Stephen Noon: Referendum choice isn’t about fear of future
The choice is a nation that serves the people or one that simply serves the Unionist interests, writes Stephen Noon
Scotland’s independence referendum has become very interesting. The First Minister and Prime Minister signed the Edinburgh Agreement yesterday and the countdown to the vote on Scotland’s future has begun.
When we look back at the story of the referendum, these past few weeks will be recognised as crucial in establishing what the vote in 2014 is about.
The fog of process has now lifted and in its place there is a new clarity. There will be one question – and in that question two choices: – a different path as an independent, self-determining country, or more of the same as part of an ongoing political union. And, for that reason there can, in my view, only be one answer – a new Scotland will trump the old Britain.
Do not make the mistake of reading too much into what the opinion polls have been saying. This is the start – not just of a new phase, but of a completely new race.
For anybody who thinks the outcome of Scotland’s decision is a foregone conclusion, my gentle advice would be: don’t count your chickens, because they most certainly haven’t yet hatched.
A lot can happen in two years. In April 1997, faced with a choice of devolution and the status quo, independence had support of 27 per cent, according to ICM. Two years later, in April 1999, facing the new devolution status quo, the same polling company had support for independence at 52 per cent, a 25 per cent increase.
In fact, much can happen in just a few months. As Wikipedia tells us, the initial polls in the run-up to the Quebec referendum in 1995 suggested that nearly seven in ten (67 per cent) of Quebecers would vote No to sovereignty. In the actual ballot only a fraction more than half voted No.
Opinion polls can only skim the surface of people’s views on independence and that’s why both campaigns have been conducting more detailed research. I’m not going to reveal any great secrets of Yes Scotland’s internal research, save to say that at the moment the polls do not adequately reflect where Scottish opinion is on the question of independence. For many who today say No, a more appropriate description would be not proven.
The polls will move, because, as with the Scottish election, people will begin to focus more sharply on what their vote actually means. In 2011, the real question was: “Who do you want running the country, Alex Salmond or Iain Gray?” In the referendum, whatever the words on the ballot paper, it will be a choice between a “social contract” Scotland, or a welfare obliterating Westminster.
Today, it is clear that the only way for Scotland to assume the powers it needs to halt the destructive, shortsighted, “everyone for themselves” Westminster agenda is to become independent. Those millions of Scots who seek a stronger Scottish Parliament for this very reason now have only one constitutional home.
If we are to protect the many gains of the devolution era, Scotland must take the next step, because to stand still in the face of Westminster austerity is to risk losing the things that accord with our Scottish values and which we hold most dear.
George Osborne’s speech at the Tory Party conference last week echoed Labour’s Johann Lamont with an attack on the supposed “something for nothing” culture. More damaging than the shared rhetoric is the common outlook, the joint promise for a post-No Scotland and Britain.
Osborne announced an additional £10 billion of welfare cuts (likely to impact on hard-working families and the most vulnerable) further undermining our shared vision of the welfare state, while Lamont, just days before, called into question talismanic devolution policies such as free personal care (supporting people who have paid into the system all their lives) and free prescriptions.
These benefits and others, such as the smoking ban in public places and the commitment to ensure Scottish university students do not have to pay tuition fees, are valued dividends of devolution.
The opportunity to do so much more were we in full control of our own affairs and our own budgets is what should excite all our politicians.
After all, a country like Scotland, which contributes 9.6 per cent of UK taxes but receives only 9.3 per cent of UK spending, has plenty of scope to protect the things that matter most.
Simply matching our share of UK spending to our share of UK revenues would mean around £2bn more a year to invest in recovery and public services in Scotland.
The choice facing voters as they enter the polling booths in 2014 is crystal clear. Do you want a new path with independence or an increasingly divisive and dangerous route with the union?
As the new Lamont-Osborne agenda brings into sharp focus, the clarion call for the no campaign amounts to little more than “vote no and things will get worse”. At its core, the choice facing Scottish voters is that simple.
With more powers off the ballot, the only way to protect our social democratic status quo will be with a Yes for independence.
For the people of Scotland, the vote is not about the flag we raise, but about the future we want to be part of.
We have the opportunity to define the sort of country we want Scotland to be. With one simple cross we can tell the world what Scotland stands for – what we value and who we are as a society and as a nation.
The agenda for a Unionist future is not one of hope or opportunity for Scotland. The polls may not move tomorrow, but move they will. Have no doubt, Scotland’s cause is there to be won.
• Stephen Noon is Yes Scotland’s Chief Strategist.
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Tuesday 21 May 2013
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