Sunday, 25 May 2014

Better Together: The Facts You Need To Know

I was speaking to a friend of mine a couple of weeks ago and she told me that, after a conversation with a Better Together campaigner (apparently they exist!) she'd decided to vote No. We were out with a big crowd in the pub so I didn't manage to find out the specific arguments that had won her over. But, luckily, my mum got a Better Together leaflet in her paper yesterday entitled The Facts You Need To Know that contains the top ten positive reasons for staying in the UK. I decided to write a rebuttal to each of the ten points and email it to her in the hopes that it'll encourage her to do some more research. But then, I spent about an hour writing it so it seemed a shame not to spread it a bit wider in case it could be of use to anyone else, so I'm posting it below. Of course, you could write a thesis on each of these points and I use some arguments that not all Yes campaigners will agree with (corporation tax, for example), but posting anyway. Feel free to pass on/copy/edit as you will.

1.        A successful Scottish parliament AND a strong UK. This argument really focuses on size; it says that being part of a bigger economy we can be more secure. However, of the top 20 most successful countries in the world 9 of them are the same size or smaller than Scotland. The success of an economy isn’t dependent on its size so much as its structure, its regulation, and the priorities of its government. For a successful Scotland we need more working age people, something we are denied under Westminster’s immigration policies (which are not set to improve after UKIP’s recent local election victories). It is also dependent on taxes which are relevant to the country’s needs – under Westminster’s offer of further devolution after a No vote (if they ever come through with it) we would only be allowed to raise taxes, and those taxes would go straight to Westminster, they wouldn’t be kept by Holyrood to use on specifically Scottish initiatives. We can’t create tax incentives for businesses that way, or give tax cuts to the poor.
2.       Higher spending AND Scottish priorities. This point is simply a lie. The main parties in Westminster (the Tories, Lib Dems and Labour) are all committed to austerity that will mean further public spending cuts and job losses over the next 5-10 years.  Also, at the moment for every pound Scotland sends to Westminster in taxes we only get 70p back to spend on our public services. There is *no way* that a No vote will amount to higher spending in Scotland. There is also *no way* that a No vote can result in a greater focus on Scottish priorities than a politically-empowered Scotland could deliver.
3.       More jobs AND more customers. This claim implies that the rest of the UK would boycott Scottish goods in the event of independence. What a load of rubbish! But practically, the rest of the UK would not be able to create barriers to trade between Scotland and the rest of the UK without harming the rUK economy. It would have a more adverse effect on the rUK than the 2008 recession and would amount to economic vandalism. As for more jobs; I already said that Westminster austerity will lead to further job losses (especially in the public sector) over the next decade. As well as this, the Scottish government will still have its hands tied when it comes to implementing tax structures and other regulations that would specifically improve Scottish job prospects.
4.       Influence AND impact. This point relates to Scotland’s place in the world, both through the UN and the EU. Actually the Tories are talking about holding an in-out referendum on the EU in the next few years so chances are that a No vote could lead to us leaving the EU (whether Scotland wants to or not). This is more likely to hamper Scottish exports and Scottish jobs than becoming independent; not to mention putting a stop to that immigration that the Scottish economy needs to grow and flourish. As an independent Scotland we would have more European Members of Parliament (Scotland currently has the same number as Malta, despite the fact that their population is only half a million) and those MEPs could fight for Scotland’s interests. At the moment those interests are too often sacrificed or ignored as Westminster continues to fight for whatever benefits London and the South East.
5.       More security AND a force for good in the world. This one actually makes me laugh. And then rage. The Westminster government led us to war in Iraq – despite the fact that it was against UN resolutions and the vast majority of public opinion. This led to the 7/7 bombings, the attempted attack on Glasgow airport and the killing of Lee Rigby. The idea that the UK is a force for good in the world is laughable and Scotland would actually be safer once we cut the ties from Westminster’s belligerent efforts to maintain a position on the world stage that was, in reality, lost with the empire. What we *could* do to make the world a safer place is vote Yes, which would (if timed correctly) force the UK to give up Trident altogether since they don’t have anywhere to keep it. Nuclear disarmament is a far clearer way towards world peace and security than trying to be the world police with Westminster. It’s also worth pointing out that defence would be better provided after independence. We currently send £3bn in taxes to the Ministry of Defence but only £2bn is spent in Scotland. SNP policy is to spend £2.5bn on defence so that we would have more jobs and better equipment. We could also have a proper navy, something that Scotland lacks at the moment since all the above water navy is based in Portsmouth (not much good if Scotland was invaded!).  We would be safer on every level with independence. We should be thinking about our place in a cooperative international community, rather than trying to hold on to the supremacy of the British Empire.
6.       Lower licence fee AND more programmes. The Scottish government have said that there is no reason for the licence fee to rise after independence. Of course, these things are open to negotiation but the change in price would be negligible. We would also be able to buy in all the programmes we want from the BBC, as Ireland does at the moment. However, this point misses something really important. Scotland really suffers from having an English-centric broadcaster. When you go to Ireland you can see how there is so much more investment in the culture – whether it be arts or sport – and that is partly based on TV interest. We need to have a Scottish broadcaster anyway if we go independent, just so that we can be fully informed of the goings-on at Holyrood and make sure our politicians are held accountable – but spending vastly greater sums of money on Scottish programming will reinvigorate Scottish arts, drama, comedy, sport, films… the list goes on. I think this will create jobs in time, and it will also help us to address Scottish problems by shining a light on Scottish society. Too many people are being left behind at the moment, their stories need to be told so we can think about how to promote integration in our society.
7.       Better universities AND more investment. Our universities are world class and independence will do nothing to change that. Funding goes to projects which will reap the greatest rewards, it’s not allocated on the basis of spite or politics. I actually think independence is a great opportunity to improve the university funding system which, to my mind, has become too market-orientated. We need to protect our citizen’s rights to a free university education and protect the public spending allocated to universities. This has been cut by 10% under the current government and continued austerity, whether under Labour or the Tories, will continue to damage our university sector, costing us jobs and reputations.
8.       Lower fuel bills AND more jobs. Again, this is just rubbish. Westminster shows no signs of capping bills or of building properly-insulated green housing. Taxes on green energy are also based on distance from Westminster, so that the green energy industry in Scotland is stifled. Scotland’s resources are being under-used at the moment but with the powers of independence we can develop these sectors to provide jobs, to help the environment and to have a higher quality of life. I think that a Scottish government, taking account of Scotland’s specific qualities and resources will be better placed to make the most of those resources than a Westminster government for whom we are normally an afterthought at best. We will also have more jobs through the SNP’s childcare proposals as many more child minders will need to be hired. This produces more jobs while allowing more women to rejoin the workforce after childbirth, thereby leading to higher tax revenues and a healthier economy – as well as happier individual women who are not burdened with the full responsibilities of childcare.
9.       A Scottish NHS AND the specialist treatment you need. As someone who works for the Keep Our NHS Public Campaign I’ve watched over the last 8 years as NHS England has been dismantled and prepared for privatization. GPs in England are now debating about whether to charge for appointments, and English patients already paying for prescriptions and eye tests which are free at the point of use in Scotland. The Scottish parliament has managed to protect the Scottish NHS from this marketization so far, but with continued austerity from Westminster I don’t know whether that will be possible in the long term. As for using the English health system, as European citizens we currently have a right to treatment anywhere in the EU so we could still use English services if we were down there on holiday, just as we could elsewhere in the EU.

10.   Keep the pound AND keep interest rates lower. We could also keep the pound in an independent Scotland, whether as part of a currency union (subject to negotiation with the rUK, but likely given that they’d lose 10% of their economy overnight if they didn’t make an agreement) or we could use it informally (with or without the consent of the rUK government).  Better Together claim that an informal currency union or our own currency would make it more costly to trade with the rUK – all the more reason that they should be in favour of a currency union since more costly trading between iScotland and rUK would hurt them just as much as it would hurt us. I would personally be for creating our own currency since that would mean we could make our own monetary policy without consulting the Bank of England, but a currency union is by far the more likely scenario unless Westminster politicians manage to cut off their noses to spite their faces without the financial, economic and business establishments standing in their way. 

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