To Scotland, vote with an open heart and a clear head

Good luck on Thursday Scotland. Vote with an open heart and a clear head. Dismiss exaggerated risks and understand the real ones, and we'll see you as you emerge from the polling booth.

Anthony Painter
16 September 2014

Scotland has been deluged with instructions about what to vote in the last week. With one or two peculiar exceptions, the promises of Pyongyang being particularly of note, these interventions have been more tinged by self than Scottish interests. My interests are obvious. The short-term economic risk and diminished global stature of the UK are clearly not in my interests as an Englishman in London. Of course I'd prefer a no vote on that basis.

However, this referendum is not mine, it is Scotland's. And that is precisely as it should be. It is for people to decide their own destiny. It's not as if my voice doesn't count. In fact, there has been a thoroughly brutal and orchestrated articulation of my voice - let's call them 'the forces of hell'. The notion that my interests have not been articulated is absurd. The entire British state has been articulating them. So you don't need to hear yet another projection of what are actually my interests being dressed up as if that were synonymous with Scotland's interests. Instead, I'm going to do something rather different. I'm not going to tell you, as has usually been the case, in a patronising fashion, what to vote. Instead, I'm going to humbly suggest how you might go about voting: the considerations you might make as you head to vote on Thursday.

If you feel firmly British and value the British state then you know how you are going to vote. Conversely, if you feel that Scotland should have an independent voice that will emerge from a new set of Scottish institutions then your choice is equally obvious. However, many will be voting out of an uncertain sense of genuine desire to make the best choice for their country and their family's well-being. The answer here is not so clear.

Let's just get something out of the way at the beginning. Both campaigns have been incredibly dishonest at times. It is important to recognise that. The Yes campaign has wished away real economic and fiscal risks and has tried to scare you about the future of the NHS on a very thin basis indeed. If you stay in the union, the NHS will not be privatised unless you wish it to be. If you leave, the establishment of a new set of economic institutions will be tested in global markets. There is likely to be some turbulence. And yes, there will be austerity and, in the short term, it is likely to be more severe than if you remain in the UK. You will be able to tax in a different way however which may limit the impact on public spending in a way that the current UK government refuses to do. These will be your choices - albeit very constrained - and they will be tough ones.

So not all the warnings of the 'No' campaign should be written off just because of the manner in which they have been stated. For all its distortions and occasional ugliness, the Yes campaign emerges from this referendum with much more credit. It has the feel of a truly democratic and pluralistic movement. In itself it constitutes a democratic awakening. Like any pluralistic movement, it has its lunatic fringe. But in essence, it is an expression of a people of rich cultural diversity and has had the ability to inspire and engage. It is the type of democratic movement that has not been seen in the UK for generations. Westminster democracy does not inspire such hope and self-expression. That is one reason why we should all hope that the current model of Westminster democracy and the political factions who occupy it have had their day.

It is really difficult to know where to begin with the 'No' campaign. By this, I don't mean those who are doing their best on a day to day basis to give voice to an important and legitimate pro-union voice- they deserve enormous credit. I mean the wider nexus of the politically powerful, the UK media, and big business that has come together to defend the union. Let's call it what it is: British nationalism. If you think the only nationalists in this debate are on the 'Yes' side then look again. British nationalism has a long history and it is willing to use the full array of non-violent state means to protect itself. That is exactly what we have seen.

This has meant that a currency union that has a better than 50 per cent chance of being formed has been rejected as impossible. The Governor of the Bank of England has made a series of nuanced and carefully crafted public statements that he has allowed to be presented as insurmountable obstacles to union (when he clearly states that it is a political decision). A union will need a fiscal pact and common banking rules. But the same retail companies who were in No.10 Downing Street to coordinate their attack on independence the other day would be in there soon after arguing in favour of currency union. Without a rapid agreement, market volatility will soon force the hand of the UK Government to agree a currency arrangement with Scotland pretty rapidly.

Questioning of the British state has been devilishly reinterpreted as anti-English ethnic nationalism. Alex Salmond and Nigel Farage have been presented as two of a kind despite the fact that one is a bona fide separatist with a xenophobic outlook and the other wishes to join a transnational currency union, the EU, increase immigration and enter into a series of international arrangements. The British media has been hopelessly skewed and largely hysterical. Big business has gone into No.10 to effectively engage in collusion and price-fixing and the competition authorities have simply turned a blind eye. Maybe they don't take the threats seriously. On reflection, they are probably right not to.

The tragic element of 'project fear' has been the engagement of the Labour Party in a style of campaigning that has now legitimised precisely the type of attack it fears will aimed at Ed Miliband next May. Labour will have no political or moral defence when the same forces are aimed straight at it in the General Election.

Labour will pay an enormous price for this campaign: win or lose. If it's a no, then moves towards greater devolution in Scotland will have gathered such force. However, unlike in 1997, these demands will not be seen in isolation. This time, the Tories will extract a price. The number of Scottish MPs will be reduced and there will be new English parliamentary arrangements. Both are likely to be to Labour's disadvantage. Moreover, a good chunk of the 40 per cent or so of 2010 Labour voters that ICM has found to be backing 'yes' are likely to remain with the SNP. Labour's defeat in Holyrood could well spread to Westminster. The SNP will argue that only their voice can be trusted to keep further devolution on the agenda. So Labour's slow decline in Scotland is now likely to gather pace. Victory is costly.

None of this can hide the fact that the 'no' campaign does have some absolutely legitimate points about risk and uncertainty. You should not pay too much attention to forecasts of what may happen in 2025 or 2050. The point about independence is that it will set Scotland on a very different (and post-oil) trajectory. There are no forecasts that can take account of these policy and institutional changes so anything beyond the five year timeframe should be pretty much ignored. The short-term risks are very real. You won't be precipitating a depression by voting Yes but there will be tough decisions and volatility post-2016.

Can Scotland make a go of it? Sure, but it won't be easy. The case of Slovakia might be instructive post-independence. They found the going tough early on but then made a lot of the right choices and came to prosper more than its Czech neighbour. If Scotland made the right choices (though very different choices to the post-Communist Slovakia) after independence then it might go that way.

Absolutely nothing is certain either way. It all comes down to a simple test: can you vote in a way that your heart and a clear head are aligned? If so, that is the right choice whether that is yes or no.

All I will say is this, if you vote yes I will argue passionately that the UK should be generous to Scotland on its independence journey. So much of what we have built together is remarkable. We owe you. That will always be there. I've grown to love Scotland over the last few years. You have contributed so much and you continue to be an inspiration. Our separation must be an amicable one; an example to the world. And if you stay, I will argue equally passionately that more power should be yours. Good luck on Thursday. We'll be waiting for you on the other side. Keep your head clear and your heart in tow.

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