Independence: the Nationalist Lottery


I’m voting ‘No’ this Thursday. I’ve been leaning ‘Yes’ for a while, but as the referendum approaches I’ve found myself changing my mind. There are real potential benefits to a ‘Yes’ vote: I believe that a parliament based on proportional representation will give us better (though more boring) governance over the long term and more accurately reflect Scotland’s political make-up, and that there is nothing to stop Scotland being a viable independent state economically – again in the long term. However, I have increasingly come to see a vote for independence as a gamble, and not merely a financial one.

Pride in being Scottish is about the only form of nationalism (or any ‘-ism’) I respect. It’s not based on the colour of your skin, or even where you were born: the accent is enough, whether you are outwardly Pakistani, Chinese – or even a mix of Irish and Italian, like myself. The Yes campaign has subverted this, with ‘No’ voters intimidated and labelled as unpatriotic, even traitors. Even if this abuse is only from a minority, there is precious little restraint being urged from on high in the Yes Campaign, with talk of ‘peaceful’ demonstrations veiling the frequently ugly reality; how this trend will develop in a deeply divided independent Scotland is not something I look forward to seeing. (For an outside perspective on this trend, I strongly recommend reading the Canadian blogger Jordan Samuel Fleming’s article “What is driving me away from the Yes Campaign in Scotland”).

“We are ruled by governments we did not vote for” – call me naive, but isn’t this the experience of most people in most democratic elections? People in the North of England had a similar experience with successive Tory governments, but they don’t get to use nationalism as a opt-out card from the democratic process – I don’t see why we should either, especially as Scotland is the most privileged part of the UK in this respect. Not only do we have devolved government, we have MPs who have a say in matters that exclusively concern other parts of the UK. My own MP was Prime Minister – how much more representation do you want? As for oppression – well, I admit the ‘English only’ benches and drinking fountains are a bit inconvenient, but on the whole any abuse I get down South is on par with the ‘funny accent’ routine that someone from Liverpool or Belfast has to put up with… Though I imagine this may no longer be the case after a yes vote.

As for the economic side of things, I agree that Scotland can be a viable independent state – in the long term. In the immediate future, however, there is going to be a lot of hurt: capital flight, cuts to public services, the atrophy of our financial services industry. Don’t worry, I’m alright – I have qualifications, and can afford to uproot myself if needs be. It’s the working class in Scotland, who have been promised a land where you can have your economic cake and eat it, who are going to suffer.

In the business world, there is such a thing as a leveraged buyout: an investment firm buys up a company with a little capital of its own, and loads the firm with debt (Manchester United is one of the most prominent recent examples). The logic is that the purchaser will pay off the debt with the revenues of the company it is taking over. Alex Salmond seems to be doing the same with his promises of a land of milk and honey which will keep the pound, get Scotland into the EU, and ensure a booming economy with free tuition and prescriptions for all. There is no way all these promises can be fulfilled, but then again they were never meant to be.

There is something dull and uninspiring about compromise and sticking with what you know, especially compared with a ‘Yes’ campaign which can wax lyrical over the golden future to come rather than the slightly boring, familiar reality we live in. Part of my caution is due to not feeling qualified to make the decision in the first case – I have two degrees, going on for a third, and I couldn’t tell you about currency markets, what central banks do or how to interpret EU accession law. But there are a plenty of people out there who will put it all on black and watch the wheel spin, completely unaware of the real risks involved.

I know I am better educated and more knowledgeable than most people, but I constantly feel crippled by my own ignorance about the important matters before us. It is scary to think that many who will vote in this referendum will approach it in the same spirit as filling out a lottery ticket – they see a great prize to be won, but do not yet know the odds.

Image courtesy of K. R

About Christopher Flaherty

Christopher is a PhD student at the University of St Andrews' School of International Relations, and graduated with an MPhil in Modern Chinese Studies from the University of Oxford.

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