THE referendum on Scottish independence on 18 September will change the United Kingdom, regardless of the result.
Of course, a Yes vote would create the most dramatic shift. The end of the 300-year-old union would mean the building of a new nation, a huge project. But it would be a mistake to think that a No vote would not also reverberate from Land’s End to John O’Groats.
Unionist parties in the Better Together campaign have already promised that if Scots reject First Minister Alex Salmond’s independence offer, there will be more powers for the Scottish Parliament. The Conservative, Liberal Democrat, and Labour parties offer differing visions of this more powerful Holyrood, but all have staked their futures in Scotland on promises of more.
The Yes Scotland campaign, understandably, has tried to rubbish these pledges. Unionists have let Scotland down in the past, they say, and they’ll do it again. Any promise of an enhanced devolution offer is just “jam tomorrow”.
The nationalists have had limited success with this approach. A recent poll showed that an increasing number of Scots believe that a No vote will, indeed, lead to more powers. Given that a more powerful parliament has been, consistently, the preferred option for Scots, unionist success in convincing a majority that they may be trusted to deliver is problematic for the Yes campaign.
But it is not only in Scotland that the referendum – regardless of its result – will change the way Britons are governed.
A Yes vote in Scotland would surely invigorate independence campaigners in Wales, Northern Ireland, and Cornwall. It may be the catalyst for new debate about greater devolution for the English regions.
But, equally, a No vote would send its waves south. If the parties of the No campaign keep their promises, then those south of Scotland – of both nationalist and unionist persuasions – will look upon a country taking greater responsibility for itself. In that event, campaigners will want to know why their countries or regions cannot do likewise.
Politicians are alive to the inevitability of change. The Westminster Government is currently discussing the establishment after the 2015 General Election of a constitutional convention to create a devolution settlement for the whole of the UK. Prime Minister David Cameron recently discussed the idea with Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones. Newly-appointed Conservative Welsh Secretary Stephen Crabb says that devolution across the UK has developed in a piecemeal way and that a new standard model for making powers local is required.
Crabb describes fiscal responsibility as a healthy development and, should the Conservative party win the next election, we may see tax-raising powers handed over not to just to Holyrood but to other parliaments.
If Labour wins the next general election, then the offer to Scots will be different. On tax, Labour is muddled, with Scottish leader Johann Lamont proposing an unappetising system where Scotland could increase taxes but not lower them below UK rates.
But whatever a party’s position on powers for Scotland, the rest of the UK is watching.
The debate over Scottish independence has ignored much of the knock-on effect of the campaign. But change across the UK will impact on Scotland; on how we co-operate and with whom on a range of issues, from trade to tourism and beyond.
Those who oppose Scottish independence are often described as preferring the status quo. But there is no status quo, now: not in Scotland and not in the rest of the UK. Whether Scotland votes Yes or No, 19 September will mark the start of a journey of transformation across these islands.
Film talent deserves to be funded
Scotland’s contribution to cinema has in some instances been profound. But it’s more than 30 years since Bill Forsyth’s Local Hero and almost 20 since Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting.
More often than not, films made in Scotland are micro-budget affairs not blockbusters.
Politicians, many of whom enjoy the public relations benefits of being seen with actors and celebrities, have long talked of the importance of investment in Scottish cinema. We have the talent, they say, to compete with the best in the world. And they are right.
But our film industry, such as it is, most certainly doesn’t have the money. When Alex Salmond – perfectly cannily – used the US premiere of the animated film Brave to boost the Scottish tourism industry, he was not celebrating a homegrown movie, but one created by Disney and Pixar in America.
We are not likely soon to see Scotland producing films with the £110 million budget available to those behind Brave but we should do more to increase investment in film production because there is a huge potential upside.
Scottish film makers propose a solution which may have some merit.
Independent Producers Scotland, a body set up last year to represent the interests of 40 film production companies, wants all tickets sold in Scottish cinema to become zero-rated for VAT. The 20 per cent levied would then be directed into a film production fund.
No doubt, those in other industries might find such an arrangement attractive for themselves. It could easily be argued that shaping tax laws to suit the industry in this way would be unfair.
Sceptics might also point out that film-makers already receive taxpayers’ cash, which is distributed across the arts by Creative Scotland.
But we should not dismiss this proposal out of hand. The amount it would divert from the Treasury is a little over £23 million. A drop in the ocean in terms of the government’s finances, yet potentially transformative to the industry.
A healthy Scottish film industry would not only provide work and, hopefully, add to the gaiety of the nation, but it would create opportunities for the tourism industry.
What better way is there to show off Scotland round the world than on the big screen?