Forum for Debate

SCT’s Forum for Debate provides protagonists on either side of an issue or public debate  -  including think tanks, commentators, academics and campaigners – with an opportunity to set out their well-considered, rational arguments and then allow a limited number of exchanges between them. Rather than then hosting an open forum or blog, the debates are designed to encourage visitors, guided by links provided by the British Library, to seek out further information about the issues and engage in face-to-face debate themselves. The  debates could also provide material around which Speakers’ Corner Committees can organise their own local events.

The latest in the series appears below. Previous debates can be found in the archive.


Scotland and the United Kingdom – Partnership or Partition?

On 18 September 2014, voters in Scotland will answer the simple question “should Scotland be an independent country?” and their decision will have profound consequences not just for themselves but for the whole of the United Kingdom.

Supporters of the status quo believe that remaining part of the UK represents “the best of both worlds” for a proud nation with a Parliament already exercising a range of devolved powers but within the security of a strong political and economic union. Campaigners for independence argue that when Scots are able to shape their own destiny free of the control of a remote government in Westminster, they will have the resources they need to create “a country which is fairer and more prosperous”.

But what are the benefits and disadvantages of union and the opportunities and risks of independence? Would independence genuinely place Scotland’s future in its own hands or create a small new nation ill-equipped to deal with global pressures? Does union underpin the Scottish economy or stifle its potential? Could an independent Scotland retain the pound and remain within the EU and NATO or would it become politically and economically marginalised?  Would it be able to maintain or increase its spending on education, health and welfare and could it establish its own credible defence, intelligence and police forces or is it dependent on resources pooled across the UK? And how would independence for 5.5 million Scots impact on the 55 million citizens of England, Wales and Northern Ireland?

With the referendum only three months away, David Gardiner of Better Together and Angus Millar of Yes Scotland set out their cases in this crucial debate.

David Gardiner

Better Together

David Gardiner is the Deputy Director of Research at Better Together. A recent addition to the campaign, he was previously constitution and finance policy adviser for the Scottish Conservatives, working in the Scottish Parliament since the early stages of the referendum process.

Originally from Renfrewshire, David studied law to postgraduate level, with a particular focus on international and human rights. Prior to his direct involvement in politics, he worked in public affairs.

He is a keen advocate of localism, social justice and international development.

Better Together is the principal cross-party umbrella group campaigning for Scotland's continuing membership of the United Kingdom. Chaired by Alistair Darling MP, it is supported by the Scottish Labour Party, the Scottish Conservative Party and the Scottish Liberal Democrats.

Better Together favours further devolution but argues that remaining a part of the UK will allow the Scottish Parliament to make decisions about health, education and emergency services while sharing risks and rewards with the rest of the UK.

Angus Millar

Yes Scotland

Angus Millar has been part of Yes Scotland's Message and Information team for 18 months, with a particular responsibility for promoting the core arguments for independence to a youth audience. Over the next few months, he will be one of the key public faces of the campaign on Yes Scotland’s social media sites.

Alongside his work for Yes Scotland, Angus is a student of International Relations at the University of St Andrews and his particular research expertise for the campaign includes issues relating to the EU, international relations, UK relations, defence and security. He is active in the independence youth movement and is currently National Organiser for SNP Students.

Yes Scotland is the all-party and no-party campaign for a Yes vote in the referendum on Scottish independence to be held on 18 September, 2014.

It is an alliance of the Scottish National Party, Scottish Green Party, Scottish Socialist Party and other groups and individuals.

The campaign believes that it is fundamentally better for all if decisions about Scotland’s future are taken by the people who care most about Scotland - that is by the people of Scotland.

Proposition

Union - Shared Resources and Responsibilities

For more than three hundred years, Scotland has been part of the United Kingdom. This union, initially undertaken for pragmatic reasons - access to markets, mutual security and stability - has since evolved extensively into the modern liberal democracy we see today.

Many of those pragmatic justifications for the UK have endured but they have been strengthened by the development of universal suffrage, our joint endeavour in creating a welfare state and, more recently, devolution to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. It was through the UK that the ideas of the 18th century Scottish Enlightenment spread around the world.

Better Together sets out the positive argument for a UK which works in partnership with the Scottish Parliament, where we get the best of both worlds: control over important decisions that matter to Scots, supported by the strength and stability of being part of the larger union.

We want to secure jobs and investment while sustaining Scottish influence not only within the UK but globally. That contrasts enormously with those who believe that we should withdraw not just from the UK but from our position of international influence.

Because the United Kingdom is not something which stands still: the last two decades have seen major constitutional change not only for Scotland but at a UK and European level too. Throughout this process, Scots have demonstrated that they want strong powers within a united country – a middle way between the status quo and separation.

All three major pro-devolution parties – Labour, Conservatives and Liberal Democrats – will have set out their platforms for more responsibilities for the Scottish Parliament as well as how they see power being further devolved to Scotland’s communities. These complement the ongoing process of devolution under the 2012 Scotland Act, which will see additional tax powers introduced from 2016.

At a basic level, the existence of the UK benefits all of us across these islands. We are a single market for goods and expertise without regulatory barriers to trade, employment or public services.

The rest of the UK is Scotland’s largest trade partner: we export to England, Wales and Northern Ireland twice what we do to the rest of the world combined. Scotland is – despite its relative size – still England’s second largest trading partner. Why should we want to put up barriers between us?

We also benefit from a strong voice globally – a voice that would be diminished for all of the UK if we were to go our separate ways. This is far from simply a matter of prestige: the UK’s international role helps us to protect Scottish businesses and exports – whether financial services, research or, of course, Scotch whisky - against burdensome regulation and export barriers.

We also use our international standing to uphold human rights and assist in conflict prevention, having for example successfully led international campaigns promoting education or ending the practice of rape as a weapon of war.

In addition, shared institutions serve Scotland well whether it’s UK Trade and Investment promoting Scottish businesses through a network of 169 offices around the world or the global reach of our consular and diplomatic network.

However Scotland also contributes to what we do together, for example as the powerhouse behind Britain’s renewable energy revolution, through our contribution to the UK's armed forces or even by providing the first British men’s winner of Wimbledon in 77 years.

Scotland has been an enduring success story but we are confident that our best years remain in front of us. Playing an active part in the UK provides a solid foundation for an outward-looking Scotland with a global role, a prospering economy and secure public services.

So here’s to another three hundred years of partnership in a United Kingdom that serves all of us, where we pool and share resources, risks and responsibilities for the common good and where we continue to work together for an even better future.

Proposition

Independence - for Equity and Opportunity

Scotland can be a successful independent country. Indeed, we are among the top 20 wealthiest nations in the world, a fact confirmed by the Financial Times earlier this year. The UK fails to make it into that league table.

The Financial Times also confirmed that “an independent Scotland could be expected to start with healthier state finances than the rest of the UK”. This may surprise many because anti-independence politicians have been saying the opposite for years.

But for most people in Scotland, it doesn’t feel as though we live in a country that is wealthier than the UK or has stronger public finances. That is why a Yes vote in September is so important. It is only with a Yes that we can make sure Scotland’s vast wealth and resources work better for the people who live here.

The Scottish Parliament has made significant advances where it has responsibility, allowing Scottish Governments of different political stripes to scrap tuition fees for Scottish students, ensure free personal care for older citizens and protect our NHS from the creeping privatisation directed from Westminster.

Despite this progress, our Parliament still lacks many of the competencies it requires to improve quality of life for people in Scotland. The most important economic and social levers remain in the hands of Westminster and Westminster will never prioritise Scotland.

With a Yes, we can do more to create jobs and opportunities in Scotland because for the first time we’ll have economic policy designed here to meet the needs of the people of Scotland.  Full control of tax and investment powers will enable an independent Scottish Government to design policy to revitalise Scottish industry, boost exports and grow our tax base.

All this means a stronger economy with independence, on top of the £600 million each year we will save from no longer paying for things like nuclear weapons or politicians at Westminster – savings we can invest in public services and better pensions for older Scots.

A Yes puts these crucial policy levers in the hands of the people of Scotland and the governments they elect – and removes us from the damaging impact of distant and out-of-touch Westminster governments we didn’t vote for.

In 26 of the 44 years since 1970, Scotland has been subject to the decisions of Tory governments we didn’t elect. We’ve had governments the majority of us rejected delivering harmful policies, from Poll Tax to Bedroom Tax, which undermine the fabric of Scottish society.

With a Yes, instead of having to mitigate the effects of austerity cuts and ideologically-driven welfare changes, our Scottish Parliament can use our wealth to invest in opportunity and make Scotland a more prosperous nation.

We can create a fairer, modern welfare system which genuinely supports people into work instead of penalising the unemployed. We can choose to deliver a transformational increase in free childcare to make life easier for young families and give our youngsters the best possible start in life.

We can ensure fairer wages by strengthening the minimum wage and encouraging a living wage and make it easier for firms to hire more people by re-examining National Insurance contributions. And we can use our Parliament’s new economic powers to tackle poverty and inequality and move away from the Westminster consensus that has made the UK, on one measure, the fourth most unequal country in the developed world.

A Yes vote is about possibility – what we can do to make Scotland a better place to live. Today Scotland is abuzz with creativity and ideas for the future. Absent only are the powers we need to put them into action.

We know Scotland is wealthy enough to succeed as an independent nation, and we have the energy and the drive to improve our people’s prospects for the future. Independence won’t transform Scotland overnight – but only a Yes vote will give us the tools we need to make a start.

Response

That people do not feel as well off as they should is an easy political argument to make as we come out of an economic downturn. I doubt no-one’s commitment to improving the general standard of living. But our different views on how this should be achieved are the bread-and-butter of normal politics not a flaw in Scotland’s constitutional structure.

In my experience, reducing poverty, worklessness and inequality requires tough choices – balancing tax rises against economic growth, finding the middle ground between addressing inequality and promoting enterprise. Yet separation is being sold as a panacea, uniquely absolving Scotland of these decisions. That does not strike me as credible.

As part of a larger economy, Scotland benefits from greater flexibility in the choices we make here. Pooling resources has a positive impact on the affordability of benefits or the increased costs of an ageing population. Public spending is significantly higher in Scotland than in the rest of the UK so there is no real argument that we do not benefit from our wealth.

Angus has also argued that Scotland within the UK gets governments Scots did not vote for. But boiled down, this point holds true for every democracy in the world. Within Scotland itself, voting patterns are hugely different from Coldstream to Caithness or from Alyth to Ayr. In the end, we enter the polling booth as individuals – and, in any situation, we find ourselves in a minority of one.

What often surprises commentators in social attitudes surveys is not so much the enormous gulf in views and beliefs between Scotland and the rest of Britain but rather the similarities. So while we are not politically united within Britain or even Scotland, I suspect that we are not as different as some might cast us.

Response

David is right to highlight the partnership between the people of these islands. It is underpinned by strong and deep relationships. That is why we can be confident it will endure after independence, but in a more modern and appropriate form. The bonds that unite us do not depend on us sending Scottish MPs to Westminster.

We need a new partnership on these isles, fit for the 21st century - one that gives proper recognition to the place of England in this family of nations. With a Yes, Scotland will pay its own way, ending concern elsewhere in the UK that we have a spending advantage - and Scottish MPs will no longer vote to determine English policy on health and education.

The relationship we propose is not untested. It stands in sharp contrast to the ‘incorporating’ union defended by the No campaign which gives Westminster the final say over many of the most important aspects of our economy and society.

Instead, we look to the most successful union of nations on the planet. The Nordic nations are independent but work together closely across a wide range of issues. Within this framework of equality and co-operation, they are delivering greater economic and social progress for their people.

Independent Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland sit at the top of world economic, quality of life and well-being league tables. They provide a modern model of co-operation to which Scotland and the rest of the UK can and should aspire.

With a Yes, the people of Scotland can choose a new and better path for our nation - which will also open the door to a new and more appropriate relationship between the four British nations. That, surely, is the real ‘best of both worlds’.

Conclusion

Like Angus, I do not believe the bonds across our islands would disappear in an independent Scotland. But they would be greatly weakened by the break-up of the institutions we share.

Imagine the blow to the EU if we were to abolish the elected European Parliament and return administration to closed-door meetings between diplomats. The same is true here: rejecting elected bodies and political ties is anything but unifying.

There is a world of difference between being citizens of one country - electing MPs to the same parliament, pooling risk and resources within a unified tax and welfare system and sharing a global identity - and a loose co-operative agreement between separate states.

Because social bonds most often follow civil ones. A Scottish identity was not born out of nothing, but followed a union – a united kingdom, if you like – created from pre-existing kingdoms. So too British identity meant little before our political union brought us together in a common civil project, forged closer by the experiences we have shared.

The challenge in designing constitutional change is to build consensus – and a strengthened devolution settlement is where public opinion consistently lies. The process has begun: the three main pro-UK parties have now set out their stalls. I would hope that in the event of a ‘no’ vote, the SNP and Greens would join this discussion too.

We can, as Angus suggests, learn from Nordic countries. But we must also appreciate the choices they make for the outcomes they have. Across Nordic nations, the average tax rate is around 46% of GDP, far higher than Scotland’s 38%. Do we want that in Scotland or the UK? That is a political choice for ordinary elections.

It is probably worth noting too that four of the five Nordic Council states have centre-right governments in place, something Scotland supposedly rejects!

While it is good that we can look beyond our borders for examples, we easily forget our own successes: our extensive trade links, our unique bridging role between the US and Europe, our world-leading ‘soft power’ influence, our welfare state and the positive things we have done together on the international stage. We have been an example to others and can continue to be.

It would be wrong to throw away what we have built together. But more than that, we can look forward to what we can do together in the future - because sharing and cooperating gives us more choices as well as the ability to use our resources better.

I trust Scotland can continue to be an outward-looking, prosperous nation, contributing to the world. But ultimately that can best be accomplished as part of the United Kingdom.

Conclusion

Democracy is about the collective will: there is an election winner. That means individuals may not get the government they voted for but it doesn’t mean countries shouldn’t. A country like Scotland, with its own distinct economic needs, social identity and political priorities should be governed according to its citizens’ wishes – no question.

The democratic deficit is also a social and economic deficit -  all reasons why Scotland needs a Yes. What Scotland experiences with Westminster in charge is not just mere disappointment on election night but ill-suited and often unwanted policies that cumulatively take us in the wrong direction. A different partnership is needed.

“Pooling and sharing resources” is a nice sound-bite but that’s all. It is a phrase totally removed from reality, because our experience of the Westminster system is that there is plenty of pooling but not enough sharing: that’s why the UK has such massive social and geographic inequalities. The social and economic divisions are getting worse while Westminster does nothing to reverse or even halt the trends.

Thank goodness we didn’t listen to people like David in the No campaign in 1997, or today we would have no Scottish Parliament and would be pooling, sharing and privatising our NHS.

With a Yes we can choose a different path for Scotland. We can make sure our wealth delivers more for people living in Scotland. And, we have wealth aplenty. Just a few days ago, the Treasury admitted that Scotland generates a tenth more wealth per head than the UK overall. But according to the Office of National Statistics the average wealth owned in Scotland is a quarter less than in Great Britain as a whole.

That simple contrast is proof enough that it is time for a new approach – time to invest our Scottish Parliament with the job-creating, prosperity-generating and wealth-sharing powers we need to counterbalance London’s economic pull and put our society onto a healthier, more sustainable path.

Only a Yes will give Scotland all the powers we need and the powers people want – in particular over taxation, the economy and welfare. The No parties’ limited (and in some cases half-hearted) proposals for more powers don’t come anywhere close to delivering the social and economic levers we need to boost jobs and protect and improve our welfare system.

The simple reality is that our country could and should be so much better than it is today. Improvement won’t happen overnight, but equally it won’t happen if we leave it to someone else.

If we want Scotland to be better, we need to take responsibility and work together as a community and society here in Scotland. That means putting Scotland’s future into Scotland’s hands, with a Yes.

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