There are lots of very good reasons for not voting Yes in September. I’ve written about a number of them here (notably, the SNP’s disaster of a non-policy on the currency) and I’ll write about others in due course (such as the prospects of Scotland’s EU membership). It is important, come 18 September, that we understand the reasons for not voting Yes as well as the many positive reasons why we should vote No.
In this post I make not one but two positive cases for a No vote: a positive case for Britain and a positive case for the Union.
What’s so Great about Britain, Anyway?
(1) A Global Force for Good
The UK enjoys a hugely privileged position in the world, being at the helm of the EU, the UN Security Council, NATO, the G7, the G8 and the G20. On 18 September we have a genuine choice to make: do we want to be small nation, minding our own business, a spectator of rather than an active participant in world affairs, sheltering behind our larger neighbour? Or do we want to continue to be part of one of the world’s most influential and extraordinary states?
Britain is the soft power superpower of the world. Our heritage, culture and language, the strength of our education and culture sectors, our promotion of free speech, parliamentary democracy and the rule of law are unrivalled anywhere in the world. The UK is the world’s second largest donor of international aid. Administered in large measure from East Kilbride, the Department for International Development has enabled five million children to go to primary school and has provided food aid for six million people. By 2015 DfID will have helped immunise 55 million children against preventable disease and will have helped save the lives of 50,000 women in childbirth and a quarter of a million new-born babies. UK aid by 2015 will have helped secure access to clean, safe water and sanitation for 60 million people worldwide.
We are a force for good in the world, but this reaps benefits at home, too. International scholarships helped bring more than 40,000 international students to Scotland in 2012 — more than 12% of the UK’s total. British Council school partnership programmes, such as Connecting Classrooms, enrich learning for school children in Scotland and the rest of the world alike.
Our seat at the top table is something we’ve become so accustomed to that we take it blithely for granted. But it is only through such a privileged position in the world that we are able to drive through the changes we want to see, whether it be our anti-corruption initiatives, our reforms of global financial regulation, or the global labour market reforms the UK has championed through its leadership of the G20, for example.
Throughout our history — and still now — the UK has played a lead role in strengthening the rule of law, in supporting democracy, and in protecting human rights around the world. From the campaign against the slave trade in the eighteenth century to the drafting of the European Convention on Human Rights in the 1950s, and more recently in relation to the creation in 2006 of the UN Human Rights Council, the UK has been in the driving seat of progress, enlightenment and reform. We make a major contribution to UN peace-keeping, where we are one of the top five financial contributors, paying some £365 million annually in assessed contributions.
The promotion of human rights and democracy are central policy objectives of the UK’s Foreign Office and, because of the UK’s global impact and influence, we are able to make a real and lasting difference the world over. To take a handful of examples: in 2013 alone the UK-led campaign for the abolition of the death penalty had results in Morocco; the UK’s support for peace, development and women’s rights had results in the Philippines; and the UK’s campaign to protect journalists and access to public information had results in Vietnam. After seven years’ work a UN Arms Trade Treaty was adopted in 2013 with 156 countries voting in its favour at the UN General Assembly. This was a major achievement for British diplomacy, as the UK was one of the states that had launched the campaign for the Treaty. But top of the list for 2013 was the UK’s ground-breaking work in its PSVI — the Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative — which was a core theme of Britain’s 2013 Presidency of the G8 and which led, among other successes, to a new UN Security Council Resolution and UN General Assembly Declaration on sexual violence within conflict.
When we say “Britain is a force for good in the world” and when we remind ourselves that “Britain punches above its weight” on the world stage these are cliches. But they are true. We are, and we do. But we don’t sing and dance about it very much. We’re more prone to beating ourselves up about our mistakes than we are to moments of self-congratulation. But we should be mighty proud of our role in the world. The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is one of the Great States of the modern world. An independent Scotland would, I am sure, play its small part too, in human rights campaigns and in the drive for democracy. But it would be just that: a small part. The extraordinary contribution that Great Britain makes to the world, to justice and to humanity itself, would be diminished. Lose a third of your own land mass and your global influence is inevitably diminished. Fail to keep your own people together and what sort of advert is that in an emerging economy for democracy, rights and the rule of law?
(2) Tolerance, Good Governance and Justice at Home
It is not just in the international arena that Britain’s greatness shines: it’s true also at home. To my mind one of the most remarkable instances of this at the moment is staring us all in the face: it is this very independence referendum. UK Prime Ministers since the 1980s and have calmly and authoritatively said that if Scotland votes to leave the Union, then the rest of the country, while it will be sorry to see the Scots go, will not stand in the way. In 2011-12, with the SNP’s extraordinary election victory, this commitment was put to the test. And the UK came through it with honour and dignity. The immediate reaction of the UK Government was that there must be the referendum of which the SNP manifesto had spoken, and that it must be “legal, fair and decisive”. Fearing a prolonged battle in the courts, which would be in no one’s interests but the lawyers’, the UK Government went out of its way to legislate to ensure that the referendum could be lawfully held. What other state would do this: would not only countenance its own peaceable break-up but would act so as to facilitate this? The UK does not want Scotland to leave, but it has none the less acted to enable the Scottish electorate decisively to make the call as to whether Scotland should leave or not. The contrast with Spain, for example, could not be greater. The Spanish will not even allow the Catalans a referendum, never mind accept, as the British have done, that the outcome of the referendum will determine the matter. Even Canada — nice, friendly, liberal, progressive Canada — did not accept before the 1995 Quebec Secession Reference that a Yes vote would necessarily mean that Quebec would leave to become its own state.
Scotland, too, deserves credit for the way the independence debate has been undertaken. There has been no violence. No shot fired. No stone thrown. This should be a mark of pride that we can all share in. I’ve written before of the credit that is due to the SNP for the way they have sought to engineer a modern, civic nationalism in Scotland that (largely) avoids the dangers (and worse) associated with the dark force that is ethnic nationalism. But the truly remarkable thing about this independence referendum campaign is that it is happening at all. A lesser state than Britain — a Spain, for example, or even a Canada — might have sought to avoid it or to cancel it or to deny it any effect. But not the UK. Here we say “bring it on” and we voluntarily give the SNP’s aspirations the force of law. The UK is an extraordinary place: it recognises that the true force of its rule lies not in coercion and command, but in consent and compact. It says to the people of Scotland not “you will obey”, but “we invite you to stay”.
Union: What’s in it for Scotland?
The core of the case for the Union has two strands: trade and jobs; and prosperity and security. Each would be jeopardised or diminished with independence. Each is safeguarded by Union. The Union was born out of this recognition 307 years ago. Scotland needed free trade with her southern neighbour, and England needed security to her north. Whilst the nature of the economic case for the Union, and the nature of the security the Union brings, have each changed over the intervening three hundred years, it is a remarkable feature of the case for the Union that in the early twenty-first century the core of the argument is as it was in the eighteenth. This makes the argument for Union all the stronger, for it is rooted not only in a cool-headed practical assessment of what is in Scotland’s best interests now, but draws also on history. Arguments that cut with the grain of history are always liable to be more powerful than those that seek to cut against it.
(1) Trade and Jobs
Fully 70% of Scottish exports are sold to the rest of the UK. Just pause there for a moment: Scotland trades more with the rest of the UK than with the whole of the rest of the world put together. Scotland’s trade with the rest of the UK is worth four times her trade with the EU. In the last decade the value of Scottish trade with the rest of the UK has increased by 62% (whereas the value of Scottish trade with the EU has increased in the same period by a mere 1%). Given the eye-watering scale to which the Scottish economy depends on doing business with the rest of the UK, why would any sane person wish to erect an international frontier between Scotland and the rest of the UK? Why turn this trade from domestic to international, with all the added costs and disincentives that would apply? A “border effect” would inhibit and diminish Scottish trade considerably. Compare, for example, the US and Canada where, despite commonalities of language, free trade agreements and the relative openness of the border, it remains the case that Canadian Provinces do twenty times as much trade with each other as they do over the border in the US. The border between Canada and the US has been estimated to reduce trade by 40%. Migration within Canada is fully 100 times greater than migration from the US to Canada. Here, it has been estimated that the “border effect” could cost each Scottish household £2000 annually.
There are 360,000 jobs in Scotland created by companies in the rest of the UK. A further 240,000 Scottish jobs depend on exports to the rest of the UK. That’s 600,000 jobs. As many as 200,000 jobs in Scotland depend on the financial services industry. Fully 90% of Scottish companies’ financial services business is with the rest of the UK. Nine out of ten pensions sold from Scotland are to customers in England, and eight out of ten mortgages lent from Scotland are to borrowers in England. This economic activity requires a single domestic market with a single currency in a single regulatory regime.
Scotland’s economy is performing well in the Union. Scotland has a higher economic output per head than Denmark and Finland, and significantly higher than Portugal. And Scotland has maintained a consistently higher employment rate than comparably sized countries in the EU. Indeed, Scotland has the highest employment rate of all the nations of the UK — and there are more people in work in the UK now (30 million) than ever before in our history. We have a higher employment rate even than the USA. Whereas the EU single market is still replete with trade barriers, in the UK our domestic market sees genuinely free trade, meaning that Scots have ten times the job opportunities they would otherwise have. The United Kingdom is the sixth largest economy in the world, despite being only the 22nd biggest country in the world in terms of population. Who wouldn’t want to be part of it? This, it seems to me, is a principal reason why so many school and campus votes have seen large victories for the No campaign. Young Scots have no desire to cut themselves off from the large English markets south of the border. Scots are an aspirational people — and it is Union that gives Scotland a domestic market ten times the size it would be under independence in which Scots can work and trade in order to realise their aspirations.
(2) Prosperity and Security
Trade and jobs are about economic opportunities. But economic Union is also about sharing risks, absorbing shocks, and pooling resources, leading to greater stability and security for us all. Take oil and gas as an example. North Sea oil and gas is a lucrative business, but it is also highly volatile. The oil and gas is expensive even to locate, never mind to extract, and the price of oil can decline sharply. Tax revenues from North Sea oil and gas fell by a whopping £4.5 billion in 2013. That is the size of the Scottish schools budget. That kind of economic shock is much easier to absorb in an economy of 63 million people than it is in one of only 5.3 million people. The UK Government supported the injection of over £45 billion into RBS in 2008, and offered the Bank a further £275 billion of guarantees and state support. This total was more than double the size of Scotland’s economy that year — it was 211% of Scottish GDP including geographical share of North Sea oil. The Union delivers for Scotland economic security, as well as economic success.
The Union is good for Scotland. Public spending in Scotland is £1200 per head higher than the UK average. At the same time, onshore tax receipts are, per person, lower for Scotland than the rest of the UK. In numerous ways, Scotland does disproportionately well out of the Union. In 2012-13, for example, Scottish universities secured more than 13% of the UK’s research council funding: some £257 million. This isn’t just good for Scottish universities: it’s good for Scotland as a whole. It was estimated in 2010 that Scottish universities contributed £6.2 billion to the Scottish economy (not least through the 39,000 people they employ). It is not just in raw economic terms that the Union delivers for Scotland: it delivers also in cultural terms. The UK’s national broadcaster, the BBC, receives some £300 million annually from Scottish licence-fee payers, but makes nearly £4 billion of programming which is free-to-air in Scotland.
“Scotland is not oppressed and we have no need to be liberated.” Not my words, but those of First Minister Alex Salmond in January 2012. He’s absolutely correct, as he was in the same paper when he wrote that “Ours is a lucky nation, blessed with natural resources, bright people and a united society. We have an independent education system, legal system and NHS. They are respected worldwide.” As part of the United Kingdom, Scotland is indeed a “lucky”, “blessed” nation. It can take pride in being part of one of the leading countries of the world. It enjoys all the benefits and privileges that come from the centuries of tolerance and good government that are the hallmarks of Britain’s unrivalled contribution to the world. And in Union with the rest of the United Kingdom, Scotland is free to enjoy not only her own but to share in all of Britain’s wealth and prosperity in harmony and security.