Why I’m supporting Yes this time

In September 2014, you could well be expected to have thought that it was all over. The “no” vote to independence – including mine – was 55%, the SNP broadly accepted the result, and it looked like there was no way the Tories would win an overall majority in 2015, effectively ruling out an EU referendum.

How things have changed.

In 2014, I started the referendum relatively open-minded but leaning towards a “no”, but by the end (and having been firmly put off the idea by Alex Salmond) I was quite firmly in the “no” camp.

But in my head I was clear about one thing. My priority was to remain a European citizen. I would prefer to do that as part of the UK, but if that wasn’t possible then other ways had to be considered.

The result of the EU referendum, and the 2015 general election, showed an England which was moving further and further from the political location of Scotland. England seems to be seeking some sort of isolationist utopia, where warm beer, cricket on village greens, and a gentle nod to the Empire is prevailing over the reality of the modern world. It is moving away from the traditional welcoming mat it has shown to immigrants fleeing war, persecution and poverty since well before the 20th century, to one where an inward-looking, “England First” approach is emerging (even with regard to its own relationships within the UK.)

Scotland’s views remain different. While we can’t pretend there have been no issues whatsoever, Scotland has generally been more accepting of immigrants in recent years, be they from Poland, Syria, or – yes – even England. We see the opportunities of working and living outwith our own borders, as I do, and are more therefore probably more accepting of those who choose to move to Scotland. And even if Scotland did decide to vote Conservative in a future election, at least then it would be because a majority of Scots voted for it.

There is no guarantee that an independent Scotland would automatically join the EU. France and Germany may be amenable, but there are other nations who might not be so (although the clout of those two and a desire to show the relevance of the EU should be enough.) However, it is virtually certain that remaining part of the UK will mean leaving the EU, and leaving behind the right to live, work and study in other European countries, and the many other positives that EU membership brings. Even if it results in a Scotland outside the EU or even the Single Market for however long a period of time, the long term gain from independence in our ability to make decisions for ourselves is now in my mind worth the short term pain.

I do hope, though, that we learn some lessons from the last two referenda in how to behave during the campaigns. We need to have a mature, sensible discussion about the issues and the risks on both sides of the argument, which are considerably bigger on both sides this time round. We need to respect people on the opposite side of the argument to ourselves and realise that, where there are disagreements we need to be sure that we are not making things worse by putting down or excluding someone just because we disagree on something – that’s not a liberal approach.

I don’t pretend this has been a straightforward decision. I could just have easily gone the other way, as Caron Lindsay outlines in her article. I am still a Liberal Democrat, and still agree with more party policy – almost all, in fact – than I disagree with. In fact, I’d still prefer a federal solution with some Scottish involvement in the single market than outright independence, but realistically this is not on offer. Tim Farron and Nick Clegg are doing a brilliant job or arguing a strong case against Brexit. But while the appeal of a better Britain is still there, I’m certain that it is not possible under the current constitutional settlement. So it is with a heavy heart but a strong head that I have realised it is time for something different.

* Keith Legg is a former councillor and activist in Fife, who moved with his family to teach in an international school in Cairo in August. The views above are written in a personal capacity.

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38 Comments

  • The rubbish that people spout on both sides of the EU debate really winds me up – On one hand you claim that leaving the EU will end our ‘right to live, work and study in other European countries’ yet at the bottom of the article it says that you moved ‘to teach in an international school in Cairo in August’. Last time I checked Egypt wasn’t in the EU either…

  • Eddie Sammon 14th Mar '17 - 2:28pm

    If I was Scottish I’d be very tempted by independence this time around. I’d want more concessions from Westminster, more democratic self-government.

    I’d see it as an opportunity to create a modern democratic state after Scotland’s wishes on the EU seem to have been completely ignored.

    As an English person I want Scotland to stay, but I sympathise with people showing defiance.

  • @anmaw – The author has no right to move to Egypt, he requires permission (a visa) to do so. He does have rights (subject to certain broad limits) to move to another EU member state – he does NOT require anyone’s permission to do so. He and every other British citizen will lose those EU rights upon Brexit.

  • Jack Watson 14th Mar '17 - 2:50pm

    As an English person who has made Scotland my home, I hate the idea of the UK breaking up. I want Britain to remain united.

    I’m instinctively against Scottish independence because I believe it is almost always better to pull those around you closer, not push them away. Independence will only increase rivalry between Scotland and the other home nations. We’re all part of the same family, and we should have an even but close relationship.

    The economic arguments for independence are weak in any case. Scotland, as a small independent nation, would struggle to negotiate a high quality trade deal with the EU, and would be vetoed from joining the EU fully by Spain (at least for the foreseeable future). The oil industry is struggling massively and relies on UK government subsidies. Successive Scottish governments have lacked restraint in spending, leading to a ballooning deficit.

    At this point I think only a massive devolution of legislative power to England can save the Union. That’s why I support an English Parliament, and putting each devolved administration on an even footing. We need a new British Federal Union.

  • In September 2014, you could well be expected to have thought that it was all over

    Only if you were blind and deaf. The SNP began visibly preparing for another referendum the very next day.

  • @ Paul. But that’s the problem, it’s not grounded in any actual real world reality and that’s why it was called out as ‘Project Fear’ – it’s implying you’ll wont be able to move or work or study in Germany or France or Ireland, when clearly you’ll be able to continue to do all those things, just like we did before EU citizenship came along in 1993, and just like we still do when we (in our hundreds of thousands) move to, work or study in other parts of the world. I strongly believe in a Federal Europe, but really, if that’s the best argument we put forward for staying in the EU it’s no wonder we lost.

  • @ANMAW – to clarify, in order to move to Egypt I had to get a series of inoculations and a medical check to apply for my visa, then get numerous documents notarised and legalised at my own cost. Even then the visa decision was at the mercy of the Egyptian government.

    If I’d moved to a job in France, I’d have just got in my car and driven.

    That’s the difference.

  • Margaret Ann MacPher 14th Mar '17 - 3:46pm

    @Jack Watson
    Jack, the Scottish parliament cannot overspend, it has to work within budget. This ‘deficit’ you talk of is projected figures in an independent Scotland based on current UK spending patterns.
    Why would an independent Scotland be vetoed from joining the EU by Spain? Please point me to the Spanish pronouncement.

  • @ Kieth. I’m pretty sure you won’t have to get inoculations to move to France after the UK leaves. Or perhaps we (‘Project Fear’) should claim that too??!! Do you see my point…

    I take your point on the cost of visas, although as you have moved there for work (rather than a student) I would expect your employer paid for both you and your family.

    Fair play for responding.

  • I don’t understand the fuss. If France decides that it needs your skills (through a company) then it will provide a working visa. It will be up to France whether or not it allows you to work with that company.

    I take it you’re working as a teacher? Yes all Arab countries require notarisation as there have been a lot of people using fake degrees to gain access to employment in those countries. They require health checks as there’s health insurance attached?

    I find Remain and the Lib Dems simply still do not get it and I don’t think, after all this tiem, they ever will; constantly seeing the world in terms of what institutions will allow rather than working with the pragmatic needs of each country. There is no HUMAN RIGHT to get up and roll into France as a UK citizen and demand a job in a bar. Indeed, unless you can speak French and can tackle the inherently inflexible labour market it would need a herculean effort to do so. So what we’re talking about is the presumed human rights of the well-connected and well-educated to walk through passport control with just the usual security checks instead of gaining a working visa.

    You do realise people at the bottom end of the market realised they were on the wrong end of the deal? Simply put they saw the elites bearing down on them while they swanned around the EU with the quid pro quo their own economic and personal sovereignty being pulled from under their feet through mass migration.

    That’s the actual reality of it. The scam will be ending. Politicians will have to explain (for fear of UKIP or something worse) not just numbers but WHY people are needed for each sector and region, how that dovetails with an economic and migration plan to protect everyone in a globalised international environment in a system of employment that lifts up their aspirations and allows them to fulfil their potential (isn’t that in the Lib Dems preamble?) May gets it. The Lib Dems don’t even think there’s a problem.

  • @Jack Watson,

    “I’m instinctively against Scottish independence because I believe it is almost always better to pull those around you closer, not push them away.”

    I agree with the sentiment.

    The problem is that Scotland is not in a situation where it can follow your advice. If Brexit goes ahead Scotland must either reject the EU or reject the UK. Holding the EU close is rejecting the UK and holding the UK close is rejecting the EU.

  • @anmaw – It is grounded in reality. Today if an Egyptian neighbour of the author wants to work in Germany, they must get permission/a visa to do so. The author on the other hand, as an EU citizen, has a right to do so and does not need anyone’s permission to do so.

    Upon exit, the author will lose those rights and have no more entitlement to do so than their Egyptian neighbour. They would both literally find themselves in the same queue to get permission to take up a position. And, under EU rules (which we never applied properly), citizens from EU countries have first entitlements to any jobs available in the EU so neither the author nor his Egyptian neighbour should be granted such permission unless there is no one suitably qualified/willing to take up the position that’s available.

  • There is no HUMAN RIGHT to get up and roll into France as a UK citizen and demand a job in a bar

    I read, somewhere, a good description of this as being between two different ways of seeing countries and immigration.

    One side sees countries as basically being public spaces, like shopping centres, parks, streets, whatnot, through which people should be allowed — have the human right, indeed — to walk freely. And if you want to keep someone out of the (say) park, then you can, but you better have a damn good reason (eg, they are a convicted kiddy-fiddler) and you better make sure that in doing so you don’t infringe anybody else’s rights.

    In this view countries aren’t ‘owned’ by anybody, or they are ‘owned’ by all humans equally, and governments have the job of maintaining and managing them as accessible to all.

    The other view sees countries as, essentially, homes to those who live there. And while visitors are (usually) welcome, they have no ‘right’ to enter uninvited: just as I don’t have the right to enter your home unless you invite me, I don’t have the right to go and live in another country unless that country invites me. And as a guest in another country, just like a guest in someone’s home, you have a responsibility to fit in with their lives, abide by their rules, tidy up after yourself, and generally behave well, and if you fail to do that then you can be kicked out.

    I thought that was very illuminating and a good way of seeing why the two sides so often seem to talk past each other.

  • @james – The overwhelming majority of our immigration has come from OUTSIDE the EU during each and every year of our membership.

    Were our pro-Brexit politicians genuinely concerned about this being a problem for “people at the bottom” they have literally had months since the referendum (and years since entering government) to do something about it. They haven’t and as yet another 100,000 have arrived here since, it is clear they won’t.

    A cynic might well conclude that many Brexiters’ problem with EU citizens has never been the numbers of them arriving here but rather that they can’t be exploited as easily as non-EU ones given that they have clear rights here under EU law while we are an EU member state.

  • Oh, what a mess this is. A crisis involving Scotland’s place in the union and the Irish border was one predictable outcome of the Brexit vote, but it would seem that the British public, with their blood up and revenge against “elites” in their hearts, didn’t seem to think that one through too well.
    I agree with Keith’s conclusions, if not every detail of his argument (there is quite a lot of cricket in Scotland and they make some of the best “warm beer” you can find). I think we will hear a lot about the economic impossibility of independence with $50 oil, but Brexit will bring new opportunities if Scotland can stay in. I am convinced an independent Scotland was succeed but they will have to embrace business friendly policies, which might represent something of a challenge given the SNP’s previous left wing positions. I’m already looking at property prices in the Borders !!!!

  • @Cllr Wright – The SNP are clearly separatist with respect to the UK but, at least in the last referendum, were not with respect to the EU. Nor, if they are prepared to join the EU and advance their case as a member would it be fair to describe that as “reactionary” since they would voluntarily be participating, rather than merely reacting, as an EU member.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 14th Mar '17 - 5:51pm

    My advice would be on this listen to Caron and Mark, often on different sides of our debates, as ever amongst any of those with a Liberal and Democratic attitude, more that is worth exploring in togetherness.

    The answers are in Carons piece before and Marks above.

    We do not benefit from seeking permanent separatism as a solution to another permanent separatism, the Scottish one worse, as a reunion once independent is unimaginable, a new EU style relationship across our continent , a possibility.

    We need to keep the UK together now more than ever.

  • `The overwhelming majority of our immigration has come from OUTSIDE the EU during each and every year of our membership.

    – except that now it’s even stevens with the difference being that those from outside the EU face stiff hurdles in claiming that economic migratory right. That’s the main point – that’s controlled essentially through Parliament. If you don’t have control over migration it’s impossible to have control over public services, housing and the jobs market.

    I don’t know what Lib Dems are scared of – after Brexit there’ll be a golden opportunity to campaign for open door migration figures with free movement from the EU AND the rest of the world.

  • Arnold Kiel 14th Mar '17 - 6:53pm

    During the last Scottish referendum, I was still residing outside of the UK, but hoped for No for reasons of tradition and out of a general distaste for any kind of separatism and nationalism.

    Now, with the UK government displaying such extreme separatism and nationalism, I am sympathizing with the SNP position. The value of independence is defined by the answer to the question: “from what?”.

    The utter disregard of the leave-camp for the Scottish (and the Irish) question is mind boggling: it started with the empty promise of leaving having no economic consequences and continued, after the vote, with the unkept promise to agree Brexit-strategy with Scotland and the other devolved administrations. The next escalation was dropping the single market and the customs union prematurely from the negotiation-agenda, followed by the expressed preference of no deal over a bad one. Tory-politics around an exit-payment to the EU make such concessions now almost impossible, and a fast breakdown of negotiations therefore increasingly likely. The May-regime is attracted by and running towards the cliff’s edge.

    Independence from a UK that acts with such radical disregard of every legitimate interest of massively affected people suddenly not only seems an inevitable choice, but a question of dignity and self-esteem. In just a few months, the UK has given Scotland more and better reasons for leaving the Union than the EU has given to the UK in 40 years to leave the EU.

  • I’m not sure if self-esteem can make up for the extra £1000 per person per year we’d have to find to maintain our current levels of spending.

    Margaret’s suggestion that the very real and substantial deficit is just projected figures reveals a lack of awareness of our finances. Yes, Scotland could cut the deficit by implementing vast tax rises that would make a Labour left-winger blush, or implementing the kind of public service cuts that would make Eric Pickles blush. The suggestion that the economy would grow to make up the difference simply by reducing aviation duty and corporation tax, is about as realistic as relying on “innovative jams”.

    I appreciate that many here would like to punish the current Tory Government for their incompetence over the Brexit referendum, but could you please find a way that doesn’t involve punishing the Scottish people? If you do fancy backing nationalism, please at least do your homework so you know the figures you are dismissing as worth it.

  • If there is a 2nd independence referendum AFTER brexit has taken place, Europeans should definitely not get the vote this time round unless they have permanent residency.
    It would be perverse to allow a citizen of another European country a vote to break up the Union of the United Kingdom.

  • Sturgeon has pulled off an act of political brilliance. She has seen an opportunity for a radical approach and taken it. Talk about shock and awe. Scottish Liberal Democrats would perhaps be advised to think out of their locked box as well – trouble is they seem to have lost the key!!!

  • nvelope2003 14th Mar '17 - 9:20pm

    If England was asked if it wished to leave the UK there would be a big Yes vote, We could spend our money on our own problems.

  • Jane Ann Liston 14th Mar '17 - 10:36pm

    Having one side of the Border in the EU and the other out is plain daft, at least as far as trade is concerned. I also note that the Scottish Borderers, who would be at the sharp end of any Sexit (copyright JAL), seem to be the most fervent advocates of staying in the UK, which should give all advocates of breaking up the UK pause for thought.

  • Richard Underhill 14th Mar '17 - 11:00pm

    The SNP are playing hardball, but in the era of 24 hour news the Tories have reacted promptly and instinctively. The Daily Torygraph has an article by William Hague (Foreign Secretary 2010-2015) analysing the potential moves as though they are part of a huge game of 3 dimensional chess. There is a lack of emotional intelligence and therefore a lack of empathy, just as there is on the EU. We ARE Better Together.

  • Keith: what sort of hard border are you hoping to see built between (EU) Scotland and England?
    That thorny issue, of course, being what Northern Ireland is wrestling with, and why they voted Remain.

  • There will not be a another referendum for years. Scotland can’t really hold one independently and the British government is not in any mood to grant one. Having said that, I’ve always suspected in the long term Scottish independence has been inevitable since devolution.

  • Kieran Seale 15th Mar '17 - 10:23am

    I agree. The country has been taken over by a right-wing anti-EU clique. The Scots are best out of it.

  • I’ve heard various arguments about why an independent Scotland could not join the EU and they all sound to be coming from an alternative universe. One of them was something to do with numbers of EU nations and how an odd or an even number would cause horrible problems. I can see the Spanish argument – they don’t want to give encouragement to Basque or Catalan independence and the Spanish government has taken a harder line against nationalist movements within its borders than the UK one. But the case is different. Spain has not voted to leave the EU. If Spain was awkward, some sweeteners (I don’t mean corruption, I mean concessions) would sort it.

    The best argument against Scottish independence, though, is very similar to the best selfish argument against Brexit – that the choice is between remaining in a larger unit where you have share of power, and surrendering that power while continuing to be strongly influenced by what that larger unit decides.

  • @Steve Way

    There is no queue to join the EU. If there were,no country would have joined since Turkey applied in 1987.

  • I think we have to see the irony in a country that was split half – half against a larger union ow trying to deny self-determination to a smaller country that is split half – half against a larger union ….

  • @Hireton,

    Oh yes there is a queue. It’s just not a British ‘first come first served’ queue.

  • And when Scotland splits off, the SNPs policies crash-and-burn and after two elections we have a Tory government with no interest in the EU, whilst economic failure in the rest of the UK has led to such a swell in pro-EU MPs that joining the EEA is now on the agenda, how will you feel about your nationalism then?

    Independence based on a current government is patently ridiculous. A referendum is not the same as a general election.

  • “My priority was to remain a European citizen. I would prefer to do that as part of the UK, but if that wasn’t possible then other ways had to be considered.”

    So remaining a European citizen is more important to you than remaining a British citizen? Goodness me, can you not see how any decent person thinks of that viewpoint?

  • Dear Keith Legg I suspect that the reasons that you needed inoculations before you worked in Egypt were medical and nothing to do with Egypt not being in the EU. Are you suggesting that given the choice you would not have had the innoculations?

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