Wednesday, 18 September 2013

One Year: On the Cusp

I know it's been a while, blogging world. But believe it or not, it has been a longstanding plan of mine to restart my blog on this day - the 18th September 2013. The reason for that is simple. We in Scotland have one year until the most decisive moment in our modern political history, and possibly ever. That crossroads arrives on the 18th September 2014.

Scots can opt to remain in a political union that has endured for three centuries, 12 monarchs and two world wars - or break away forever. Alistair Darling has it right when he says "there's no going back". Following the seismic groundswell that would be a Yes vote, it's difficult verging on inconceivable to imagine a situation where Scotland would wish to revert to political union. As proponents of independence are fond of pointing out, may nations have reclaimed their sovereignty from Great Britain - none have asked to return it. In my experience, international observers are prone to asking: why on earth would we want to uproot all we know, irrevocably scrap a political system that has functioned for three hundred years and saw Britain become the world's wealthiest and most powerful nation?

They ask out of genuine curiousity. But variations of the same line of questioning are posited by campaigners for a No vote - for them, however, the questions are rhetorical. To them the answer is quite plain: we shouldn't.

If it's not broke, don't fix it, as the saying goes. The UK remains a relatively rich, powerful and stable country. Events in the Eurozone in recent years have perhaps reinforced this notion, as many of our neighbours have stagnated or destabilised far more dramatically than us. Now the Chancellor of the Exchequer's (ever-reliable) forecasts portend to a slow but steady recovery, which one would expect to entail improvements in both employment and standards of living, which both dropped so markedly.

Why bother? Two words that neatly summarise the No position.

Of course, there is an obvious flipside to that entire line of reasoning. It goes thusly:

Three hundred years of a stateless nation. Three hundred years in which the economic, political and social interests of Scottish people have been sidelined. Three hundred years of being a country without an equal voice in the world.

But to dwell on history is a mistake - one the No's sentimental arguments routinely fall into, citing all manner of long-standing British institutions, from the NHS to Pound Sterling to the UK Armed Forces. This Groundhog Day thinking blinds them from the reality of the present and the likely possibilities of the near-future.

The NHS in Scotland and that in England have functioned independently since inception, and at this point in time have never been more starkly different.

England's NHS is facing radical and messy structural reform that amounts to stealth-privatisation - reducing infrastructural spending, selling off hospitals and carving up commissioning to private-sector consortia, in doing so adding a fresh layer of managerial bureaucracy whilst the ostensible aim of the healthcare reform was supposedly the opposite.

Scotland, meanwhile, continues to adhere to the original NHS model - ironically the British model that the No campaign idolises - having removed Private Finance Initiative and kept the health service staunchly in public hands.

Retaining the Pound in an independent Scotland remains, for both sides, far and away the most sensible option for the time being. Without Scottish exports backing Sterling, the UK's already poor Balance of Payments would slump further, potentially creating a serious crisis, while for Scotland it would ensure a continuity of trade between Scotland and the rest of Britain. The argument that refuses to die - that Scotland would be forced into the European currency - is tedious at best. No European country has ever been forced to join the Euro, period. There's no guarantee that the Euro will even still be around by the end of the decade.

The UK Armed Forces have faced repeated budget cuts that have hit Scotland disproportionately - although sadly not in the nuclear weapons department. Given its population share, the Armed Forces in Scotland suffered an underspend of £1.9 billion in 2012, while 14 out of Scotland's 19 Army recruitment centres are to close in the coming years, with more cuts very possible.

These are just three examples of reality harshly correcting the rose-tinted lenses of a No campaign rooted in the United Kingdom's glorious past, not in its diminished, far less glimmering future.

Scotland's chance to break away is just that: a chance to break away from a political system that, however durable, is very far away from satisfactory for the people of Scotland.

The question shouldn't be why bother?

The question is why shouldn't we choose the chance of a better future? A nation on the cusp of statehood, Scotland is close to finally creating a reality in which our government is fully empowered to attend to the political, economic and social interests of Scottish people.

A Yes vote would be only be the starting point to building a more democratic, just and sustainable society. If we vote Yes, the next task will be far more arduous. But we'd have our chance. That is worth fighting for.