2014-09-18 by Kenneth Maxwell
Today, the 18th September 2014, Scotland votes in a referendum on Independence.
The public opinion polls agree on only one thing: The outcome is too close to call.
The “No” to independence camp is slightly in the lead.
But between 6% to 10% say they are still undecided. A turnout over 90% of the 4.29 million electorate is predicted, including first time voters between the ages of 16 and 17.
The stakes are immense.
One third of the land mass of what is today the United Kingdom could cease to be British territory. The 307 year union of Scotland and England could end.
Panic has set in among the leaders of the three main political parties in London. They have all rushed to Scotland over the past week.
David Cameron, the British Prime Minster, speaking in Aberdeen before a carefully selected audience of party supporters, made a last ditch plea to Scots; “Do not break the family apart…If Scotland votes Yes, the UK will split, and we will go our separate ways forever.”
Cameron has warned Scots against a “painful divorce.”
But most commentators agree that the declarations of the three Westminster political leaders had no impact at all in Scotland.
The “No” to independence campaign has been headed by the Scottish Labour Party member of parliament, and former chancellor of the exchequer, Alistair Darling.
He was barely on speaking terms with Gordon Brown, the former British Prime Minister. He has waged a negative campaign. He has warned of the economic consequence of independence. He is angry with Alex Salmond, the leader of the “Yes” campaign, and the First Minister of Scotland, for sanctioning what he calls “mob behaviour.”
But in the final hours of the campaign it is Gordon Brown who became by far the most passionate defender of the union.
The current Prime Minister David Cameron, whose father was born at Blairmore House in Aberdeenshire, is perceived by many Scots to be the very epitome of an Eton and Oxford educated English upper-class “toff,” and his belated intervention in the Scottish independence debate only underscores part of the problem:
How out of touch the London political establishment has become from grass-root politics, and how successfully Alex Salmond has captured popular dissatisfaction in Scotland with Westminster.
An Independent Scotland is certainly a viable option.
It would have 90% of Britain’s North Sea oil revenues.
The structure of the economy of an independent Scotland would have 21.4% of its gross value added composed of revenues from oil, mining and agriculture. (For the UK, excluding Scotland, the percentage of gross value added from oil, mining and agriculture would be a mere 1.1%).
The independence debate has focused on the currency (whether Scotland could continue using the pound sterling as Alex Salmond proposes), over differing projections of future oil and gas production, over the future of the national heath service and education (which is currently free in Scotland), and over defence policy, where Salmond has pledged the removal of the Britain’s nuclear armed Trident submarines from their Scottish base on the Clyde.
As the opinion polls have narrowed over the past weeks outside observers have weighed in. Former US treasury secretary, Alan Greenspan, called the oil projections “implausible” and a monetary union “inconceivable.”
Former World Bank president, Robert Zoellick and George Soros also support a “No” vote.
The First Minister of Catalonia, Artur Mas, not surprisingly, is a supporter of Scottish Independence.
Even Glasgow born Harvard History Professor Niall Fergusson arrived to lecture the Scots: “This Thursday residents of the land of my birth are essentially voting on whether or not to become Denmark.”
In an “open letter to the people of Scotland 14 former British Armed Forces chiefs have insisted that a “No” vote is “critical to our security.” They warn that the Royal Navy’s base at Faslane on the Clyde, home base for nuclear Trident submarine force, is at “the very heart of Britain’s maritime defence.”
Business leaders, Bankers, and defence contractors, have also warned about the negative impact of independence on investment, prices, and on employment.
But why did unionist support in Scotland wither?
Roughly three weeks from now, the Scottish people will decide for themselves whether they wish to end the 307 year union that has bound them to the United Kingdom. The vote could have a significant even decisive impact on the UK nuclear deterrent and English defense policy.
The end of empire after WW2 certainly contributed. Scots found much business, employment, and opportunities, in the former colonies, as well as in the British armed forces.
But a large part of the responsibility must be placed on Margaret Thatcher and developments during the 1980s.
Scotland’s once great shipbuilding and coal industries terminally declined, and with them the trade union based working class “British” solidarity.
These transformations were inevitable, but Thatcher encouraged them.
And in the working class housing estates the resentment against Thatcher remains very strong indeed.
The conservative party in Scotland now has only one member of parliament at Westminster. Once strongly Labour Party supporters have in recent years joined the Scottish National Party, or they have ceased to vote at all in general elections.
They form a large segment of Scottish population whose voting preferences the public opinion pollsters cannot easily predict, and they are being intensely courted as a consequence by the “Yes” to independence campaign.
The Labour party currently holds 41 of the 59 Scottish seat in Parliament.
An Independent Scotland would remove these and make a future labour party government implausible in the rest of what would be the non-UK.
Labour party leader Ed Miliband is panicked at the prospect, so that together with David Cameron and the Liberal Democratic leader Nick Clegg, he has signed a last minute pledge to give the Scottish parliament more “devolved” powers in the event of a “No” vote, a promise that has already provoked a backlash among English conservatives.
The debate in Scotland has been passionate, and noisy, and discussions have engaged the whole Scottish population in all parts of the country.
On the fringes some supporters of the union have been intimidated.
But the truth is that if the UK ends as a result of the referendum vote in Scotland today, and it will be a very close call, the London politicians (with a lot off help from the late Margaret Thatcher) have only themselves to blame.
Credit for the Graphics: