Scottish Independence: What Exactly Are We Being Asked To Vote For?

Photo by Alistair Williamson

On the 18th of September 2014 people who live in Scotland are going to have to vote “yes” or “no” to the following question: “Should Scotland be an independent country?”, but I wonder how many of us really know what we’re being asked to vote for. What exactly will happen if enough of us vote “yes”?

The debate so far has been dominated by supporters of independence talking up the economic prospects and telling us that Scotland will be a fairer, more prosperous place, free from weapons of mass destruction and constitutionally barred from engaging in illegal wars. In short, the “Yes” campaign is putting forward policies and outcomes that it thinks are popular and suggesting that these will come to pass in an independent Scotland.

At the same time, in order to attract support from voters who aren’t fans of the ruling Scottish Nationalist Party, the “Yes” campaign is keen to point out that the referendum is about Scottish independence, not the SNP’s policies, and a general election will quickly follow to determine the shape and colour of the new government of the newly independent nation.

The “Yes” campaign would do themselves and the rest of us a service if they made it clear that the policies and outcomes they are touting are merely possibilities, and concentrated instead on telling us exactly what we will be voting for in the referendum.

As far as I can make out from the Scottish Government’s website, if enough of us vote “yes” in September next year there will be a transition period of approximately 18 months where the existing Scottish Parliament, led by the current SNP government, will work with the government in Westminster to untangle the political and bureaucratic connections between the two countries, as well as negotiating membership of international organisations such as the EU. The stated aim of this transition period is to create a “constitutional platform” on which a new constitution can be built by a new Scottish parliament and government, which will be elected in 2016.

This approach seems to be sensible, easy to understand, and should be broadcast far and wide so that everyone who is eligible to vote knows what their “yes” vote is specifically going to deliver: nothing more or less than what you find in paragraphs 2.7 to 2.15 of this document, published by the Scottish Government in February 2013.

Everything else that’s being trumpeted by the “Yes” campaign as arguments for Scottish independence is nothing more than a wish list, a vision of what their proponents would like to see Scotland become. If you share that vision then a vote for independence might provide opportunities to steer our society in that direction, but the same could be said for those who are keen on welfare cuts, PFIs, nuclear submarines, and strategic military intervention without UN approval.

Independent or not, our society will continue to be shaped by an mix of electoral will, political patronage, and economic clout, the net effects of which will be very similar to what we have now. If you like the idea of an independent Scotland then by all means vote “yes” in the referendum, but don’t expect the world to change for the better. Its location may shift a few hundred miles to the north but the machinery of democracy will operate exactly as before, churning out the same old stuff.

20 thoughts on “Scottish Independence: What Exactly Are We Being Asked To Vote For?

  1. I think it would be nice if Scotland became its own nation and it succeeded. I just hope there would continue to be good will between Scotland and its neighbors and that everyone involved is working for the good of the Scottish people, not the good of the bank accounts of a few.

  2. remind me of the same situation in quebec, I would love to see them come up with a draft of a constitution or something, it’s like signing a blank check!

  3. I am afraid we did this in the United States. We were told to vote yes on a proposal and then after it was in force we will see where it will lead. The same is true of O’bama care. I like contracts that specifically tell me what I am voting on and I despise double negatives which indicate if I vote yes I am voting against something.

  4. The problem with Scotland is that their desire to be a separated country may seem as being hasty given the circumstances. Their reliance on the UK has increased during a time of global economic uncertainty. To transition from having a fair bit of security to none can be detrimental for the country and if independence were to be declared, it may seem pointless after some years pass. But this is definitely just what I see of it. I have to say it’s a very interesting article!

  5. The ‘No’ campaign, which has been led by the media, has used the same propganda from the beginning e.g. Nationalsim equals fascism. It is used to shut down debate and claim the moral high ground. But Naionalsim does not mean fascism in Scotland – it means Independence from a London-centric government which coud not care less what happens outside of London. Smaller countries are generally the richest (Scandinavian countries, Denmark etc and the working class have the highest standard of living anywhere. They also have a narrower gap betwen rich and poor.

    ‘Scotland’ the brand is one of the most famous in the world. The policies we will choose won’t be much different than before i.e. it will be democratic principles. What could change, and what the neoliberal media is so terrified of, is that ordinary workers will have better rights. It’s those rights which will give less power to bosses to hire and fire at will, and the use zero-hour contracts will come to an end

    Zero-hour contracts is the nearest to servitude for centuries.

    One thing. Many people don’t want to be part of the EU, but they do want to be part of Europe. The EU is dying thanks to its greed and incompetence. You’ll find the EU also uses the media to comflate Nationalism with fascism.

    • Re; Scotland the brand, sad to see that in a recent newspaper article, my country’s Scots whisky industry has been allowed by previous govts to be bought over and is now mainly owned by outside interests who have little or no connection to or with Scotland. In France, regs state you cannot call a product Champagne unless it’s made in the region…my point is, French and Italians protect their products and those who have governed us have allowed our national product to be sold to the highest bidder….something that makes my blood boil.

      I would like to see a return to Scottish based products by ‘Scottish’ companies and chase the conglomerates for their lives out of our country. Let us all (all countries) begin again and manufacture our own products and keep those products nationally based and run.

      I know this probably a naive and over simplified view in some peoples’ opinion….I just don’t like the stock market ‘monopoly board’ approach to business.

      Anyone agree with me or have any good ideas for how we could revert back to Scottish owned & Scottish based products?

      ps, Malcolm, I intend to buy your book as it seems to speak plainly, no waffle and makes sense.

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  7. I would love a neutral document that clearly states the facts on Independence and what it means for the country without the vague, ‘vote yes’ with no facts to support it or the fearmongering, ‘vote no.’ My biggest concern overall are the young people I know who haven’t a clue what they’re meant to be voting for and the few that I know that are driven to a Yes vote purely by a hatred of the English. I don’t fear for the result of the vote so much as what it will do to the relationship with our countries neighbours. As was said before, damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

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  10. Hi Malcolm,

    Good and interesting article. I am more hopeful of a different and better Scotland emerging from independence, for this reason: If Scottish voters start getting the governments they vote for, instead of Conservative or watered-down Labour, the country will start to reflect Scottish aspirations towards a more even society which looks after its sick and poor.

    We will also have to take responsibility for raising the tax income to support these welfare aims, without quarreling with England for it. When the link is cut I think that the political and social scene in the two countries will become quite different quite soon.

    • Hi Topher,

      I wish I could share your optimism but I fear that our problems are systemic.

      The way that our democracy and government operates discourages collaboration and initiative at local and regional level where the things that matter actually happen. Moving some powers from London to Edinburgh won’t mend the flaws in the system.

      As for our financial system, it’s so dysfunctional that it will undermine any attempts to improve the lot of the sick, the poor, and everyone else, regardless of where our government sits or the colour of its face. The financial machinery that is supposed to serve us is designed to fail.

      We desperately need political and financial innovation, and the independence debate is an ideal platform for proposing and testing ideas for reforming how we do this stuff but I’m hearing nothing new. Independence, as it’s currently being proposed, will simply move the same old problems a few hundred miles north.

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