#IndyRef Myths

For the last time, it’s not about Alex!

“Alex Salmond is behaving like Kim Jong-Il” – A. Darling MP

 

It seems, to me, rather unfortunate that, in the process of debating the most important political decision in our country’s history, we are always dragged back to one issue. “I don’t like Alex Salmond, so I’m voting ‘No’.” It seems a key argument being used by a large number of people intending to vote “no” in September and is of constant annoyance to those on the Yes Campaign, many of whom, myself included, do not like or vote for Alex Salmond or the SNP.

This has been a back and forth for as long as the debate has been going on, with the various blogs, websites, and news sources that back a Yes vote constantly having to retaliate and try to convince people that it’s not just about Eck. With all that’s been said on the matter I reckoned that I’d just leave it, surely people were beginning to get the message now and surely there are enough posts saying the same kind of thing. However, a number of my friends (and some bloke I ended up chatting with in a pub yesterday) seem to be ardent “No” voters on this very premise.

So, I’m going to try my level best to dispel this myth.

This referendum is not about any one party, least of all any one man; it’s about us. The referendum in Scotland is about how we choose to rule ourselves, about getting the chance to elect our own governments and make the decisions that affect us in country we live in. In shortest terms, it’s about democracy.

If we take a look at the wider Yes movement, we see a great many organisations campaigning for a “Yes” vote, for example;Yes Scotland(non-Partisan, grass roots campaign), Radical Independence (Socialists/Far-Left), the Scottish Socialist Party, the Scottish Greens, Teachers for Yes, Academics for Yes, Yes LGBT, Business for Scotland, National Collective (Artists and Creatives), Labour For Independence… the list goes on and on, and the SNP are only one of that list.

The wider Yes movement is perhaps the biggest grass-roots campaign in British political history. Yes Scotland, the official campaign for Scottish Independence was set up at the announcement of the referendum as a non-partisan campaign supporting independence. It has sprouted many local branches run by volunteers from all kinds of political affiliations, it’s views are very simple: Scotland can and should be an independent country. It doesn’t endorse any particular SNP policies and was not behind the White Paper.

Then there are the massive number of campaigns that have popped up around it too. Labour for Independence, set up by Labour Party activist Allan Grogan, is made up wholly of members of the Labour party or people who are Labour supporters – given the political landscape of Scotland, I don’t think many of them vote SNP. The Radical Independence Campaign is a hard-left campaign for a socialist Scotland, not exactly your garden variety SNP supporters. Business for Scotland and other centre-right groups made up of members who would ordinarily vote Tory have sprung up looking for a Scotland that helps businesses (outside of London anyway…). And let’s not forget the other parties supporting independence; the Greens and the Scottish Socialist Party.

To summarise all of that, the Yes movement is a very intricate and diverse tapestry of different ideas and visions, the visions of the SNP are only one part of that tapestry. All, however, share a common idea that Scotland would be better as an independent country.

So, you may be asking yourself, why is it, then, that I only ever hear about Salmond? Why is he the one people on the news are bigging up? Well, it’s mainly down to one reason, a reason which Ian Hamilton Q.C. summed up quite nicely:

“Referenda, or referendums, are quite uncommon, so the press seem to think that this is a fight between the SNP and the other political parties. It’s nothing of the kind.”

 He is quite right here, of course. Most of our big political decisions are ones fought out between two parties or groups of parties, the prime example being elections. A whole host of options are thrown at us by the different parties and then we are asked to vote on them and decide. And the big decisions in Parliament, such as NHS reform, are always fought out there, we don’t get a say and it’s between the parties anyway.

Now we come to this odd situation of a referendum, we haven’t had one in quite a wee while and they generally don’t happen all too often either. Add to this, now, the idea that this is the biggest political decision Scotland has ever, or likely will ever, make. Surely such a big decision has to be a battle of party politics, because we know that the ordinary people are never involved in politics!

I will grant you that the SNP are the ones who called for a referendum, but to be fair nobody else was ever going to do it. However, in this case it is the ordinary people who are running the show, debating, campaigning, canvassing, etc. The party political side of things will still rain on in Holyrood, but that’s only because nobody has changed Johann Lamont’s speech since last year. But out on the streets, it’s the people who are doing the leg work, everyone on the Yes side of things has dropped their party affiliations and political differences to work for one thing.

So, with the vast number of normal people giving up their time, wondering around, asking questions, organising meetings and other events, surely we should notice that this really isn’t about the SNP, much less big Eck? Well, once again, Ian Hamilton Q.C. sums things up for us.

“It suits the ‘No People’ to bring in this element of confusion; ‘Oh, if you vote yes that means you’re SNP.’ It’s nothing of the kind.”

This is rather unfortunately true and, I don’t want to sound all conspiracy theorist here but, the mainstream media are primarily based down south – the BBC has a substantial amount of government funding – and it ultimately suits them to have the Scottish people vote “no”. Better Together, being made up of the biggest parties (and the UK Government) have been able to play on this spectacularly and have allowed the media to churn out story after story relating to “Alex Salmond’s campaign for independence.”

Yes, this is a huge abuse of power on the part of the media and Her Majesty’s Government, but there’s an issue for another time.

What I have noticed over the past few months as the debate has heated up is that those who intend to vote “no” are, for the most part, not entirely politically savvy. Now before you blow your tops, I am not saying that they are all stupid, I am simply saying that the majority of those I have spoken to haven’t really read much into the debate – most of them just want to stick to the status-quo because that’s all they’ve known.

But there is another reason, put very aptly by the bloke in the pub I mentioned earlier who said to me, “I just go by what I see on tele.” And there it is again, the mainstream media are, in order to protect their own interests, perpetuating this “element of confusion” which convinces the politically apathetic (sadly much of our population) that a vote for independence is a vote for Alex Salmond.

It has meant that, in order to get the other side of the story, one has to look into other sources like the vast number of blogs and websites that have sprung up around the campaign. Whilst the writing on some of these is excellent and truly thought provoking, it’s quite unlikely that you’re ever going to really convince someone who is quite politically apathetic to actually go and look at these sites.

And why are these sites never promoted in our mainstream media? Because the vast majority of them do not support or endorse the SNP. The all offer a different take on independence and, god forbid, should anyone ever see these sites, they might realise it’s not about Salmond after all.

This debate is about something much bigger than Alex Salmond or the SNP. It’s about you, it’s about your children and it’s about every generation of Scots to come. So guys, if you’re about to tell somebody that you’re only voting “no” because you hate Salmond, do a bit of reading first.

And regarding our source of the day, Mr. Hamilton?

“I haven’t been a member of a political party for quite some time, and before that it was the Labour Party, not the SNP.”

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#IndyRef Myths Dispelled: Papers Please!

Papers Please! Better Together warns of fences, flags, passport offices and tight border controls into the Union of Scottish Socialist Republics.

Papers Please! Passports and Soviet Style Borders Predicted

It’s 2017, The Scottish Union has been independent for a year now, very few people are ever allowed to pass into the dark, secretive state; you are one of them. You rattle in up the road towards the Gretna border station in your Transit van, the vital supplies of Twining’s tea and Bombay Sapphire gin in the back. You reach the wall, a seventy mile stretch of concrete, topped with barbed wire and with Saltire sporting watch towers dotted along. You roll up to the checkpoint, men in dark uniforms take you into an office to question you and browse your papers, dog handlers search the van outside. It’s all okay though, they can see by your passport that you pass through here often with vital goods for the Motherland. You are sent on your way. Another is not so lucky; as you drive out the other side you see a tourist being taken away – an unregistered camera and incorrect papers. Arrested for spying. But this is all routine for you, you look straight ahead, switch to the right hand side of the road, and continue onwards to Salmondgrad.

 I’m sorry, I may have got a touch carried away there, but you can see how ridiculous this sounds – if a little embellished. But this is the kind of fear that the Better Together campaign thrives on, and one of its big stories of the debate. Granted, we might not be talking about the Union of Scottish Socialist Republics or deliveries to Salmondgrad, but the border is definitely something they’d have you believe in.

It is the belief of the Better Together campaign (at least in public) that an official border would have to be erected between England and Scotland should Scotland decide to vote for independence. This border would likely have checkpoints, fences, passport control, customs, make you switch to the other side of the road, etc. Just like those ones all across the continent. Oh wait…

Dutch-Belgian border with its imposing fences

It’s not an unknown fact that in Europe, we have something called the Schengen agreement, according to which, people, goods and labour can flow freely between signatory states. In other words, no borders. In fact, I could walk from Portugal’s west coast to the Black Sea coast of Romania and never be required to show my passport.

How has this panned out for Europe then? Badly, I assume? Nope. It’s been a rather good success, actually. People can travel all over Europe as tourists, only needing to show their passport once if their from outside the EU, spending money, taking in culture, trying desperately to speak the local language, etc. People can also live in one country and trade in another; the amount of trading that EU member states can now do with each other, from the wee chappy delivering some quality German Pilsner to a pub in France to multinational corporations opening up across Europe, is huge. This flow of people and trade ultimately means the flow of money and jobs. It also makes for much better holidays!

But then, Britain is an island, so we’re different, as we’ve so often been told by Westminster. Although that hasn’t stopped Iceland signing up to the Schengen area, despite not even being in the EU or using the Euro.

But what about the UK’s land border? Yeah, you know, with the Republic of Ireland. You’ll  note that on a journey from Belfast to Dublin, you won’t be stopped at Dromad and be required to show your passport. The border between Northern Ireland and the Republic is, in fact, quite open. Even if I wanted to sail into Ireland or fly into Ireland, I would not be required to show a passport (although passengers flying in may be asked for identification or proof of nationality for security reasons).

So why is this? Well, because there’s too much trade that flows between the two states to justify putting up a border. Putting up restrictions would stifle the flow of trade between both countries and invariably hurt both economies to some extent. Secondly, a large number of people work across these borders, visit family across them, or simply travel through them on a daily basis. Apart from hurting the economy, it would invariably piss a few people off.

This is all down to something called the “Common Travel Area”. It’s essentially a mini Schengen area within the British Isles, comprising Britain, Ireland, the Isle of Man, Guernsey, and Jersey.

So, if Scotland decided to become an independent state, it would automatically be excluded from the CTA, would it? Well, whilst Project Fear would have you believe that, it’s most unlikely to work. Scotland, as I discussed in last week’s post, is England’s second biggest trade partner and England is Scotland’s biggest trade partner. Setting up a border between the two would damage this trade quite substantially and hurt, not only the national economies, but local economies close to the border that rely on a great deal of cross-border activity.

You see, it’s not only the big corporations working across the border, but it’s small businesses and communities that profit from an open border too. This can be from a local decorators’ company in Carlisle getting a call out to a job in Langholm just over the border, to a farmer in Clappers popping up the road to Foulden to buy a Scottish plain loaf and Lorne sausage for his breakfast. Not only are there Scots working down south, but there are English people working up north too, and some Welsh, but they seem not to make so much of a fuss.

Again, many people have family on either side of the border, setting up a great wall would likely upset them too. After all, why should the Frenchman be able to visit his uncle in Finland without having to show his passport, but the lady from Manchester should have to go through strict border controls to visit her granny in Glasgow?

As far as some of the Better Together arguments go, this is by far the weakest. A border in the sense of checkpoints, searches, papers, and questioning between Scotland and rUK really is quite out of the question. Guys, you can leave off the frantic searches for your passports just now.

#IndyRef Myth Number Two: Busted

#IndyRef Myths Dispelled! Ye’s Cannae have the Pound!

As the referendum on Scottish Independence approaches fast I thought I’d best jump on board with the #IndyRef thing. My aim is, in addition to my other (somewhat sporadic) postings on this blog, to weekly put up a brief post dispelling one of the many Project Fear myths about an independent Scotland in terms most basic. I shall try my level best to avoid the maelstrom of figures and polls that fly about this debate all in seemingly different directions. I shall try to put the simple facts across in a manner that provides as little confusion as possible. In essence, I shall put across the layman’s common-sense answers to the Project Fear myths.

With any luck, I shall get sixteen such posts in before the Referendum leaving me a whole day to go to town before the polls open on Thursday morning. So without any further delay, let me dispel #Indyref myth number 1:

Ye’s Cannae Have the Pound!

Our Currency for 307 Years and Counting

This is the Treasury’s favourite so far, it would seem. Being told that an independent Scotland could not have the pound is something that, quite rightly, raises concerns for the average Scot; the currency in our pocket is something that we take for granted and is vital for many aspects of day to day life, brining the certainty of that into question brings into question everything from the weekly groceries shopping to the trading of goods internationally to the national budget.

It’s no surprise then, that when the Treasury decided to flat out tell us that an independent Scotland would not be able to use the pound, the ordinary people squirmed a little and begun to have second thoughts. Questions were raised and backup plans discussed such as a new Scottish currency, the strength of which could not be guaranteed, or, Gods forbid, the Euro. I will admit that even I was sceptical and wanted to know if there was a backup plan; I even wrote to my local MSP at the time, Johann Lamont, though that was simply a waste of good paper and ink.

However, there doesn’t need to be a backup plan at all. When Alex Salmond, Nicola Sturgeon and the rest of the SNP, whether you love or loathe them, tell us that “the Pound is as much Scotland’s as it is the rest of the United Kingdom’s”, they are quite right. Scotland at present trades in the Pound and even has three banks permitted to mint notes in Sterling. The previous currency of Scotland, the Pound Scots, was officially replaced in Scotland by the Pound Sterling by the Act of Union 1707 to become the currency of the Kingdom of Great Britain (later the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and then the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland).

The idea that the currency of the Pound Sterling belongs solely to HM Treasury and the Bank of England is laughable. Even should the idea of a formal currency union be rejected by London, which is also quite unlikely, there are still ways about it.

Scotland could quite easily do what the likes of the Isle of Man, Guernsey and Jersey do – that is have a currency called the Pound, or some derivative thereof, and peg its value in some form to GBP. As a matter of fact this has been done quite recently; when Ireland declared its independence, it used an Irish Pound pegged to the Sterling’s value, this currency lasted Ireland well before it adopted the Euro. Scotland could quite easily do the same, although I shan’t speak of joining the Euro – that’s somewhat shakier ground, I fear.

But let’s focus on the main question of a formal currency union between rUK and an independent Scotland, after all, that’s what the SNP are banking on and, let’s face it, the best option and the one most would probably back following a “yes” vote. It’s also the one argument that the Treasury and George Osborne seem most desperate to avoid actually having.

Quite simply put, the idea of rUK rejecting a formal currency union flat out is ridiculous, for this we need only look at two arguments; cross border trade and oil.

Scotland and England, in case you haven’t noticed yet, share a land border and share a great deal of trade. England is Scotland’s biggest source of imported goods, whilst Scotland is England’s second biggest source of imports. In conjunction with this, a large number of companies trade and operate across the border on a daily basis, from things as big as companies trading goods en-masse to English folks popping over the border for a Scottish plain loaf.

The reason all of this flows so seamlessly is because at both ends the same currency is being used. People working between the two countries need only carry one set of bank notes, don’t need to worry about conversions and exchange rates. The Scottish Government have quite sensibly chosen to respect that and have vouched for a formal currency union with rUK, following a “yes” vote, to continue to facilitate this trade. The UK Treasury, however, has decided that this simply won’t do and would jeopardise trade, money, and jobs and likely causing massive damage to both economies, simply because it doesn’t like the idea. It’s a rather spectacular case of the UK government saying, “we don’t care if it kills us, as long as it hurts you too!” Not a terribly mature move, but what else can one expect from politicians.

But the biggest argument against the UK’s position on this is quite simple: Oil.

The currency of a nation is only as strong and valuable as the economy behind it. Currently North Sea Oil and Gas contributes a sizeable amount to our Treasury’s coffers each year and has done for the past few decades. The sheer volume of oil in the UK’s territorial possessions has been a major factor in the strength of the Pound compared to other global currencies, especially since the advent of the Euro, which fall all its failings, continues to remain a strong currency and has, in general, increased considerably in value over the past few decades.

Should Scotland become an independent nation, it’s territorial waters would give it 93% of the total North Sea Oil and Gas holdings currently under UK control. Should the UK reject a formal currency union with Scotland, Sterling would no longer have its large oil wealth behind it. The shock of such a sudden removal of so valuable a resource as oil would do a great deal of damage to Sterling. Meanwhile, should Scotland have all that oil to itself, what ever currency it should chose to take would benefit enormously.

To put it in as few words as possible, whilst outright rejection of a formal currency union would perhaps cause an upset in Scotland, it would likely be fairly small and short-lived. The effect on the rest of the United Kingdom, however, would not be so pleasant and would lead to a major economic crisis. A no to a currency union would definitely hurt rUK much more than it would Scotland.

In summary. The idea that Scotland could not have the Pound following independence is quite ridiculous and poorly thought through.

#IndyRef Number One: Busted.