26) the uncertainty of a no
“So there is a good opportunity now for the UK Government to actually start having discussions to make sure that Scotland actually pays for itself.” - Tory MP Priti Patel, proposing changes to the Barnett Formula to cut Scottish funding
In a funny way, independence provides a degree of certainty. If we vote yes, Scotland will be a self governing country. The landing may be more or less bumpy, but the destination is clear. A no vote, on the other hand, brings with it no stability at all. With each Westminster party scrambling to promise a different settlement, we can be sure that constitutional change of some kind will stay on the agenda. We just don't know what the conclusion of that conversation will be.
Labour, Tories and Lib Dems have all now published proposals to increase power for the Scottish Parliament. What they talk about in these plans is the up sides for Scotland and the various extra powers for Holyrood. What they don't tell us is what Scotland will have to pay for these changes.
In so far as the Barnett formula would still apply, for example, do we seriously believe that the Tory tax devolution proposals won't lead to its renegotiation, and a cut in Scotland's funding? As The Telegraph's veteran Scottish commentator Alan Cochrane puts it, “pull the other one”. And what of Labour and Barnett? Carwyn Jones, First Minister of Wales wants it to be re-negotiated. Will he get his way?
In a sense, I don't object to a reassessment of the sums used to distribute cash across the UK. If the formula is unfair, it should be fixed. But if less money is the flip side of the devo-max coin (and it may well be), keeping that hidden till after the vote is profoundly undemocratic.
Stormont: the parliament building in Northern Ireland
It's not just money. When Northern Ireland had its own Parliament from 1921-1972, it had fewer MPs per capita at Westminster than the rest of the UK. This was seen as a part answer to what is now known as the West Lothian Question. If Tory MPs push again for constituency boundaries to be re-drawn, can we be sure they won't reach for the history books, look to an enhanced Scottish Parliament, and call for the same? If this does happen, it'll be hard to argue that Scotland gets more say in the world if we have even less say in the body that will represents us to the world.
The point, in a sense, is a simple one. As I've written before, the asymmetry of devolution causes genuine constitutional problems. These get worse with each extension of the power of the parliaments of the nations. Before the vote, of course Westminster will accentuate what they're going to give. What they haven't said is what they'll take.
All of this assumes, of course, that we can trust the Tories, the Lib Dems, and Labour to deliver on a promise made when their feet were against the referendum fire – and, perhaps more importantly, that we believe the party leaders making the promises will still be in their jobs for as long as it will take for these pledges to be delivered. How you feel about either of those questions is up to you.
27) A chance to retell the story of Scotland
T-shirt based on a design by David Olenick
There's a story I'd like to be able to tell my grandchildren. It goes something like this:
“In the summer of 2014, we decided to ignore our politicians and talk to our neighbours. Round cups of coffee and kitchen tables we discussed our greatest hopes and our deepest fears. We researched thoroughly and, politely but robustly, we challenged each other's arguments. Ultimately, most of us came to the conclusion that decisions about Scotland ought to be made by the people who live in Scotland; that Westminster was failing; that the status quo wasn't an option; that another Scotland was possible.”
We are all in part the products of the tales we tell and are told about ourselves. They help to shape us. For future inhabitants of Scotland, what we will have done in the coming years has the potential to encourage more positive stories about ourselves than the myths we currently bare.
One such damaging narrative is the idea that our history is abnormally bloody. It's encouraged by the remembering of warrior heroes: Bonnie Dundee; Bonnie Prince Charlie; Rob Roy; Robert Bruce; William Wallace... It's largely nonsense. I have seen scant evidence that Scotland's domestic history is any more violent than that of the average country.
What's the psychological impact of this collective sense of heroic brutality? I would rather live in a country better known for its foundation in remarkable democratic debate than one famous for the wielding of steel against skin.
Likewise, there is in Scotland an enduring belief in a fictional financial dependency. This was archetypally expressed on Channel 4 recently, when Tory MP Jacob Rees-Mogg was interviewing a woman in Dundee. She asked: “where will the money come from?”.
It's a question I've been asked before, often, and it gives a crucial glimpse into what Scots are coaxed into thinking about ourselves. Something has persuaded many in Scotland that the money spent on our public services has somehow been magicked up elsewhere – presumably in London - and given as a gift. The truth, of course is that Scotland more than pays its way in the UK, and has done for a long time. Where will the money come from? Where it's always come from: us.
What's the impact of this sense of self? of forever believing that we are living our lives as a result of the charity of some faraway rich man? And what would be the impact of realising that this is nonsense? In a sense, this bizarre belief is the fiscal incarnation of the Scottish Cringe. Liberation from this collective sense that 'no, we can't' could only be a good thing.
Countries across the earth who have achieved independence endlessly re-tell their foundation stories. These help to shape their understandings of the world. This September, as summer becomes autumn, Scotland will have the chance to turn over a new leaf.
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