Abandonment Issues

Of all the arguments against Scottish Independence, the appeal to solidarity is definitely the one that has the most potential to move me. It’s been a staple of anti-independence articles from the UK left since long before the referendum date was set, and it’s been heard in the mainstream press with increasing frequency as that date approaches.

This morning a close, NO-voting friend of mine raised the question with me directly, and I find myself freshly troubled by the suggestion that to vote YES is to skip out on the people in the rest of the UK who share my hopes for the future:

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I stand by my Twitter response that I can’t see a route for the sort of social change I’d like to see within the United Kingdom as it currently stands. The solidification of voting loyalties and the triumph of the First Past the Post system in the recent AV referendum ensure that Westminister politics is geared towards an appeal to a semi-mythical “Middle England” rather than to the varied needs of the nation. A sober analysis of post-war electoral history reveals that for all its reputation as a pillar of support for Labour,there would only be a different winner in two UK elections since 1945 if you subtracted Scottish votes from the equation.

(The result in an independent Scotland would have different in eight elections during the same time period – nine if you include what would become a tie in Scotland in 1951!)

The question, then, is would the United Kingdom suffer without Scotland in a way that it wouldn’t if we were to stay?

This is a grim and twisted formulation, but the truth seems to be that our continued presence won’t do much to alter the immediate electoral prospects for Westminister.

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Despite what a scattered handful of panicked NO commenters might have you believe, the SNP are too ideologically scattered to implement a socialist manifesto, but their success in Holyrood is a result of their canny decision to operate as a protest party for the centre-left during a time in which UK politics has lurched to the right economically. The SNP’s record on civil liberties is almost as mixed as their economic proposals, but again, theirtendency towards centralised power is still less disturbing than theauthoritarian frenzy of the Blair and Brown governments.

Given the current lay of the land, plus the engagement of those who’re not usually inclined to vote in the grass roots campaign, I can see a few plausible outcomes for an Independent Scotland that aren’t totally horrible.

After the past decade and a half, I hope you will forgive me for embracing this with the enthusiasm of a dehydrated man who’s just found the world’s rustiest old tap.

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Still, these rationalisations sting in my throat every time I make them. The pro-independence debate is all about possibility, so it pains me to find myself drawing up outlines for an independent Scotland that are too realistic for my tastes while dismissing the prospects of change in the United Kingdom.

I’ve previously referenced the much talked about the Scottish Social Attitudes Survey that found that Scots are only marginally more likely to support social democratic policies than people in the UK as a whole. This study is commonly raised to dismiss the myth of civic Scotland, but you could also use it to make the case that people in the UK would vote for a party with a centrist protest platform given the chance.

Given this, is it not more worthwhile to argue for change within the Union? Well, the thing is, I just don’t know where this chance would come from any more. If we vote NO to independence in September, as the polls suggest we will, you will find me trying to find another way to cut this Gordian knot from October onwards, but right now this defines the point where difficulty blurs into implausibility for me.

I don’t know what will happen to the remaining United Kingdom if Scotland becomes an independent nation. Alex Salmond’s idea that we will operate as a “beacon of progress” is faintly patronizing, but it’s not total bullshit.The ideology of austerity is predicated on the argument that it is necessary; if an independent Scotland made a success of itself without hollowing out the public sector, how much harder would it be for politicians in the UK to make this claim with a straight face?

Given the option of working to make a difference in a new country instead of stewing in impotent frustration in the UK, I feel secure in my decision, however painful it might be.

The question of whether this will help people in the remaining United Kingdom is up for grabs, but as with so many other uncertainties in this referendum, I don’t think we can do any worse than we are currently doing.

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