I am English and live in Edinburgh. I’ve been here for sixteen years and my husband is Edinburgh born and bred. He’s always believed in Scottish independence, albeit with some caveats, and although I supported for devolution in 1997 and would have happily and confidently voted for increased devolution in this Thursday’s referendum had it been an option, until a week or two ago I was a staunch supporter of No. We have discussed it at home passionately and in detail and come to the conclusion that neither of us was going to win the other round.
But no more.
Until a couple of weeks ago, the rest of the UK had barely taken any notice of the referendum. Westminster had sent charisma-vacuum Alastair Darling to lead the Better Together campaign and clearly thought that that was enough. Early polls showed that it probably would be sufficient to maintain the Union. But a week or so ago, the polls changed, with YouGov showing a 2% lead for the pro-independence camp. Quite a change from a month earlier when the same polling company showed a 20 point lead for No.
This stirred the Westminster government to action with party leaders dashing north to assure us how much they loved us – David Cameron spoke to business people at the Scottish Widows HQ while Ed Milliband was despatched to a community centre in Cumbernald and Nick Clegg headed to the Borders. There they made breathless promises about new powers for the Holyrood parliament, mostly centring on income tax raising and reform to the Barnett formula by which the central government grant to Scotland is calculated. The difficulty is that these were promises with no mandate from their parties as a whole and indeed backbenchers immediately pointed out that they wouldn’t be voting for them.
David Cameron told us, shiny-eyed and trembling of chin that he cared more about the Union than he does about his party. To use a cliche, he would say that wouldn’t he? He’s the party leader who refused to allow the option of Devo Max on the ballot paper and if he’s the PM in power when the Union breaks up then it’s hard to see how he could keep his job. But he loves Scotland, especially his visits to his father-in-law’s estates during the shooting season so in the event of a Yes vote I’m sure he’ll be comforted that he will be able to visit more often. It was all too little, too late. The protestations of a rejected lover. “I can change, please let’s try again”. The Better Together campaign has also been ‘supported’ in the last week by a visit from Nigel Farage of UKIP and an Orange Order march. If staying in the union means embracing far right politics and sectarianism then I’ll give it a miss.
Friends and acquaintances in the rest of the UK also realised what might well happen and the conversations there have been interesting and sometimes laughable. In the last week there have been declarations of love from people who claim Scottish ancestry but also say that they don’t intend to actually live here ever and people who claim that they would miss Scotland if we left. We’d miss them too but they can visit – contrary to the various hysterical claims I’ve heard we won’t have armed guards on our border turning them back. That doesn’t happen in Scandinavia and a Swedish friend tells me that she doesn’t even show a passport when going between countries. They’ve pleaded with us to stay because it will be harder to get shot of the current Tory administration – I’m sorry but you’re going to have to engage with the political process and sort that out for yourself. We can’t stay because we feel sorry for you. Demand devolution of powers to the regions and get the vote out to the polling stations – we’re expecting a turnout in excess of 80% which is unheard of in a general election.
For me though, the reason we should – in my opinion – vote yes is that the last week or so has shown that a last part of the rest of the UK is either woefully ignorant of modern Scotland or arrogant enough to think that we should be grateful for the crumbs that Westminster are proposing to throw to us. It was summed up by a friend of a friend who described us as a ‘pocket handkerchief country’ whose economy would be entirely reliant on subsistence crofting.
Scotland has contributed a great deal to the UK from anaesthetic to light bulbs, from ship-building to gin-and-tonic, from the Higgs Bosun particle to Grand Theft Auto. And we have undoubtedly benefitted from being part of the Union. But there is a divergence of ethos now and I think it’s time we parted on good terms and went out separate ways. We have an economy which is diverse and thriving including tourism, whisky, publishing and writing, technology, fishing and financial services. Oil would be a large part of the Scottish economy obviously and although that cannot be relied up in the long-term it will give us a cushion and the wherewithal to regenerate other areas of the economy. Our ship-building industries have suffered and need investment so that they can further diversify into other forms of heavy engineering and compete effectively. We also have technology companies, a biotech industry and world-class universities.
I don’t like the look of the future if we stay in the UK with increased austerity for the poorest members of our society and the rise of far right groups such as UKIP and Britain First. If we vote no we are giving our tacit acceptance that that’s the country we want to live in. If we vote no, we’re giving our permission for Westminster to treat us how they like because we will have given up our biggest bargaining chip – the threat that we’ll walk away from the union.
An independent Scotland will not be the socialist land of milk and honey that some claim – it needs to find balance politically and we’re going to have to get used to austerity while we build up our economy – but it can be a socially-responsible, economically sound, positive place to live. If we opt for independence it’s not going to be easy all the way and I’m sure there will be times when many Yes voters will worry that they made the wrong choice, especially when there are endless bitter and mean-spirited negotiations about currency and Trident.
The pro-independence campaign has many faults. The White Paper has little substance to it – it’s a wish list – and I would have liked more definite detail. There is a particularly rabid element to the Nationalist cause that’s put me off, especially when they express violent anti-English views. And I don’t like the vandalism and abuse that’s happened whether that’s defacing No posters or the utterly shameful spray-painting of swastikas on a Better Together campaign office.
It’s ironic that I’ve been converted from a No voter to a Yes voter largely by the actions of the pro-union campaigners and I’m sure that’s not what they hoped for with their panicked dashes north and the trinkets they dangled before us nor the gushing of celebrities who couldn’t point to Skye on a map. But I’m also unhappy with the direction that rUK is taking and I’m sure that an independent Scotland will be a more equal place.