e-News® | The NEWS Company… : There are hours to go until people in Scotland answer the question posed to them in an historic referendum: “Should Scotland be an independent country?”
Some weekend polls revealed a lead for No, while others put Yes ahead. With the race too close to call, what is clear is that a pro-independence vote, once considered fanciful, now is a serious possibility.
So why has support for Yes grown with such momentum?
There are obvious economic gains to be had from independence. Domestic oil reserves combined with well-developed service and manufacturing industries would help make the country one of the wealthiest in the world. But the gains in democracy are just as alluring as the economic ones.
There is a “democratic deficit” affecting Scotland. For years, Scots have raised concerns that the government in London often fails to reflect their interests. In my lifetime, more than half the London governments that have ruled us were not supported by Scots. This has not worked out well.
In the 1980s and 1990s, the policies of Prime Ministers Margaret Thatcher and John Major wreaked havoc on the Scottish economy. The industrial decimation carried no democratic legitimacy in the eyes of the Scots.
Scotland’s overwhelming rejection of Conservative policies, favored by many in the rest of the United Kingdom, is reflected by the fact that only one of Scotland’s 59 members of Parliament is a Conservative. There are two Pandas in Scotland, double the number of Tory MPs.
In addition, Scottish parliamentarians only represent 9 percent of the vote in the UK parliament. That leaves us feeling voiceless in the face of policies that Scots reject, such as the hated “Bedroom Tax,” which punishes relatively poor social housing residents who have spare rooms.
Westminster has acknowledged this democratic deficit in the past. It was the core reason behind the establishment of the Scottish Parliament in 1999, with massive public support. “Scottish solutions to Scottish problems” as the Labour Party once said, but the solutions that were offered were not good enough. The core problem is Scotland’s budget is still set by London, and Scottish parliamentarians can only divide the piece of the cake they receive.
This means that many of the policies that Scots want to see are under financial pressure. Scots, for example, offer free higher education, unlike the rest of Britain. It is difficult for them to do so, however, as their budget is tied to the rest of the country. The democracy deficit could be addressed in another way, of course. If there were a question on the ballot for total financial independence within the UK, with defense and foreign affairs staying in London (Devolution-Max, or “Devo-Max”), it would command a huge majority. But Britain’s centralized government has been reluctant to let go of real power in any meaningful way. This has only strengthened the independence movement.
It is no surprise that there is a desperate scramble underway to offer additional powers to the Scottish Parliament. This is being mooted after many postal votes have already been cast. The “No” side looks and sounds rattled. Not only is the move too late to be trusted, but the new powers being offered are marginal in scope. Equally misguided was the decision by the UK parties to rush their leaders to Scotland following adverse polling news. Tory Prime Minister David Cameron, Labour’s Ed Milliband and the Liberal Democrat’s Nick Clegg were seen as having come to spread scare stories and then leave. They are politicians with some of the lowest trust ratings in Scotland. Seeing them campaign is a reminder for Scots that they will be governed by them for years if the country shuns independence.
For the sake of a better-functioning democracy, many believe that decisions about the future of Scotland would be better taken by the people who care most about Scotland — those who live here. Whether the people choose independence remains to be seen. This citizen has already voted a confident “yes.” I hope my fellow countrymen and women do, too.