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[personal profile] henry_the_cow
The independence referendum is 11 days away and I can't ignore it any longer.  By "ignore it", I really mean abstract myself from it and treat it as an intellectual curiosity.  It is now imminent and real and I have to face my reactions to the prospect.  I am quite worried by the potential consquences of a "yes" vote, which is looking more and more likely.

Basically, my worries haven't changed since the start of the campaign a year ago.  Scotland as part of the UK is currently a rich country.  Perturbing that relationship brings significant uncertainty into the economic future.  The independence campaigners insist that companies will not move their operations but this seems a real risk to me.  I'm reminded of the negotiations last year over the future of the Grangemouth refinery: the unions only realised at the last minute that, yes, Ineos really were prepared to close the whole refinery if they didn't get their way. Grangemouth was far more important to Scotland than it was to the international economy.  Grangemouth is a huge industrial complex which is expensive to recreate elsewhere; it would be much easier to move office jobs (such as the finance sector) south of the border if companies decided to do so.

My employer does particularly well out of the union.  We host the UK's national academic supercomputer and have a thriving business in high-performance computing on the expertise generated by that.  We host a substantial part of the UK's academic data centre.  We have a higher percentage of UK funding than Scotland's size relative to the UK.  We also receive substantial EU funding.  We can charge English students large fees. As far as I can see, all of that is at risk from independence.  On the social media boards, many independence campaigners have responded by saying that "research funding is international and will go to the best institutions", which shows complete ignorance of how research is actually funded. The SNP have promised to match lost research funding if they are returned to power, but that is as trustworthy as any promise from a political party looking to win an election.  In any case, if the economy takes a turn for the worse, cuts will have to be made somewhere, and I doubt that a Scottish government would prioritise research funding over health, care for the elderly, etc.

(My employer remains stauchly neutral in the debate so I should restate that these are my personal opinions and do not represent offical policy.  Other employees, including friends of mine, have different views).

On the particular issue of the EU, there is a risk that if Scotland remains in the UK, the UK will leave the EU anyway, taking Scotland with it.  I'd rather deal with that if and when it happens.  (If it did happen, I'd want the Scottish Government to start negotiations with the EU about the potential of joining as an independent state; I think other EU members would be more interested in this option in a situation where the UK had already voted to leave than in the current scenario where we are seen as a "region" looking to secede from an EU country).

To some extent, the above is a selfish view, looking at the risks that independence poses to me and mine.  But the economy is fundamental to the succes of the independence project.  Some people are voting for independence in part because they don't agree with the austerity measures imposed by the Westminster government.  The assumption is that an independent Scotland would be able to choose a better approach.  But if the economy worsens, the austerity will worsen too, and it will make no difference that it is a home-grown austerity.

I acknowledge that there are potential benefits to independence too.  I like the possibility of sending Trident down to Devon, even though I'm sceptical that it would ever happen.  If an independent Scotland joined the EU, we would probably have better representation there.  Economic decisions made locally may make small improvements.  A new constitution would (probably) be much better than the UK one.  But none of this allays my fundamental worries about the economy.

I hope that my friends reading this will credit me the ability to come up with these worries, risks and doubts on my own.  I didn't need the help of the (woeful) Better Together campaign to formulate these concerns.  And I have seen little from the Yes Scotland campaign to allay these fears.  Most of what the independence campaigners have produced regarding the economy could most kindly be described in project management terms as "optimism bias" - the assumption that things will turn out according to the plan.  In my experience, that rarely happens.

Date: 2014-09-08 01:10 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] cyberinsekt.livejournal.com
Has the Better Together campaign truly been as inept as it has seemed at a distance? Everything I've heard suggests that it's been a condescending mess.

I've always been very wary of the nationalist impulse. It's too often been a shorthand for intolerance, yet in the long term nation states are going to be one of the very few institutions we're going to be able to rely upon. I can't help but think we've now started upon the long swing where the power of nations is being eroded while that of corporations and religious institutions is waxing. This is something that should worry us. That's why we should look towards nations to protect their citizens, especially those who are not represented by other institutions. Nations (and to some extent NGOs) are our best for representing the interests of the people, and that's why Salmond's proposed cut in corporation tax strikes me as a particularly foolish step. In the decades to come the national and supra-national entities are going to be the only ones looking out for us, and I fear we may need the collective bargaining power that larger nations offer us.

Some TL;DR for you.. [1/5]

Date: 2014-09-10 11:34 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] https://www.google.com/accounts/o8/id?id=AItOawnJ81dsV_lg5JjIYipIjXXhrRpPQb4flDg (from livejournal.com)
This is already ridiculously way too long, and I haven't included citations but will be happy to do so if you care enough to want to see them. These are just some sketches of my thoughts mainly on risk/fear and the economy; I haven't looked into the academia angle yet I'm afraid.

So essentially I think that a No vote is a vote for continuation of a status quo that can't continue, while a Yes vote is a vote for a largely unknowable future. They're both dangerous, and the either-or choice is unwelcome, but Yes makes a more hopeful offer.

I would certainly have preferred devo max originally, but the Westminster parties have behaved so badly over the last couple of years that now I'm pretty happy with going for independence.

I think that it's nice that the Yes campaign have concentrated on positive aspirations and somewhat avoided getting negative about the BT future, but it also means Yes are unfairly bearing the brunt of the uncertainty argument. Time for redress: why am I uncertain about the BT future?

Some TL;DR for you.. [2/5]

Date: 2014-09-10 11:38 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] https://www.google.com/accounts/o8/id?id=AItOawnJ81dsV_lg5JjIYipIjXXhrRpPQb4flDg (from livejournal.com)
  • I trust none of the politicians. This applies to both MPs and MSPs, but Scotland can only threaten around 10% of MPs, which means it largely can't affect policy unless the UK government is already a minority on a knife-edge. In future I think the politicians who I can actually vote out and are a £1.50 bus ride away will be a little more scared of me, and will have my interests closer to their hearts.

  • Scotland has altered the choice of UK government for two years out of the last 67, to the best of my knowledge (and those were both minority governments which quickly fell): Scotland is politically insignificant to the UK. It has no stick to beat Westminster with if they do things Scotland doesn't like.

  • They promised devolution after the '79 independence referendum and delivered nothing.

  • Do you know about the McCrone report? "Scotland's rich." Classified. Secret. For thirty years. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/McCrone_report) Westminster has also sacrificed EU agricultural subsidies for Scotland, and Scottish fishing rights - and sure, some of that can legitimately be counted as "redistributive", but I find it extremely two-faced of these people to claim that Scotland is oversubsidised, and that the Barnett formula should be rewritten, when on closer examination it turns out that Scotland has not only been a net contributor to the UK for quite some time, but has also had to make substantial sacrifices for the UK's greater good in terms of its agricultural, marine and petroleum resources.

  • Quebec has been promised extra powers twice, said ok-we'll-stay twice, and received nothing.

  • The rush (borderline illegal, I think: arguing you can break purdah because you're speaking as the Conservative Party, not as the UK government, is kindof weaselly) to adjust and schedule ill-defined extra powers so late in the day stinks. It's clearly something they had no intention of doing since they could have published a schedule with their extra powers documents months ago.

  • The extra powers are pretty stinky too: Scotland currently controls (I think) 7% of its budget; it's already legislated that it'll control about 15% of it in 2016; Labour propose to increase that to a gobsmacking 20%. The Tories propose 40%, but if they're in power in 2015, they may be dependent on UKIP for support, which makes it highly unlikely they'd push that through: Farage wants to remove the Scottish parliament in the event of a No vote (well, I don't pay too much attention to him, but his 2011 manifesto said he'd get rid of MSPs and replace them with all the Scottish MPs from Westminster). Lib Dems are much more generous but somewhat less credible.

  • But maybe the status quo is ok? Well the arguments around things like NHS funding suggest no: it seems that much of the way that devolution has been set up constrains Scotland to match UK public funding fairly closely, and in particular this appears to mean that as Westminster privatises various sectors (e.g. NHS England), the public funding involved decreases and Scotland has to decrease in lock-step unless it manages to move funding in from elsewhere in its budget. So the privatisation agenda, even though it technically doesn't need to be applied here, gets forced in through the back door.

  • Worse, when you look at things like TAFTA/TTIP, another satanic transatlantic free trade agreement we appear to be about to sign up to, its provisions include things like compulsorily opening up market sectors to international competition if they've been opened up to internal competition (and NHS England means that UK health has been so opened). At least this is my understanding, which doesn't count for much since TTIP is being negotiated in secret and there's damn all media coverage of it. TTIP includes things like secret courts (they like secret) wherein private companies can sue governments over policies that impact their profit. These companies have no shame: witness Quebec being sued for banning tar sand exploitation and Australia being sued for removing logos from cigarettes.

Some TL;DR for you.. [3/5]

Date: 2014-09-10 11:42 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] https://www.google.com/accounts/o8/id?id=AItOawnJ81dsV_lg5JjIYipIjXXhrRpPQb4flDg (from livejournal.com)
[BTW this is Conrad, experimenting with OpenID after Facebook said it would tell LiveJournal everything about everyone I knew: apparently I am now a a long string of gibberish and a spammer, which is hardly inappropriate]

So no, I don't think that the BT future is risk-free, and I don't think that they'll think about Scotland again after Scotland votes No, except to perhaps take some more stuff. Not in a malicious way, mark you, but just in the sense that Scotland isn't very important.

Risks on the Yes future are pretty damn huge too. But I think they're being painted as much worse than they are, and since most of them are economic, and economists gave us all the joy and pleasure that we're currently enjoying, I'm very skeptical of treating the economy as the primary factor in your choice. But ok, the economic uncertainty: Scotland will lose the pound. It will be a lonely bankrupt economic basket case that can't borrow a penny. Etc.

Some TL;DR for you.. [4/5]

Date: 2014-09-10 11:44 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] https://www.google.com/accounts/o8/id?id=AItOawnJ81dsV_lg5JjIYipIjXXhrRpPQb4flDg (from livejournal.com)
  • UK government has already committed to servicing the whole UK debt. That's as should be: international law holds that the country being seceded from is the one that is deemed to have signed past contracts, etc. I'm guessing that's why iScotland is also held to be leaving the EU and NATO.

  • That debt is borderline unserviceable for rUK: it's huge to the point that markets don't believe rUK can cope, and Salmond has said he'll effectively offer the rUK foreign aid to help cover it in exchange for a currency union. Note that the "Scotland's Future" document also argues that iScotland may consider other currency options down the road, but currency union is certainly the favoured first option. It's low impact. It papers things over while iScotland works through the other stuff. So Scotland doesn't need a solution that is guaranteed to work forever, Mr Krugman.

  • It's been widely argued that removing devo max from the ballot (seriously, why did BT do that? And in whose interest was it?) and refusing currency union are BT engaging in brinkmanship. However since the pound crashed after the yes-in-the-lead poll, it's nice to find several people (including Nobels like Stiglitz and Pissarides) arguing that Osborne is deliberately creating the chaos he claims to be trying to avoid. This does make it more credible that he'll eat his words after the vote.

  • Adam Smith Institute and a few others have endorsed the idea of Sterlingisation (pound without a currency union). Among other things it turns out that if there's no public body to bail out private banks then moral hazard is reduced and weirdly the banks start to behave more responsibly. Who knew.

  • EU: the EU offered to examine the process of Scottish accession if the UK government asked them to. Cameron refused to ask. Why? Who did that serve?

  • Juncker has pedalled a much softer line than Barroso, promising Scotland an exception to the five-year growth moratorium he's proposing, and that Scotland will be treated as a "special and separate case". Can you seriously imagine the chaos that would be caused if Scotland actually left the EU, and Scottish people became illegal aliens in Europe and vice versa? Do you really think that an arrangement would not be found very swiftly indeed? The details will take time, but the idea of Scotland's becoming an illegal black hole with Europe all around it somewhat beggars belief.

  • I kindof think a similar argument applies to NATO. They specifically forbid new members from hosting nuclear arms by the way, so iScotland would have to get rid of Trident in order to join. Made me laugh when I read that.

Some TL;DR for you.. [5/5]

Date: 2014-09-10 11:45 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] https://www.google.com/accounts/o8/id?id=AItOawnJ81dsV_lg5JjIYipIjXXhrRpPQb4flDg (from livejournal.com)
Throughout this there's clearly a lot of brinkmanship going on, preparatory to adopting negotiating positions in the event of a Yes (or perhaps just trying to sound strong and manly while being confident the bluff would never be called). The greatest risk is that the politicians have said things that cannot be unsaid. Recall that they could yet be voted out before independence negotiations conclude, although the rather scary alternative also exists that next year's election will actually turn into a Hardest (Wo)Man Versus Scotland competition. Unknowable.

But there's equally the possibility that next year's election will turn into a Hardest (Wo)Man Versus Scotland competition after a No vote. An April survey indicated a substantial English mood to punish Scotland already, Yes or No. And yes, they're 84% of the population, and the pro-punishment margins (56% to 9% on "Levels of public spending in Scotland should be reduced to the levels in the rest of the UK") are so large that we couldn't stop them in a vote.

Recall that when Cameron and Salmond signed the Edinburgh Agreement, they signed a document which concludes "The two governments are committed to continue to work together constructively in the light of the outcome, whatever it is, in the best interests of the people of Scotland and of the rest of the United Kingdom." I do hope that after the vote, that phrase is prominent in their minds, but I'm pretty sure that the only outcome which gives Scotland any real agency afterwards is a Yes vote.

I've totally ignored all the positive reasons I'm going to vote Yes because fear and economy have exhausted me. But I think there is a real brief hope of a better democracy here, and of Scotland serving as a good example to the rest of the world, and most particularly to the rest of the UK, whose democracy I really want to see improve. But that's probably just dreamy-eyed Indie bias.

I strongly recommend your taking a look at Bella Caledonia, and perhaps at Wings Over Scotland's Wee Blue Book (WOS briefly banned from Scotsman comments!) though. More dreamy-eyed Indie bias, but not all of it bad, and it offers a little variety versus the vote-no mass media.
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