More Equal Together

Hannah Canvassing Labour No

The author canvassing voters to vote “No”.

Decked out in a red rain jacket embossed with ‘No’ and clutching leaflets, I stood on a front porch and said, “Have you given any thought to the referendum in September?” Almost everyone answered in the affirmative; everyone has been thinking about independence. However, the question I asked next resulted in a variety of answers: “Can I ask how you’re voting?” Some people told me their vote is their own business. Some laughed and said, “Definitely ‘No’”. Some people glanced at my badge, thanked me for my time but told me they were voting ‘Yes’. Others sighed and expressed indecision.

To these people, I explain why I am voting ‘No’. An independent Scotland, as mapped out by the SNP (the Scottish National Party, which is currently in government) would exacerbate inequality. The ‘Yes’ campaign is framing the referendum as a chance to change Scotland. I agree. Independence would change the lives of my friends, my family and those people whose doors I knocked—for the worse.

The SNP plans for independence, such as lowering the corporate tax rate, are not in line with the type of equal society best for the left-wing Scottish people. At an event in Clydebank, leader of the Labour Party Rt. Hon. MP Ed Miliband pointed to the SNP’s philosophical disconnect; the idea of “we’ll do it on our own”, he noted, is a “Tory [Conservative Party] policy”.

Those who argue that “a vote for “Yes” is not a vote for SNP” seem to forget that it is the SNP who are mapping the policies for an independent Scotland, and it is they who would negotiate with Westminster to decide our future. That future is uncertain, unstable and unequal. The future of a ‘No’ vote is one which has some hope of a fair and equal Scotland, building on the benefits of our resource-sharing arrangements throughout the United Kingdom and our independent decision-making in Scottish Parliament. We have the best of both worlds and our future could be even better if we vote ‘No’.

“Scotland’s Pound”

“What’s our currency going to be?” people asked rhetorically at their doors as a reason for their indecision or for voting ‘No’. No one knows the answer. Alex Salmond, the leader of the SNP, has persistently declared that “it’s Scotland’s pound.” Actually, it’s the United Kingdom’s pound.

Although Salmond insists that Scotland can keep the pound, other politicians argue that this isn’t true. The Labour Party and Liberal Democrats criticize the SNP for not proposing a ‘Plan B’ in the case that the British government does not agree to a currency union or a currency union proves too unstable. In the first television debate, even SNP supporters were disappointed with their leader’s inability to effectively discuss the currency. One SNP supporter I canvassed the day after the debate revealed that the First Minister’s uncertainty over the currency caused her to change to a ‘No’ vote.

Even in proposing a currency union, the SNP is being contradictory. If such an arrangement were the case, Scotland would not be fully independent and would have no influence over the monetary policy or lending facilities of the Bank of England. If Scotland uses the pound without a formal agreement, like Panama using the dollar, the economy would be even more unstable. Andrew Lilico of The Telegraph points out that those who advocate for a government having no control over monetary policy “are generally regarded as extremely Right-wing in economic terms.”

“More Expensive”

Whatever happens to the currency in an independent Scotland, the cost of living will increase. Many people I spoke to at their doors rightly worried about things becoming “more expensive”. The Institute of Fiscal Studies, an independent body, finds that an independent Scotland would have to cut public spending significantly or increase tax revenues to make up for a £6 billion deficit. Yet the SNP is proposing to cut taxes to corporations by 3 pence. As Miliband argued in the Clydebank event, “Corporations will benefit from an independent Scotland. People won’t.” (In Scotland, unlike America, corporations aren’t viewed as people.) Those people who would benefit from an independent Scotland are at the very top of the economic ladder, and the gains they would make from independence would exacerbate inequality.

The SNP’s answers this dilemma by pointing to the revenue Scotland would gain from its North Sea oil reserves. However, oil runs out, and it is extremely unclear if the oil revenues would be able to keep up with public spending. In an article for the Daily Record, Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown argues, “The NHS [National Health Service] in Scotland costs £12 billion per year, yet oil revenues in 2016-2017—the SNP’s favored year of independence—are likely to be only £2.9billion.”

no thanks logo“What About the NHS?”

Unlike the United States, the United Kingdom has a robust welfare state, which Scotland has historically spearheaded. Currently, the Scottish NHS spends £176 a month per head, compared to the £159 spent in England and £163 in Wales. Rather than this being a reason for independence, the welfare state is an important reason for Scotland to stay in the union. Scotland is able to provide a substantial welfare state because of, not in spite of, its position within the union. In an event in Easterhouse, Gordon Brown pointed out that the people of Scotland could have advocated for a Scottish welfare state but proposed a welfare state across the union order to pool resources and create a more effective system.

The Deputy Leader of the Scottish Labour Party, MP Anas Sarwar, makes the positive case for independence in an interview for the HPR, arguing, “I want to distribute the wealth of 65 million people, not 5 million.” Furthermore, the Scottish Parliament already has power over its health system: It can add to the NHS budget, and it can act to prevent the unpopular privatization that is happening in some parts of England. In the Daily Record article, Brown wrote, “The SNP talk about equality. They dine out on our Scottish traditions of supporting social justice—but they do not live up to them. For they have not one proposal that would raise greater revenue to fund the NHS from redistribution within the tax system.”

“What about the EU?”

Although the ‘Yes’ campaign claims that Scotland would be immediately part of the European Union, this is not certain, since Scotland’s current membership is contingent on it being in the United Kingdom. Furthermore, it’s not just the European Union that is in question. Scotland would no longer be in the United Kingdom, and it would no longer be a superpower, with membership on the UN Security Council or NATO. As Sarwar points out, “At the moment, Scotland has its feet at top table.” On independence, Scotland would lose its seat.

One of the main arguments for independence is that Scotland would get rid of nuclear weapons, specifically Trident—the UK nuclear missile which is housed in Scotland—to make a more socially just world. It is unclear whether this would actually happen, since Westminster has stated that alternative plans would take decades. Secondly, the end of Trident would mean a loss of 7,000 jobs. Furthermore, even if Scotland successfully removed Trident, the rest of the world is going to pay less attention to a new country’s position on nuclear weapons than an established superpower’s stance.

Scotland’s Future

A ‘No’ vote doesn’t mean “no” to change. On the contrary, all the major parties have promised that after a ‘No’ vote, Westminster would expand the powers of Scottish parliament and improve the union. As Sarwar asserts, “Scotland is a nation. We don’t need a referendum to tell us that.” We are a nation that values fairness and equality. We are a nation that benefits from the partnership in the United Kingdom. The ‘Yes’ campaign slogan is “Scotland’s future in Scotland’s hands”. I agree. I hope Scotland says “no” to a future of the SNP’s empty promises, uncertainly and inequality.

Image credits: Hannah Phillips, 

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Copyright 2018