Scotland votes today: 8 things that have struck me about the independence campaign

My own position remains unchanged from February:

“If I were a Scot with a vote in September, I’m not sure which side I would favour. I see no reason why an independent Scotland wouldn’t do quite well out of new arrangements, but it would of course be a risky venture into the unknown (which is why I don’t think the SNP’s bid will succeed). As that great liberal Ludovic Kennedy once rhetorically asked, “I still believe that if Denmark can run its own affairs, why can’t Scotland?””

The debate has been depressing:

I don’t actually mean the acrimony between the two sides or the reports of intimidation – though the finding that 46% of No voters and 24% of Yes voters have felt personally threatened by the other side is shaming. No, I mean the quality of the arguments. Better Together got hung up on the currency issue and forgot about the issues that connect with voters’ everyday lives. Yes Scotland has been dominated by Alex Salmond’s hectoring blandishments. There’s been much back-slapping at how ‘energised’ the electorate is by the vote – but are they better informed? Not according to Professor Paul Cairney: “public knowledge of the issues is patchy – as expressed in polls as general uncertainty or incorrect answers to specific questions.” The tighter the election has become, the more inflated have been the claims.

Just think how much worse the in/out EU referendum will be:

If the Tories form the next Government an EU in/out referendum by December 2017 seems inevitable. I think ‘In’ would win, but it would be tight. We’ve seen how close the Scottish referendum is, and the Better-Off-Outers would be assured a much more sympathetic newspaper reaction than Yes Scotland has had. There’s a definite parallel with the current debate: I think the UK could do okay outside the EU, just as Scotland would be fine in the long-term outside the UK; but there would almost certainly be short-term pain owing to the instability of an uncertain situation. However, expect such nuances to be lost in a debate that will pit alternative apocalyptic versions of in/out against each other. And if it’s been bad enough seeing Alex Salmond on your TV screen every night for the last two months, think what three more years of Nigel Farage’s golf club banter will do to us all.

The status quo will probably prevail:

It usually does, as I noted in May 2012: “1. A good rule-of-thumb is that the public will vote for the status quo when asked in a referendum. Put simply, voters tend to dislike change (no matter what they may tell pollsters when asked an abstract question). It’s a variation, I suspect, on the ‘loss aversion’ explanation of human behaviour: people prefer to avoid losses than to make gains; 2. The exceptions to this rule-of-thumb being when the change proposed in a referendum is backed by a coalition of most/all the major parties.”

A No vote is likely to boost the SNP:

Too many people are assuming a No vote will be disastrous for the SNP, that it will slink away, tail between its legs. Not likely. If I were Scottish Labour I would be fearful of next May’s general election – buyer’s remorse may well kick in. As I wrote in July: “At least one senior Labour figure, a former cabinet minister, has privately highlighted the danger to his party of a No vote at the May 2015 general election. His reason? Having rejected independence, the Scottish voters will want an insurance policy their wishes won’t be ignored by Westminster. A large SNP representation there would be the best way to ensure that. He predicts up to 30 Scottish nationalist MPs will be returned.” Given how effective the Yes Scotland campaign machine has proven to be – and how ineffective Better Together has been – that doesn’t seem far-fetched to me.

Gordon Brown may well make a comeback:

After the first televised debate, won by Alistair Darling, all the talk was of his certain return to the Labour front-bench. Then Alex Salmond opened up a can of whoop-ass in the second debate: Darling never recovered. Cue the return of his comrade/foe, the former Prime Minister who wanted to sack him as Chancellor. Gordon Brown’s already-famous speech yesterday didn’t do it for me: passionate assertion, yes; effective persuasion, no. But I expect it will have galvanised Labour’s get-out-the-vote operation and its undecideds in particular. And it raises the interesting possibility whether Brown would be tempted by a return to front-line politics in the Scottish Parliament. The SNP has long gained the advantage from ambitious politicians north of the border in other parties over-looking Holyrood in favour of Westminster. Gordon Brown might just be the man to take the fight back to the SNP and succeed Alex Salmond as First Minister.

David Cameron’s problems won’t end even if there’s a No vote:

The panicky decision of all three party leaders to co-sign a vow to protect the Barnett formula was mis-judged – though in Nick Clegg’s case he’s simply setting out party policy to be approved in the Lib Dem pre-manifesto in Glasgow in a couple of weeks. Funding should, of course, be on the basis of need, something the party has recognised needs to be corrected for Wales but not for England. That leaves a gaping injustice we can be sure Nigel Farage will be only too happy to exploit. That’s a problem for all parties, nut especially David Cameron, and one of his own making.

An English Grand Committee seems increasingly likely:

Just don’t call it an English parliament. With the Scots promised devo-max, the likelihood the parties can dodge Tam Dalyell’s infamous West Lothian Question any longer seems forlorn: it simply cannot be right that Scottish MPs vote on English-only issues when English MPs cannot return the favour. An English Grand Committee – English MPs voting on English-only matters to be ratified by the UK Parliament – is the quickest, easiest alternative that will avoid prolonged discussions about regional parliaments and the like.

* Stephen was Editor (and Co-Editor) of Liberal Democrat Voice from 2007 to 2015, and writes at The Collected Stephen Tall.

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  • Alexy Flemming 18th Sep '14 - 8:36am


    Look at New Zeland:
    1. No North Sea Oil
    2. No Whisky like that of Scotts
    3. No European Union (EU)
    4. Sharing that same Queen
    ——————- ….and….. —————
    VOTE YES and “BE” ……… to be or not to be ……..

  • Let us be a little more positive about the likely consequences of a NO vote in the referendum (if that is what is going to happen). It seems to me that there are three potential benefits for our party . First, UK-wide devolution will be back on the political agenda. Second, it seems to me inconceivable that the three principal UK-wide parties would risk splitting up the Union once more in only two or three years time by holding a referendum on leaving the EU without a stipulation that if Scotland were to vote to stay in the UK, a vote in the rest of the UK to leave the EU would not be implemented. Third, the high profile which some – and perhaps all – of our Scottish Lib Dem MPs have assumed in spearheading the NO campaign in their own constituencies (I am thinking particularly of Michael Moore and Jo Swinson) is likely to be of some benefit to them with their constituents at the general election next year if the constituencies which they represent have voted NO by a significant margin today.

  • Sorry, for “Scotland were to vote to stay in the UK”, read (of course) “Scotland were to vote to stay in the EU”.

  • Denis Mollison 18th Sep '14 - 9:42am

    The debates I’ve paid attention to have not been depressing: they’ve been about self-determination, within a democratic framework. It’s only through the eyes of the one-sided main media that the debate has looked depressing, or appeared to be dominated by Alex Salmond. And his “hectoring blandishments” were the result of being forced to respond to that main media and No campaign stream of negativity. The imagined difficulties of becoming independent make one wonder in amazement how Ireland, Canada, Australia , South Africa or New Zealand coped with their transitions away from using the pound.

  • Drew Durning 18th Sep '14 - 9:46am

    Excellent review – as PMQs demonstrates on a weekly basis, shouting insults is not a debate, however passionate the shouting is. Question – why not call it the English Parliament or Assembly? I have come across a rapidly growing sense of injustice amongst the English and the call for English only MPs to vote on English matters is now inevitably linked to any discussion on Scottish independence / extended devolution (of which there are a lot – it’s been a wonderful exercise in engagement if not debate). Names are important; why not call a Parliament a Parliament?

  • Melanie Harvey 18th Sep '14 - 9:52am

    Yes or No Scotland wins.

  • A Conservative perspective —

    I do not agree with his NO sympathies but I found this an interesting report. He is obviously impressed with the level of engagement and the friendly debate. No whinges or exaggeration but fairly straight reporting of how he sees it.

    Oh, and only a Conservative could have met a bunch of “retired colonels” to seek their views. 🙂

  • Drew Durning,
    Who are “the English” that you have come across who have a rapidly growing sense of injustice ??
    Just people in your own neck of the woods?
    The English from Cornwall or the English from Cumbria?
    Are they Brixton Rastafarian English, or are they Yorkshire Quaker English?
    Perhaps they are English people with names like Patel or Nowakowski?
    Maybe they are the sort of English who watch Rugby League, or maybe the English people who take part in the annual Gay Pride celebration?
    A bus ride from my house the English of Southall seem quite different from the English of the Surrey Hills, a bus ride in the other direction.
    The English who farm sheep in The Pennines, the English who pay themselves million pound bonuses in The City working in tower blocks as high as The Pennines, the English who have a disability after serving in Afghanistan, the English who have had their benefits sanctioned, which ones have you spoken to?

    The Food Bank English may have a view. The Duke of Westminster is English he may have a view too.

    But are they all seething with a sense of injustice and calling for one parliament for the English???

    I doubt it.

  • To my mind there is far too much talk about the benefits of devolution – often seen as a panacea – and far too little on the damage of 35 years of neoliberalism. Overpaid and underperforming, our corporate bosses continue to be given a free ride by Westminster – no surprise given their lobbying power and donations. This is despite the widespread dismay with corporate Britain that the electorate expresses in polls. Royal Mail privatised (coming to a private equity firm in a tax haven soon) the re-privatisation GNER being pushed through before the GE, although it’s returning a profit and as Andrew Adonis has pointed out, why can’t the state bid too keep the franchise? It would at least give the other bidders something to think about. I suspect it will be bought by a foreign state owned railway company. They can then make a nice profit on it to subsidise their own state railways.

    We’re all for government controlling our infrastructure, be it rail or energy, just so long as it is someone else’s government. Bonkers. Localism won’t solve all this.

  • From LDV on the 18th September 2013

    Caron Lindsay reporting on a speech by Michael Moore, who eventually was sacked by Clegg.

    As you read this, you might want to take a wild guess as to who the activist might be…

    This is from the Michael Moore speech —
    “……….Back in the summer of 2011, just after the SNP won its outright majority at Holyrood, I brought a group of Scottish activists together.

    I wanted to hear from them how they believed that we, as a party, should respond to the challenge of a referendum that was suddenly looming large. One of those activists is sitting here in the audience this morning. She is a good friend of mine and she is well-known to many of you. That night she said something that brought me up short.

    She said that she wants to live in a liberal Scotland and a liberal UK but – above all – she wants to live in a liberal country. Liberalism comes first, national borders come second………”

  • Matthew Huntbach 18th Sep '14 - 11:10am

    Iain Donaldspn

    London already has a lot of powers devolved to it’s Mayor, and so there are also issues affecting the rest of England on which London MP’s should not vote,

    No it doesn’t, not really. And if it did, it would be appalling if they were all in the hands of one person. How would you like it if instead of having a Scottish Parliament, you had one directly elected dictator for Scotland?

  • Matthew Huntbach 18th Sep '14 - 11:20am

    As with most other things that are done by our national leadership, the “No” campaign has been very badly handled. The canny way to have handled it would have been to have said “It’s Scotland’s decision, we in England will leave it to the Scots”. It seems to me that all the intervention by English politicians in this campaign has boosted the “Yes” side. How much better would Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats have looked had they not joined in with Cameron and Miliband and so enabled this to be presented as “A vote against the English political establishment”?

    As I’ve already said, a lot of what I see coming from the “Yes” side in Scotland strikes me as much the same sort of thing that UKIP’s doing here – whipping up cheap sentiment, and making out that withdrawal from the Union is an easy-peasy solution to all the problems the people face, and if you don’t agree or want to talk facts and reality before agreeing, well that just shows you’re one of those nasty elite types who hates his or her own country, shame on you.

    This is not the atmosphere in which a very serious decision like this should be made.

  • Matthew Huntbach 18th Sep '14 - 11:29am

    Iain Donaldson

    What is needed is Economic Devolution to the English Regions

    The problem is that there is almost zero demand for this is England. You know what constitutes “Scotland”, but there is no agreement on what boundaries any English Regions might have, not even any agreement on how many such Regions there might be. Dividing England up into roughly ten Regions each of a similar population to Scotland is a neat solution to the big dilemma we otherwise have – how can we have “Federalism” when one component of the Federation has several times the population of all the other components put together? But solutions which are imposed because they look neat in theory even though no-one really wants them tend to work out badly. These Regions will be seen, and I think with some justification, as just another layer of bureaucracy, more comfy jobs for politicians.

  • Matthew Huntbach 18th Sep '14 - 11:37am

    Iain Donaldson

    Regardless of the needs of the economies of the majority of people in England, London’s economic needs always take priority, and that situation has been crippling this country and its innovative spirit for generations.

    It might seem like that where you are, but I assure you it certainly doesn’t feel like that actually in London. When you say “London” I suspect you mean “The political, cultural and business elite” and not the millions of people living in London many of whom feel just as detached from that elite as people elsewhere in the UK do. The fact that people like you aren’t even able to make that distinction, seem to suppose that all of us in London are part of that wealthy elite just shows that up more – we are so oppressed that people outside don’t even know of our existence. Mostly what being in London involves is seeing yourself pushed out of any chance of decent housing due to house prices being pushed up way beyond what we can afford. Are we supposed to feel lucky because of that? I’d feel life was much fairer to me if my home was somewhere up north where my salary would buy much better housing.

  • Matthew Huntbach 18th Sep '14 - 11:42am

    Drew Durning

    I have come across a rapidly growing sense of injustice amongst the English

    Yup, that the Scots get a hugely better deal from being in the UK in terms of government money spent on them per head, and they are b (rhymes with “ruddy”), ungrateful er … fill it in, for reacting to that by this kneejerk anti-Englsish attitude they seem to have.

  • The May 2015 General election will no longer be just about the in/out EU referendum.

    Regardless of the actual outcome, I expect voters will be wanting to see the Westminster parties have something substantive to say about regional/local government, also by then the full extent of the negotiations and deal between Westminster and Scotland will be beginning to surface and hence against the austerity backdrop questions will be asked again of the Westminster parties, particularly as the next government will be even more indebted than the current one…

  • I make the same predictions as Stephen Tall concerning the effects on the next general election. Of course the risk to Labour is no less for Lib Dems as well. It looks to me as though Danny Alexander, for example, has performed a supreme act of self sacrifice in this campaign. I hope I am wrong.

  • I struggle to see Danny Alexander holding his seat.

  • Eddie Sammon 18th Sep '14 - 12:16pm

    Reasonable points. I think an English grand committee is sensible, but I also think ultimately we have to deal with things such as Scottish MPs becoming ministers for English only laws, so ultimately I think an English parliament is best. I think it would benefit from efficiency, as it would be big, but not too big. To be honest, I never agreed with Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish parliaments in the first place – I would have just moved the UK parliament up north.

    I tried to stay in the middle on this debate, until about the past month, when I could hide it no longer that I really don’t like nationalism and it would take some very good reasons to tell me why they think drawing artificial borders across Britain is a good idea, and I haven’t heard those reasons.

  • Gwyn Williams 18th Sep '14 - 12:21pm

    We are now starting to confront the real problem. Assuming the vote is NO today, how do we create a federation of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland?The current discussion confuses federalism, subsidiarity and devolution. England has to be treated as a single unit of this new federal country. It cannot be divided up into regions for the purpose of equity with Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. We are just confusing regional government in England with a federal solution. The one element that is missing from a new federal system is an English parliament. Ultimately Westminster could be scaled back as all it will have to deal with is defence, foreign affairs, the head of state and how to finance them. However this is a long way from where we are now. Will Westminster happily give up its tight centralised control? If it doesn’t there will be another referendum on Scottish independence in 5 years time and the result of that will not be in doubt.

  • So, which campaign was worse – Better Together or Yes to AV ?

    More importantly, will anyone have learnt the lessons in time for the putative 2017 In/Out European referendum. I’m not optimistic.

  • My only predictions basesed on a Yes or No vote are.
    If Yes the pound will crash, Cameron will be forced out and there will be a lot of defections to UKIP in England, but we will recover despite much Anti Scot anger from the Righties. Scotland will have an adjustment period.

    If No,
    Alistair Darling will get a knighthood, The pound will strengthen and backbench Tories will still be banging on about the EU, but the independence issue will crop up again in a couple of years if the Conservatives are still the largest party. Scotland will have an extended period of disunity.

    Facebook’s research shows the site saw 2.05 million interactions directly related to the “Yes” movement during the five week period. There were 1.96 million related to the Better Together campaign.

    The Yes campaign page on Facebook has attracted 258,000 likes, compared with 182,000 for the No campaign, and grew by 27% in the five-week period, compared to Better Together, which grew by 17%.

    Analysis also shows the level of conversation around First Minister Alex Salmond is more than double that of Alistair Darling, the leader of the “No” campaign.

    Elizabeth Linder, Facebook’s politics and government specialist for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, said: “In just a month we’ve seen the referendum debate come to life on Facebook.

  • @john tilley
    Who are “the English” that you have come across who have a rapidly growing sense of injustice ?

    Whether the are a homogenous whole or not matters little…my answer would be they are anybody who has to pay costly tuition fees imposed with the aid of Scottish MPs who’s own constituents don’t suffer the same burden. There might not be one exclusive race, religion or creed but there are plenty who are united by this sense of injustice.

  • A major factor in this whole debate has been the society we in the UK have become. It is unfair , it is marketised, it is one where Osborne can state his intention to cut welfare, where the rich are getting richer and the poor poorer. Where UKIP nasty bigots are on the ascendant We Lib Dems are up to our necks in condoning it.
    So now the debate will be about government arrangements which is clearly easier than creating a fair decent society.

  • Matthew Huntbach 19th Sep '14 - 11:49am

    Simon Hunt

    Whether the are a homogenous whole or not matters little…my answer would be they are anybody who has to pay costly tuition fees imposed with the aid of Scottish MPs who’s own constituents don’t suffer the same burden.

    Yup. What I wrote at 11.42am yesterday might seem a bit rude, but I was trying to get across a view that is actually much more widespread among English people than one might suppose from how this thing has been covered. The “Better Together” campaign has tried to push this idea that all English people love the Scots and would be sorry to see the Scots go, and felt terribly upset about the prospect. That was rubbish. Most English people I know couldn’t care, didn’t see this as meaning much, didn’t think it would make much difference to their lives if Scotland got independence. However, when it is pointed out to them that the Scots get more government spending per head than they do, which means no tuition fees, no having to pay for NHS prescriptions etc, they can get quite angry. Perhaps the Scots need to think about this and how some of the anti-English sentiments expressed in the referendum might have come across down here.

  • Matthew Huntbach 19th Sep '14 - 11:53am


    A major factor in this whole debate has been the society we in the UK have become. It is unfair , it is marketised, it is one where Osborne can state his intention to cut welfare, where the rich are getting richer and the poor poorer.

    Oh sure, people moan about this. But what are they actually going to do about it? They don’t seem to be willing to actually vote for anything else. People complain about the unfair nature of society, but when it actually comes to practical measures to deal with it, such as higher tax, particularly on the main driver of inequality, property, they’ll scream out in opposition to it.

  • @Matthew Huntbach
    I couldn’t agree more.

  • While the SNP may perform well in the next Scottish elections, it did remarkably well last time and should be well pleased to hold what it has. I have no doubt the first elections for an independent Scotland would have been an SNP landslide and terrible for Scottish Liberal Democrats, though they would have recovered as a strong independent party.

    Debate will tend to return to how Scotland is governed and it’s about time the SNP was attacked for its cosying up to the unacceptable faces of capitalism.

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