At the end of the televised Salmond-Darling debate I tweeted the following:

With 77 retweets so far, it seems to have struck a chord with some people. It also is an aspect of the independence debate that was only mentioned in passing in the televised clash, but for me it is absolutely central. How is Scotland going to be best governed? is the vital question in the referendum as I see it, and my answer would be it would be better governed from Edinburgh than from London, and hence – if I had a vote – I’d vote YES.

First of all a few caveats. I do not know Scotland well, but do know Westminster well, so my view of Scottish politics is conditioned by the media. Second, as the holder of a UK passport but one who has never lived in Scotland, nor has any Scottish ancestry as far as I know, I am probably stepping on questionable ground by even writing about this – I most definitely make no claim to have full information about this topic.

For me the case for independence is summed up succinctly in Adam Ramsay’s piece for Open Democracy, entitled “Scotland isn’t different, it’s Britain that’s bizarre“. Looking at issues such as renewable energy, inequality and education, Ramsay’s piece outlines the sort of independence that for me, as a modern, Green-lefty, sounds very appealing. Scottish police reform is the sort of policy an independent Scotland could do a lot more of – compare and contrast that to the PCC mess in England and Wales!

There are of course downsides to independence – questions about Scotland’s EU membership, and what currency Scotland will use being some of the major headaches that have not been adequately answered. On both issues I am not personally too bothered though, as I see both as being overplayed by both camps in the referendum campaign. As I’ve argued, Scotland’s EU membership is not automatic, but nor is it complex, but such a mundane answer suits neither side in the campaign. Currency questions are similar – the real reason Alex Salmond can talk so confidently of keeping Sterling is he knows that were Scotland to become independent it would be in Westminster’s interests to allow it – because Westminster would not want the economy of an independent Scotland to tank. But prior to a referendum Darling has to talk up the dangers during the campaign.

All of this, of course, is not a complete and adequate case for independence. Indeed I would favour radical decentralisation of all sorts of powers, not only to Scotland but to Wales and regions of the UK as well. The UK remains financially the most centralised country in the EU, and that has to change. I also think that in a fast-changing, globalised world, you have to take the closest control you can of the things you can still control – education, health, social security for example – knowing that the rest of the issues are too big even for the United Kingdom to possibly be able to control. As Paul Henri Spaak once said, in Europe there are only small countries left. Those that know they are small, and those that do not know it yet.

For the reasons I outline about Scotland in this post, I would be happy to draw similar conclusions about Catalonia, and possibly other regions too. There have to be clear benefits to splitting, and avoiding major downsides for the remaining part (the economic hit to the rest of Spain in the case of Catalonia might be a stumbling point). I also, for what it’s worth, cannot see how to split Belgium viably, due to the complexity of Brussels. But those are questions for a further post.

But in conclusion though, for good or bad, it is a question of independence or not that is on the ballot paper in Scotland, and faced with that question I would vote YES if I had the right to vote.


  1. I think you underplay the currency issue here Jon – how much more “independent” would Scotland be if they broke away from the UK, but remained wedded via a currency union vs. more powers devolved and remaining a part of the UK? Also, if Scots wanted to avoid being run by Tory Westminster governments, you’d have less chance of that happening if they remained in the UK, than if they broke away and wanted to keep the pound.

    In a world in which economies are becoming more global rather than local, would Scotland really be in a better position to punch above its weight outside the UK? I doubt China, US and Russia would pay any more attention to it than it currently does. Most likely less.

    Would Scotland’s place in Europe be improved? If Scotland was treated like other applicants, a new independent Scotland would have to wait a while to rejoin (at least 5 years) and would have to sign up to the Euro in the long term. Why should Brussels to grant special treatment for Scotland over other countries joining the Union?

    I think you’d only really want to vote yes if you want to be part of a small country within strong federal Europe (thereby meaning you’d rather have the Euro than the pound). Am not sure if many Scots would really want this, especially when the Yes camp have not had a long consistent lead in the polls and still have some work to do to convince voters.

  2. Jennifer

    Hi Jon,

    Excuse the late comment, but I’ve only just read this post.

    I’m surprised that someone committed to European integration can be in favour of Scottish independence. How can it possibly be a good thing to create a border where there has been none ( in any meaningful sense) for more than 300 years.

    I think you are much too quick to dismiss the practical issues, especially currency. Now it is clearer than ever that currency union with the UK would only offer partial independence. Of course, I am writing with the benefit of the very live debate on this issue at the moment, and I wonder if you might changed your mind? You suggested last month that Alistair Darling’s stance on currency is just a negotiating tactic. Following Mark Carney’s interventions today, I don’t think anyone can say that is true. Ok Alec Salmond will cleave to this line, but it is madness…As I said these things were less obvious when you wrote your post.

    If Scotland does vote to separate from the UK, of course it can be a successful country, as many other small countries are. But it could take a generation to work that out. Surely devolution ( for all parts of the UK and not just Scotland) offers a much more realistic prospect of creating a more social democratic Scotland.

    The economics matter hugely, but the cultural, historical and family connections matter even more. How sad that 720,000 Scots in England become foreigners from the place of their birth. I wasn’t born in Scotland, but my parents are Scottish and most of my extended family live there. The thought of waking up on 19 September to the news that Scotland is a foreign country makes me feel desperately sad.

  3. “the real reason Alex Salmond can talk so confidently of keeping Sterling is he knows that were Scotland to become independent it would be in Westminster’s interests to allow it – because Westminster would not want the economy of an independent Scotland to tank.”

    True enough but ultimately you would have very two very asymmetric bargaining positions. rUK would want to keep Scotland afloat to avoid a economic disaster on its doorstep, however, Scotland would want to avoid being that economic disaster. In short one side has a lot more to lose than the other side.

    In many way it represents the case against a BrExit. Yes the rEU would probably grant an “independent” UK some concessions in event of a BrExit (to avoid a complete economic mess) but ultimately it would be very much on the rEU’s terms.

    I release its somewhat cliched to talk about an “interdependent” world but there is more than a element of truth to it. Given this true “independence” for Scotland from rUK or iUK from EU are simply only every going to be a mirage (and may actually in both cases actually increase the dependence)

  4. Graeme

    I’ve always thought that the EU would be best served by creating a federal capital territory and administering Brussels directly, as Australia did when creating Canberra and the ACT. I realise the territorial difficulties of this, given that BXL is also the capital of Flanders, but it remains my foremost solution.

  5. Michael Bimmler

    I fully agree that Scottish independence would be good for Scotland. This said, I fear it will have a negative effect on the Rest of the UK (or “rUK” as it has become fashionable to call it), because the chance of an enduring Tory majority would then immediately become a lot higher. Lest we forget, here’s the breakdown of current Scottish MPs at Westminster:
    Labour Party 40
    Liberal Democrats 11
    Scottish National Party 6
    Conservative Party 1
    Independent 1
    Total 59

    That, of course, is not Scotland’s problem and I can fully understand any Scots(wo)man who votes in favour of independent – I probably would myself if I was eligible. But for the left in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, the consequences could be quite disastrous. (It also takes away a large chunk of people who would vote “Stay in” in any upcoming EU referendum!). That’s the one over-arching reason why I can’t really be whole-heartedly in favour of Scottish independence – it may be egoistical, yes, but the thought of Cameron and his friends having almost guaranteed majorities for the next decades is a bit too much for me.

  6. Fantastic article. You’ve put forward a succinct yet brilliant case for Scottish independence. The Open Democracy article to which you refer is essential reading for anyone interested in this debate. I believe that independence is the natural state of a country, and Scotland is a nation wealthy and resourceful enough to stand up in the international community and exercise total sovereignty.

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