on the UN Security Council. We’re a big player in Nato and the EU. We have large aid budgets, and the military capacity to respond to natural disasters with people, materiel and expertise.
I can influence the voice of the UK at the moment. True, it’s a vanishingly small amount of influence, but claiming that makes it worthless is the same as not voting because you’re only one in a cast of millions.
An independent Scotland will not have that influence, that ability to Do Good in the world (at least in the short term).
Can I accept that?
Not all risk is bad. Not all tax reductions are good
Voting yes is risky.
Of course it is; change only comes with risk. Indeed, in my line of work the words risk and opportunity mean the same thing.
To avoid a choice because of an element of risk is to stagnate. Think instead of what might happen! Don’t be blindly optimistic, but don’t let that small chance of something bad paralyse you.
Whilst talking about spinning words, compare and contrast: “we will have to pay more taxes to sustain the NHS in an independent Scotland” and “we will be able to invest more in our NHS, and as a result will get a better service.”
Sure, cash in the pocket is nice. But so is a functioning state. Nordic countries consistently report world-leading levels of happiness, and also pay world-leading levels of tax.
Avoiding risk and seeking the lowest taxes is not the way I’ll decide.
How much is a local government worth?
How much better is the devil you know?
Take two topics I know a decent amount: project management and cycling. The Scottish government has a target to increase the percentage of people cycling to 10% by 2020. They declared that in a document called Caps (which I wrote about here), back in 2010.
They’re going to fail spectacularly, mainly because our minister for transport Keith Brown doesn’t understand how to manage projects. Specifically, he doesn’t understand that projects only succeed when ownership and responsibilities are clearly defined, and where a single person is accountable for the entire thing. This is a hideously basic error if you are meant to manage change.
But then, at least I know why we will fail to meet this target, because the government is small enough that I can keep on top of what’s going on (just…). I know the design documents they’ve pushed out, and what standards they’re supposed to be working to. I can just about follow the chain of command from Keith right the way down to the chap who resurfaces a road and doesn’t add in the cycle lane.
In the UK government I’m lost. It’s a failing of my political awareness, but I couldn’t tell you who was meant to be doing what down south. And so how can I hope to get things changed?
Talking of change; my MSP is James Dornan. I don’t agree with much of what he says, but I exchanged a few tweets with him only last night. He’s local, and I know what he does and what his driving issues are. He’s my route into Holyrood.
My Westminster MP is apparently Tom Harris. I’ve no idea what he does, and the only time I’ve felt the need to drop him a letter I got no response.
So why not cut Westminster away completely?
So what’s the conclusion?
I’ve no idea.
Three months ago I was going to vote no, and I knew why. Last week, I was going to vote no, but I was on the edge.
Right now, I can’t say which box I’ll tick on Thursday (as you can no doubt tell from the rambling of this post). The only thing sticking in my mind is the soundbite that stuck in my mind whilst cycling home:
The dull part of me will vote no. The rest of me hopes you all vote yes.
A good few PSes with this one!
PS: In the interest of full disclosure, I know that independence will remove my current job within four years. I’m OK with that—I work in a big company with plenty of other local opportunities. It doesn’t affect my thoughts above.
PPS: I was born in Cheshire, went to secondary school in Manchester, university in Durham, and have lived in Scotland for the past five years (the entirety of my professional life). I’m married, have a young son, own a flat. I consider myself British.
PPPS: If you want to decide solely based on cycling, I think independence is your best bet. Partly for the reasons under “local government” above, and partly because Edinburgh’s narrow streets will have to resort to 20mph limits and sustainable travel at some point soon, or become completely clogged. Glasgow needs a remedy for its appalling congestion, air quality and poor public health. Between the two of these cities, I think active travel will have to bubble to the top of the agenda fairly soon. It’ll happen quicker if changes can be made without persuading the rest of the UK.
PPPPS: If you’re interested in what reason five would have been: immigration, and the border with England. Independent Scotland will have to encourage more immigrants, which will require a separate policy to the rest of the UK. I can’t imagine England accepting a free flow of people into Scotland and then down the M1 and M6, so some kind of border control would seem inevitable. Which would be hilarious. Briefly.
P5S: Sorry this is even more badly edited than normal. Timescales…