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Author: Bram Gieben

Scotland is simmering

Updated Wednesday, 2nd April 2014
Bram Gieben argues that September's vote may depend on the extent the Scots begin realise they have a chance to create a new kind of society, in the first of two Society Matters post this week on Scottish Independence.

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In this cartoon, Alex Salmond sits implacable as voices around him tell him what to do The independence debate is coming to the boil.  For a long time polls asking Scots how they were going to vote were coming in around 60/40 against, excluding the sizeable chunk of don’t-knows. Then, after a year in which the Yes campaign made most of the running, and apparently recruited some of the don’t-knows, the polls closed to less than 10% -- around 54/46 against.  Clearly this seemed to have rattled the London establishment, which got out the big guns.

First the Governor of the Bank of England was sent up: he made a speech saying a currency union would be no simple matter. Then George Osborne came up:  he said all three main parties were against a currency union sharing the pound with an independent Scotland.  Then David Cameron came up. He wisely dodged the offered public debate with Alec Salmond, but urged the oil industry in Aberdeen that their interests would be better protected in the UK.  Meanwhile, Jose Manuel Barosa, the President of the European Commission, said in an interview with Andrew Marr that Scotland would find it “extremely difficult” to gain entry to the EU.  No currency union, no EU membership – where, boomed the No campaign, was Mr Salmond’s plan B?

Salmond stoutly replied that it would do no good trying to frighten or bully the Scots. He called Osborne’s speech a bluff, on the very good grounds that, if Scotland were independent, a currency union would be just as beneficial to the rest of the UK as to Scotland. Who said so? Many economists, including his own distinguished advisory group (containing a Nobel prize winner) which had set out its reasoning in the recent white paper on independence. As for Mr Baroso, he had an agenda: to discourage the separatists in Catalonia and the Basque country from following the Scottish example. Yes, the EU had its problems, but it was basically an expansionist organisation which had no interest whatever in expelling a wealthy and energy-rich Scotland which was currently contributing a great deal to it. Experts, of course, were found to who concurred with that.

So much for the Punch and Judy show in the newspaper headlines. On the ground,  I think something much more interesting is happening. The point of independence is to create a different kind of society, run according to our own values, not those of the English ruling classes.  (Don’t forget that Scotland has only one Tory MP).  The Scots are really beginning to think hard about that.

What do you think would happen if one were to say the following to the rest of Britain?

‘We are moving inexorably towards a different kind of society. The welfare state founded after 1945 is going to be dismantled, starting with the privatisation of  the NHS. Reduced services in a prolonged era of austerity are going to be run for profit.  We must learn to rely, not on the state, claiming to act for the common good, but on the market, distributing all things efficiently. Top salaries are going to rise whilst for most people living standards are going to fall.  The poorest and most vulnerable are going to suffer most. More and more we are going to resemble America, the most unequal of all developed nations, where rates of poverty, violent crime and mental illness are higher than almost anywhere in Europe. Our special relationship means that we will follow the Americans in terms of foreign policy, as we did in Iraq and Afghanistan.  And we will continue to purchase nuclear submarines and missile systems from them, designed to fight the cold war of 50 years ago, at a cost of billions. Fracking will be our response to global warming. We may pull out of the EU altogether, and abandon its charter of human rights. Old age pensioners are better off in Europe, and for the most part, children do better at school. Obviously these things are unaffordable in Britain. Multiculturalism has failed: rather than aiming at a society which celebrates difference, we must sharply reduce immigration'.

Is that what you want?

I think that the great majority of Britons would say a resounding NO. But they are not being offered a choice. We in Scotland are.

We have a chance to say: “We disagree with almost all of that, and we do not want to go down that road.  We do not accept that these developments are inevitable.  We accept that markets have their place, but we still believe in the notion of an enabling welfare state.  We are a tolerant, outward looking, peaceable people. As Scandinavian social democracy shows, we can make better, fairer, more humane choices for Scotland”.

At the beginning of the referendum debate, a newspaper did a poll suggesting that very few Scots would vote Yes if they believed they would be £500 a year worse off.  I don’t know if that was ever true, but  note the assumption that nothing much would really change in politics or society one way or the other. Now, I think millions of Scots would think it worth every penny of £10 a week to bring up their children in a country fashioned by their own vision of the good society.

Guess which way I’m going to vote?

This blog post is part of Society Matters. The blog seeks to inform, stimulate and challenge our understanding of this changing world and of our humbling role within it.
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Please note: The opinions expressed in Society Matters posts are those of the individual authors, and do not represent the views of The Open University.

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This article is part of the Scotland's Future collection, exploring the debate and national identity as the country prepares to vote on independence.

See more of the collection

  • This article was amended on April 2nd, 2014, to correct an error introduced at the publication stage.

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