By Wayne Cuthbertson – Wayne is a PhD researcher at the University of St Andrews and is currently examining the work of the Scottish Privy Council from the perspective of the novel problem of governing the multiple kingdoms of Scotland, England and Ireland after the Union of the Crowns in 1603.
As I listen to all of the economic arguments about independence and to those who argue that Scotland wouldn’t be able to support itself, I often think that there is another way to look at this problem. Ask yourself this: ‘should England be an independent country?’ Because when you listen to a lot of No campaigners talk, and especially to a lot of their economic arguments (which they always place such emphasis on), the answer would have to be No as well. For the structural issues, the debt, the deficit, the demographic challenges of the future, the issue of EU membership, the problem of a massive trade deficit, and crucially the enormous uncertainty (can you imagine all the unanswered questions there would be in terms of negotiations with Scotland, Wales and NI about division of assets and liabilities?), these would all apply to a potential independent England. Yet, people would instinctively laugh at this; moreover, many English people would – rightfully – feel personally insulted at the suggestion.
The point I am making here is that so many of the arguments against an independent Scotland are on closer inspection arguments against independence simpiliciter. The biggest myth perpetuated in this campaign is that size equals strength and stability, makes public services more affordable, and pools and shares risk. Yet, the entire evidence of recent history, not to mention comparisons with other Western democracies, proves this argument to be fallacious. Norway, Denmark, Finland and Sweden all have much better public services, better education, better pensions, more equality, and have much more secure financial institutions than say France, the UK and Spain.
Like my straw man Englishman, I often do feel personally insulted by a lot of the arguments that are made against independence. To accept them you would need to believe that, of all the nations of the world, Scotland alone was incapable of meeting the challenges of the future. What are we saying to our children? What are we saying about a future Scotland? That it doesn’t matter how well educated you become? That it doesn’t matter what human potential you have, you will always be incapable of governing yourself successfully, of meeting the economic, social and political challenges of a changing world?
I refuse to accept that. If the result of 307 years of political union is such that Scotland is incapable of surviving on its own and its people doubt their very ability to do so, then that shows the measure of the failure of the Union. Where people see uncertainty, I see only vast potential. I’d rather put my faith in the people of Scotland to meet those challenges. I believe that all that people require to have over the next week is the confidence to believe in nothing more than their own potential the potential of the future which they will contribute so much to.
Of course, I will accept whatever is decided next Thursday, as any democrat should. I find the level of political engagement in Scotland at the moment to be inspiring. Whatever the final decision, our politicians – of all parties – have a duty to try and maintain that level of interest, for it is clear on both sides of the debate there is a desire for political change.
We are all Scotland, and whatever we decide next week, Scotland will still go on. So I say to you all in this last week: be good friends, be good neighbours, be respectful debaters, interested onlookers, and decide for yourselves. Whatever you decide, you will have my full respect always.