Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Why I'm saying Yes to Scottish independence

Despite looking in depth at a number of key issues in the Scottish referendum, and writing on it from a number of angles for several different publications, I have hesitated to say anything personal about my vote. This is't simply about trying to keep people happy, having friends on both sides. I trust my friends to respect my decision as I respect theirs. Rather, it has been an ethical choice - it has been very important to me to keep my writing neutral and focused on the facts, because I think that's what the people of Scotland have been crying out for. I have also wanted to keep things straightforward as far as my business and charity work is concerned, though I can assre you that my coming out today does not mean either Trans Media Watch or Eye For Film will lose their neutrality. I haven't asked my colleagues what they think and I wouldn't presume to speak for them. The former is there to serve, the latter to entertain and inform; there is no place for this kind of politics in that.

Why, then, am I coming out now? It's because I think that, at this point, most minds are made up; because I want to be honest with m friends and my readers; and because I don't want to be smugly positioning myself after the fact. I want to be clear that this is what I believe in, in or lose.

As someone with fourteen years of experience in business and eight years of experience writing about it, as well as about the world of high finance, I feel confident in assessing the economic arguments at stake in this debate and I am not about to pretend that I think independence would be risk free. The thing is, I see some serious risks with staying in the union as well. It's important to remember that voting No is not a neutral option, not a vote for no change. There is always change, and there are many other major political and economic factors creating instability just now. I do find it vaguely amusing to hear avowed neo-liberals suddenly preaching against risk when it comes to this vote. All in all, I'm not too worried, because I've been following the policies of big business on this for a long time, I respect their ability to manage contingencies (they wouldn't be big otherwise) and I have, unfashionable though it may be, a degree of faith in the basic principles of capitalism. Market niches do not stay empty. High prices make retailers vulnerable to competition. Etc. Where currency is concerned, a see use of the pound (approved or not) as a viable short term option, and I would expect an independent Scotland to develop its own currency within five to fifteen years.

If these seems a little brusque, forgive me. I could write pages on any one of these issues, but I don't want to bore you.

Setting aside the fear of financial catastrophe, then, and laying to rest some other fears through the simple process of looking at what has happened to other countries that have made this kind of change, I shall move on to look at some of the other headline issues. Firstly, England. You're so vain, I bet you think this vote is about you. Well, to be honest, that's not what most English people think, and I've heard a wonderful diversity of opinions from those I've discussed the matter with; I know many of them are frustrated at being purportedly represented by the likes of David Cameron saying "I think I speak for all English people when I say that I want Scotland to stay." In fact, many English people themselves want something loosely described as "independence from Westminster," and I wish them well with that - I hope that Scotland's actions can encourage a flowering of political engagement in England. That's why I don't accept the "Stay and help them fight" line. I think the best way to help is to illustrate what's possible. What politics has been most painfully short of in recent years has been ideas and real faith in the potential of ordinary voters. That, and I've helped England fight for decades, and nothing has changed. I refuse to keep on nobly banging my head off the same brick wall..

Still, it's not about England, and it's not altogether about Westminster either. It is, strangely enough, about Scotland, about what we are, what we can be, what we can do. It's about a different kind of politics already manifested in a fairer voting system, a much more diverse set of political parties (I alone have voted for four different ones at Holyrood elections), and a much more engaged public. Woken now that it might act tomorrow, the dragon of Red Clydeside, so long bound in despair and apathy, is not going to go back to sleep again. This is a country where the voices of working class people have political weight, and that, rather than any sentimental factor, is why I think it can become a fairer country. I don't think Scots are better than other people, but I think we are in a position to take advantage of a range of cultural and political factors that give us the potential to make active use of the virtues and talents we have.

I don't comprehend the argument that independence is tragic because it will make people into foreigners. I already am a foreigner to most people in the world. There are borders between me and my friends in Pakistan, Canada, Brazil and New Zealand, yet I don't care about them any less than my friends in England or my friends who live just down the street. I see borders as practical things, enabling society to be split into democratically manageable sections. I'd like to see more evenness between those sections, more freedom of movement, and respect for human rights across all of them, but those are bigger causes I shall be no less engaged with for supporting an independent Scotland.

It probably goes without saying, but I am no more afraid of being invaded by aliens in an independent Scotland than anywhere else on Earth. Nor am I worried about being invaded by the armies of Vladimir Putin, in part because I understand his empire's economic and naval limitations. I think Scotland could continue to play a useful role in the world militarily, playing to its strengths in engineering, tech and medicine; I favour maintaining a ground army but I honestly don't see us as high on anyone's target list provided that England doesn't get any silly ideas. I trust we can all be more grown up than that.

I don't see everything as dependent on oil. As has been pointed out, if we're still dependent on oil in fifteen years, we're really screwed regardless of our governance (and our low-lying neighbours are even more so). We have a number of strong industries here in Scotland and they compare pretty well to those on which many larger national economies are dependent. We're pretty flexible and we've maintained our strong tradition of innovation, which reinforces that advantage.

For the sake of friends elsewhere in the UK who have been dependent on UK national newspaper coverage to make sense of what's going on in Scotland, I would simply like to say, don't panic, there is no terrifying fascist cult here, thee is no danger of No voters being hunted down in the streets if their side wins; we're really not that exciting. There's no terrifying censorship going on (I think I personally have a pretty strong record on fighting censorship, so I hope you will trust me on this, at least enough to do some real research before buying those lines), and there is at present no convincing evidence that the debate here has led to elevated levels of violence (there have always been a few people who enjoy that, and it's not surprising to see them attaching themselves to each side of the debate, but they'd probably have been behaving much the same way without it). Perhaps most importantly, no-one here is going into the voting booths without having thought things through. It may be that parts of the UK have only just discovered the issue, but we've been talking about it for over two years. W've thought about this, you know?

So this is what it comes down to, for me. I'm voting Yes because I think it's the right thing for democracy and gives Scotland (and perhaps other UK nations too) the best chance of achieving greater social justice. There is no conflict between my head and my heart; I am voting Yes because my experience of Scotland's business landscape, its creative sector, its political mechanisms and its community leaders convinces me that it has what it takes to make a success of this, and to exemplify a better way to live than we have recently known. I don't know if it will make me better or worse off. I don't believe I have any right to concern myself with that ahead of what is good for the electorate at large. I think the time has come to grasp the nettle and to make practical change. There's no future in England's dreaming, nor in the vague promises of those who lied to us last time. If we want a real future, we must make it.

I don't ask you to stand with me. I ask only that, if you are voting in this referendum, you consider your decision carefully and do what honestly seems right to you. But for better or worse, this is where I stand. Yes I said yes I will yes.

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