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I would personally prefer a federal Britain and I would certainly be sad to see the Scots leave. But I really hope they do. Britain is a dying imperial project, steeped in hundreds of years of anti-democratic expertise; it is not quite impervious to change but whatever changes are forced upon it from below it somehow manages to refind its shape, its control - if it is one part bulldog it is nine parts snake, unseen and untouchable. Its governing institutions are instinctively hostile to democracy and transparency. I hope it's a Yes because I would like Scotland to be free not of the English or Welsh, but of Westminster and its unelected policy board: the City and multinational business. I would like England to be free of them too.
The risks are for Scots to weigh but they are certainly there: you can offset risk with a currency union but its deleterious to the notion of Scotland as an independent state - if its currency remains controlled by the Bank of England its agency is diminished and, with an eye on oil, Scotland's economic shape for at least the short term could be significantly different to England's. Depending on viewpoint and levels of optimism an independent Scotland could either see mass capital flight or become another victim of Dutch disease. If the plan, and it's a sound one, is to invest Scots oil revenues in a sovereign wealth fund to hold down the currency and provide long term income then this must be recognised as a drag on its short term prosperity and fiscal position - Scotland cannot both spend the revenues that make it "one of the richest countries in the world" and invest them simultaneously. SNP plans for slashing corporation tax have both an unhelpful similarity to the Irish misadventure—during its boom years I was harangued by an Irish student who insisted it was "one of the biggest economies in the world"—and also highlight what could be the first signs of a negative drift in UK economic relations, a beggar-thy-neighbour world of tax competition that benefits nobody but large corporations and will decimate our tax bases. That the SNP even suggests such a move is a sign of lack of confidence, a lack of vision for how New Scotland will pay its way in the world besides oil and tax giveaways to multinationals.
There is an added risk: political and economic interference. In the event of a Yes vote the duly maligned British Establishment will want to play a major role in shaping Scotland through whatever means it can - political, social, economic. Its central task will be to make Scotland a 'bad example': strike out on your own, leave the protection of your British overseers and you face ruin - governance is not for the little people. It will have many allies, for the Scots vote is not simply a vote about the British state it is a vote for popular sovereignty everywhere, whatever the outcome. Britain abhors popular sovereignty - as do, with only a little scratching, plenty of the English left lining up behind a No vote. Britain holds plenty of cards, including the Bank of England. It will use them. If anyone doubts how the British state would react to an independent Scotland they need only consider the shameful and grubby tactics of its No campaign, eagerly broadcast by the London media. The transnational elite coalition for No, what Anthony Painter calls "the forces of hell", includes such bastions of democratic radicalism as Westminster's three main parties, the London media, the IMF, the US government and Deutsche bank.
There are plenty of serious, substantial risks for the Scots. Indeed, the No campaign has consisted of little else than articulating (and manufacturing) them. Why should they possibly vote Yes?
Let's take the economics first. Britain is a basket case. To compare it to pre-crash Ireland is probably just as insulting to the Irish as it is to Britain; they are both fantasy economies, yet when the rubble cleared it was evident that those at the top had made their gains very real. Britain is a low wage, low skill, low productivity economy with a poor education system, it is heavily indebted, it is a state which focuses on short term profit over long term productivity and its economic model is essentially internal asset stripping. Like unemployment, low wages in Britain are not an accident, they are a foundational policy choice of an economic model designed for the few at the explicit cost of the many. Writing on Thatcher I mentioned the fact that equity withdrawals were larger than total economic growth under both Blair and Thatcher; i.e. fantasy growth based on loose credit and asset bubbles. In what other country could two people with such a dismal economic record be considered success stories, people to name bank holidays after? The bank holiday suggestion was so absurd and crass I presumed it was a joke - sadly this isn't an uncommon phenomenon in modern Britain; it is a living, breathing satire. With Osborne's Help to Buy and the housing boom it helped create, it will be interesting to see the final figures for the Coalition on growth versus mortgage equity.
Britain's net investment in its economy is zero - it ranks alongside El Salvador for investment, at number 142 in the rankings. Its inability to compete in world markets has had to be offset by selling off British assets on an enormous scale—houses, utilities, companies, core public services—while keeping the pound high to satisfy the City and political egos. The result for working people, for industry, has been appalling. Britain thinks nothing of selling off its four century old postal service bearing the Queens head - as the Tory minister described it, a "great brand". The resulting sale was wildly undervalued, as most British privatisations are, benefitting chiefly the City firms who were "priority investors"... and the Chancellor's best man. The British were robbed of up to £6 billion. Look at the East Coast Mainline, the public operator wiped the floor with its privatised competitors, it delivered a billion pounds back to the Treasury and yet what was Britain's response? To re-privatise it. Why? To "rekindle the spirit" of competition - by eliminating the best performing competitor. Sadly it was the wrong sort of competitor - no one was making a profit from it, except the British people. Britain has very little interest in Britons; its main concern is finding new areas of life in which tolls, monopoly taxes and fines can be imposed.
Take the NHS (and read Caroline Molloy's superb piece on why to vote Yes for the NHS). Britain thinks nothing of telling the most bare-faced, unscrupulous lies to the public on the most serious of issues: "no top down reorganisations" became the reorganisation "visible from space". Reorganisation is a kind word, the reality is mass privatisation with a very clear path to US-style insurance based healthcare. Well, it's "privatisation" according to the World Health Organisation, but what do they know. Cameron, Lansley, Clegg, and the whole of the British media knew better - this wasn't privatisation, keep calm, nothing to see here, we're just empowering your family doctor a bit. That the media could be so servile may have been a surprise in 2010; it certainly isn't anymore. There was the small and unfortunate incident of the hacking scandal, in which the extraordinary intimacy of the London political class with the London media class was laid bare - indeed, it made clear there is no such distinction. Poacher and game-keeper regularly take "country supper" together at their idyllic retreats while sending each other soppy and disturbing text messages: "we're definitely in this together!"
Westminster is now little more than a byword for corruption, malice and incompetence: we now face a UN investigation over systemic violations of disability rights. Having been caught spending taxpayers money on cleaning their tennis courts and moats in the 2009 scandal, they have already reached the point where they are claiming more in expenses today than they were in 2009. As Scots will recall, MPs were using taxpayers cash to "flip" their houses and pocket hundreds of thousands of pounds in profits. Westminster is one of the few institutions in the country where the news of a paedophile ring operating within its midst doesn't really manage to shock people. Britain's electoral system is one of the least democratic imaginable. Despite campaigning on the Proportional Representation pledge, Clegg and the Lib Dems agreed with Cameron that instead of asking the British people, like New Zealand did, whether we want to change our electoral system, and if so, to what, they would instead choose a system for us. Their only offer, AV, is another majoritarian system that is nearly as bad as first past the post; that was the only crumb put on the table for the British people. The idea of allowing the people to choose their own electoral system is unthinkable in Britain. Cameron's contempt for democracy was again evident when he ruled out the option of devo-max in the Scots referendum. He chooses the options, you don't. You are not a citizen, sovereignty does not rest with the people it rests with the Crown-in-Parliament.
At least we're still a bastion of due process, liberty, free speech and justice, I suppose. That is, if we ignore the emergence of secret courts where the accused cannot even see the evidence used to convict him, if we ignore the astonishing surveillance under which every subject has their personal data harvested and the editor of a major newspaper is questioned over his "love of country" for breaking the story, if we ignore the quashing of a multi-billion pound fraud investigation for reasons of national (commercial) interest, if we ignore the numerous convictions and incarcerations of people for what are, however unpleasant and moronic, merely words, and if we ignore the fact that the police have effectively now criminalised public protest - go along and you'll face being kettled for up to eight hours and you may face cavalry and truncheon charges, and there's a good chance your photo and/or personal details will be recorded by police, who even went so far as to openly warn people not to attend a protest. On the international stage we must surely be considered vigilantes, the pitiful but spiteful sidekick of a rogue US. The Iraq war, as a Dutch panel found, had "no basis in international law".
Here's a sad fact. The best read piece in openDemocracy's history, by a long way, is Adam Ramsay's excoriating article which ultimately just sets out what a dismal shithole Britain is. This struck more of a chord with people than any of the other 20,000 essays we have ever published. When Adam writes on Scotland he writes with hope, with optimism, with the belief in a better Scotland. I'd like to think one day I could write similarly about England, and that's partly why I support a Yes vote. The case against independence for the English left consists of three words: endless Tory rule. The figures simply do not support this argument, even under our current, skewed electoral arrangements. There is another section of the English left which supports a Yes for Scotland because it would hurt the Tories short term and it would "shake up" the immovable British state, that miraculous, tawdry stasis machine. I agree, it would, but rather than settle for "regional" devolution in England, as many of them propose, we should be insisting on an English parliament elected under PR, with a written constitution, and an elected upper house. The preference for regional devolution in England as opposed to an English parliament rests on the same argument: endless Tory rule. It is not a principled stance to argue for national parliaments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland but not England.
On the subject of an elected upper house, how long have we waited for that Lords reform? 103 years and counting. I hope Scots will remember that when they read of the latest ridiculous "vows" made by Westminster on the new yet undefined powers they allege they will give to Scotland; Cameron and Clegg's integrity has been shown conclusively to be non-existent. For the English left on the No side, the majority, I can only think my own cynicism is to blame for not joining them: I have no idea what possible hope they cling to for how Britain will be reformed. Labour? Lib Dems? The Greens with a solitary MP?
Getting real change in Britain is like trying to break into Fort Knox: you have to take those exceptionally rare chances when they occur. There is already talk of an English or UK-wide constitutional convention, people sense change is possible. It is argued that even if Scots vote No the whole issue has been thrown open, momentum is there, change will come. I hope so. But we should not underestimate how skilfully the British elite can put issues to bed, with waves of triumphant 'closures', half measures, reports, committees, enquiries and fudges. This is a state that didn't even hold a public inquiry after the greatest transfer of taxpayer money in history - the banking collapse and bailout. How often does that issue come up today for London's political class? It's business as usual now.
Could Scotland make it alone? Of course. It is larger than many independent nations, it has a rich history and culture, a strong education system and a load of oil. To listen to the scare-mongering you'd think they were being asked to vote on relocating Scotland to the moon, as oppose to the reality which is restoring Scotland to its previous sovereignty - the default position for the majority of the world's nations. It would be a return to normality, not a journey into the unknown. As Ramsay's article set out, it is Britain that is bizarre, like some strange temporal empire in which we are ruled by a people geographically indistinct but who actually exist in some 19th century time warp: Bullingdon boys running London and Britain and announcing 'permanent austerity' wearing white tie and tails, surrounded by gold leaf and sitting in a gold chair. But really it's a question of democracy and self-government: Scotland is now ruled by a government it did not support, that sits in another nation's capital.
An independent Scotland faces potential problems. Britain faces certain problems; the British state is the problem. Yes, Scots, you will run into difficult waters, but when you look back to the great ship Britannia you will see its vast wooden bulk continuing to slide beneath the waves - it is holed below the water line, a feudal oddity that stuttered into the 21st century by dint only of the genius and charm of its officers. Britain is a deeply anti-democratic state. Its institutions have been revealed as dysfunctional at best, and institutionally corrupt at worst. Economically it is in terminal decline, it has no future. It no longer has any moral purpose, no idea of what it should be doing; it has lost all sense of what a good society looks like. Scots can remain subjects of a declining imperial state or they can make the choice to become citizens - they'll make mistakes but they'll be Scotland's mistakes, not London's, and their triumphs will be theirs alone. Ultimately, they'll govern their own country, a Scotland for, by and of the Scots. I hope Scotland says No to London and says Yes to building a new, democratic nation. One day, I'd like to think they will be writing articles urging a Yes vote in England.
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