The following opinion piece appeared in the Sunday Times, 15th June
“Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” So said Albus Dumbledore. The question is, do we view independence through the same lense – if it offers us great riches is that where we lean towards or is the treasure firmly with the Union?
In a week where one of Alex Salmond’s advisers falsely accused a campaigning mother of being related to Pat Lally you have to wonder are we living in Hogwarts Castle.
The truth is we the voter are being bamboozled by part fiction, part fact wherever we turn from the Yes and No campaigns – good honest debate appears to be stymied by claim and counter claim, so how are we to know where our treasure is; in or out of the Union?
One stark example of the yawning gap in data analysis from both sides. The Scottish Government predicts via oil and gas revenues Scotland benefitting from £34.3 billion over five years – a tad more than the The Office for Budget Responsibility (a UK agency) who expect just £15.8bn. Staggeringly this is less than half Scottish forecasts making it all but impossible for any of us to know just where the Hogwarts treasure is.
This week I applaud Gordon Brown’s intervention. Not because he was campaigning for the No vote but because he brought the statesman like objectivity to the issues at hand – this is not Britain versus Scotland this is a choice between two visions for Scotland. One vision disconnects us from the rest of the UK, the other binds us but with potentially more freedoms.
Crucially he also pointed out that all three parties campaigning for the no vote absolutely should come together with a single offer on further devolution. Its crazy to expect the average voter to analyse all three varying offers from the Conservatives (complete control of income tax) the Lib-Dems (federalism) and Labour (a wee bit more income tax – poor from the party that gave us devolution in the first place…) Its even crazier to think they’d do the analysis then bet on which party will win the general election as a means to fulfilling their devolution promises.
This comes down to a crucial point, a point I don’t mind making again. To vote yes or no we need to know what more powers we will get if we vote no (thanks) and what are the benefits and risks attached to a yes vote over and above these new powers on offer and how much in the round is it going to cost/save.
Importantly let me say this – independence is not about Alex Salmond, its not about David Cameron its about taking an irreversible decision that neither Salmond nor Cameron will have anything to do with in the near future. This is about Scotland and the UK’s long-term future, not about whether we like an Oxford educated PM or a St.Andrew’s educated FM.
To the Dumbledore author, JK Rowling. I believe it is everyone’s right to express their political opinion and to fund that opinion if they so wish – contributing to this debate is of paramount importance in determining our collective futures.
Tragically her intervention seems to have dominated news headlines not for her thoughtful and reasoned opinion but for the ‘cyber Nat’ attacks on her that followed by the extreme elements in this debate.
Over the last couple of weeks through our business investments I’ve been on the West and East Coast of America ending up with former President Clinton and probably – you never know – future Presidents, Hillary Chelsea in New York at their annual Foundation meeting. On those travels and in New York two key points – everyone loves Scotland and secondly they are all watching; the world’s eye is upon our nation
So when those same people are now reading headlines dominated by these cyber nutters what happens to their love of our country? The last time I looked Scotland was one of the most welcoming countries in the world, let’s not let a small minority taint that impression; they do Scotland a huge and embarrassing disservice as they do democracy.
With less than 100 days to go before we make the most momentus decision for Scotland, opinions are rife – Hillary Clinton opened up Thursday opposed to it; everybody’s opinion is welcome, every intervention valid when making a positive contribution to the debate.
For our children and their grandchildren we need now to focus on hard facts, evidence and deep analysis. Its time for all of our politicians to step up and lead in framing the issues for Scotland in or out of the Union in a constructive, reasoned and respectful manner.
Its also important we as voters understand the cost benefit analysis on both equations in or out of the UK. Bluster and bullshit around vacant promises from both sides is not good enough – the unionist parties must define an agreed package of devolution plus, just as the Scottish Government has to transparently define the costs of separation and its long-term impact.
We cannot take an irreversible decision when walking through the fog of obfuscation spouted by both sides, few of us are polymaths after all.
Sir Tom Hunter is a philanthropist, entrepreneur and established scotlandseptember18.com to provide objective analysis on independence.