Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Rooting for an independent Scotland


When details first emerged that Scotland will hold a referendum on independence a few years ago, I was firmly in the ‘Better Together’ camp. Not that I have a vote, mind you. Just that I liked the idea of the United Kingdom staying together under one roof, as we’ve happily managed to do since the historic Acts of Union in 1707.

What was to be gained from separation? More cost, more red tape, more risks and more division. Being part of a greater whole meant sharing our common resources and taking advantage of bigger and better opportunities.

There seemed no end to the reasons why we should all stay together. Yet my sister and her family – who bucked the trend and moved from London to Scotland five years ago – and many of my Scottish friends remain squarely behind the campaign for independence.

Over the past few months, I’ve tried to keep abreast of the debate. Like many others, I have found it difficult given the amount of conflicting information issued by both camps. Will the Scottish economy be stronger or weaker with independence? What about the currency issue, defence, education, and welfare?

When I examine the core facts offered up by each side, there does seem to be greater clarity from the Yes campaign. That is to be expected. They are pushing for this historic change and to achieve it, they have to demonstrate to the majority of Scots that independence can not only work, but will significantly improve their lives. Yet changing the status quo is never an easy task.

Even minor societal changes, such as wearing a seat belt in cars – with proven safety advantages and fatal consequences for those that don’t – is difficult to achieve without legislation, let alone trying to motivate people to opt for something so much more complex and all-encompassing. Simply put, when push comes to shove most humans prefer the ‘better the devil you know’ option, rather than risk entering into the unknown.

It would seem that up until recently, this was the prevailing attitude in Scotland, but in recent weeks a real momentum has been building behind the movement for independence. According to various polls, the race is now virtually neck and neck. Leaving aside the Don’t Knows (some 10% of the electorate), support for ‘No to independence’ is down to 53%, while the Yes’s are up to 47%. A month ago, the gap was huge: only 39% in favour of independence, with a whopping 61% against.

An estimated 4.5 million over the age of 16 living in Scotland have the right to vote in the referendum on September 18 and all councils have reported a big surge in voter registrations this past fortnight: people who have never bothered to vote in regular elections are now signing up in their tens of thousands to ensure their vote about independence counts.

Those of us on the outside are witnessing one of the most empowering aspects of this referendum. On a daily basis Scots of all ages and backgrounds are passionately debating their future. It is fantastic for any democracy to see so many ordinary people engaged in active politics – long may it continue!

Of course, there have been some nasty moments with idiots on either side taking their campaign to the gutter by using physical violence and intimidation tactics to silence the other side’s supporters. Thankfully, most have not. Yet as the deadline for the vote looms, things can and will only get more heated.

I do sense some desperation in the Better Together camp, whose main thrust for keeping the United Kingdom whole is based on fear. 90% of their campaign seems to set out a ‘doom and gloom’ case if the Scots opt to go it alone. Yet the facts just don’t support this.
Scottish whisky, worth £4bn to the economy, is Scotland's second biggest export after oil & gas
Scotland has a strong economy: from food and drink manufacturing, to life sciences, tourism, wind farms, and of course North Sea oil. They have made conscious decisions to keep higher education and prescriptions free, but have very little say on how the considerable wealth they produce is spent – or should I say squandered!

From fighting illegal wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, to plundering the pensions schemes of millions, and undermining the NHS…and all the while, us English are made to believe we subsidise Scotland. The truth is the Scots would have the highest per capita income in the UK outside of London if they did not subsidise us!

Our social connections and common history wouldn’t end with independence, merely that the Scottish people will have the right to determine what’s important for them. The elites in Whitehall and Westminster have never prioritised the needs of Scotland and the real power brokers in the wider world of business are not sentimental about nations and patriotism: where there is money to be made, they will be there.

So the main question is: who is better at running Scotland? As the florist in the Yes campaign video says: Independence? It’s what we all want in our lives, so why shouldn’t our country be independent too?”

It seems ironic to deny Scotland this, when a growing number of voters in England support the UKIP line of reigning back control from Brussels. So why expect the Scottish to continue surrendering their sovereignty to London?

Throwing his weight behind the Yes campaign, English author George Monbiot argues, “Scots voting no to independence would be an astonishing act of self-harm.” Indeed it would. The most heartbreaking outcome would be for Scotland to fail to take this lifetime opportunity, not because the facts don’t stack up for independence – they do! – but because they failed to believe in their ability to run their own lives in the best possible way.

As a Turkish Cypriot, I can relate to this. We’re also always being told we’re not capable of being masters of our own destiny; that our future wellbeing is best served by remaining locked into a unity with a bigger power, when in reality their interests will always dominate ours. That’s why I’m rooting for Scotland to seize the day and inspire us all with their vote for independence.

This article was first published in Cyprus Today on 6 September 2014

No comments:

Post a Comment