Referendum facts we need to find out for ourselves
My postal vote has arrived. Decision time is getting near, but making up my mind on how to vote in the referendum isn’t getting any easier.
Like most Scots I want to make the right choice for my family and for the country. To do that I need facts, so I can weigh up the balance on each side. But facts have been in short supply in the campaign so far.
Instead we have had claim and counter-claim. When one side asserts something as definite, the other side immediately rubbishes it and we end up no wiser.
So let me try to list those things I think we do know, and those we don’t. On the Yes side first.
Currency: An independent Scotland would still use the pound. I know there are those nationalists who think that Scotland can’t be genuinely independent unless it has its own currency, but Alex Salmond seems determined that we would continue to use sterling.
So far so good. But if we do stay with the pound, what are the terms? The London parties have ruled out a currency union – which is what we have now – but even if they are bluffing and eventually give way, what will be the terms they dictate? Our interest rates on mortgages, car loans and borrowing for businesses will still be set in London, and the British government could also lay down conditions for setting the Scottish budget.
If that is independence, it doesn’t seem to me to be much different to what we have already got.
European Union: There have been a lot of scare stories about Scotland and the EU. If we vote Yes we need to re-apply to join, but on what terms will we be let in and when? Experts I have talked to point out that 26 countries will have to agree Scotland’s membership and they will all use the chance to press their own interests. Europe is not exactly known for moving fast, so I do think we will get in but don’t hold your breath.
Oil revenues: If we vote for independence our government will get the taxes on oil and gas produced from Scottish waters. There is no doubt about that. It would clearly be “Scotland’s Oil” under international law. But how much would we get?
The UK Government says the oil is running out. Tax revenues have been falling and are likely to continue at a low level. The Scottish Government say the opposite – we are on the verge of another oil boom, as vast new oil fields are brought into production. Who should we believe?
It is not easy to decide, but when Sir Ian Wood urges caution about the amount of oil still to be got out, I take notice. He has built a global oil business and has long experience of the industry. He has no axe to grind, supporting neither side in this debate. Having Oil is great but it won’t last for ever.
The NHS: Scare stories about it being under threat if we vote No are nonsense. At UK level health spending has been protected from austerity and the Scottish Government has had total control of the health service since 1999.
Now the No side.
If we reject independence, what do we get? The three main London parties have all said that if we vote No, we are not voting for business as usual. We will get more powers over our own affairs, particularly over taxes. But what powers?
From three different political parties – Labour, Tories and Lib-Dems – we have THREE different schemes of “devo max.” Which one are we voting for? And can we be sure we’ll get any of them? There will be a UK general election next year and it is anybody’s guess who will be the government after that.
The three London parties should agree ONE scheme of “devo max” and each make a pledge that it will be in their manifestos and it will be implemented, no matter which of them, or which combination of them, forms the next UK government. Unprecedented? No, they were quick enough to agree to rule out currency union, it should be easy to do this.
Independence is a huge step to take and it is great that it has sparked discussions in pubs, clubs and dinner tables across the country. People who were never interested in politics before are becoming engaged.
Some, of course, have made up their minds and will not change the way they vote no matter what, but they will not determine the outcome. It is the “undecided,” who will make the difference, after weighing up the arguments.
It is too important for us to leave it to politicians alone to give us the facts. We each need to decide what is important for us and our families and dig out the facts for ourselves. Good luck.
Sir Tom Hunter is an entrepreneur and philanthropist. He established scotlandseptember18.com to provide facts and objective analysis on the referendum.