Five Million People, Two Choices, One Nation
20 March 2014
“A debate about power often comes in the absence of ideas.”
The debate about Scottish Independence is no longer about changing people’s minds.
It is about making up minds.
At the moment, there are three types of Scottish voter: resolute unionists, obstinate nationalists and those who are undecided.
It is this last section of voters – there are over 1 million of them – who matter most crucially to the outcome of the Referendum next year.
Their vote will determine the future of not only Scotland, but the United Kingdom as a whole.
The debate has dominated the mind of every Scottish person for the best part of three years now, and two rival campaigns are launching a political ground war against one another in an effort to either keep the union together or demolish it completely.
I will be using my vote in September to preserve our 300 year union for two reasons: firstly, I believe in the collective security and comfort of the United Kingdom; secondly, the nationalist camp simply has not given me enough information.
Indeed, of all the things
we apparently could have ‘in an independent Scotland’, peace of mind
clearly isn’t one of them.
Just 3% of people feel they know everything about what would happen post-independence.
For the remaining 97%, the spectre of separation poses a plethora of unanswered questions (even among the majority of nationalists themselves).
The prospect of separation
presents feelings of doubt and even worry, not excitement for a
But negativity on both sides has cast a terrible pall over the tone of the debate in Scotland.
The most ardent advocates of both camps seem to forget, from time to time, that though we are presented with two very different options, we still live in one country – Scotland – and we will do so after the referendum, regardless of what our countrymen choose.
Now, despite how politically minded and active I am, I myself am not a politician.
I am simply a 17 year old first-time voter who wants to offer his own perspective on the choice we face as a country.
I was born here in Dundee,
but at the age of 5 I was moved down to Liverpool, where I lived for the
next 12 years, so I have seen both the greatness and the flaws on each
Negativity may have cast a terrible pall over the tone of the debate, but I believe there is a positive case for maintaining the union.
Firstly, let me be clear: nobody is arguing for the status quo.
I know our union is not perfect.
It would be, essentially, wrong to imply otherwise.
But I believe in any case that to irreparably break our union up would be to regretfully make an enormous mistake.
I believe it would be a mistake to break up our national family because that would mean leaving others behind.
Everywhere in Britain north of Birmingham – north England, Wales and Northern Ireland – they all endure the same challenges and frustrations as Scotland.
Anger about policies such
as the Bedroom Tax and harsh spending cuts doesn’t stop at the border;
neither should our unity.
Now, for young voters in particular, we will be the first generation in history to be worse off than our parents.
But we will be the last to fall for fanciful promises.
Our future already lacks clarity, so why would we want any less?
We have real challenges to
face and pressing issues to resolve – the constitutional question does
not necessarily provide the answer to that.
If you put the referendum aside for a moment, you will see the real problems we face.
Right here in Dundee, we have one of the poorest school attendance rates.
We have 1 in 5 children living in poverty (even though, in a lot of cases, their parents work).
We have the third highest unemployment rate in the country.
We have people being forced to suffer the indignity (and reluctant necessity) of relying on food banks.
And we have stories of folks who not only have to visit food banks in the first place, but have to go back again and return tins of soup, because they cannot heat it up.
Now, there’s not a lot of
time left, so we should use what time we do have left to ask the most
challenging questions and demand the most enlightening answers.
Why should we sacrifice the unity of Britain without certainty for Scotland?
I’m voting No because I sincerely believe that if we stick together, if we stand together and if we work together, then we will be better together.
That is why we, on the unionist side, are intractably determined to take another step forward.
When we stride forth together, we have the power to give each other an ineradicable sense of purpose.
There is insoluble strength in numbers.
So, when the United Kingdom combines its
collective wealth, energy and ideas with the right objectives and just
goals, we will be able to realise the change we seek; we can
if for all those living in these islands, not simply
it for those living in the top half.
As I’ve already indicated, it is not perfect, but Scotland gets a pretty good deal as part of the union.
We receive £1300 more per person of public spending than the other parts of the UK.
We get more out of being
in the UK than we put into it (we generate 9.1% of tax revenue and
receive 9.3% of public spending – and, believe it or not, that 0.2%
translates to billions of pounds).
Scotland’s universities are among the finest on the earth, but that is because we punch way above our weight for research funding, which is where a lot of academic revenue comes from.
Just 8.4% of the border, but 14% of research funding is sent here.
There is an argument, however, that so much money is sent here because this is where much of the talent is.
And, yes, there is merit in that argument. But there is also immense talent in Germany and the United States.
Therefore, if we opt to
leave the UK behind, we leave the UK Research Fund behind too.
Scottish people are perhaps the most represented folks on earth.
For instance, I alone have four local councillors, a Member of the Scottish Parliament, seven List MSPs, a Member of the UK Parliament and six Members of the European Parliament.
The claims of a democratic deficit in Scotland do not make for the strongest argument, because those who make it do not realise just how lucky and represented we are.
The allegedly oppressive English, by comparison, do not have an English Parliament which looks out specifically for them.
Further to that, the idea that Scotland always votes Labour but gets Tory is ludicrous.
Remember the names Tony Blair and Gordon Brown?
For today’s young people, Labour was in government for most of our life.
Yes, David Cameron became Prime Minister in 2010, but Scotland is not the only place unhappy with that result: nobody I knew in Liverpool voted Tory either.
But that’s called democracy: you win some, you lose some.
That’s why you unite and
come back stronger next time.
The strength and security of the United Kingdom has been of great benefit to Scotland for the past three centuries.
Britain provides an economic safety net as well as a vast domestic market for Scottish businesses. In the past year, as indicated by the Scottish Government’s own figures, oil revenues reduced by £4.5 billion.
That is more than the Scottish education budget.
That is also, I worked out, enough to buy every single person in China a Tesco £3 meal deal – and still have over £400 million left over!
That is an awful lot of money to lose in one year – and it would have left an independent Scotland’s finance minister a huge fiscal hole to fill.
But the vast budget of the
UK will be more than enough to help us deal with that without the need
for even steeper budget cuts or tax hikes coming out of Edinburgh.
The Labour Party’s Devolution Commission lays out an even better blueprint for Scotland’s future.
Devolution, which has been proven time and again to be the distinct will of the Scottish people, is a fluid mechanism.
It means that powers are able to be transferred up and down between Westminster and Holyrood, at the people’s discretion.
Total independence would heap the entire burden of all public services and spending obligations onto us, which we would struggle to afford as generously as we would like.
Labour would allow Scotland the responsibility to raise up to 40% of its revenue and would grant us control over ¾ of income tax.
At the moment, oddly, the Scottish Parliament already has the power to raise income tax by a further 3% - and it has never once taken the opportunity.
More tax raising powers, a product of the 2012 Scotland Act, are already on the way north.
Thus reinforcing the
fluidity of the system and affirming the good, flexible deal we get from
Further to that, former Prime Minister Gordon Brown unveiled his own suggestions last week, recommending that the United Kingdom adopt a formal constitution which would entrench the permanence of the Scottish Government; it is perhaps worth pointing out that it was the Labour Party that returned the Holyrood Parliament to us in 1999, when a public referendum showed devolution was the Scots’ desire.
The constitution would also establish the UK as an entity whose main function would be to pool and share resources from all over the nation and redistribute them to wherever they are needed, building on our current settlement.
The Second Campbell
Report, produced by the Liberal Democrats, likewise recognises a
cross-party consensus about further powers; the Lib Dems would have a
federal system established – and indeed replacing the House of Lords
with a Senate would be an idea each party would do well to consider, as
a Senate would grant equal representation to each part of the UK.
What we have is energetic and enthusiastic evidence that the coalition of parties involved in Better Together are working hard to bring their own proposals to the table for the Scottish people to choose from.
Even the Tories would provide further powers. Regardless, however, the most the Yes campaign manages to say in response is simply, “That’s not good enough.”
But that is now to be
expected, because if the pro-UK parties were to come out in favour of
oxygen tomorrow, nationalists would start holding their breath.
Young people are arguably the ones to whom this referendum is most important to because, simply, we will have to live with its effects the longest.
Our generation is becoming increasingly internationalist in its outlook and, for Scotland's future, becoming separate while the rest of the world is combining and integrating - to me, defies logic.
We'd be heading in the opposite direction.
So let's not focus too much on the past - whether you're fixated on the days of William Wallace or on the imperfections of the UK in the past century - let's all look to the future.
Let's do that together,
let's build our future together, and let's stay together.
We are all young adults with choices to make.
So let’s make them wisely.
Marc's article also appears on the Backbench website at >>>
Marc won the award
of Backbench Commentator of the Year last year