The advocates of fear need to offer Scotland real reasons to stay in the Union – but is at already too late, asks Peter de Vink
Until this week, the conversation on Scotland’s future was recently characterised by scaremongering assaults from London and the “Bitter Together” throng north of the Border. Many Scots have been stunned by the pantomime of Westminster politicians travelling north and making ludicrous claims. The rest have yet to tune in to either side of the debate, hence we see limited movement in the opinion polls. On Tuesday, I believe we witnessed a turning point in the tone of debate and public engagement. We now have an in-depth, evidence-based positive case for independence.
That prospectus presents a serious challenge to Prime Minister David Cameron and the No campaign. It highlights the absence of any positive vision on Scotland’s future should there be a No vote in September. That should bring to an end the nation’s tolerance of the fears and smears from Westminster.
They have come under the disguise of “reasonable questions” or “official analysis” and we have read about them almost every day in the metropolitan media. First it was suggested the pandas on loan to Edinburgh Zoo would up bamboos and head south the day after the Yes vote, except the Chinese say that is nonsense.
In May, Chancellor George Osborne claimed mortgage rates would rise, except the objective and independent Professor Charles Goodhart (member of the Bank of England’s monetary policy committee from 1997 to 2000) repudiates this totally.
In June, defence minister Peter Luff claimed nuclear weapons would remain on the Clyde in the form of a UK “defence enclave”, except Downing Street cancelled that idea the following day.
In July, Business Secretary Vince Cable claimed the cost of mobile phones would increase across the Border, except on that same day the European Union announced the abolition of roaming charges.
Most recently, Home Secretary Theresa May came north under the auspices of a visit to hear about all the good things the Scottish Government and Police Scotland are doing to tackle crime (which is at a record low in Scotland). She stuck her oar in by insisting that an independent Scotland would be cut adrift from the UK’s security apparatus – which exchanges security issues with Libya, but not with Scotland! In contrast, the more objective and independent Dr Andrew Neal, principal investigator of the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) seminar series “Security in Scotland, with or without constitutional change”, thinks differently.
I am among a rare breed in Scotland. First, I am member of the Conservative and Unionist Party. As if that is not rare enough, I am also a Conservative who sincerely and passionately believes in Scottish independence.
The case for a Yes vote is generally regarded to be an exercise in progressive politics and in many respects that may be true. However, in my view, there is every prospect of a stronger right-of-centre voice and a more balanced democratic discourse in an independent Scotland.
In the meantime, the concept of independence entails more self-responsibility, individual freedom, competition and local democracy – the very ideals underpinning my political persuasion. Perhaps there is something for everybody in the Yes vote, so much so that the nation can come together as never before. My particular interest is the financial history and financial projections. In March, the Scottish Government presented voters with an independently verified balance sheet for Scotland, proving we have got what it takes to be a successful independent country.
We know Scotland contributes more taxation to the UK Exchequer than it receives back in spending, including functions still run from London, such as defence and foreign affairs. We know that Scots have paid more tax per head than the UK average every year for 30 years. We know that if Scotland had become independent in 1980, it would now be sitting with a £50 billion surplus, including our share of the banking bailout and the mistakes of successive Westminster governments, such as the Iraq and Afghan wars. We also know our economic strengths extend well beyond oil and gas – Scottish economic growth per head of population (excluding oil and gas) is on a par with the UK average.
The question is therefore no longer whether we could, but rather whether we should be an independent nation. The independence prospectus is not a panacea or miracle cure for Scotland’s problems. It provides credible answers to the reasonable questions on how and why.
By contrast, I am disappointed by the failure of my fellow Conservatives in the No campaign to put forward anything but scaremongering attacks on the Yes campaign’s proposition. Where is the detailed vision for Scotland’s future in the UK, and not just promises of more powers but clarity on how those powers would be used to improve the lives of Scots?
The No campaign has no plan for realising Scotland’s economic potential. It has no manifesto commitments on the likes of taxation, investment, jobs, childcare, schools, hospitals, justice, business regulation or even Scotland’s future in the European Union.
Yet if Scotland votes No to independence, we know it will face a UK-wide in/out EU referendum. It is time the advocates of fear had something positive and credible to say.
So let us hope that they come forward in the New Year with something better.
But will Scotland be listening by then?
• Peter de Vink is chief executive of Edinburgh Financial General Holdings