Why stay in a club you wouldn't join? (40 reasons to support Scottish independence, 37)

The risks and downsides of remaining within the union are examined far less than the potential problems of independence. To be rational, we must look at both future paths with equal caution.

Adam Ramsay
Adam Ramsay
6 July 2014

A no vote is an active choice to be governed from Westminster/Wikimedia

A series of decision making experiments show that individuals disproportionately stick with the status quo” - William Samuelson and Richard Zeckhauser

If the referendum were taking place in an independent Scotland and the question was whether Holyrood should hand control of key policy areas to Westminster, an overwhelming majority polled say they would vote no. They wouldn't join the union if they weren't already in it.

The question is always an interesting one, because it encourages us to assess options from another angle. In doing so, it helps to break through a well documented cognative phenomenon: status-quo bias.

Experiment after experiment has shown that human beings struggle to rationally assess a choice between what we see as the status-quo and what we think of as a change. It's hard to stumble into a chat about the referendum these days without coming across this phenomenon.

We see it when every possible economic risk of independence is discussed, yet the suggestion that UK policies are driving us towards the edge of another financial cliff barely enters the debate. We find it when the media endlessly chews over whether Scotland would be thrown out of the EU if she votes yes, but only occassionaly whispers the risk that she'll be dragged out in a UK referendum if it's a no. It helps explain why we are told that we'll have no control over our currency if we become independent and keep the pound, but never reminded that, with an independent Monetary Policy Committee, we already have no say over interest rates.

This logical fallacy is written across the newspapers who publish reems of paper on the loss of ship-building jobs if it's a yes vote, but barely ask why Scottish ship yards have been allowed by UK economic policy to fall behind those across the world; which ask how independence will affect universities' research funding, but don't discuss Westminster's war on their income from international students; which tell us that we must keep Trident to protect our lives but say little of the thousands of people who die early each year because of poverty in the most unequal country in Europe. As wages fall for the many and soar for the few, we're being boiled like frogs – encouraged not to notice that our pan is getting warmer and to focus instead on the dangers of leaping free.

This psychological trait also helps explain why people say they'll vote no just because a yes vote doesn't give them everything they want. This referendum will be decided not by those who wholeheartedly support either side, but by those who have misgivings about each of them: those who wish there had been another question on the ballot paper; those who feel that this is all a distraction and our real problems are not constitutional; those who would rather bring power to their local community or to workers than have it handed from one national parliament to another; those who are uncomfortable with nation states at all.

For these people to make a logical choice, though, they can't just ask if yes delivers the change they want. They ought also to pose second question: does the status quo they are being asked to vote for represent the status quo they want?

Voting no will do no more to abolish nation states than will voting yes. Voting no will do nothing to bring powers to local authorities or closer to us still. Voting no won't alter the globalised logic of the neo-liberal status quo. Voting no won't even necessarily bring us any closer to a federal Britain or to real devo-max – in fact, if no wins by a landslide, such ideas could be killed off for a generation.

The Better Together campaign ask us to look at all of the risk on one side but never to consider the risks of the other. They tell us that betting on black is a gamble without pointing out that what they are asking us to do is not to leave the game, but to bet on red. They want to make “no” the default option for all those unsure of yes, when in fact a no vote will also bring about a specific future world, and it is for that world that we will have voted. Neither is default. Both require equal inspection.

If we vote no, we will be making a choice to join the UK: one of the most unequal and least democratic countries in the Western world, with the worst level of industrial production and least happy children of the rich countries; and the least trusted politicians and highest rate of infant mortality in Western Europe.

We will be deciding to shackle ourselves to an economy which is utterly failing to invest in its future and reliant on an inflating housing bubble and a fire sale of public assets to conjure temporary riches. The referendum is the first chance that the people in Scotland have had to choose if they wish to join that union. Most say that if they weren't already in it, they'd choose to retain their independence. Why would you wish to remain a member of any club you wouldn't join?

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