Something very spectacular is happening up north in this famous and proud country called Scotland: A deep, thorough and sincere political debate in times of frustration with politics. A high turnout is expected next Thursday to decide about the independence of Scotland. There are the usual elements of a democratic debate like repetition of the same arguments, scare-mongering, half-truths, lies and even hidden threats. Apart from this, it is a very down to earth debate.
‘Freedom’, a phrase you might expect to hear often in such a debate, is used only sometimes. It has not been about big ideas or special national values. The nationalist’s eyes only seem to gleam when they speak about the Scottish pound and mean the pound as issued by the Bank of England.
As I only learnt recently, the union between England and Scotland was sealed more than 300 years ago, because Scotland was insolvent after trying in vain to conquer a piece of land called Panama. As the Scottish Indepence movement cannot claim to be suppressed by the English, they argue that they, the Scottish people, are better suited to rule themselves. From a historical standpoint, this could be rejected already, as Scotland joined the union due to their own failed policies. It has to be noted though, that time there was no democracy as we know it now.
From a democratic standpoint surely, people should be able to determine their own fate, but this does not necessarily imply better results. The very fact of the neck to neck race with an open outcome in this referendum proves the point that the electorate might be a moody bunch of experts – and by the way not just the Scottish electorate.
Arithmetically, it means that a Scottish individual vote would have the weight of one of 5 million in a Scottish state or 1 of 55 million if Scotland stays in the UK. This appears to give every Scot more power in a Scottish state, but Scotland already has a high and even potentially disproportional impact on British politics. Without Scotland in the union, Labour would have difficulties to win elections in the foreseable future and Westminster has and used to have a high proportion of successful Scottish politicians.
Apart from this, Scotland already enjoys quite a good degree of autonomy. So it seems there is not so much to gain in terms of power. Interestingly, the Scottish Nationalists even fall short of creating a vision out of what they would gain in terms of more power. Instead they insist that the want to keep the pound, the Queen and preserve the NHS. A forceful pitch for independence used to look different in the past! The enthusiastic excitement of the audience when the leaders of the Scottish Nationals insist on being able to keep the pound even after Independence appears to the outsider as a scene written by the Monty Pythons.
Originally, the Scottish Nationalist’s idea was to tell the people that not too much is changing. At the end, change is not everyone’s cup of tea and the living standard in Scotland as a result of participating in the British economic model with some extra rights is overall not so low that there is a general appetite for change.
The ‘Yes’ camp didn’t obviously expect the vehement insistence on the ‘No-side’ that monetary union won’t happen. Since then, the stakes have risen. Panama has appeared in the debate. Not as a colonial target, but as the prospect of becoming a state without own currency like Panama. Surely, a nice ironical twist.
The argument is that Scotland would forego a decisive tool of economic policy, if they would just use the currency of another state. What has not been mentioned is that also ‘little UK’ would not have full control over its currency anymore when there is a considerable amount of free floating notes outside the country. UK didn’t want to join the Euro in order to keep the control over the currency and would suddenly be forced by a different country with a potential different policy into something similar like a currency union. Another ironic twist. Uk feels like the parents of a grown up child who has moved out, but still comes back to dine and let mom wash the clothes. Somehow, even the Scottish nationalists want to be part of the family.
It seems that the fact that also the rest of the UK might lose out has created this last minute campaigning of the political and business establishment with constant statements about the risks of the journey into the unknown.
If all sides would act rational, if there are enough oil revenues way going forward, if the ingenious Scottish people are sure to invent a business case for Scotland beyond the oil in 20 years time, a ‘Yes’ would be a no-brainer. If those caveats cannot be answered positively, but as a Scot you feel suppressed, squeezed and disadvantaged by the English dominance, a ‘Yes’ would be no-brainer.
But about 50% do not think that this is a no-brainer. They do not want to create additional uncertainties for just keeping the pound, the Queen and getting a little more oil tax revenue in the next years.
Whatever will be decided n Thursday, the next debate in UK in its current form or as a rump is already waiting: Shall UK stay in the European Union or not? The arguments pro and contra will sound pretty familiar. And who knows, then a ‘little UK’ might even consider joining the Euro to get rid of an unwanted pound sponger.