My main fear over the independence vote is that we will end up going to the polls without sufficient knowledge to enable us to make an intelligent and informed decision. So far those who have come forward and taken the time to make their thoughts public have met with a mixed reaction and I am unhappy that some would try to stifle debate rather than encourage it. This has led to my decision to create this additional page to my web-site and attempt to spell out my thoughts as best I can.
Firstly everyone’s opinion is as important as the next person’s and the “what makes them think their opinion is so special” reaction that we hear from some quarters has to stop. Those who put forward a polite, succinct and honest expression of their views and unanswered questions/doubts should be applauded for their efforts whatever side they are on be they well known public figure or not. This is the only way that the intellectual substance of the debate can rise to the level that we need.
I will attempt to lay out the “pros and cons” for and against independence as I presently see them. Before doing so I will declare my political background by explaining that in 1963 I was a 15 year old schoolboy in a blazer with a lapel that sported both a CND and SNP badge. Nowadays I’d be comfortable with the CND badge but as a socialist republican I gave up the SNP badge sometime ago. I am a member of the Scottish Socialist Party.
The Pros. There are a good number of areas in which the SNP has succeeded in taking us in a direction that I favour over that taken by the UK parliament and others where they have only been prevented from doing so through political gerrymandering. Many areas that have been blocked can only be taken forward if Scotland gains independence. I applaud the SNP on providing free prescriptions, free personal care for the elderly and on their stance against tuition fees, PFI projects, bridge tolls and hospital car park fees. I agree with increased investment in renewable energy sources and I would like to see the removal of all nuclear weapons from Scottish soil and an end to expensive, destructive and wasteful interventions in foreign territories by our armed forces. I agree with the principal of a Local Income Tax which the Westminster government, aided and abetted by the Lib Dems at Holyrood, prevented the Scottish parliament from implementing. I admire the SNP’s courage in standing up to American criticism of how they dealt with the Megrahi issue although I’d like to see more done to investigate the CIA’s role in the original trial and the money that changed hands between the CIA and the Maltese shopkeeper (key witness for the prosecution). Only in an independent Scotland will it be possible to take full charge and make progress in those areas that are presently outwith the powers of our Scottish parliament.
As a socialist republican what certainly makes the “yes” camp attractive to me is the presence of the SSP and the Greens in that alliance. The increasing distance between the political priorities of the Scottish parliament and that of the Westminster Coalition suggest that an independent Scotland will lead to a political landscape where the Tories and LIb Dems are likely to become minority parties. No longer shackled and chained to Westminster Scottish Labour are likely to re-align themselves left of their present position and the SNP, having achieved their reason for being, will be struggling to replace it with anything that makes them a better election choice than anyone else. A re-alignment of voter allegiances will take place and the SSP and the Greens will have a great opportunity to pick up support. Who knows, Scottish Labour may even return to socialism. The present UK government’s attack on welfare benefits is already being most vociferously challenged by the SSP who are actively collecting signatures to petition against the “bedroom tax”. This most offensive of taxes since the poll tax combined with recent oppressive legislation that attempts to force the seriously and long termed disabled back to work has resulted in no more than murmurs of disapproval from the SNP and Labour. An independent Scotland will have the power to change all this and, I believe, Scotland is already showing itself to be a more caring society through our parliament’s use of its existing, albeit limited, powers. An independent Scotland can do even more.
As for the self sustainability of the Scottish economy, I have no doubt that we can do it. The question is whether we want to and how well we manage it. As a nation we have an enviable reputation for being canny with money, we have an existing financial sector and should certainly be able to draw up a better budget plan and regulate our financial sector better than the UK has been doing. Opting out of the nuclear arms race and endless expensive foreign military interventions would be a good start. Effective budget management is about living within your means. The UK budget is being run well outwith that and is in a right old mess. Quite apart from the moral issues that nuclear arms and military campaigns raise we cannot afford to keep squandering money in this way and, with no indication that the UK is about to change course, taking matters into our own hands through Scottish independence may be the only answer. Opponents will argue that jobs will be lost but there is no reason why expenditure cannot be redirected and invested in internal work projects that will create jobs for home-based workers (or unemployed) whose money will continue to circulate in and stimulate our economy rather than explode into nothingness on a foreign shore. As an example, how about creating jobs to fix the roads?
We are a nation of a little over 5 million people. We have good food producing agricultural land. We have mineral resources on-shore and off-shore. We have 90% of what’s left of the UK fishing industry and our whisky industry is a major earner for the UK treasury. We are developing technologies to harness an ample supply of wind, wave and tide and we already have an extensive hydro electric system to harness our ample supply of water. Water itself is becoming a precious world commodity. Our natural habitat provides for us on a level that most countries would envy. We also have a good and well established education system including a number of world renowned universities with highly successful science/medical research departments and we have our own legal system.
We have the means and some strong reasons for saying “yes” to independence. Do we have the will?
The Cons. Whilst I applaud much of what the SNP government has managed to achieve, in a hostile political environment where the established UK parties have twisted, turned and about turned in order to prevent them being given credit for anything, I do have reservations about them. I didn’t enjoy seeing Alex Salmond cosy up to Donald Trump and champion his interests over those of the local residents most affected by it. It stunk a bit of the old adage “money talks” and I found it offensive. Neither am I happy with the SNP role in the “yes” campaign at this point. I find it lacking in substance and I fear they are over relying on votes from the heart. I know where my heart lies but I intend to vote with my mind and I want more detail. It’s all very well for the SNP to say they cannot promise us now what can only be decided after independence but they are asking us to empower their government to negotiate an independence deal on our behalf and I want to know more about what kind of deal they will be looking for. As a developed Western state the dismantling or division of responsibility for existing UK organisations and government departments will be no simple task.
1. There are a whole range of UK government departments and agencies that are fully reliant on expensive and complicated computer systems that were designed with UK rules and regulations in mind. These will be of no use whatsoever to an independent Scotland operating under its own rules and regulations. How is this change to be managed?
2. Will an independent Scotland continue to pay state benefits that are dependent on UK National Insurance records and is it hoped that Scotland will be permitted to continue with access to the UK National Insurance database?
3. The UK treasury is responsible for payment of occupational pensions to retired, civil servants and ex members of the armed forces. Which government (Scottish or UK) will be responsible for payment of occupational pensions to already retired UK government employees living in Scotland?
4. If any of this responsibility is to be passed to the Scottish government will it be a question of current residence or past employment location?
5. If the UK is to remain responsible for all retired UK government employees is it intended that the new reduced UK will be compensated for the cost of the Scottish share?
6. Is it the intention that UK government civil and public service employees living in Scotland will be transferred and kept on as employees of a new Scottish government?
7. Will existing occupational pension rights transfer with them?
8. Will members of the UK armed forces be free to choose whether they continue as a member of the UK forces or transfer to a new Scottish armed force?
9. Should the SNP’s recent decision that a “yes” vote will lead to an application for continued membership of NATO be read as a weakening of resolve against the presence of nuclear arms on the Clyde?
To Conclude. I want to vote “Yes”, I believe it within our powers and ability to make great changes for the better but I’m not fully persuaded that the SNP have thought things through sufficiently to manage the change successfully. I need to hear a lot more if I am to be persuaded that I can trust them to negotiate an independence deal that I approve of. Once the deal is sealed there will be no going back and we will be stuck with it. I’ve been treated to a few nationalistic rants from fanatics who scare me just as much as Cameron and Clegg and I refuse to vote from the heart alone. I agree with the instruction of the electoral commission that both sides need to provide more detail of how things will proceed in the event of a vote either way. The absence of a “devo max” choice is entirely the fault of the Westminster government and could yet end up backfiring on them. The questions and doubts that I set out in the preceding paragraphs above are only examples but as voting day closes in on us these are the kind of questions that will be thrown into the public arena by the “No” campaigners if the “Yes” campaign fails to address them first. It won’t be possible to provide a promise of delivery but it should be possible to provide a statement of intent and convince us that there are plans in place that can successfully manage the change.
I encourage all to enter the debate and have their say.
4 months on from my comments above and the debate has moved on a little but not as far as I would like it to. The “Yes” campaign continue to be vague with no clear statement of intent. We are being fed bits and pieces of information and promises when what we need is a detailed vision of the kind of independent Scotland hoped for and what kind of deal will be sought through the negotiations that a “Yes” vote will empower our Scottish parliament to carry out on our behalf. It seems we are heading for a choice between the vague promises of the “Yes” campaign and the dire consequences of staying within a UK that cares not a jot for the welfare state and the poor and vulnerable in society. Indeed it is David Cameron’s government’s actions that are most likely to result in me voting “Yes” even though as things stand it will be very much a leap into the dark. You could say I’m beginning to feel that my vote will be a risk assessment one.
Allan Johnston 27th July 2013
The 650 page Scottish Government White paper has now been published and there are some answers to my earlier questions numbered 1 to 9 in my initial post.
1. This question has not yet been addressed and there is still no indication of any awareness of the complexity and cost involved in the inevitable need for updated, or new, computer systems able to administrate and deliver a distinctly Scottish welfare and tax revenue system. The nearest the white paper gets to addressing this is where it makes the point that we already have some major offices and experienced staff based in Scotland who can deliver these services. That will only be true if they have the IT systems to match their government’s new rules.
2. The White paper proposes that a full State pension will require 35 years of accrued National Insurance contributions. There is therefore a basic assumption that this information will be obtainable from the existing UK NI database. As a retired civil servant I am very aware of the serious security issues surrounding access to the NI database and that this may not be as straightforward as it first appears to be.
3. This question has been addressed with an assurance that an Independent Scotland will take on responsibility for pensions of staff in the civil service, armed forces and others who work in Scotland’s public service, as well as existing pensioners and deferred members.
4. This question has been addressed with a statement that for current UK-wide public service pension schemes, the Scottish Government proposes taking our fair share of pension liabilities based on responsibility for meeting the pension entitlements of pensioners who live in Scotland at the date of independence. All public service pensions rights and entitlements accrued will be fully protected and accessible. There will be no difference to how much people pay for their pension or the level of benefits they receive as a result of the move to independence. It is intended that the already existing Scottish Public pensions Agency takes over administration of all Scotland’s public service pensions.
5. This question has been made redundant through the assurances mentioned in 3. & 4. above.
6. The White paper states the intention that existing UK government employees will be transferred to the employment of the Scottish government.
7. This question has been answered under 4. above. Connected to this issue the White paper also states the intention that in the first term of an independent parliament an Independent Commission will review and recommend policy for an appropriate State Pension Age for Scotland. It will also consider the impact this will have on the working and retirement patterns of Scotland’s public servants. As the UK government has already announced its intention to raise state pension age to 70 this means that Scotland could well end up with an earlier state pension age than England.
8. This question has been addressed and the brief answer is “yes”. All current personnel will be eligible for a post in the Scottish Defence Forces though they will not need to take it up. There will be no compulsory redundancy during their current service contract and it is expected that some Scottish citizens will continue to serve in the UK forces if they wish to, as citizens of Ireland and the Commonwealth do. It is also likely that citizens from the rest of the UK, Ireland and Commonwealth countries will serve in the Scottish Defence Forces. It is planned that 15,000 regulars and 5,000 reserve personnel will serve across Scotland’s land, air and maritime forces.
9. This question is addressed with the statement that “Our defence plans focus on a strong conventional defence footprint in and around Scotland and the removal of nuclear weapons delivering a £500 million defence and security dividend in 2016/17”.
Publication of the White Paper has therefore addressed many of the areas where I wished for more information with only questions 1, and 2. remaining unanswered. I still have concerns over these but as the debate has progressed the “project fear” tactics of the “No” campaign have driven me deeper and deeper into the “Yes” camp. Darling and Carmichael responded to the White paper’s publication in typical brain-dead fashion both deriding it as a work of fiction and bizarrely announcing that the Scottish electorate are not stupid at the same time as making no effort whatsoever to engage in any meaningful debate over its detailed 650 pages.
But there is another stronger reason making it inevitable that I will vote “Yes” next year. The UK government’s despicable treatment of the poor and vulnerable through recent welfare reforms sits in stark contrast to the White Paper proposals for a fairer society and it is that issue that will swing the arguement for me. Abolition of the Bedroom tax and the halting of Universal Credit are very attractive proposals to me as is the introduction of a single tier state pension of £160 in 2016. There are also plans to introduce pension and welfare reforms that better protect working and retired women. All of these, along with the proposal that we should keep the NHS in public hands are socialist ideals that I will be proud to support.
Allan Johnston – 11th December 2013
We are now less than 100 days away from voting day and I am even further rooted in the YES camp. Westminster is intending further welfare cuts and UKIP took 30% of the English vote in the European elections making it very possible that they could end up as part of the next UK government after the next General Election. They want us out of Europe and it seems inevitable that the next UK government will hold a referendum on leaving the EU. The finger of blame for all that has gone wrong is being pointed at immigrants, Europe, Alex Salmond, you name it. Anywhere but the UK government where it rightly belongs! Meantime the guilty parties that messed up the UK economy and took us to an illegal war in Iraq award themselves an 11% pay rise, fiddle their expenses claims whilst systematically dismantling the welfare state and the NHS and continue in their pathetic attempts to demonize Alex Salmond as some kind of Pol Pot style dictator. What an insult to our intelligence and an obsequious shower of wrongdoing liars and cheats the lot of them.
The “Better Together” unionist Westminster parties are vying with each other to offer Scotland more devolution powers if we vote NO but none of it matters to me anymore. They have all left it too late and no-one believes them. I concluded sometime ago that getting rid of Trident is my biggest reason for voting YES and that independence is the only way we will achieve that. Obama and the USA government have belatedly realised this and entered the debate in favour of the Union threatening an independent Scotland with expulsion from NATO if we insist on the removal of Trident from our soil. Ha ha ha, what a load of bollocks. We exist in probably the most strategically important area of the North Atlantic and they’ll bar us from NATO. Aye sure that’ll be right. Tell me another one!
Allan Johnston – 10th June 2014
Post referendum in which the vote was 45% YES and 55% NO on a massive turn-out of around 86% of the electorate there have been some interesting developments. Many have concluded that the last minute VOW made by Gordon Brown on behalf of the Tories, Lib Dems and Labour unionist parties will never be delivered. The promise of DEVO Max made has been watered down with Westminster holding on to powers of veto on all the important issues. 70% of tax powers and 85% of the welfare budget are to remain with Westminster under what is presently on offer 4 months on from referendum day. Having come so close to winning, YES voters are understandably wondering how many NO voters were won over by the last minute VOW and how many of them are regretting this with the benefit of hindsight. The S.N.P., the Greens and the S.S.P have been recruiting new members in droves with the S.N.P. now having the third highest membership of all parties U.K. wide. The unionists have been taken aback by the continuing rise in popularity of the YES campaign parties and poll predictions are that the S.N.P. could win 55 of Scotland’s 59 Westminster seats. Scottish Labour are in disarray and their choice as new leader in Scotland, Jim Murphy, could not be more helpful to the still up and running YES campaign.
This morning Nicola Sturgeon, as new leader of the S.N.P. was interviewed on the U.K. wide Andrew Marr show and made her case very well to a U.K. audience. Rather than further austerity cuts we should be cancelling Trident. S.N.P. members of parliament will now vote on English legislation that has a knock on effect on Scotland’s budget allocation (such as the N.H.S.). The S.N.P will fight along with others to create a fairer progressive society for the benefit of all but will first and foremost be fighting for Scotland’s interests. Nicola emphasized again that the Tories are not acceptable in Scotland and there will not be any alliance with them but an alliance with Labour has not been ruled out. Many Scottish voters see a scenario where the S.N.P. gain sufficient seats to prop up a Labour government as the best option available.
Interesting times indeed.
Allan Johnston – 25th January 2015 (Burns’ Night)