Scotland the Not

Today is the storm before the calm: the final frantic lobbying and bellowing before we pause overnight, then descending en masse to the polling stations on the morrow. So time for a little final reflective anticipation…

I moved back to Scotland after quarter of a century of elsewhereness, with my usual arm-waving enthusiasm seeking to play what part I could in the creation of a vibrant, modern and independently entrepreneurial society in the land that gave the world liberal philosophy, much of the industrial revolution and deep-fried Mars bars. In 2004 I was one of the founders of the Scottish Futures Forum at the Holyrood parliament and have since set up several companies in Scotland – even if I’ve since had to move one to London because of the difficulties of operating here.

Yet now I will, with reluctance but determination, be voting no.

So what’s changed my mind? Largely it’s the conflict between principle and experience. Firstly, principle: Scotland is the ideal size for a fully participatory and truly accountable modern democracy. A country of that size then needs, I suggest, to make its way in the world through full participation in an effective trans-national economic and social framework. The key words there are accountable andeffective‘. Which is where the experience bit kicks in: with Scotland’s public institutions being determinedly unaccountable and unresponsive and a so far unreformed EU that is, if anything, worse, are we starting to see the problem?

Culturally, Scotland is a country of friendly, outgoing and tolerant people, with a national history of thought leadership, high educational standards, entrepreneurship and stealing of their neighbours’ sheep. This much I knew and expected and I have not been disappointed, apart perhaps on the sheep front. On the other side of the equation, we also have a minority ‘culture’ that does demonstrate deeply embedded attitudes of entitlement, dependency and denigration. And that is something that still astonishes me, nearly eight years after moving back.

Now for the campaigns themselves, where my attitude is best summed up as wishing a plague o’both their houses.

The Yes campaign is damned for its failure to set out an honest and compelling vision for the future of Scotland; for preemptively and unilaterally ceding fiscal control to a (so far disavowed) currency union with the UK; for dodging and fudging far too many of the core economic issues; for failing to acknowledge that the UK as a whole has not completed the process of balancing its books and that Scotland will need to play its part in doing so (whether within or outwith the UK); and, finally, for failing to demonstrate the inclusivity, honesty and competence that would build the trust needed for us to place the nation’s future in their hands.

The No campaign needs in turn to be castigated for failing to lay out, from the start, a vision and roadmap for the future of the UK as a set of properly federal states beyond the four historical members, with investment commitments that rebalance the national economy; for failing to take seriously the passion and concerns of Scots voters; for failing to engage and, when they did, for sowing fear, uncertainty and doubt rather than inspiring positive change within the Union.

A substantial (but just how significant I have no idea) factor tomorrow will be the outcome of the cynical appeal by the Yes campaign to the least empowered, educated and employed segments of the Scottish population, focussing on the emotional appeal of independence from the presumed injustices of Westminster more than on objective consideration. The ultimate irony is that this is the sector of the population with the most to lose from a Scottish independence that is unlikely to be able to afford UK levels of welfare whilst balancing its fiscal books. And if it doesn’t balance those books and thereby create a credible and robust social and economic model, capital, companies and individuals will leave in droves, driving the vicious circle of lack of opportunity and deprivation that we all wish to see broken.

But here’s how it works: If Friday morning does bring a Yes vote, we will – after a bout of self-pitying whimpering – do our very best to make the new country work, to mitigate the effects of the extremists and deniers of reality and to help Scotland play its part in the new world order. We moved back here for a whole raft of reasons and those still count, for the moment at least. If however Scotland degenerates into a deficit-based economy and falls back into that culture of dependency and entitlement then ultimately we – and many others – will be over the hills and far away. I made the observation many years ago that Scotland, after centuries of diaspora, is “a state of Mind, not a State of Place”. It would be to everyone’s benefit were it to remain both.

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