I said my piece on the Scottish referendum in 2013 (1) (and voted with my head). What came after, especially the final two weeks before the big day, was interesting but not especially informative. Fibs, lies, blatant lies, exaggerations, misinformation and wishful thinking came from politicians, their foot soldiers and the media on both sides of the debate. And those posters in windows made sure there was no escape. Even day trips were marred by farmers with their over-sized posters plonked in the middle of a field.
However it wasn't until the first poll showing the Yes camp in the lead, that financial markets finally woke up to the reality of what independence might mean to a Britain without Scotland. The Pound took a beating, our cost of borrowing went up and companies with exposure to the Scottish market were marked down.
I've always felt that English voters deserved a say in the whole affair and wholly agree with the sentiments expressed by the English Democrats (2). It was never going to be an amicable divorce with both parties remaining good friends. Like most divorces, it was bound to end with one party feeling they'd been shafted and, as usual, that would be the English taxpayers. Just maintaining confidence in Sterling would involve huge sacrifices, so higher interest rates, leading to another property slump and tens of thousands being booted out their homes.
That was the catalyst that got to ordinary English people and they didn't like it one bit - nor can I blame them. It was always painted as a remote thing that wouldn't make much difference to individuals south of the border. For the most part those who blogged or commented on the subject tried to remain impartial, however I wasn't especially surprised to see a backlash - an "Englishness" if you will - emerge.
Fortunately that's been seized upon by politicians who want to limit the voting powers of Scottish MPs on matters that are purely English. That would have been very helpful when parliament voted to introduce a smoking ban in England and may have allowed the exclusion of wet pubs and clubs. I hope that sentiment snowballs; not just for Scottish MPs, but also for Scottish members of the House of Lords. The system's always been questionable and, for once, politicians are responding to the will of their electorate.
More importantly, at the time, was the reaction of large to medium sized businesses with exposure to Scotland. Fortunately they didn't beat about the bush, for once they said it like it is. If there's to be one choice, then the larger more concentrated market that is England is where they'd want to be. And we understood, we really did.
It's not rocket science, the reason the price of a jar of Pesto is the same in all major supermarket chains from Devon to Caithness is because the British market is sufficiently profitable to justify the extra cost of transport to the north of Scotland. As Tesco et al would be required to set up a Scottish subsidiary and be subject to the rules and taxes of Scotland, then - inevitably (as our rules are quite onerous) - the cost of doing business will be higher. And that alone is bound to result in an increase in prices for many products in Scotland. On the flip side it may have resulted in lower prices in England where competition is more intense.
And yes we understood when the Royal Bank of Scotland said it would re-domicile to England. It would have no choice because depositors and borrowers absolutely loathe uncertainty and as there is no lender of last resort in Scotland they, amongst other financial institutions, would need to do a lot more than just open a hole-in-the-wall office in the City. The Bank of England would demand a full presence in England, meaning quality jobs would go.
Currency was one area where the pro-independence movement had no satisfactory answer. And that left it to us to speculate, which is never a very pleasant thing when people are talking about their savings, the value of their houses, their pension and the future of their children. That's when we discussed things like a Scottish Central Bank, because it would need to set one up from scratch. We'd need one whether we went with a Tartan Pound, or - as was most likely - the Euro. That's when it finally sank in with some people: we couldn't expect to keep Sterling, so there would be the added dimension of exchange rates to contemplate, to say nothing of finding first rate people to staff our Central Bank. If they went with a Tartan Pound it would free-fall from day one, so again prices would go up in Scotland and the value of our houses would go down. As a little over 63% of Scots own their own homes, that's an enormous sacrifice that very few would consider justifiable.
That got some us to talking about all the institutions we take for granted. The Post Office got a mention because there's an understanding that nationwide delivery to every home in Britain is only made possible because we pay well over the odds for mail sent from one part of town to another part of the same town. Maintaining some sort of postal service to the remote Western Isles is part of the deal. Again it's the English who pay well over the odds to ensure all these penny-ante islands get mail all year. An independent Scotland would have to set up its own Post Office and, with our piffling population and our love of email, that would drive up the cost of postage, thus adding to the cost of doing business in Scotland.
Then there's the question of Army, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard and so on. An F-16 fighter bomber costs about £27.5 million to buy and we'd need, oh let's say a couple of dozen of those, plus tanks, at £2 million a pop plus frigates and all the hardware, manpower and such, all shared between 5.25 million people with, at a rough guess, just shy of 2.5 million paying any income tax at all. Kick in a semi-credible diplomatic service and the numbers become horrifying. It became blindingly obvious that on issues like defense and diplomacy we couldn't even begin to provide the same level of cover as we have as part of the United Kingdom.
Nowadays our immediate threats come not so much from countries that surround us trying to invade us. Now it's illegal immigrants, human trafficking, smuggling, illegal fishing, seriously organized crime and the ever present home grown terrorist. These need extremely sophisticated and really expensive systems that involve an awful lot of people who don't come cheap. I pass through a couple of airports in Scotland every year and, even with our combined resources, it's unusual to see the declaration desk manned at customs. Seems that's not restricted to Scotland, because others have used Newcastle and say they found a similar setup. At the moment it's just possible to maintain a presence of sorts at every entry point in Britain 24/365 but with things like scheduled flights from Europe or other safe countries there's a cost/benefit equation that's difficult to justify especially in places like Inverness and Aberdeen. While I like the notion of being able to bring back 5 kgs of EU sourced tobacco for myself and to pass on to friends at cost, I don't much like the idea of others doing the same for a whacking great profit that'll be used to help finance some terror cell here or their home country. Again its obvious that we'll be much worse off if we go it alone - and that's a very large issue for people in England. They don't deserve to have to watch their northern land border simply because we don't have the resources to patrol our coasts or man every point of entry from fishing ports to international airports.
Much of our infrastructure is only possible because it's paid for out of a large pot. We've got airports on Barra, Islay and Tiree, all for a couple of flights a day, we've got roads that connect isolated communities in the far north and west coast, plus ports for half a dozen ferry crossings a day. We've got Search and Rescue helicopters on standby 24/365, all because people and businesses pay tax into a great big pot. And that's what pays for all this.
Nor did we forget the promises made by Humza Yousaf, the person tipped to become our Foreign Secretary had we chosen to become independent. Humza undertook to increase our donations toward international aid from 0.7% of gross national income to 1% (3)! It's already a contentious issue at 0.7% and bitterly resented for the sheer waste and lack of accountability by people who actually pay tax. The last thing we need is yet another bozo getting his rocks off blowing away our money.
These are simple, down to earth subjects that were ignored or brushed aside by those who debated terribly important constitutional issues. But they matter to us because it's us, the Scottish taxpayers, and a severely depleted business sector who'd be expected to finance them. It didn't even begin to add up.
It's not that we're scared of the unknown, nor that we prefer things the way they are. The simple truth is that in 1997 almost 40% of voters refused to vote for devolution. That referendum was carried by 74% of those who bothered to vote, yet (and this is rarely mentioned) only 60% voted in favour of giving them any tax raising powers. In short, only 44% of those registered to vote wanted devolution and a paltry 36% trusted them with our taxes (4). And that's the core issue: an awful lot of Scots wanted nothing to do with devolution and what's happened since then has rankled them something foul.
For sure the whole putrid affair is all about politics for politics sake and we're being dragged along for the ride. Yet, unlike 1997, this time there was a far higher level of participation, partly because we did not want to see another horrific cock-up, but also because we knew darned well that the SNP, the Greens, the Scottish Socialists and the Yes camp were doing everything in their power to skew the result in their favour.
First came the announcement that young adults aged 16 and above could vote in this referendum. Then that all EU citizens living in Scotland at the time could vote as well. Later came the news that the Radical Independence Group (RIG) were targeting housing estates, old peoples homes, hostels for street-people, even hospices for the terminally ill and getting them to register to vote.
That's nice, because there are many families in our housing estates who don't speak English and don't understand our system of voting. And there are many down-and-outs on our streets who are illiterate, and lots of people who have moved into sheltered accommodation or old folks homes haven't bothered to register at their new address. These people are not targeted at General or Parliamentary elections, so yes that's bound to increase the number of registered voters. However it seems the RIG were going far further with many individuals, especially the most vulnerable. With them (the frail, the illiterate, the non-English speakers) RIG were offering to act as proxy for them. In short, the Yes camp were taking advantage of their superior funding and numbers to get into these places and ensure they got as many Yes voters signed up as possible.
We knew about this and that's why it became imperative that we made the effort on the day. As it so happens, despite the fantastic claims that 97% of eligible voters had registered to vote, only 84.5% actually bothered to so on the day (5). Even allowing for illnesses, operations and other unforeseen emergencies it seems that more than one in eight people refused point blank to legitimize the referendum and, in my book, that's a big fat No. Rather than stick to the headline figures (that 55.3% voted No and 44.7% voted Yes), what really happened was 46.7% of all registered voters said No, 37.8% voted Yes and 15.5% refused to have anything to do with the whole fiasco.
That's democracy in action. There's always a degree of ambiguity and if we take at face value that 15.5% wanted to have nothing to do with the whole darned thing then, irritating though it might be to the Yes camp, they need to accept they only represent a vocal minority of little more than one third of eligible voters. Exclude the 16 and 17 year olds and that figure drops yet further.
Yes it was important to get out there and win the headline vote - and we did that in no uncertain terms. We did so knowing full well that if we had not then independence would have gone ahead, even if the Yes camp had won by no more than 50.01%. That was a lesson well learned from our 1997; being a part of the silent majority doesn't cut it in politics. Despite this the SNP and their allies will not accept they didn't win the argument, nor our hearts and minds.
For the past couple of years investment decisions have been delayed or canceled because investors were not sure of many things, from the nature of government, currency, tax regime to capital flight. Mr. Salmond stated he would abide by the referendum results, however he's reneged on that, promising something close to UDI Zimbabwe style if the SNP get re-elected in 2016 (6). And the "45%" group are calling for yet another referendum in March 2020 (7).
(It's interesting to note that it's again orchestrated by the SNP, Greens and the Scottish Socialists - and March 2020 is a couple of months before the Scottish Parliamentary Elections. This suits the Greens and SSP. The later being the vehicle of a certain Mr. Sheridan - a most distasteful character who has spent many years in jail for various crimes and for being caught out as a liar (8). Doubtless the SNP feel they will benefit as well, because almost all of those aged 16 and 17 who voted in the referendum will be 18 or 19 in May 2016, so they may be of the opinion that most of those who sought independence will vote for the SNP.)
If the "45%" get their way, it's a certainty the Scottish economy will continue to under-perform against the rest of the UK, as it has done for the past couple of years. That may be inconsequential to some people, and Mr. Salmond is using the threat of a never-ending-referendum to try to gain as much power as possible. Yet while this thing rumbles on there are many places in the UK that offer guaranteed stability, cheap housing, a well educated labour force and stacks of incentives to attract inward investment, Northumbria being one perfect example, so leaving Scotland even more marginalized.
The Yes camp make a big issue that the vote was lost because of old people. That's utter rubbish as this excellent survey shows (9) - and the thing that's most obvious is the difference between people aged 16 - 17 (71% voted Yes) and those aged 18 - 24 (52% voted No). So it seems that the ploy to include those aged 16 - 17 worked in their favour, however what we're seeing with the next age group is a perfect example of the "lost generation". Those who have not found a job, or are in a dead-end one. As those aged 55 or over are far more likely to own their own house outright and are concerned with the value of their savings and pensions, it's perfectly understandable they should seek stability and a currency of known value. Mr. Salmond is wrong, his Achilles heel are the people who have recently graduated, who want to acquire assets, get married, find good jobs and seek a future for their children. At that he and his party have been spectacularly useless.
It seems that when it comes to what voters really want, the SNP simply cannot deliver. Their mantra - that it's all because of Westminster and the Tories - has grown ears. The last couple of years in Scottish politics has been dominated with their yakking on about the pro's and con's of independence, with banning smoking in cars, the poly bag tax and minimum pricing on booze chucked in for a little variation. Scotland has to offer serious incentives to get companies and people to invest in Scotland - and that'll become ever more expensive as this never-ending-referendum continues to weigh on all of us.
That suits the Greens and the Scottish Socialist just fine. If they can swing the vote in favour of independence, then all MSPs will be elected under proportional representation. If they can get the threshold set at 4% then both parties stand to gain several seats in Holyrood. That's transparently obvious - and that's another reason why our views will harden over the coming years. We're dealing with pure self-interest, all tarted up as "Scotlands' Future". However proportional representation cuts both ways and it's a rock solid certainty that UKIP will win several seats in an independent parliament. As is I suspect they'll win more than one or two in 2016, both Constituency and Additional members (10).
(It's also very likely that the BNP and even the Scottish National Front will benefit from proportional representation. And as future Scottish governments will be coalitions, then it's very unlikely that any of the very expensive promises made by the SNP will ever make it past the wishful thinking stage. That's something that may eventually dawn on those in the 30 to 50 age group, who have large mortgages and have been protected from domestic rate increases for several years. Those people are going to be one of the first casualties. And if the only currency we can use is the Euro, then Scotland will have to conform to very strict criteria that'll see a severely reduced public sector, reduced pensions and an end to vanity projects like wave energy).
Cameron made several desperate promises in that fateful two week period prior to the referendum, while being goaded by Gordon Brown. Many Tory backbenchers disagree with Cameron - and they're perfectly correct to do so. Any additional powers handed over to Holyrood must be given on the basis that the referendum will not be re-visited for at least another generation (20 years). And only once they have that in black and white, signed by the three main parties in Scotland. Then - and only then - should they consider allowing a few, very small, concessions to Scotland.
We need time to recover and reflect. We need to rebuild trust amongst ourselves, the rest of the world and especially the English. The Yes camp need to do their homework and get the answers they so studiously avoided. They need to have a clear vision of the future as it matters to ordinary people and they absolutely must ask us if we want to join the EU. In 20 years they may be able to carry the argument. I doubt they will because the greatest reason for not wanting independence is we sorely lack real political maturity - and the way the SNP leadership is conducting itself indicates that's unlikely to change for some time to come.