Dear Butterfly Rebellion, I’ve lived in Scotland for five years now. I love this country, with its thriving world-class cultural scene, beautiful landscapes and world-class intellectual pedigree. But I also love Britain: the strange and sometimes fractious combination of Scots, Welsh and English people, who are in so many ways so similar and yet so obviously not the same. I campaigned, in Glasgow, for the Better Together movement, and I wanted to answer some of the points made here on your site, from the other side as it were.
With the greatest of respect, there are so many points on which we disagree. However, for this letter I want to try to rebut one of the central arguments levelled against the “55%”: our so-called “Project Fear.” I want show why we raise questions about the economic future of a disbanded UK, and explain why this isn’t about fear but rather a rational and compassionate analysis of our state and its place in the world.
Firstly, let’s look at the central charge made against us perpetrators of “project fear”. We are accused of talking down the Scottish economy, denying its ability to function on its own merit. Now, clearly this narrow point is not true (and I don’t deny that some on the ‘No’ side do make this erroneous claim.) What we are really pointing out, however, is a subtler point about the relative futures of two separate economies, versus one integrated whole. Will Scotland become a third world country without being able to export it’s tweed to Savile Row. No of course not. Rather, to put it simply, we want to protect a prosperous future; not scare you about a poverty-stricken one.
Why is a combined UK economy so important? Well let’s take the example of personal finances, and the golden rule of personal investment: diversification. The way to insulate yourself against one or other investment going south is to make sure that you also have money in other unrelated businesses, hopefully ones that will be more successful. Countries’ economies are similar; sometimes a few sectors of the economy will do incredibly well and will end up providing a cushion for other parts that have fallen on tougher times. The south of England excels in financial services. As Mr Salmond rightly points out, Scotland has important oil reserves and capacity for world leading renewables in the future. Putting this wide portfolio of specialisations together is a world leading combination. Having a wide and diverse economy allows a mathematician in Glasgow to get a job in the City and a Biochemical engineering specialist in Liverpool to add to the pool of talent in Dundee.
We are not the only ones who value integration. While Mr Salmond is right that a number of countries have become independent in the last few decades – although this has usually been as a result of modern conflicts and large ethnic disparities – the overwhelming trend globally is for further integration. The EU is a prime (if not perfect) example; its free trade and free movement agreements have led to an unprecedented era of peace and prosperity in central Europe. It is a model that is being copied around the globe, in Africa, the Middle East and Asia. Let’s not forget, people in the Ukraine are literally fighting and dying for their right to integrate with their European cousins. We need to move closer together, not further apart.
There are so many other reasons to value the contribution the UK can make to our future too. Take Adam Smith, immortalised on the gates of Glasgow University, the father of modern economics and the inventor of market capitalism. Look at any of the iconic firms and businesses that provide us with so many of the products, sights and jobs that we value today. I want to see the UK continue this partnership, which, historically, has seen such a success. The partnership that stood defiant against tyranny in 1940, and again against Communism throughout the cold war. The partnership that has seen our small nation build a world-renowned healthcare system and create some of the most lionised Universities on the globe. I see no reason why our winning formula should be abandoned. That’s not fear. That is hope.
A Thom, a charaid – Thanks for taking the time to bring your case for Scotland’s economic integration with England, and your belief that its use prior to the 18 September referendum did not constitute part of what has come to be known as Project Fear. Before responding we feel it necessary to underline the fact that fear indeed was an explicit tactic used by the Better Together campaign, along with its partners in Westminster, the BBC, and the rest of the British media. Blair McDougall, the campaign’s director, openly conceded this point at the Labour Party Conference in Manchester in the immediate aftermath of the referendum. So with this in mind it is perfectly correct to speak of much, if not all, of the campaign as a naked effort to frighten the Scots population. Whether or not the economic argument for integration within the United Kingdom constituted part of this terror campaign will be discussed here.
In terms of rhetoric it is worth stating that allusions to united struggles against tyranny during the 1939-45 War and against Communism during the Cold War must be considered redundant. This is neither the 1940s nor the 1950s. It is 2014, and a year in which Scotland was mocked and intimidated for the slightest reference in debate to emotion or its historical memory; both of which are every bit as valid to the people of Scotland as the narrative of Britain is to our English neighbours. Scotland’s silence, therefore, on passion and history were met with nothing other than passionate historical fictions from David Cameron and other exponents of the same British narrative that found itself having to apologise to Irish subjects of ‘Britain’ in the city of Derry for the actions of the British Army (the same British Army that “stood defiant against tyranny in 1940”) on ‘British’ streets, against ‘British’ people in 1972; a people you yourself failed to remember in your declaration of love for being British – “the strange and sometimes fractious combination of Scots, Welsh and English people.” As it is not the 1940s or 50s, neither is it 1972, so we shall move on.
You are perfectly correct. By and large the Better Together campaign did not downplay the Scottish economy. Certainly after international analysts confirmed the viability of our economy, all but a few (including Alistair Darling) found this position untenable. What is at question, if your point is being read rightly, is whether Scotland can have a prosperous future whilst economically bound to its southern neighbour. On the point of diversification you are right and wrong in almost equal measure. Investment spread over multiple sectors does provide safeguards against weaknesses and failures. No one will argue with this principle. Where you are wrong, it is felt, and from the point of hindsight, is that this model of diversification has not, to date, served the interests of Scotland. Sectors within the United Kingdom have failed and they have been supported by other sectors. The financial sector – the City of London financial sector – has failed repeatedly, and consistently it has been protected at the cost of Scottish investment, industry and human lives. Scottish mathematicians have always been free to work in the Republic of Ireland without state level integration.
You write of the greater levels of integration within the European Union as though they are in any way comparable to the economic integration (or control) of Scotland within the United Kingdom. One simply is not the other. All European member states maintain economic and political sovereignty; something Scotland does not enjoy. Had this model be the best argument for Scotland remaining within the United Kingdom then it would stand to reason that the masters of the United Kingdom would not be seeking to disentangle themselves from it. Yet they are. As for the point of the current crisis in the Ukraine, many ethnic Russian Ukrainians feel sincerely that they too are “literally fighting and dying for their right to integrate with” their Russian cousins. This is not so much an argument you make, as much as it is an opinion; a point of view.
We cannot escape certain facts of the British economic argument. It is a set of economic principles that are set in London to the benefit of London, and often to the cost of Scotland and other parts of England, Wales, and Ireland. Boris Johnson and others within the British Establishment have already made their position clear that the British economy is best served by investment in London alone. Scotland has no power (no sovereignty nor autonomy) over these economic decisions – and this has always cost Scotland dearly. The repeated threats to remove what little investment has been placed in Scotland (banking and manufacturing), in which the British Treasury and civil service were involved, has been nothing other than a fear campaign.
Is mise le meas, An Siorrachd
The idea that only the Better Together campaign used negative messaging in the referendum is patently untrue. The last few weeks of the campaign were dominated by the Yes campaign’s claims that the Tory government was hell bent on privatising the NHS. When it comes to negative campaigning, neither side should try to take the high ground.
Why did both sides indulge in such campaigning? As Mr McDougall says, polling shows that these negative messages had resonance with the Scottish people. I would argue that following the polls and making the arguments that have most resonance is not bullying, just smart electioneering. The more important question is whether these messages ring true.
This brings me to the economics of my first letter, where I argued that the UK is indeed a safer place together than apart. In your response you alluded to the recent financial crisis, and pointed out that Scotland has suffered as a result of the global melt down. While we should resist the tendency towards counterfactual arguments; a look at comparable economies and Scotland’s high exposure to the financial sector would suggest that, had it been independent, Scotland may well have fared much worse in 2008. We Unionists argue that, even if one doesn’t share our love for the Union as an institution, at the very least voters should look to their own family and see that they have far better economic options within the UK.
Although, as you spotted, it is not 1940 but in fact 2014: a shared history should not be discounted. What is a nation if it is not a shared history; a shared culture; a common outlook on the world? Though some may not like to admit it, the fact is we share a lot more than just sporting ineptitude and a predilection for talking about the weather. That matters looking forward as well as back.
In your letter you mentioned a good few other points which I have sadly not had time to go into here. In particular I would love to address the concept of sovereignty; the bizarre notion that the EU isn’t an economic unit and the myth that Scots don’t currently have democratic representation. Perhaps another time? However, I feel that my response here, more or less, deals with the main body of your critique. In summary, the “Project Fear” accusation from the nationalists implies that Scots only voted no because of untrue fears propagated by Better Together. I think I have shown both parts of this proposition to be false.
A Thom, a charaid – Excellently put. You’re concession that negative campaigning, on whichever side of the debate was “not bullying,” but “smart electioneering” perfectly underscores how the majority of Scots now feel about the tactics of Better Together. That the Yes campaign spoke of the privatisation of the NHS was a matter of fact. The plan to sell off the English health service is already a reality (see the English press and public debate). A higher proportion of Scots require public healthcare, and so the reality of its demise was a fact germane to the independence debate.
Scotland’s ‘exposure’ to the markets of financial speculation, we must remember, is a product of the Scottish economy’s present entanglement to the London markets. This is why Scotland took such a hit during the economic downturn. It was a matter of infection or toxicity rather than an autogenesis within Scotland. Were we to consider Scotland’s risk had Scotland been independent prior to 2008 it is more likely that the impact would have been similar to that of Norway rather than a miniature London. It is this argument that I would consider to be the myth. If we are to base projections on the hypothetical situation of Scottish independence at the crash then we must also reconstruct a Scottish economy on the basis of that independence, and not merely see it as essentially unchanged except for the lack of political attachment.
– An Siorrachd