What is the Referendum Really About?

The Scottish Secular Society, after consulting their members, have declared their support for independence.


I fully agree with their statement, except for one very minor quibble; in the last paragraph, they say “the referendum [is] not a choice between British and Scottish identities”. If this had been qualified, perhaps by the word ‘necessarily’ after ‘not’, I would not disagree with it. As it is, it provides the trigger for me to write about something which has been on my mind recently.

Various pundits on both sides of the debate have given their opinions as to what the referendum is really about, or in other words why so many people in Scotland wish to regain the independence that was lost over three centuries ago. Some of these are simplistic propaganda, such as the idea that Scots want independence because they hate the English. Others are of a more thoughtful, intellectual nature, but I might still not agree with them.

The fundamental difficulty with any such attempt to explain the independence movement is that opinions are personal; looking at a wide range of topics, it would be very difficult to find two people with essentially the same views on every one. In the independence debate, there are so many different issues involved that, if a large number of people intending to vote Yes were asked to list all the reasons why they support independence, and to rate the importance of each reason, they would give very varied answers.

Hence my one little quibble with the statement by the Scottish Secular Society. For some people, the issue of identity, Scottish versus British, will be an important factor in the their decision as to how they will vote. Of course, for many of these people their identity will have been decided long ago, and they will simply vote according to that identity, but there may well be some who regard themselves as both Scottish and British, and who do feel that, in deciding which way they will vote, they are indeed making a choice as to their identity.

A further complication is that there will be some people whose vote will, in effect, contradict their own idea of their national identity. Some who consider themselves to be Scottish will vote No, perhaps because they believe some of the unionist scare stories. Others will do so out of self-interest – I do not expect many Scottish Labour MPs will vote Yes to lose their current jobs.

On the other hand, I expect there will be people who have moved from England to Scotland, and who still consider themselves to be English/British, who will nevertheless vote Yes, because they believe that an independent, progressive Scotland will become a better place to live than the UK under the rule of a right-wing government, whether that is Tory, New Labour or even, just possibly in a few years time, UKIP. It is possible that some people in that situation might feel that a decision to vote Yes is also a decision to adopt a more Scottish identity.

Can I answer the question in the title? Yes, but only from a strictly personal point of view, and even then not fully.

I think of the main reasons why I intend voting Yes as falling into three categories which I label as emotional, financial and political, perhaps more for neatness than accuracy.

The emotional category is that I identify myself as Scottish, and not British (except very reluctantly, for official purposes; I might discuss the reasons for this in a future post.) Therefore I want my country, Scotland, to be run by a government elected by its own people.

The financial category is that Scotland will benefit economically from independence, for a number of reasons which will be familiar by now to anyone who is likely to be reading this blog.

The political category is that, whereas the UK has never been truly democratic, an independent Scotland will become more democratic, with a codified Constitution developed by ourselves, and this will lead to the development of a better, less unequal society. As a similarly-sized country, we can try to emulate the Nordic countries. We can get rid of nuclear weapons from our country and have a Defence Force which is not used for aggression.

If I were asked about the relative importance to me of these three categories, I would not be able to answer with any confidence. The most that I could say is that all three are important, but they are different, and I do not know how I could quantify their importance to allow me to rank them – and that is without considering all the arguments which make up each category.

However, I can say that I have listed the categories in chronological order. The emotional argument (patriotism, you could call it) has been there for a very long time, certainly since my late teens. The financial arguments came next, perhaps encouraged by North Sea oil which made it clear that Scotland could easily afford to be independent. The political arguments have built up as my disillusionment with UK politics has deepened, starting with Thatcher, being maintained by New Labour, and intensifying with the current Coalition.

If I do not feel able to list, in order of importance, the main reasons why I support independence, then obviously I cannot say why people in general will choose to vote Yes or No. When some pundit on television, or writing in a newspaper, claims to have some insight into what has led us to having a referendum, or why the debate is going the way that it is, I will treat those claims with a very large pinch of salt.

My opinions, as expressed in this blog, are just opinions; feel free to be just as sceptical of them as I am of the opinions of newspaper columnists and the like.



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