Very Late Thoughts on Scotland

Most of my Facebook friends, at least those bothering to comment, seem to be hoping for a Yes vote from the Scottish Referendum. I’m not one of them.

Before I discuss why, let me stress that I think it is a great thing this referendum is happening. I believe all peoples should be given the option of independence. Moreover, I am quite consistent in this, applying it to everyone who might have a claim to be a potential nation-state. It’s been interesting watching the cheers for Scottish Independence from people whose “solution” to conflict between the Jordan and the Sea is a single state, with any attempts at independence by the Jewish minority met with a response at least as brutal as that inflicted on Gaza.

Nevertheless, just because you have the option doesn’t mean you should take it. I’m all for no-fault divorce, but that doesn’t mean I want to see some of my friends break-up.

I can certainly see the attractions of voting yes. For one thing, the temptation to stick it up some of the obnoxious outsiders who have been coming in to tell the Scots what to do, of which Abbott’s line has to be one of the most offensive. And yes, in some ways it would be one in the eye for imperialism.

Moreover, I think some good things would come out of it. As Guy Rundle suggests in this very interesting article,  the first few years after independence would likely see a cultural flowering that would be exciting to watch, let alone take part in. The Scottish National Party has formed one of the most environmental governments in the world, and independence may allow them to go further still. Putting more power in the hands of a proportionally elected parliament, rather than Westminster’s archaic First Past the Post single member electorates would be a win for democracy. Most trivially, I’m very partial to Scottish music, and the yes case has all the best tunes.

However, against this need to be set a few things. I think that most of my friends imagine that an independent Scotland might be a little poorer overall, at least once the oil runs out, but would also be fairer than the UK, and this is a price worth paying. If I thought such an outcome was likely, I would agree, but I doubt it. Firstly, as JK Rowling has pointed out, the more states there are the more opportunities for mobile capital to play them off against each other to the benefit of the very rich, and the detriment of everyone else.

Perhaps even worse is the intention to keep the pound. It is simply staggering after the Euro has provided a hideous demonstration of the consequences of monetary union without fiscal union, that the yes case is intending to repeat the whole disaster (actually worse this time). An independent Scotland still using the pound might not become Greece at the first economic setback, but Spanish levels of unemployment are almost inevitable, and without Spain’s climate. The austerity that is likely to be imposed in such circumstances will hit the poor far harder, and probably prove very difficult to unravel when boom times return.

A beaten down Scotland, surviving economically only by attracting capital through beggar-thy-neighbour tax-breaks and poor working conditions strikes me as a big price to pay for a brief cultural renaissance and the chance to stick it to the men.

I realise most of my tiny readership will be more interested in my predictions than my opinions, so I will say that I think it is most likely the no case will win, but I am far from sure. In general yes cases in referenda underperform compared to polling. The one thing that keeps me in doubt is the fact that most of the polling conducted has used entirely inappropriate methods for the circumstances, and therefore is quite unreliable. There is no way of knowing in which direction it will be wrong, but when I think the methodology allows for an error as high as 6%, hope remains for the yes case since without these problems I would predict No with 54% (52% in the polls minus a 2% drop from yes cases underperforming).

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About Stephen Luntz

I am a science journalist, specialising in Australian and New Zealand research across all fields of science. My book, Forensics, Fossils and Fruitbats: A Field Guide to Australian Scientists is out now through CSIRO Publishing. I am also a professional returning officer for non-government organisations. I'm very politically active, but generally try to restrict this blog to scientific matters.
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