Why I shall reluctantly be voting No

I’ve been having a wee ranty thing on Twitter about the SNP’s recently-published white paper on an independent Scotland. Peejay (@peejaydee70) has challenged me to explain my thinking a bit more, so Peejay, this post is for you.

The process will fail Scotland

We are offered a binding referendum on the question of whether or not Scotland should be an independent country. That’s it. Everything else that really matters – what the constitutional and economic settlement might be, is unknown. Even when those matters are known, the people of Scotland will have no say in whether or not they are acceptable to them, or whether they can be satisfied that the settlement will result in a modern European nation in which everyone can flourish, both socially and economically. I am generally opposed to buying a pig in a poke, and by the time the cat’s let out of the bag, it will, of course, be too late; the deal will have been done.

Failure to establish a secession process whereby any constitutional settlement has to be put to the people who must live under it is fundamentally flawed and shows contempt for the intelligence of the Scottish people. It is also perilous for our negotiators and the nation. If the referendum is in favour of independence, then our negotiations will be in the hands of politicians for whom independence at any price, rather than the best possible outcomes for the people of Scotland, will be the priority. We’re not going to have a strong and authoritative place at the negotiating table if those representing us look like drowning men who would settle for a box of matches rather than hold out for a lifeboat. Scotland’s negotiators will have more power if they can assure the other parties that any settlement must be acceptable to the people of Scotland in a final referendum.

There are many examples of nations gaining their independence without settling such fundamental constitutional matters first, but what’s at stake is actually too important to leave until later. The SNP promise all sorts of things about our currency, borders, citizenship, trade freedom, membership of the EU (not automatic), structural debt and so on, none of which can be known until formal negotiations are concluded. That’s the time to put the formal question to the people, rather than promising everything without evidence and dressing up a party manifesto as the constitutional arrangements for a modern democracy.

I am a proud Scot, but I will not be bought or sold by a parcel of rogues without knowing the price of my head.

This impoverished vision is for a medieval society instead of a modern secular republic.

The SNP have a long and unsavoury track record of sooking-up to priests, princes and popes which does nothing to challenge the unwarranted privilege of religion and kings in our society. The white paper demonstrates the failure even to conceive of a modern European democracy by promising to retain the Crown and the place of religion in Scottish society. Instead, we should expect a clear and bold vision of a new and different sort of Scotland, rather than fossilising these archaic and unequal privileges in any new settlement.

The whole process of selling independence has been on the basis of finding the price of Yes votes, rather than the intrinsic value of independence itself. This is because Alec Salmond is an inveterate and consummate politician, not a statesman like Donald Dewar. I would that Donald were still here and leading this process. The SNP’s vision fails for me on two major grounds:

Firstly, the politicians want to keep a monarchy in Scotland. Apart from the mediaeval anachronism that is having a magical parent to an infantilised population, I have no desire to be someone’s subject, least of all to woo-believing, tree-hugging foreign loon. As a humanist, I no more wish to bow my knee to a human demi-god than to the fantastic imaginings of an iron-age sheep-herding patriarch.

Constitutionally, keeping the English crown poses serious issues – do the people have the power to rule themselves through their elected representatives in their own parliament, or do we cede powers to some manifestation of royal prerogative with secret and unaccountable privy councils making the decisions that affect our liberties? And how do we protect our independence when we involve the foreign court of a foreign king in our most intimate political decisions?

The second impoverishment of vision is that the SNP are committed to retaining the pernicious influence of kirk and church in a new Scottish society, perpetuating the sectarianism and division that causes such fundamental harm in Scotland today. This is a determination to embed the infrastructure of division into our constitution. The influence of the church in Scottish public life is deeper and more pernicious than I had ever realised before I came back to live in Scotland some nine years ago. For instance, all councils are obliged to appoint three church representatives to sit on their education boards, and many councils actually permit these religious appointees as members of full council as well, a fact which would horrify most secular Scots.

Secularism is ensuring that no religious party is privileged in law or the practice of government, at any level in a state. This protects the interests of all religious groups and ensures that none are disadvantaged by privileging another above them.

The educational apparatus at the heart of our sectarian division is promised to be continued. Denominational schools would continue unabated in an independent Scotland. In other words, publically-funded schools will continue to indoctrinate their own particular brands of religion to children as young as five and six, acting as incubators of sectarianism and division for the next generation. State-sponsored bigotry has no place in a society which strives to secure equality for people of any religious persuasion or of none.

The Scotland I would like to see would be a secular republic, not one in which priests, ministers and moderators have hold of longer levers of power than even they do now.

Two last things:

It is for the proposer of a motion to make the case why their argument should prevail. Similarly, the customer is under no obligation to buy, no matter how oleaginous the salesman. Many enthusiastic supporters of the Yes campaign would like the un-persuaded to make the contrary argument, forgetting that it is the failure of their own case which requires the greater scrutiny.

It has been said that this is the opportunity of a generation and, if we don’t grasp independence now, then it won’t come our way again for a long time. That may be so, but we always have now the opportunity to build a fairer, more just and more secular society through our existing institutions; the Scottish Government appear determined to embed injustice and inequality in independence. I would rather know that I’ve got a chance to fight for a secular Scotland in the Union than know that religion is to woven into the rip-stop fabric of a new constitution.

Peejay, you probably won’t agree with much of my argument, or even my conclusions, but I hope this gives you a bit of an insight into my thinking. I am persuadable, I just wish there were statesmen fighting for the cause of Scotland who could make me believe their vision.

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5 thoughts on “Why I shall reluctantly be voting No

  1. Can’t disagree with any of that. Well said.

    I do have a slightly differing viewpoint in some respects, but share the same doubts and uncertainties with regards to the nebulous future on offer

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  2. The referendum is only on Independence. And you have a choice on that.

    Actually, your premise is entirely wrong.The Scottish people will have a say on everything else with the 2016 Scottish election. Whatever you want, choose a party to vote for. What independence will mean is that Scots will make the choices that best suit Scotland; and not those that suit London or the southeast of England.

    You say you disagree with the monarchy. Here’s the big news: a No vote will mean that Scotland is tied to the UK position. The chances of the UK voting to get rid of the monarchy is non-existent. Whereas, in an independent Scotland, my guess would be that the situation would be up for grabs especially after the death of the Queen.

    You blame the SNP for wanting to keep the Kirk. The whole point of a referendum vote – on one issue – independence – is that the other issues can be sorted later. With each proviso you add: monarchy, the kirk etc. the chances of that bill passing reduce. So you could tailor an independence bill that had all the factors you wanted – and you would vote for it – but you may be the only one! Again, a no vote is a vote for no change in the Kirk.

    The No vote – the status quo – is the risk. Actually its probably less than the status quo given that Scotland’s budget will be slashed by Westminster and the powers taken from the Scottish Parliament. A yes vote is a vote to do things differently and to make our own choices.

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    • Ian,
      Thank you for taking the time to read this post and to add your comments. I don’t think we disagree fundamentally on the facts and I suspect we share many of the same ambitions for Scotland. Where we differ is that we have reasonably each come to separate conclusions about what this means for us personally.
      By the time the 2016 election comes around, should Scotland be independent, then there will have been an Act of Secession passed, which will codify many of the fundamental constitutional arrangements for Scotland and, importantly, this would fix us as subjects of a foreign monarchy with no prospect of becoming a republic.
      I agree that much else will be up for our own determination, including the final form of our written constitution. But that will not be the main issue of an election for the next Scottish Government, nor should it be. There is great hazard in assuming that a parliamentary election is a substitute for a national conversation on the nature and form of a written constitution, because the implication is that the winning party will have the whip hand in the content of that constitution. The SNP have given no assurances about the process by which an independent Scotland would establish its own written constitution and the implication is that they see a future state in very much the same form as the current unsatisfactory one.
      I agree that the Yes campaign failing to convince the electorate will mean that we will retain an English king, but that is also the settled determination of the SNP, who will be the party negotiating secession with Westminster. So a vote either way is ineffective in changing this particular point.
      On the matter of a vision for a secular Scotland, I regret that the SNP fail to acknowledge this even as a possibility, and appear determined to retain the present back-door influence of church and kirk in the affairs of national and local government. But, on this matter, staying within the UK means that that fight can continue, but Eck’s “view of the same as before but independent” means that religious influence is more likely to be codified into a new Scottish constitution and therefore less likely to be removed for the foreseeable future.
      The balance of risk for Yes or No is hard to determine, and is more likely to be influenced by our individual cultural, social and economic views than by the little evidence that has been presented to us so far. I wish us all well, whatever the outcome.

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  3. Right now, Patrick, the present Queen is Queen of Scots too. You could argue since James VI took over the English throne, she is more ours than England’s. Hence yes she will be codified as our Queen on Independence.

    You are right of course that this is the current SNP position. I expect the SNP will fragment on independence between republicans and monarchists, EURO currency types and Sterling types, and those pro and against NATO etc. The current position of maintaining Sterling, being in NATO and keeping the monarchy, and secular / non-secular is a pragmatic one designed to give independence the best chance of succeeding in a Yes vote; as it does not splinter the Yes vote by offering additional changes, but it is a knowing position that a Yes vote is the only way to achieve these additional changes.

    A No vote, be assured, will not lead to a secular society; or a republic.

    It is, of course, your choice.

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  4. Pingback: Behind the promise of a socialist utopia lie some uncomfortable truths #indyref | Patrick Mackie

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