Better Together When Standing Apart

Because apparently there is no border between Scotland and England - only SEPARATION would do that.

(This post originally appeared on the Bannockburn Comic Blog. Since I’ve decided to migrate political material to its own blog, I’m cross-posting it here, also updated with the latest information as of publication. If I’ve written anything that is incorrect, please comment and I’ll amend it accordingly.)

In the Wednesday 25th September issue of the Greenock Telegraph, Council leader Stephen McCabe wrote a piece explaining his reasons for supporting the union. It is presented without a counterpoint, though readers are invited to send in their opinions to the paper via mail.

I thought instead of merely sending it in to the Tele where the people of Inverclyde may or may not read it depending on the will of the editorial staff, I felt it would be productive to post my response online, as well as explaining in more detail exactly why I’m voting Yes next year. Wings Over Scotland has been publishing a fascinating series of insights from a wide range of Yes votes, and I thought I might as well join that chorus.

With less than a year to go now until the independence referendum, people are finally starting to engage in the debate.

Over the next 12 months both sides will be outlining their visions for the country.

I firmly believe that the best future for Scotland is as part of the UK.

We in Scotland have the best of both worlds: a strong Scottish Parliament taking decisions on important issues like education and health, whilst benefiting from the strength and security that comes from our United Kingdom. Why would we want to put that at risk?

“The Best of Both Worlds” is, in addition to being the name of one of the greatest pieces of science-fiction television ever broadcast, the new slogan of the pro-UK campaign Better Together. It’s, naturally, a very positive message, saying that cooperation within a devolved parliament offers all the good of both independence and, I guess, dependence.

But is it really?  The Scottish Parliament can indeed make decisions on education and health – but then, Scotland already had a separate education and health system since before the Parliament was even established. What’s more, it’s all well and good making decisions, but there are several factors within the UK which are completely out of the control of the Scottish Parliament – namely the Barnett formula. For all the talk of the Parliament’s strength, it is still completely at the mercy of the British Treasury’s discretion as to how much money it gets, and it always will be, for as long as it remains in the UK. There is absolutely no guarantee that the Scottish Parliament will retain its powers in future – and indeed, there is much to suggest that removing Holyrood altogether is not outside the realms of possibility for the near future.

The apparent “strength and security” we receive as part of the UK is, frankly, a notion I utterly reject – in fact, I would go so far as to say it is a lie. As part of the United Kingdom, we are partly responsible for the illegal invasion of Iraq, the continued occupation of Afghanistan, and a host of other imperialist adventures. Far from making us more secure, these violent and clumsy escapades put the general civilian population in greater danger from desperate terrorists. Even our own soldiers are put in greater threat by the government sending them into warzones with inadequate equipment and supplies.

 

 This is the Holy Loch. The picture was taken from Tower Hill. This is where I live. It’s where my sister, mother, niece, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and many friends and other family live. It is approximately five miles away. From 1961 to 1991, it was the site of a US naval base which hosted UGM-27 Polaris missile submarines. Each warhead had a yield of 200 kilotons.

I was born in 1984, so I’ve grown up in the shadow of Polaris. Everyone in my family has. My mother was born in the year it was first housed in the Holy Loch. We used to have sirens situated throughout the town – three minute warnings. If they ever sounded, it meant we had a few minutes to get to shelter – a cruel joke, for nobody expected to survive. Gourock and Greenock didn’t have underground vaults like the major cities, and in the event of nuclear armageddon, who would go to save the people from a wee town like ours when there are important people in Glasgow and London? You may not have enough time to even say goodbye. All you’d have time for is to go outside and watch a second sunrise. We’ve all had nightmares.

Thankfully, with the fall of the Soviet Union, Polaris was deemed unnecessary, and so is no longer interred at the Holy Loch. I was seven years old when Polaris was officially evicted, and could look on the Holy Loch for the first time not with dread, but with love and appreciation for its natural beauty. But even with the end of the Cold War, the people I love still weren’t safe, because Polaris’ 455kt spiritual successor Trident found a home just up the water at Faslane. And as of this date, it’s still there.

"I don't want to set the world on fire..."

So we wouldn’t be more or less instantly vapourised, we’d just be caught in the deadly fallout. Hooray? From same site.

The fact that nuclear weapons are worse than useless in this day and age is besides the point: with these particular weapons not only is there a fear of retaliation, but a fear of accident. There have only been two incidents in history where a nuclear weapon was used for its intended purpose: there have been dozens of accidents involving nuclear weapons since. Two such incidents happened at Coulport, just a few miles west of Faslane:

A Scottish Electricity Board Land Rover reversed into a RAF nuclear weapon load carrier transporting nuclear warheads for Polaris missiles. Minor damage was caused to the load carrier. The weapons were not damaged.

No specific record is now available of any enquiry or follow-up action.

– 1st April 1973

While a Polaris missile was being lifted during re-alignment, the threads on a securing pin stripped due to the incorrect assembly of a hoist fixture. The missile fell a few inches but did not impact on any other object. There was no damage to missile or warheads.

After an enquiry, improvements in relevant documentation, test procedures, inspection and working practices were implemented.

– 4th August 1977

And there was even an incident on the M8 near Glasgow:

 A RAF nuclear weapon load carrier carrying tow warheads for Polaris missiles was involved in a collision with a private car. Minor damage was caused to the load carrier. There was no damage to the warheads.

No blame was apportioned to the load carrier driver. No information is now available on any other action that may have been taken in response to this occurrence.

– 6th August 1983

Lest you think such near-disasters are a thing of the past,* keep in mind that in 2009, two nuclear submarines somehow crashed into each other in the Atlantic Ocean, and a Trident-carrying submarine ran aground on the Isle of Skye in 2010. North Korea and Iran seem the least of our problems. Our nightmares weren’t just about the Russians coming to get us – they were about a leaking drum, a corroded beam, an overheated coolant. A flock of birds.

This is what “benefiting from the strength and security that comes from our United Kingdom” means – living every day with the belief that you and everyone you love could be vaporised in a flash of nuclear fire. If this is what “strength and security” is as part of “our” United Kingdom, then thanks, but no thanks.

The SNP, for all the valid criticisms one could point to, are the only governing party in the UK which is dedicated to nuclear disarmament. The majority of Scottish parties also support it. None of the major UK parties have any plan for disarmament at all, much less have it as a priority. No child, no mother, no person should have to live in a state of fear in the name of “strength and security.” An independent Scotland is the best chance to rectify that. We may not be able to rid the whole world of nuclear weapons – but I’d rather we rid the world of some of them than of none.

Back to Mr McCabe.

The central argument for those of us who believe that the best future for Scotland is as part of the UK isn’t that we couldn’t go it alone, it’s that separation isn’t in our interests.

We have a clear positive message and a central big idea, which is that the UK is more than the sum of its parts.

By pooling and sharing our resources we can better manage the peaks and troughs our economy faces, whilst better supporting our public services like pensions and welfare.

Pooling and sharing our resources” is a great idea – dare I say it, even a socialist one. But pooling and sharing does not automatically equate to pooling and sharing fairly. What does sharing resources matter if it isn’t distributed in a just and beneficial manner? The United Kingdom is currently the 4th most unequal country in the world. Currently, “pooling and sharing our resources” as part of the United Kingdom means:

  • The poorest 40% of Britons share only 14.6% of the wealth – lower than any other Western country
  • The richest 20% of Britons earn incomes on average ten times greater than the poorest 20%
  • Britain’s income gap is as severe as Nigeria, worse than Ghana, the Ivory Coast or Jamaica, and twice as severe as Ethiopia and Sri Lanka
  • The poorest 20% of Britons have a 32% lower per capita than the poorest 20% of US citizens – and 44% lower than the poorest 20% of the Netherlands
  • Britain is one of only a few countries where this gap is increasing

As for “supporting” public services like pensions and welfare, let’s not even get into the current UK government’s assault on the most vulnerable in our society.

The idea of pooling and sharing for the greater good goes beyond just our economy.

A Scot founded the BBC; a Welshman created the NHS; and an Englishman set up the welfare estate.

In so many areas of our life, whether in defence, energy, sporting events like the Olympics or our influence in the world, Scotland and the rest of the UK work best when we work together.

This doesn’t happen simply by accident. The social, political and economic unions make it work.

A South African born during British rule wrote one of our most beloved novels; a global icon of world peace was an Indian born during British rule, as was one of our famed singers and several authors; several Americans born during British rule became heroes and statesmen. We clearly work well with South Africa, India and the United States, but that doesn’t mean we have to enter a political union and give most of our powers, money and resources to wherever this Angloafrikaanindoamerican Union sets up its parliament. By the same token, many traditionally British institutions were created by immigrants or the children of immigrants: Tesco, Mark’s & Spencer’s, London Zoo, the Royal Institution, British Rail – yet that doesn’t mean we have to enter a political union with their mother countries. Many famous Britons were born in British-ruled or protected countries which are now independent like Zanzibar. And there’s nothing stopping an independent Scotland from working with the rest of the United Kingdom in the way the Republic of Ireland’s currently flourishing – or indeed any former member of the British Empire.

The independence campaign is asking us in Scotland to buy a one-way ticket to a very uncertain destination.

My response:

Thanks, Saffy!

A recent report by respected think-tank the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) showed Scotland benefits from higher public spending than the rest of the UK, but independence would put this under threat.

Independence from the UK would stop getting public funding from the UK? You don’t say! Scotland does indeed benefit from higher public spending than the rest of the UK, at about 9.3% – quite a lot, given that Scotland makes up 8.4% of the UK’s population. What McCabe forgets to mention is that Scotland also contributes more in tax revenue than the rest of the UK, to the tune of 9.9%. So yes, the 9.3% of public spending from the UK would be lost in an independent Scotland – but since we then would be able to keep the 9.9% of UK tax we generate, I think we’d manage, don’t you?

So let’s break that down in numbers:

 

  • In an independent Scotland, we would no longer receive 9.3% of UK spending – that’s £47 billion, or £1,200 higher per head than the rest of the UK. Oh noes!
  • In an independent Scotland, we would no longer pay the UK government the revenue which makes up 9.9% of its revenue – in 2011/2013 that’s £56.9 billion, or £1,700 more per head than the rest of the UK.

A fair amount for the holidays, eh?

The IFS say that in the first couple of years after independence we would have to make £5.9 BILLION worth of cuts.

This means spending on important public services, like schools, hospitals and looking after elderly people in Inverclyde would have to be slashed.

The IFS also says, very explicitly, that these cuts would happen if Scottish ministers followed the spending course set out by the UK government. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but Holyrood tends to spend things rather differently from Westminster.

It should also be pointed out that the £5.9 BILLION (his capitals, not mine) would take place over the first two years. Therefore, that would be £3 BILLION a year.

The very same IFS also said that the average UK family would be worse off by £831 (single-earner families would suffer a slash of almost £4,000), that an independent Scotland could produce a better welfare system than Westminster’s (which were soundly denounced by IFS), and most tellingly, that Scotland could actually be stronger fiscally in its first few years:

Looking ahead, independence would give the Scottish government fuller control over how much is spent on currently devolved services in addition to control over those areas not currently devolved, such as defence and international affairs. The UK is currently a relatively high spender on defence and overseas aid, and an independent Scotland might have significant scope to reduce spending on these areas if it so wished…

… Of course, if North Sea revenues turn out to be substantially stronger than the OBR forecasts, the fiscal situation in Scotland might actually be somewhat stronger than that for the UK as a whole for the first few years of independence.

–  Government Spending on Public Services in Scotland: Current Patterns and Future Issues (i.e. that very same report McCabe is quoting the £5.9 BILLION from)

But let’s say the IFS are right, and we would have to make £5.9 BILLION worth of cuts for the first two years of independence. Where on earth could we get that money from?** Perhaps we could scrammy for money elsewhere in the budget. Perhaps…

  • The £7 million spent on the now-redundant Scottish Office
  • The £42 million we spend on Westminster running costs
  • The £230 million from BBC license fees: since Scotland isn’t “British” anymore, why would we need to spend money on it, especially given only 3.7% of BBC expenditure is spent on BBC Scotland?
  • The £400 million of Scottish money being spent on upgrading the London sewer system
  • Reduce the £175 million spent on intelligence services to something more on a par with countries our size (Denmark seems to do fine with 566.8 million kroner/£61 million, while Norway manages with 960 million kroner/£99.9 billion)
  • The hundreds of millions of pounds Scots spend on Trident every year would be freed up
  • The £1.5 billion of of the £3.5 billion Scottish defence budget which isn’t actually spent in Scotland would be nice, and with the bonus that we wouldn’t have to change a thing about what we currently do regarding defence
  • The £4.7 BILLION (couldn’t resist!) for HS2, a train project which links northern and southern England and doesn’t come within miles of Scotland

And so on. In any case, this is all ignoring the fact that cuts are already coming under the UK government, as previously mentioned.

This is the biggest decision we will ever make as country (sic), whether to continue working with our friends, neighbours and colleagues across the whole of the UK or whether we go it alone.

I passionately believe that we should be working together to grow our economy and create jobs, not splitting apart.

Those of us who support Scotland remaining in the UK should stand up for what we believe in.

Our message is a simple one: we are stronger and better together.

McCabe and I agree that working with friends, neighbours and colleagues across the whole of the UK is good. I also agree we should be working together to grow our economy and create jobs. I certainly believe people should stand up for what they believe in. I just disagree that being in a political union with the rest of the UK is necessary for any of those things.

In fact, I’d go even further: I think we should continue working with our friends, neighbours and colleagues across the whole of Europe – the world, even. Why should we “only” work with England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and let Westminster work with the rest of the world on our behalf? Indeed, given that there will likely be a UK-wide referendum on EU membership, it’s entirely possible that the rUK will vote to leave. Even if every single person in Scotland voted one way, only 8.5% of the people of the rest of the UK have to vote the opposite to overrule Scotland. Unless the vote is EXTREMELY close, the only way Scotland could get the result it votes for is if the rest of the UK agrees.

 

So yeah, for about six months in six decades, Scots have changed the Westminster government from Conservative to Labour.

Much like governments.

I guess this is my idealogical disagreement with the Better Together campaign: being together doesn’t mean being owned. And Scotland, as well as Wales, Northern Ireland and England itself, is treated as property, colonial holdings, by the Neo-Feudal Lords of Westminster. Britain came closest to being an equitable union decades ago, when the horror and tragedy of World War 2 and resulting nightmare of austerity (sound familiar?) shook everyone in the country to the core, and touched the inner humanity of Britain. That’s how we got the NHS, the welfare state, nationalisation of public services, the final amicable dismantling of the British Empire, the green belt, and all the other great things which helped Britain reinvent itself.

Now, all those wonderful institutions are being systematically destroyed by the current government. The NHS is being privatised; the welfare state is being demolished; nationalisation is being drawn back; Britain’s rate of invading 90% of the world’s countries continues; the countryside is being devastated. And through it all, the despicable hounding of immigrants and cynical attitudes towards Europe mark a painful juxtaposition to the very phrase “Better Together.” It’s a source of amusement to me that “Project Fear” (the self-styled nickname Better Together adopted in response to accusations of scaremongering) is often considered the campaign of fear and uncertainty: for me, remaining in the United Kingdom is a greater source of terror and confusion than any independent Scotland could be.

But I don’t support independence because of fear, so much as in spite of it. Of course I’m a wee bit fearful of the future, who isn’t? But more than that, I have hope for a better tomorrow. Right now, the UK is in a dark, dark place. There are two lights: one leads to independence, the other to a more equitable part of the union. From where I am, the light to independence is brighter, clearer, and closer; the light leading to an equitable UK – perhaps a federalist state advocated by the Red Paper Collective – is present, sure, but it’s dim and far. All the talk of how the whole of the UK could change in maybe a few decades if we try really hard is meaningless to me when me, my family, and the people I love are being hurt now by a government I didn’t elect, and where there absolutely is an option to get out of a horrendous situation into one that might not be as bad. And given all the evidence, there is no way Scotland could make a bigger mess of itself than the UK as a whole has in the past thirty years.

And now an appeal to emotion.

People I know are victims of the Poll Tax, which they are still paying for after all these years. They have been victims of successive Conservative and Labour governments which seem hell-bent on making their lives a misery so they can line their pockets. I’ve seen what this has done to their minds and bodies, what it’s done to my whole family. I have a wonderful sister, overflowing with talent, charm and love, who has to deal with stupid and unnecessary financial issues by the same Neo-Liberal austerity that’s hurt my mother. I have a darling niece who I dote over, as I suspect all uncles would: like her mother, she is enormously talented and boundlessly optimistic, and I cannot stand the idea of her being forced to undertake the same trials as I and the rest of my family have. I have a choice: do I vote to continue this union, knowing that it’s a choice between two pillars of Neoliberalism and their soul-selling lackeys, or do I take a leap into the unknown which promises at the very least that I won’t have to worry about the Bedroom Tax, Trident, or anything the Conservative party could concoct?

I’ve seen some amazing things happening with the Yes movement. I’ve seen people from all across the country gather to meet and greet, to talk about what they’ll do when Scotland becomes independent. I’ve seen people come up to strangers in the street to shake their hands, because they’re wearing Yes badges. I’ve seen the brutal, bleak cynicism thirty years of Thatcherism has wrought lifted like a grey blanket when the possibility that it doesn’t have to be this way is elucidated.

I’m tired of thinking there’s no hope for a better world. I’m sick of the idea that there’s no alternative to the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer. I’ve had enough of Scottish independence being considered a silly fairytale with no place in the modern world. The Scottish people are capable of great things, if they could only realise they could do it. This is the land of Robert Burns, of Walter Scott, of Fleming, Carnegie, Livingstone, Hume. All the talk of economics, of oil, of law, of logistics, is besides the point – I’m talking about a people making a stand and choosing how they want to live their lives. They can’t do that in the UK. They can in an independent Scotland.

That, readers, is why I’m voting Yes.

*In April 2014, the Ministry of Defense revealed that 262 “nuclear safety incidents” occurred over the course of five years at Scotland’s naval bases, three quarters of which have been attributed to “human factors.” The “safety” of the union laid bare.

**The Royal United Services Institute have calculated the costs of the Afghan and Iraq invasions at £34.7 BILLION, and estimate a further £30 BILLION would be needed for long-term veteran care. Scotland’s share of that would have been £5.5 BILLION – and if you include the £19.5 BILLION excess military spending attributed to (but not spent on) Scotland by Westminster, that makes some £25 BILLION which could have been spent on literally anything else.

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10 thoughts on “Better Together When Standing Apart

  1. Cactus says:

    I too believe we are Better Together when Standing Apart.. a smashin’ insightful and emotional article, muchos thankos for that Al.

  2. Brotyboy says:

    A devastating critique of the ill-defined ‘Better Together’ and ‘pooling and sharing resources’. When broken down and analysed, these terms are simply a cover for more imperialism and neo-liberalism.

    Like you Al, I reject this. Thank you for this piece.

    • alharron says:

      Thank you very much! I agree, “pooling and sharing” doesn’t count for much when the people who decide exactly what we should be “pooling” and how much we should be “sharing” seem to come to the conclusion that 432 families deserve to own half a nation’s land, and the top 0.1% make more than the bottom 20%.

  3. Wish I’d read this when first posted, I was explaining to someone that my main reason for voting yes is to rid ourselves of WMD to which she said oh but they are safe it’s not as if we are in any danger!!

    • alharron says:

      Believe me, the LAST thing I felt growing up with Polaris in the Holy Loch was “safe”. Polaris & Trident will likely be a recurring theme on this blog, as it’s for me the absolute critical issue.

  4. […] born in Greenock, and currently reside in its neighbour, Gourock. I’ve already talked about living in the shadow of a monster during my childhood. This week, it all came rushing back. The House of Commons held a debate. The […]

  5. […] joined the SNP and has taken part in rallies and protests for decades, I see no reason to argue. Trident is a red line issue for me too, and one of several reasons I made the decision to finally join the SNP back in September. So when […]

  6. […] I didn’t know this at the time, naturally. But the clouds of the Troubles were always present in our daily lives: even if the majority of violence took place in Ireland and England, we Scots were dreading the news that it would be our turn next. How long before a bomb would go off in a Scottish pub? Soldiers were killed by IRA hands on Scottish soil – how much longer until civilians would die? It’s not a nice feeling, on top of fears of nuclear oblivion. […]

  7. […] go back in time, to one of the first independence-related articles I ever wrote, originally published on another blog, all the way back in September 2013. It’s […]

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