Harvey Aberdein: The prize we cannot afford to lose

Independent Scotland would maintain established cultural, sporting and social unions. Picture Ian Rutherford
Independent Scotland would maintain established cultural, sporting and social unions. Picture Ian Rutherford
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A Yes vote is simply opportunity to manage our own economic and political affairs, writes Harvey Aberdein

It is a telling point that Alistair Darling, the leader of the No campaign, Better Together group, always chooses to characterise Scottish independence as a matter of “separation”. It reveals a disheartening, yet hardly surprising, lack of imagination.

Despite the scaremongering and politicking of Better Together – or Project Fear as it more recently styled itself – as I understand it, a Yes vote next September will not mean the end of multiple unions between Scotland, Wales, England and Northern Ireland.

We will be choosing whether to re-shape the political and economic model of Britain through the establishment of an independent Scottish parliament whilst maintaining the common market, a currency union, the social ties of family and friends, sporting unions such as the British and Irish Lions or Europe’s Ryder Cup team, a defence union through Nato and Scotland’s continued membership of the European Union.

Despite the scare stories from those who really should know better, there will be no new border controls or restrictions on the free movement of people, goods, services, trade and capital. No drawing of lines. No separation.

Nor will we self-evidently break the geographic union between Scotland and England, although don’t be surprised if that’s the next “exclusive” to appear in the UK media. No doubt the seismic shock of a Yes vote will move the tectonic plates. I believe independence will protect and promote the Scottish economy rather than harm it. In this part of the world we well remember Chancellor George Osborne’s raid on the North Sea oil industry in 2011.

It took an extensive campaign by the industry, its trade bodies and the Scottish Government, highlighting how more taxes means less investment – which means less revenue to the Exchequer – before this additional tax on jobs was eventually reversed.

It seems to me that Westminster has shown itself, time and again, to be out of touch with the economic priorities and social values of Scotland.

We seem to be entering an investment boom in the North Sea. Well-respected forecasters predict oil prices will remain close to present levels, or rise further in future years. Even with a cautious estimate of prices remaining around $113 a barrel, it’s clear that Scottish oil and gas could generate more revenues than was previously assumed. History tells us that the oil price may be volatile but it is upwardly so.

The potential of Scotland’s oil and gas industry will only be realised if there is a political commitment to incentivise investment through a stable tax regime, particularly for extraction in outlying fields. Who is more likely to provide that? An independent Scottish Government which understands the importance of the sector or a dysfunctional Westminster system in bed with the City of London?

It was Westminster politicians, including Alistair Darling, who got the UK into our current difficulties, in part because the nature of our political system means votes in the south-east of England determine the government of the day and the short-term prosperity of those voters is determined by the short-term performance of the City of London. The production sector is simply not a priority.

Reports on the UK economic structure are commissioned every few years, the most recent being published by Michael Heseltine, on the need for rebalancing the UK economy by sector and geography. Yet an over-dependence on financial services in London continues unabated. The same bankers pursue the same short-term special interests of the City of London.

The UK is a deeply indebted country and the fourth most unequal in the developed world.

The south-east of England continues to offer the best jobs, the highest wages and most of the capital investment. In turn, the cycle of boom and bust will continue and this time we’re looking at a lost decade or more of real economic growth.

According to the latest independent Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland figures, we contribute 9.9 per cent of the UK’s revenue and receive only 9.3 per cent back in expenditure from London.

Small independent Norway has amassed an enormous oil fund for the benefit of its future generations. Scotland (and the UK) have nothing.

The Scottish economy is not just about oil and gas. We have very strong primary sectors. The quality of our farming and fishing produce is world renowned. We are relatively rich in natural resources and are amongst world leaders in alternative energy solutions. We have a varied manufacturing base and a sophisticated commercial sector.

The old argument – trotted out by Unionists, Scottish and UK, for generations – that Scotland is too poor to stand alone, has hopefully long since been silenced.

Westminster will continue to channel Scotland’s wealth towards repairing the mistakes of the past and in attempting to retain the remnants of imperial glory – or we could be investing in Scotland’s future. What is of more importance to me is not just the “wealth argument” but what we do with it. There is a widening political difference in attitudes towards social responsibility north and south of the Border. Most of us in Scotland take the view that “we are all Jock Tamson’s bairns” and that we have a responsibility for those less fortunate than ourselves. Westminster’s position, increasingly, seems to be “deil tak the hinmaist”.

With control of our own finances I believe we will be more inclined, and better able, to assist the less advantaged both at home and abroad.

I will be voting Yes because I believe in power closer to the people, free from the policies of a failing Westminster system. I believe decisions about Scotland’s future should be taken by those who care most – the people who live and work here.

A Yes vote gives us the best of both worlds. We will reform the problems of the UK economic model and address the democratic deficit whilst maintaining the unions across these islands which work in everyone’s interests. In September 2014, I hope that the people of Scotland, of whatever background, will resist the enormous pressures and black propaganda of the vested interests of the London establishment and their Unionist apologists. I believe they will stand up with confidence in the abilities of our own people and vote Yes.

I also believe that we cannot afford to do otherwise.

• Harvey Aberdein is managing partner, Aberdein, Considine & Co, a leading national law firm.