The haar has descended on Edinburgh. And so the city is shrouded in a thick, drizzly, muggy, coastal fog. But no amount of precipitation could dampen the spirits intertwined in this day, because this is the day Scotland goes to the polls. There is a palpable electricity in the air: a very real and present sense of excitement, friction, and apprehension. Television crews stand expectantly outside busy polling stations previously ignored by mainstream media. Council officials, normally left to twiddle their thumbs behind tables stacked with unused ballot papers, are tending to a steady stream of excited and hopeful constituents. Everywhere you look, politicos, pundits and grass roots campaigners buzz around, conscious that the future of the Union lies squarely in their hands. I’ve always loved to vote. I have always taken a great nerdy relish in planting a decisive and clear cross next to my person or party of choice. But today, I felt as if I were involved in something truly seismic. As I was leaving my polling station, I turned to the council worker ushering voters to the correct desks and said, “Feels big”. He grinned: “Oh, it is. We’ve had five times as many voters as we normally would by this time.” By 7am tomorrow Scotland could be on its way to becoming an entirely separate entity in the world, a nation state without affiliation to the Union. Or the status quo could persist, and the fights to be fought will be fought together. Either way, our little country of the North will never be the same again, we will not survive this unaltered – no matter the outcome. And my word it’s exhilarating.
In what follows, the best and the brightest of IANS editors, staff writers and contributors discuss why they intend to vote the way they do. We then finish off our discussion with a short consideration of the alternative: devo plus.
Rebecca Hewer, Editor-in-Chief, It Ain’t Necessarily So
Today, people in Scotland will vote to either break or maintain the union of the UK. This is an entity within which Scotland has, to varying degrees, been an active and willing member for more than three hundred years. To equate the union with imperialism is to ignore the enthusiastic exploits of the Scottish ruling classes in helping to create, extend, and maintain the inherently racist and exploitative British colonial project. This vote is not, then, about casting off the yoke of our oppressors. Those same ruling classes still exist and flourish as part of a Union which is historically sympathetic to the want of capital. A vote for independence is a vote for a different kind of state; one where taxation and redistribution represent the needs of the many rather than the few. Scrapping Trident, increasing corporation tax, and re-structuring public spending in line with need are all within grasp in an independent state.
Scotland is not a left-wing utopia and, whilst a yes vote may end Tory rule here, there are no guarantees that small-c conservative politics won't get a foothold. An independent Scotland would be inherently more democratic with proportional representation allowing for the plurality of political opinion to find expression. The reinvigoration of politics amongst those who had lost faith has been inspirational and I hope that the vitality, energy, and, importantly, relative unity, of the left throughout this campaign can be carried forward and built upon. Particularly over the last few months, the yes campaign has been firmly located at the grass roots in local communities all over Scotland, whilst the no campaign has parachuted canvassers into local areas.
Finally, the question of nationalism. From what I can see, a huge number of yes voters have denounced nationalism in favour of reasoned arguments for social justice and the opportunities afforded by constitutional change. There are nationalists in the yes campaign for sure, but it is no longer a nationalist campaign at its core. It has long outgrown the SNP and Salmond. The most nationalistic arguments I have encountered personally, have come from Better Together whose entire campaign is predicated on the idea of a ‘strong and proud nation’. Calling themselves patriots does not hide the fact that many amongst them are Scottish and British nationalists through and through.
There is no way of saying what will happen if we vote yes. This has been a persistent fear-mongering refrain from Better Together throughout. There is, however, enough degree of precedence to say that we know exactly what kind of future we all face if we vote no. I take hopeful uncertainty over despairing inevitability any day. At this stage, I am surer than ever that the only way to secure a better, more just, future is to vote YES.
Ruari Shaw Sutherland (Staff Writer), Ph.D Candidate, Geography
I can’t vote – I am an American who greatly appreciates Scotland and have no attachment to the Union Jack – but if I could vote, I’d vote No. Yes activists have legitimate concerns about the viability of social democracy and the health of democracy in Scotland. But their proposed solution – sovereignty – is misguided: extremely risky and likely disappointing.
I see this as mainly a political economy argument about whether Scotland can have a more fair and prosperous society, closer to an expressed social-democratic consensus, as an independent country. So: First, whether an independent Scotland would have the ability to choose this? Second, would it?
Sovereignty is deceptive as small states, especially, struggle to shape just societies amid the power of global capital. Norway is a counterexample, but Norway has its own currency. Yes’s proposed currency policies are all extremely risky: Whether in a currency union England would dominate, under “sterlingization”, or with a Scottish currency that (to preserve trade) would basically need to be tied to the pound, Scotland’s monetary policy would come from England. Scotland could not devalue its currency to boost exports or manage sovereign debt. The eurozone crisis has shown that, especially for small countries prone to asymmetric economic shocks (as Scotland would be, with a large oil sector), lacking these powers is very dangerous to the people that social democracy would help. Listen to Paul Krugman.
Don’t listen to Joseph Stiglitz, estimable though he is, since he bases his rosier assessment on a political gambit that Scotland would choose “the right policies” (social-democratic ones), which might justify the risks. So, to the second question: The social-democratic consensus of Scotland is probably overstated. Social attitudes research supports this. The greatest evidence for a social-democratic consensus in Scotland is the current party system, which is probably anomalous. The removal of the nationalist/unionist cleavage would likely, over time, lead to a more “normal” party system with a formidable center-right. I can think of no better gift to Scottish conservatism than slowly lifting the pall of Thatcher.
Only as Yes has surged and Westminster has panicked has it been clear that a No vote may not just be one for the status quo. Scotland’s nationhood distracts from the real democratic problem in the UK: the dominance of London’s economy and political culture in national affairs. Scotland, as well as other parts of the UK, may be able to do more about this now. The are myriad midpoints between acquiescing to a distant elite and granting Scotland the ability to make all its own mistakes. If they lose, I hope Yes activists will push for a good one.
(I develop these ideas more in a longer piece on Medium.)
Mike Slaven (Contributor) Ph.D Candidate, Social Policy
In a vein a bit different from my peers on IANS today, I'm abstaining from voting in the referendum on Scottish independence. Firstly, I was surprised that I was even given the option to vote - I'm not Scottish, I'm not British, but I’m an EU citizen and I'd arrived in Scotland during the end of summer 2013 thereby establishing residency. This grants me the right to vote – though it feels much more like a privilege considering my circumstances, and one I feel more than ambivalent about taking up. Perhaps this is owed to my upbringing in the States, amidst cries of patriotism from people across our political spectrum - but to me, voting as an act of political participation is both deeply personal and collective. It is for those that are personally invested in the future of a country they call their own, and name themselves among its collective of citizens. I will never be Scottish, or British, and even though my next years as a PhD student finds me tied to Scotland’s future, this investment is not enough; I am not a Scottish patriot – whether that means being a Scot for independence or a Scot who feels British as well – and cannot speak for my hosts. If the chances are that I won’t live my life in Scotland, or be subject to its laws as a Scottish citizen abroad, this is not my history, or my future, to decide.
Lilian Kennedy (Editor), Ph.D. Student, Medical Anthropology
It has been a long and tough decision to make, and I’m still not sure that’s the right thing to do, but I’m gonna vote aye, yes! Both sides have their pros and cons, both campaigns had their weaknesses and strong points but I have decided to follow my heart, given that my head is strongly undecided. A vote for a No is a vote mainly against risks and uncertainty, but I personally don’t mind risks if I think people are well equipped to deal with them, and that’s the case, in my opinion. Unfortunately, I haven’t bought the argument that Scotland needs to be part of the UK to be important in the World, to count for something in global decisions. As a EU citizen, I find the possibility of the UK to leaving the EU much scarier, then the future obligation for Scotland to create partnerships with foreign countries. As a foreigner in Scotland, who decided to live here ‘cause I love this country, a vote for a yes is a vote to have the possibility to make it a bit closer to what I’d like it to be, more inclusive and less unequal. I’m not sure this will happen, but certainly by staying part of the UK it will be even harder. The few words I have been asked to write here certainly do not well summarize all the thoughts and reflections that brought me to this decision, but I hope they do grasp the central ones.
Alessio Bertolini (Staff Writer), Ph.D. Candidate, Social Policy
I'm voting No because I believe we are better together. I'm proud of the work of the Scottish Government, and initiatives such as free prescriptions and personal care for the elderly, and I don't want to jeopardise these by creating unnecessary economic uncertainty, and by wasting money duplicating functions that we currently share with rest of the UK. I want to create opportunities for people in Scotland, not reduce them. I want everyone to have the benefits of being Scottish and being British, for students in Scotland to continue having access to both free undergraduate tuition, and postgraduate UK research council funding. I want a currency that is controlled by my country, not a foreign neighbour, and I want the economic security that comes with the diversity of industry and activity across the UK. I believe in Scotland playing a role in creating a better Britain and a better world, not just a better corner of Britain, and I want to continue to work with people all across the UK to do this. In an ever more interconnected world, putting up another barrier just doesn't make sense to me. I'm voting No because I believe in devolution, and that a No vote isn't a vote for no change, it's a vote for better change.
Hannah Cook (Staff Writer), Ph.D. Candidate, African Studies
It’s hard to sum up my reasons for voting yes because there are so many. But the basic case is this. On the 18th of September, for the first time in our history, Scottish people will be democratically sovereign. At this point, the questions becomes, do we think we run the country better if the country’s government is accountable to the people living here. The arguments for representative democracy were won a long time ago, so to me this is quite an uncontroversial case. What unites Yes is that we, collectively, feel that living in one of the most unequal countries in the world, where the poor are getting poorer and more destitute every day, is not good enough. We’re building something better. We are writing a new story. Up until this point, the British identity has been defined in conquest and marked in oppression. Our national story, of kings queens and landowners, has dominated our history. This is a different story. This is a story of representative democracy, popular engagement, a million conversations at dinner, bus stops and online and wherever else life can be found. If we win, we distinguished from the mainstream media, the Westminster elites and big business, all bets are off, and Britain may finally become the country its people deserve, rather than an aged empire clinging on desperately to its hideous past.
Joseph Ritchie (Visiting Contributor) PhD student, University of Manchester
Although the idealism and passion of the Yes camp is attractive, I'm obliged to say that if I had a vote, it would be a firm no. As an international student with significant assets in dollars, I've spent almost every day the past 5 years tracking the value of Sterling. I've seen how it can fluctuate based on political uncertainty, how there's only so much a sovereign UK (much less independent Scotland) can control foreign investment, and how a devalued pound (which is almost certain in the event of a Yes vote)! drives up the price of imports, and therefore goods--and we are, after all, on an island. I'm strongly in favour of helping the economically disadvantaged, but how is creating market instability, devaluing the pound, and making things more expensive for all of us going to do that? Ironically, won't it just hurt them more?From a global perspective, I'm more and more aware that sovereignty is a limited concept, and I lament that rather than taking global forces beyond our control into account, the conversation is too parochial. Scottish independence does not control how foreign investors will react, and therefore, exposes the Scottish and other UK economies to excessive risk.
Alex Gapud (Staff Writer), Ph.D Candidate, Social Anthropology
First of all, I must say that I am still undecided as to whether I believe that I should be allowed to vote. I have lived in Scotland for two years and will stay for at least three more. Does this, however, entitle me to have a voice in such a decision? I suppose that this is a question for another debate. Having worked in an office where I am one of two non-Scottish people, I have had my fair share of persuasion to vote this way or that. As I write this, I am inclined to make my mark next to the small but so significant word 'Yes.' I am aware of the myriad concerns related to Scottish independence. In my opinion, however, neither side has a fully compelling story to tell. Why? Because nobody can know, foresee, or take into account all the variables that play into independence. Why vote ‘Yes’ then? Quite simply, because I believe that Scotland is a great country; a country with great thinkers, incredible drive and hunger for innovation. I would like to think that, faced with uncertainty, the Scottish will create possibilities; faced with problems, they will create innovative solutions to make Scotland a front-runner in political, social and economic policy. This view might be slightly romantic, but we will never know if we do not try. In this sense, I do feel quite privileged to be allowed to vote, as I have started to consider this great country as one of my homes.
Ana-Isabel Nӧlke (Editor), Ph.D Student, Business
I am a stalwart socialist. Radical left wing politics inform everything I do. They shape my values, my relationships, my research. And so I was dismayed that, whilst in attendance at a No rally, a rowdy passer by shouted ‘Tory’ at me. Anyone with political persuasions such as my own will know this to be the greatest insult an opponent could administer. The sentiment thrown in my direction was not an aberration, however. Many believe that a vote to maintain the Union, is a vote to support the Conservative party but, in my eyes, nothing could be further from the truth. Secession is not an inherently progressive constitutional move. Yes, it could in this political moment facilitate some progressive change, but it cannot ensure that such change will be lasting. The latent right exist in Scotland, I can assure you. In actuality, secession could be interpreted as an inherently conservative choice, as nimbyistic and parochial. Take trident: we could choose to move trident out of our back yard, but that choice would not cause trident to cease to exist. Rather, we would ensure that we, and our civic organisations, no longer had any democratic say over policies surrounding nuclear weapons and disarmament. Scotland would proudly wash its hands of the scourge, but doing so would provide little comfort if ever the weapons are used. Additionally, the structural problems of Scotland are the structural problems of England: inequality, poverty, wealth disparity. In London, a city with a population equivalent to the entire country of Scotland, 1 in 4 children live in poverty. And we have a responsibility to those children, those children who are just as vulnerable and in need as our own – how can we abandon them? And finally, if Scotland severs ties with England, the English political landscape will likely swing even more to the neoliberal right than it already has. Perhaps some Scots feel this is incidental to their cause, but just think of England’s sphere of influence – In the UN, in Europe, in NATO, in G8, with the IMF, the WHO and so on. Do we really want a country so powerful to be so conservative? Today I voted No, I did so as a proud socialist, with progression in mind.
Rebecca Hewer (Editor), Ph.D Candidate, Social Policy
I’m voting Yes on Thursday because I don’t believe that working class and anti-capitalist solidarity is contained by borders. A Yes vote is not a vote to leave the rest of the UK to its fate. A Yes vote is proof of people power in the face of corporate- and state-sponsored propaganda. A Yes vote is proof that grassroots movements can actually make a difference, and that ordinary citizens can stand up to take on vested interests, and win. … because an independent Scotland has the power to force the UK’s hand when it comes to Trident –refusing to host Trident on Scottish soil will be the final push that Westminster needs to give in to international pressure to get rid of its outdated, useless weapon of mass destruction.... because Scotland has the potential to be a world leader on fighting climate change, the volume of the Green Yes voices across the country is high, and they have the potential to influence policy and the outcome of a constitution that could protect the environment and commit to a low-carbon future. … because I’m bisexual, and an independent Scotland would enshrine my right to fall in love with who I fall in love with, in a written constitution that homophobic political parties would not have the power to edit at will – not leave me to the fate of UKIP. … because I don’t think that a Yes vote is the answer; because it’s only the beginning. It’s the chance to build a better society, to cause a shock to that old boys’ club of Westminster, to show that, sometimes, money and power and scaremongering just isn’t enough to suppress spirit and hope. It’s not going to be easy or smooth. But the status quo isn’t easy or smooth either: just ask somebody depending on food banks, or a victim of the bedroom tax or ATOS tests. I’m voting Yes. But whatever the result, it’s impossible to deny that something has happened in Scotland. Something powerful. And it’s not something that’s going to go away in a hurry.
Miriam Dobson (Contributor) MSc student, Environment, Culture and Society
For the first 23 years of my life I lived in Europe and I understood Britain as part of it. When I moved to Scotland two years ago I began to realise, quite quickly, that there was a distinct difference between Britain and the continent, as I learned Europe was referred to here. More importantly, Britain is not as united as I thought it to be. With a wish for independence or not, when asking a Scot what their nationality was, they said ‘Scottish’. When asking an English, their answer normally was ‘British’. The difference struck me, though I never properly asked for the reasons behind it.
After two years of referendum debate, I think this first impression reflects a problem in the UK system that needs to be addressed. A partnership only works long term, when the partners feel equally respected. That the referendum is happening at all is in proof of the argument. I feel however, that the issues and criticisms raised in the debate, are valid for the whole of the UK and not only for Scotland. Different regions in the UK feel equally unrepresented, the City of London being one of them.
Living in Scotland during the referendum debate has been inspiring and I hope, that the Scots as well as the rest of the UK, keep up the level of engagement and constructive criticism not only in the days after the referendum, but for years to come.
Jenny Munro (Editor), MSc Global Crime, Justice and Security Graduate
It’s been fascinating to observe this referendum campaign grow from something that no-one really ever thought was a serious idea to now sitting on the cusp of major constitutional change. In 1997 I, like much of the country, voted for a new Scottish Parliament, with devolved tax-raising powers. The results back then were FOR - 74.3% AGAINST - 25.7% and for that Parliament to have tax-raising powers FOR - 63.5% AGAINST - 36.5%, all based on a 60.2% electoral turnout. I don’t think many of us thought that the 1997 vote would lead us to where we are today.
I admire how this debate has encouraged people to engage in politics and to feel that their vote does make a difference. I am glad that 97% of the possible electorate have registered to vote, and that turnout is expected to be above 80%. And I find it fascinating that it seems to be the topic of every coffee shop conversation around town. But I also lament that this debate has led us down a path of division and apparent intimidation. I’m astonished to read veteran journalists writing of the ‘heckling and abuse’ that they’ve been receiving and I find it disturbing that people get called “disgusting” for expressing a benign and inoffensive political opinion. Whatever happens, it seems clear that, when the result is announced, while just over half of us will be either cheering or breathing a sigh of relief, the other half of the population will be disappointed, angry, hurt, confused and/or disillusioned…
I cannot help but feel that this whole mess could have been avoided. Back in 2012, as the consultation for the referendum got underway, the Scottish National Party recommended that a third option, so-called “devo-max” should be added to the ballot. This would have offered more autonomy to the Scottish Parliament, whilst allowing it to remain part of the UK. It was even suggested that the SNP wanted this because they were not sure they would get enough votes for independence. Yet here we are today and the possibility of a yes to independence is very real. Unfortunately, that possibility is set against the background of a passionately divided electorate. I cannot help but wonder whether if we had been offered “devo-max”, we would actually be looking forward to a much brighter future together. So I’m conflicted. I want to celebrate the high levels of engagement and excitement about politics that is evident across the country. Indeed, a referendum that had offered us ‘devo-max’ would have been a non-event. Yet it would have left us a lot less divided as a nation.
Devo-max is not, however, on the ballot paper today. Wondering ‘what if’ does not help. As we move forward, I only hope that those on both sides of the fence, and at all levels of the campaign, can give time and space to reconciliation; to working out how we can come together again to move forward; and commit to being part of building a better future for everyone, no matter what the constitutional arrangement may be.
Alice Hague (Staff Writer), Ph.D. Candidate, Politics and International Relations
Happy Voting! With Love, IANS
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