Thursday, 6 February 2014

A few non-economic reasons why I will be voting no to Scottish independence.

There is going to be a referendum on Scottish independence in September, and there is a chance that the nationalists could win. They are still trailing in the polls, but a lot could happen. Part of the problem for the pro-UK camp, I think, is that people are embarrassed to talk about why they support Britain. Some are afraid of online attacks, but more than that I think we have become so used to avoiding issues of national politics and conviction that we are actually uncomfortable to speak up. Instead we mumble about economic risks and cost-benefit analyses. Well, as someone who will be voting 'no', I am going to lay out a few of my reasons, none of which has much to do with money. 

Firstly, I don't want Scotland to be an oil-state. If independent, oil would account for 10%-20% of its economy. That is not healthy. Resource economies have a terrible environmental and social track record. For every Norway (and even it has one of the highest environmental footprints on earth) there is a Nigeria. Even formerly progressive states like Canada and Australia are now being turned into backwards looking resource economies thanks to their oil and coal.  

Second, an independent Scotland risks being a small society. Out of the UK, Scotland will be a little country. That can have its advantages, but it can also sometimes lead to a very small society and parochial viewpoint. I grew up in Ireland, and while that is a wonderful country in many ways, it can have a narrowness of view and experience that I would not wish to see Scotland adopt.    

Third, I think all of us gain through the freedom of belonging we can enjoy as part of the UK. I don't want any of us to be made foreigners in any part of this little island. I claim as much ownership over Bristol as I do Edinburgh, Devon or Mull. Right now of course I can hear the nationalists shouting that none of this would change. 'What about Ireland??!' they say. 'There are no borders there. We will still be able to go anywhere.' Well I lived there and can remember when there was rather a hard border there. Just because it is easy to move around now does not mean it will stay that way. There is a bigger point though. Being allowed to move somewhere, is not the same as feeling you have a stake in being there. I could happily move to Venice or Hamburg, but I would not feel as though as I could belong there. If the UK splits, Scots will still be able to move to Manchester or Newcastle, but they will be going abroad to do so, with all that that might eventually entail.

Fourth, there is something nice in being part of a country that is not purely based on historic ethnic boundaries. Born in England to Scottish parents and brought up in Ireland, Scotland and England I can feel 'British' far more easily than Scottish or English. My Chinese-Indian-Irish partner has said she feels the same. She can assimilate into a broad 'British' identity far more easily than Scottish, Welsh, Cornish, English, Orcadian or whatever. At the same time I think there is such a thing as British culture which transcends its components. It is impossible to define (isn't all culture - what is Scottish or French culture for example), but it is real, and it at the heart of the modern world. It is the result of shared stories and experiences and is not based around the desperate desire to project Scottishness or Englishness in an anglophone world. Scotland is not a colony. Its culture is not suppressed, it can simply express it as part of something larger.   

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I think that the UK is greater than the sum of its parts. It gains something by binding historic nations and units into something more encompassing and cohesive. Scotland and Wales gain by being part of a larger unit, giving them a voice on the world stage and a less parochial politics and society than they might otherwise have, while England gains by being taken out of itself, given a broader world view and made slightly less subservient to the needs of London and the South East.

Anyway, that will do for now. No doubt the nationalists will dismiss all of this as romantic drivel, but I think they are wrong. Whatever it may have been to begin with, the UK is more than just a collection of rump states. It has become something unique, and I will be voting to keep it together.