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You are here: Home > Rob's Rumblings > > The Arguments

 
Scottish Independence
Introduction
The Arguments
My Conclusions

 
 
 
The Arguments
Between the Yes and No camps, I've heard many arguments both for and against an Independent Scotland. Some seem plausible, some are based on speculation, some are hearsay and some are plain scaremongering. And the few arguments that seem to have a basis in fact are sometimes so vague that they're used by both sides! Not exactly clear cut for the voters, is it? I'll have a look at a few of these points here, and give you my personal take on them.

Some of the main arguments I've heard and read are below. Have a scroll through them, or jump straight to one that interests you from these links:

Europe and the EU - The Scotch Whisky Industry - The British Pound - Shopping Prices - Alex Salmond - Finances - The UK Government - The Border - Nuclear - Energy and Resources
 

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No Europe and the EU
Ah yes, Europe. This one's used frequently by the No camp to try and curry favour for staying in the United Kingdom. The main point is that if Scotland votes to leave the UK, they will no longer be a part of the EU, and that will be devastating for trade with the rest of Europe. Staying with the Union lets Scotland benefit from the UK's powerful position in the EU, and that power will be lost. The thing is, the UK don't really care about the EU, and would actually rather not be in it. So what's the point in voting No and staying in the UK in order to remain in the EU, if the UK could be voting to leave the EU in three years' time? And then of course, Scotland won't have a separate say on the matter, they'll just have to go with whatever the UK as a whole votes. Really, this feels like selective use of facts to me - it's scaremongering by the No camp without divulging the full extent of the argument.
EU-UK

The other part of this is that the No camp are claiming that it will be difficult for Scotland to rejoin the EU as a separate, independent country, primarily because other European countries would be afraid it would set a precedent for separatists in countries like Spain and Belgium making a bid for their own independence. What they fail to explain is that Scotland is not like these autonomous regions, Scotland is a country (yes, even now) and so already has a far more independent status than these regions which will obviously work in Scotland's favour during any membership application to the EU.

This, to me is FUD, selective dissemination of information by the No camp in order to promote fear, uncertainty and doubt. In reality, this end of the argument is all speculation as nobody in the Yes or the No camps really know what will happen. I personally don't think there will be all that much of a problem joining the EU once Scotland take on the Euro. And to be honest, that wouldn't be the big disaster that some people seem to think.
 

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Yes No The Scotch Whisky Industry
Whisky (or whiskey as we Irish spell it) is a huge part of the UK economy, accounting for £4.3 billion of exports every year. That's a serious amount of revenue , and provides tens of thousands of jobs across the country and the wider UK. But both the Yes and No camps are using variations of this information to argue for their respective sides. The Yes argument is quite straightforward: An independent Scotland will gain full control over all exports of Scotch, and will receive all the revenue for it without paying Her Majesty's exchequer the various taxes involved in such a large operation. Scotch whisky accounts for 25% of all food and drink exports from the entire of the UK, and all that revenue would come directly into Scotland's economy, paying taxes into the Scottish exchequer while still keeping the jobs in Scotland.
Some Whisky

The no side is somewhat more puzzling to me. Yes, it's a £4.3 billion industry and that's very important to Scotland. That much I get, but here's where it falls down for me. The crux of the No argument is that Scotland needs the UK government in order to maintain relations with the export markets and to negotiate trade deals using their substantial clout. While this has no doubt helped in the past. Scotch whisky is a world renowned product, exported to as many as 200 countries around the world. If there is such demand for Scotch whisky worldwide, would people continue to want it from an independent Scotland? Or would all these countries not know where to import it from, now that the UK government doesn't represent Scottish produce any more? Something tells me the former is more likely here.
 

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Yes No The British Pound
The British Pound is an interesting one, and again is used by both sides. The No camp go to great lengths to warn voters that Scotland absolutely cannot continue to have the pound as their currency as the main UK political parties would enter into a joint currency agreement with Scotland. This may be true, after all both governments need to agree to such a union of currency. But that does not mean Scotland can't keep the pound, after all both the Bank of Scotland and the Royal Bank of Scotland already print their own sterling pound notes. If Scotland becomes independent, they could just keep on printing them.

Money! Sterling appears as a funny curency when you look at it from a foreign perspective. Sterling notes aren't technically currency - they're basically an IOU from the bank that printed them (read the small print on any bank note if you don't believe me). And that's why, even now, you can't use Scottish bank notes in shops in England. Not only that, but technically speaking, Bank of England banknotes aren't legal tender in Scotland either. So it's not as big a deal to imagine what it might be like with a separate Scottish pound. Scotland already has a mostly separate currency of its own, the Scottish Pound.

As an aside, Ireland started off with its own pounds after its split from the UK. Yes, they weren't as stable as the Sterling pound, but the Irish economy was much smaller than the Scottish economy, and once it stabilised, happily coexisted in the world with Sterling. The numbers didn't match (it cost around 7 Irish pounds for 5 Sterling pounds), but the prices in shops were out by a similar magnitude, so the actual value was much closer than the bare numbers would lead you to believe.

Another possible outcome of not having a currency union (and most likely a requisite for rejoining the EU) is that Scotland adopts the Euro as its currency. The No camp seem to think this would be a really bad thing, and that Scotland should vote No in order to avoid taking it on, opting to stay with the pound and as a result, a part of the sixth largest economy in the world. But if you look at the Euro at the moment, it's really not doing as badly as the No camp information would lead you to believe. The might of German industry and the not-to-be-underestimated French economy are both larger economies than the UK, and both are based on the Euro. That gives the Euro a lot of stability and power - in fact, the Euro to Sterling exchange rate is almost exactly the same as it was when the Euro was introduced over ten years ago. And that's even after multiple bailouts issued by the ECB to some member countries with economic difficulties. Stability shouldn't be any sort of a concern regarding the Euro.

On a personal note, coming from a country that switched to the Euro, I personally found no problems with the switch. My savings didn't suddenly become worthless, I could still afford to buy the very same shopping I did when we used the pound, and my wallet was in better condition as the coins are physically smaller and lighter, and so there was less bulging under the strain of a night's worth of pub shrapnel!

The Yes camp on the other hand, is convinced that a currency unit can be agreed upon because it would be in the interest of the rest of the UK to keep it that way. After all, with such huge revenue generated by Scotland's many important industries (such as oil, gas, manufacturing, whisky...), it would make sense to keep these markets stable. That way, the UK can continue to enjoy these Scottish exports without having to worry about exchange rates potentially increasing the cost of fundamental products like energy and food. Of course it could go both ways - Scottish exports could drop in price too - but with Scotland's economy growing and Scotland exporting almost half of its entire oil and gas production to the rest of the UK, it's unlikely that prices would fall by much, if at all.

And, as I've said above, even if it doesn't happen and Scotland goes for the Euro instead, it wouldn't even be close to the end of the world.
 

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No Shopping Prices
One point put forward by the No camp was that the price of groceries could rise if Scotland becomes independent. The point made is that it costs a lot of money to transport goods to Scottish supermarkets, and that cost is spread over the whole UK as prices are kept the same across all stores of any given company. An Independent Scotland will no longer have this benefit and so groceries will increase to cover the additional transportation costs. So far, this makes sense. Prices will more than likely go up for that very reason. However, the example they give is Tesco in the Republic of Ireland, where a given bill worked out to be 16% more expensive. "One look at the UK and Ireland shows what price rises could be if we vote to leave the UK" is the warning given. What they fail to consider is that Ireland is a completely separate island, and therefore substantially more expensive to ship goods to. The cost to drive a truck 400 miles up the road and back again can never be as much as driving a truck 200 miles up the road, across the Irish Sea on a 3-hour ferry journey, and driving another 200 miles across Ireland before repeating the journey back again. The mileage is similar, but two ferry journeys and probably double the time involved for the driver makes up for a large chunk of the 16% given in that example. Disingenuous at best, pure scaremongering FUD at worst.
Tesco

Besides, ask anyone in the Republic of Ireland to choose between paying a little bit more for their groceries and being a part of the UK, and they'll go for the more expensive groceries every single time. Price differences like this are a minor grumble in countries like Ireland - I don't see why Scotland would be any different, especially within a strong economy.

Update: Tesco have responded to the claim of price rises printed in the No campaign leaflets. They state that this information is purely speculative, and that they are maintaining a neutral position on Scottish independence. They did add however, that certain products are actually cheaper in Ireland than in the UK.
 

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No Alex Salmond
Alex SalmondThis one isn't a point I've seen in any No campaign literature, but I've heard it used in Independence discussions a number of times, and to be honest it's a little worrying. The argument is usually along the lines of "Alex Salmond wants us to vote Yes. I don't like Alex Salmond, therefore I'm going to vote No." Do people really do that? Are they petty enough to throw away their once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to decide on the direction their country takes for generations to come, purely to try and annoy a politician? This referendum is much bigger than one politician, bigger than the entire Scottish Government, and bigger than the UK Government. It's a decision that will affect Scotland for generations to come, one way or another. Why waste your vote just to try and send a message to a politician who might only be in parliament for a couple of years anyway? That's what elections are for. Your children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren will have to live with the outcome of this referendum, long after Alex Salmond is dead and forgotten. If you want to vote No, do it because you want to stay a part of the UK, not because you don't like Alex Salmond - that's the political mind of a 10-year-old.

 
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Yes No Finances
Taxes, benefits, income, personal finances in general seem to make up one of the main go-to arguments from both sides, showing up in all but the most basic of leaflets I've received. Both sides claim that voting their way will improve your financial situation, with some of the No literature also using varying degrees of warning and threatening language used. The No camp tend to say that Scotland receives £1,200 per capita more in public spending than the rest of the UK. Seems rather generous, and I'm sure that accounts for the excellent public services, free education etc. that Scotland currently enjoys. Interestingly though, the Yes camp are saying that Scots pay more in taxes per capita than the rest of the UK - £1,400 more apparently. So it's no wonder the public services are better funded in Scotland. And, if both sets of figures are accurate, that would mean taxes would generate an extra £200 per capita per year for the Scottish economy were taxes to remain at the same level in an Independent Scotland. Hmmm...

Another place where figures don't match between both sides is regarding pensions. The No side are claiming that pensions would be in danger (more apparent threats) if Scotland voted for Independence, but the Yes side are saying that they would be perfectly safe because an Independent Scotland would have more control over them and more security coming from the fact that it has a higher GDP and hence a stronger economy than the rest of the UK, so it would easily be able to afford a protection fund similar to that currently run by the UK government.

The thing with these figures though, is that neither side are particularly convincing. Both could be making them up, and I've no reason to believe either side over the other. But if both sides' claims are taken at face value, it doesn't look like things are as doom and gloom as the No side would have you believe.
 

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Yes The UK Government
One piece of Yes propaganda fell through my letterbox yesterday which have one very simple message on it. Vote Yes to end Tory rule forever. It's hard to argue with that - voting yes will end the Tory party's involvement with Scottish governance. Of course, a Scottish equivalent conservative party could very easily be formed to fill that void, but isn't that the beauty of democracy? If the Scottish people didn't vote for them, they wouldn't govern Scotland.

Speaking of democracy, I know many British people are fond of the Royal Family, and that's perfectly fine. They're not elected, but they don't have much sway in the day-to-day running of the country either so they're effectively a strange sort of tourist attraction. What does seem utterly bizarre to me however, is that the House of Lords exists. Coming from the Republic of Ireland, the very idea of one of the main houses of parliament consisting of unelected, inherited and male-dominated seats is completely, well, foreign. They are people that actually do have an influence on every day life in the UK, yet the ordinary people don't have any say whatsoever in who they are. Hell, there are 26 bishops in the House of Lords, there by no other virtue than the fact they are bishops. I'm sorry, but that's an embarrassingly antiquated way of operating a so-called democracy. An independent Scottish government would be formed entirely from elected members - no inheritance of titles or seats, no nepotism. Or at least that's the theory. There will always be corrupt politicians whether Scotland stays with the Union or becomes independent. But at least an independent Scotland will have a chance to vote them out.
 

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No The Border
PassportHere's another one I've seen bandied about a couple of times. The No campaign have given an example of an English family who have some members living in Scotland. One quote from them reads: "We all find it ludicrous that they would need to use their passport to visit friends and family at their home from home." Now this has me stumped. Will Scotland have to erect a closed border to the rest of the world if they became independent? Or will the rest of the UK have to border up Scotland to keep migrant Scots from coming in? Well, if they insist on being a separate country...

But here's the thing: I didn't need a passport to visit my friends and family in the UK from Ireland when I was living there. And Ireland hasn't been part of the UK for over 90 years. So why would Scotland have to have a closed border with passport controls when Ireland doesn't? Perhaps it's because, by leaving the UK, Scotland would be leaving the EU as well? Maybe... But then again, look at the borders between Switzerland and the EU countries it neighbours: they're all open. And the same goes for Norway. Neither of them are in the EU, yet there is free movement across their borders with their EU neighbours. Truth is that while there might be an actual border erected, it will be no different than that between any other neighbouring western European countries.
 

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Yes Nuclear Power and Weapons
Personally I think this one's a big deal, so I'm surprised more hasn't been made of it by either camp. Maybe it's a dirty topic that nobody wants to broach, or maybe they don't think enough people care. But I reckon it's a big point for the Yes camp, and for a number of reasons too. First up: nuclear weapons. The UK keeps nuclear weapons prepped and ready to go in Scotland, along with the nuclear-powered submarines required to carry them within range of pretty much anywhere on the planet. Perhaps Scots like the idea of having weapons of mass destruction stored on their doorstep - maybe it brings them a feeling of security or something, but all I can think of is that it's one terrorist attack away from another Chernobyl. Nuclear weapons are an obvious strike target for any lunatic with enough power and a grudge against the UK. Independence would mean these being moved to UK soil, or at the very least, the UK paying Scotland handsomely in rent and danger money for being allowed to keep them there.
Nuclear

Next up is nuclear power. People are cautiously wary of this. It provides huge amounts of energy for very little (albeit extremely hazardous) waste, does not produce greenhouse gases, and while not renewable, is almost limitless. There are generally legitimate safety concerns, especially with the Fukushima Daiichi incident still fresh in people's memories, but on the whole it's clean, safe and reliable when treated with the respect it demands. Nevertheless, renewable, hazard-free energy is always a better option, and that's an area where Scotland are continuously and rapidly expanding. More about power and energy later, but the basic points are that Scotland produces around 15%-25% more power that it uses. Where does all that electricity go? Onto the UK grid for consumption across the rest of the UK. Roughly one third of Scotland's electricity is produced by nuclear power stations, so that's about 10% each. An independent Scotland would have full control over power production in Scotland, which would allow it to decide what to do with that extra 20%. The way I see it, three things could happen: First, Scotland could continue to export to the UK, generating revenue for the country from abroad. Or second, Scotland could stop exporting power, which would allow it to shut down two of the three nuclear power plants currently operating in Scotland - and that's without building a single new wind turbine. And finally, Scotland could use that extra power in the place of power currently generated by fossil fuels which could then be exported to generate revenue for an "oil fund". Either way, it would be Scotland's decision and Scotland's decision alone, and it's actually a comfortable position to be in.

My last nuclear-related point, and one which I've only heard mentioned once in the campaigns for the referendum, is to do with Sellafield reprocessing plant and its related nuclear facilities. This plant was built primarily as a manufacturing facility for weapons-grade plutonium, not electricity, and as a result was never designed to be cost-efficient or socially responsible. Decades of poor management, cost cutting, buyouts and subsidising by the UK government have left the facility in a decrepit state. Shortcuts taken when it was first built, and during every overhaul, refit and patch job have left Sellafield in such a sorry state that when it finally became time to decommission the facility and clean up the mess, it was estimated that it would take decades of work and several billion pounds to finally see the area in a fit state. Since the work has started, the estimated decommissioning time has been increased to 120 years, and the cost of decommissioning to £70 billion! That's more than half a billion pounds of tax payers' money each and every year for 4 generations! One hell of a bill for some antique nuclear weapons and a small amount of electricity that was sold below cost from a plant that never made an operating profit in its lifetime. It could be argued that this is partially Scotland's responsibility as they were involved in World War Two as a part of the UK when the decisions were made to build this plant. It's so long ago though that it's possible nobody knows whether Scotland had any say in the matter at the time. Personally though, I don't think Scotland should pay for this mess any more, and Independence would allow Scotland to decide whether to keep paying for it, or to leave it for the government who created it in the first place to take care of.
 

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Yes Energy
Coming soon... Maybe.

 
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Interesting Note...
I couldn't help but notice as I sift through all the Yes and No propaganda that continues to pour through my door, that only around half the leaflets have details of the printing house or publisher on them. All of the Yes leaflets are promoted by Scottish offices and printed in Scotland (all Glasgow in fact). The No leaflets were also promoted by Scottish offices, but curiously only one was printed in Scotland. All the others were printed by various print houses across England.
 
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Read more:  Scottish Independence  |  Conclusions