Comment: No need for split to get Scotland we want
Scots want prosperity, a voice and to take pride in their identity, says Phil Anderton, and the way to do that is to stay in the Union
I WELCOME the referendum on Scotland’s future. I was born and bred in Scotland and now, back after a few years working abroad, I couldn’t be happier enjoying everything that’s special about my country. There is so much to enjoy.
But that doesn’t mean I’m comfortable with where we are now in Scotland. There are too many people out of work and in poverty to say that. So am I going to vote for a separate Scotland in 2014? No, I am not. I am voting to keep Scotland in the UK, not because I think that we are too small or that we are lacking the ability to be independent.
I believe that separating ourselves off from our nearest neighbours does not meet the long-term aspirations of the majority of Scotland’s people.
I learned in business with international companies such as Procter & Gamble always to start with a vision of what you’d like to achieve, then work back to decide the best strategy to get there.
In my opinion, most Scots aspire to live in a country with an enduring and fair prosperity, to have a real voice in matters that affect their lives, to feel safe and to be proud of their identity and heritage. This is a vision of a better Scotland.
So is the best way to achieve this vision by choosing the strategy of independence from the United Kingdom or by improving the status quo from within the United Kingdom?
One of the key principles of a union is the sharing of the upsides and risks of peaks and troughs over the long term. Ever since Scotland joined the Union over 300 years ago, the nations that make up our country have contributed their own skills, ideas and products. The City of London financial markets for example, despite troublesome times of late, contribute significant income to the UK purse.
When times are tough, we have the ability to leverage the resources of the UK to support areas at risk. Living recently in Abu Dhabi, I saw how the United Arab Emirates, a union of seven separate emirates, successfully and collectively overcame the recent financial turbulence felt by one of the emirates, Dubai, just as the UK was able to resolve the UK banking crisis.
I don’t agree with some who say that business, the engine of job creation and prosperity, will dry up if Scotland goes it alone. The markets will always look for the best places to invest and serve customers for business growth. But what evidence is there that businesses will invest more than they do now if Scotland goes it alone? Will we see more Scottish start-ups and more Scottish firms expanding into overseas markets? Do we honestly think that the promotion of our businesses, ideas and products would be enhanced if we went it alone and turned our back on the clout of the UK and our global network of embassies?
It is far more likely that separation would bring changes that would make business more costly and bureaucratic, especially in areas with strict regulatory requirements, for example in the financial and domestic energy markets. If the EU dictates border controls as part of Scotland’s entry into the EU, this will likely slow down trade with our biggest export partner, the new United Kingdom. Reducing corporate tax rates in Scotland is one argument put forward for independence, but it is very costly if the anticipated boom in business doesn’t materialise and is something our competitors can match.
And of course, there’s the oil argument. Even if we were to secure most of the oil from the UK and gain agreement to Scotland inheriting a 10 per cent share of the UK national debt, the Fiscal Commission, set up by the Scottish Government, asserts that oil revenues would only service this debt. There would be no surplus to create a Norwegian-style oil trust, a country cited by supporters of Scottish independence as the gold standard of independence.
If we take the long-term view, the oil is projected to run out within this century. Who will bear the brunt of the clean-up costs and the resources required to invest in new energy sources? Not the entire population of the UK, but the next generations of Scots. And if, as some argue, Scotland is giving more of its fair share to the UK as a result of oil, would we not be weakening our biggest trading market by leaving unilaterally?
Another key driver of enduring prosperity is the level of education within society, and Scotland now has full power to implement its own policies in this area. Scotland has decided to have free provision of higher education. Would the removal of the additional, disproportionately high UK research council grants to Scottish universities really help us drive up standards of education?
Some people believe we are controlled by Westminster and by governments we didn’t vote into power and therefore have no voice in matters important to Scotland. Churchill’s quote that “democracy is the worst form of government apart from the others that have been tried from time to time” is as valid today as it was at the end of the Second World War.
Scots voted for and got a Labour UK government in 1997, 2001, 2005 and contributed to the Conservatives not achieving overall power in 2010. That is democracy at work. Should Glasgow opt out or even separate from Scotland if the people of our biggest city were not to get the party they voted for in an independent Scotland? Of course not.
The challenge is to work within the democratic system to fight for what you think is right. We can do this in Scotland and in the UK every five years. The welcome introduction of devolution means decisions which make best sense to be made locally are made in Scotland, for example in health and education. As devolution evolves, more decisions will be made in Scotland. It is probably not known by the majority of Scots that the Holyrood parliament will soon have the power to borrow, to levy land taxes and, in 2016, our parliament in Edinburgh will have the responsibility for setting the income tax rate. Devolution is not standing still.
Under independence, would we achieve a louder voice in the vital area of the economy? Highly unlikely, given the fundamental role of currency. If we keep sterling as part of a sterling zone, why would the new United Kingdom give undue consideration to the impact of monetary policy on Scotland? Even if we achieve a wishful 10 per cent representation on the Monetary Policy Committee of the new United Kingdom, the majority 90 per cent representing the interests of the new United Kingdom will still be the controlling voice.
An alternative, realistic option for Scotland is to join the Euro, with monetary policy driven by the interests of Germany, France and the new United Kingdom. It is a monetary union which cannot at this stage differentiate the requirements of smaller economies like Greece from large ones like Germany, as the EU does not have fiscal union.
We could, of course, do as many members of the Yes coalition wish and ditch the pound then start up an entirely new currency. No one is likely to argue that that would be a decision that would be good for business.
We have been attacked recently and are threatened in Scotland by new forces of terror wishing to destroy the way of life we cherish, by the most repugnant of means. Should we keep the UK armed forces, who are respected around the world and who have fought shoulder to shoulder as partners, without hesitation and with pride, to protect each part of the UK and beyond? Or should we dismantle them, creating separate forces in the hope that in times of crisis, we will have the scale and willing partners to support us without hesitation or delay? I would certainly feel safer defended by Scots within the United Kingdom with our shared intelligence and expertise.
Will I be even more proud of my identity if Scotland is independent or will I lose a part of my identity – ie, being Scottish within the United Kingdom? I’m proud of Andy Murray’s success and equally proud when he achieves for Scotland as part of the United Kingdom. I’m also proud of Andy and people like Bradley Wiggins when they compete on the world stage as our athletes, supported by UK funding and expertise, as we witnessed in the Olympics.
This week, when watching Scottish singer Emeli Sandé winning Best British Female at the Brit Awards, I asked my daughters how they would feel if she had won Best Foreign Act instead. “Don’t be stupid Dad, she’s one of us,” came the reply with that familiar, knowing look... younger people seem to get the bigger picture.
Is it right for us to unilaterally leave the Union, without considering how people with whom we have shared hundreds of years of social and cultural heritage in areas like Tyneside, Merseyside, the Welsh valleys and Ulster – and the 800,000 Scots who live in the rest of the United Kingdom – would feel about us going and the impact that it would have on their lives and communities?
I respect the heritage of world-renowned institutions created by people from all over the United Kingdom. I’m proud that the NHS treats Scottish patients as equals anywhere in the UK, wherever the best specialism exists. And I’m proud to fly both the Saltire and the 300-year-old Union flag as symbols of pride in Scotland and our shared heritage and enduring partnership with England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Whatever the outcome of the referendum, I hope we all keep in mind that the people who propose and vote Yes and the people who propose and vote No are well-meaning Scots; it’s not the patriotic versus the unpatriotic, the good versus the bad; it’s just different views on the best strategy to achieve the same vision for Scotland.
Scotland is a great country and it can improve, of that there is no doubt. But I doubt that separating and looking for reasons why we are so different from people we have lived with, worked with and defended ourselves with, for over 300 years, is the best strategy. And what is to stop us from delivering the Scotland we want? Nothing that we cannot do for ourselves here in Scotland, together with our friends and partners within the United Kingdom. «
• Phil Anderton has held senior positions in Coca-Cola, Procter & Gamble, the SRU, Heart of Midlothian FC, the ATP and the Al-Jazeera Football Club. He is on the board of the Better Together campaign
• Scotland Decides is a landmark SoS project that gives each side of the independence debate four weeks to put their case to our readers. The aim is to allow time and space to develop ideas, away from the cut and thrust of day-to-day politics. For the last four weeks we’ve heard the arguments for independence, and today sees the first week of arguments for the UK. At the end of the series, all eight articles will be available as a downloadable pamphlet. In the meantime, join the discussion on our website, on Twitter or on Facebook – or write us a letter.