Leader: Time to write ourselves into history books

SCOTTISH INDEPENDENCE: The day is finally upon us. The moment Scotland has spent three years anticipating, from the moment the SNP won its extraordinary Holyrood landslide in 2011, has finally arrived.

This is a nation energised by debate and discussion. Picture: Getty
This is a nation energised by debate and discussion. Picture: Getty

Tomorrow millions of Scots will cast their votes, and write themselves into the history books.

Yesterday’s ICM poll for The Scotsman is one of a number of surveys that show the race is tantalisingly close. The No camp is, by common consent, ahead; but the Yes camp has the momentum. Whether it is enough momentum to win independence for Scotland and break up the United Kingdom will soon become clear. Ultimately a single vote is all it takes to hand victory to one side or the other. That is why turnout today is expected to break records. If Scots go to the polls in the numbers anticipated, this will – regardless of the ­outcome – be a great day for ­democracy.

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The atmosphere across Scotland this morning is extraordinary. The Yes campaign has been a dynamo of effort and creativity, but the campaigners for the UK have started to catch up.

While a substantial proportion of voters have still to make up their minds, this is a nation ­energised by debate and discussion, and inspired by belief and conviction.

Perhaps inevitably, there have been those who have soured the mood. In our news pages today we report harassment, vandalism and threatening behaviour that is totally unacceptable in what is meant to be a mature and peaceful democracy. The intensity of the passions the debate has stirred are an explanation, but no excuse. The actions of those responsible have no place in a democratic society.

It is true we are just talking about a small minority. But they are a minority that sullies our democracy. We can only urge all activists, on both sides, to act as restraining influences on their fellow campaigners, and bring an element of self-policing to the final day – and, perhaps more importantly, the aftermath of the announcement of the result tomorrow morning.

This newspaper set out its position on the referendum last week. We stated our belief that, while Scotland, of course, has what it takes to be a successful independent country, the risks and uncertainties with the independence that is on offer today, taken with the powers we already have, led us firmly to the conclusion that Scots’ best interests lay within the UK.

We set out the unanswered questions about some of the most basic building blocks of statehood.

We highlighted the opposition to a formal currency union with rUK from the three main Westminster parties, but pointed out that even if that best-case scenario for the Scottish Government did happen, substantial powers over Scotland’s economy would sit in London with no input from Scotland. Some sovereign powers would be ceded.

We detailed the problems that might lie in the way of an independent Scotland joining Nato, particularly an independent Scotland intent on ousting Trident submarines from the Clyde, but pointed out that if we were admitted we would be committed to the defence of all the other members.

And we delineated the difficulties Scotland would face in trying to secure its place in the European Union, while retaining the opt-outs and rebates secured over decades by the UK.

In the few days since our leader column appeared, developments in the campaign have only served to support our conclusion.

In the past week, the Scottish financial sector has spelled out the adverse consequences of independence for our banks and insurance companies. Other business leaders also warned of increased costs. It is clear that the risks are real and the costs ­unknown.

There now seems little doubt that independence would result in the loss of the headquarters functions of banks such as RBS to England.

Perhaps the biggest development in the past few days has been the “vow” from the three main UK parties of more powers for Holyrood. Historians will long debate whether such a promise should have been made much earlier, and in a more coherent and cohesive manner. The manner in which the vow has been made does none of the parties any credit whatsoever. But it has been made now, and in such a way that makes it extremely difficult for any of the parties to renege.

The powers will not be as complete as some would wish. But, with a No vote, Scots will undoubtedly have more power over their own affairs.

Looking at what is on offer with independence, and gauging the size of the risk against the difference in powers that would be the prize, we have no hesitation in concluding Scotland’s best interests lie in the United Kingdom. We shall shortly discover if ­Scottish voters agree.