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Thursday, 18 September 2014

Scotland #indyref: All that's bad about politics

[Short link to this article if you want it - http://goo.gl/WFPIzm - or retweet me]

I'm a bit late in posting this but what the hell ...

The Scotland independence referendum is coming up to it's climax. I've finished drafting this just after midnight - voting will commence in a few hours. The question is simple:

"Should Scotland be an independent country"


That's it. Yes or No. I currently live in England after living in Scotland until I was 22 therefore I don't get to vote in this. Scotland has been part of the United Kingdom for many years, and there are plenty of arguments on both sides. The white paper is available here if you want to see what's being proposed. And some of the things that would still be shared at least to begin with are covered in this article. But I'm more concerned with how the arguments are being put forward. There have been two significant televised debates: One on STV (for some ridiculous reason they didn't broadcast it UK-wide and the online stream couldn't cope) and another on the BBC between Alex Salmond, leader of the SNP (Scottish National Party) looking for a "Yes" vote and Labour party politician Alastair Darling who is the leader of the "Better Together" campaign who want a "No" answer to the above question.

Both of these debates seem to have been quite "lively" but have been characterised by people talking over one another. There seems to have been a lack of listening and straight answers to the questions - they are politicians after all - but we should use this as an opportunity for a fresh start... In the first debate, Alex seemed to take a naive "I don't have a plan B because I'm only focussing on plan A" on the currency debate. It's such a critical point that it's unbelievable to me that he didn't just quote what's in the whitepaper given there were so many people who seemed to want that question cleared up. Assuming the whole public have read through the whitepaper seems utterly naive, so treat the public like adults who and just quote what's in the white paper so people can make an informed decision about the possibilities:

Four currency options were examined by the Fiscal Commission
– the continued use of Sterling (pegged and flexible), the
creation of a Scottish currency and membership of the Euro.

Concern answered, move on. And while he gave that answer in the second debate I think it wasted a lot of time that could have been better spent on something more useful in such a widely broadcasted debate.

Another similar point was when Alex asked of Alastair "Could Scotland be a successful independent country?" As far as I can tell (and I think the second/third time he asked he got a yes answer, but continued regardless) that is a bit of a non-question. "Could" is simply an indication of a non-zero possibility that it might be successful. Of course it could, that doesn't mean it's likely to, so the question was purely to elucidate a sound-bite that could be used answer, not an intention to draw out any useful debate, disappointingly.

There also seems to have been a lot of negative campaigning and personal attacks by the "Yes" campaign. Taking pot shots at Alastair's previous work in government (not really relevant to the debate) and references to bullying/fear tactics from  the other sides. There seems to be a constant stream of trying to smear their opponents instead of producing coherent messages and factual evidence to counter the arguments presented. It's the worst possible kind of politics. If Scotland wishes to truly start afresh, then starting from a point of politicians point-scoring against each other in the worst possible way doesn't sound like a good way to start a government of a new country. Does that really sound like a change from the past? Or will Scotland just end up with the same distrust of politics, just with a different set of people? Yet that's what Alex is promising: if you vote "Yes". You won't be ruled by the politicies of the politicians in Westminster.

True, you'll be ruled by policies created by politicians in Edinburgh instead. They'll still have to make similar decisions based on similar facts - are they really likely to come to significantly different conclusions and different compromises compared to what the can with the separate parliament they have just now? They will still be fairly remote from where most people are, just slightly closer. Is there any real reason to believe that a separate Scottish government will be able to make better decisions and make people's lives better? They'll have a smaller pot of money to play with. Will more politicians being employed to make decisions be worth it? Well you've already got a lot of what the "Yes" campaign is promising so that seems a case of trying to make promises of delivering some snow to the eskimos, although oddly the "No" campaign hasn't capitalised on that fact as much as they probably should have:
It astonishes me that the "Yes" campaign hasn't managed to negotiate secure answers on currency, EU membership etc. The fact that people are being asked to vote on a basis of "Let's make ourselves independent, then we'll sort out the details later" just seems like voting for a fantasy. It's relying on passion. The heart over the head. The practicalities of being able to produce the ideal view which is visible through rose-tinted glasses is by no means certain.  But the fact that it "could" be that rosy view is what the "Yes" campaign appears to be based around. But is "could" worth the risk? JK Rowling tweeted a link to a Guardian article on the subject:
There are a lot of extremely vocal people, particularly on the "Yes" side (Tommy Sheriden springs to mind) but you'd expect that. The people who want to change the status quo are the ones who shout the loudest in most situations - and they should. The tabloid newspapers and the twitter echo chamber can make strong polarised views, and seemingly scandalous facts, spread very quickly. This is a long term decision that should really be taken on less emotional responses, and that makes it harder to choose independence. It seemed clear to many people that switching the UK voting system to something other than "First Past The Post" made sense, but ultimately that wasn't what the public actually chose. How will this second significant referendum in the UK go?

So to summarise: Is politics, and more importantly, people's quality of life, really going to be better in an independent Scotland? It certainly could be, and that's what the SNP's Raison d'être (so what does Alex do if it fails?) but I personally haven't seen enough concrete evidence to convince me it's likely enough to be worth the risk. And it's certainly not convinced me the politicians involved are likely to be any better than those in Westminster. But regardless of what I think, it's in the hands of those living in Scotland.

I'm glad I had my passport renewed recently, maybe I'll need it to visit Scotland soon:

If nothing else we are looking like we're going to get a potentially world record turnout at the polling booths.(EDIT: It was 84.6%) Here are some other figures for comparison:


I watched this episode of Question Time live - this guy in the audience cracked me up so I'll leave him with the last word - if he has his way then it's not going to happen:

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