What Yes Means To Me: Reform, Democracy, Identity


For me, voting Yes was a journey. A few years ago, I began to research and found that Scotland’s assets were massively mismanaged under the British government. This does not represent why I’m voting Yes this year, however, but I’ll explain why in three words:

Reform. Democracy. Identity.

The Better Together campaign’s principle focus, so far, has been underlining the “safety” of remaining in the British union. While this is highly debatable in several aspects, one can sympathise with the basic principle of strength in numbers. Instead of “safety” in the British union, all member states now find themselves bound by an institution that is in desperate need of change. Safety has become stubbornness against change, and this is where true risk lies.

An issue I’ve often had pointed out by Europeans is the rise of Euroscepticism: isn’t the supposed ‘uncertainty’ about Scotland’s future EU membership odd when the UK government is proposing a referendum to leave the European Union? The answer is that it is hilarious to most and only serves to further undermine the No campaign’s efforts. I am undoubtedly pro-Europe but I also respect the need for reform. This is best done within the European Union, however, instead of arguing that the husband needs to change his spending habits while visiting the solicitor on how a divorce would size up. On the other hand, there is precedent for Scots to believe that the UK government is incapable of delivering reform. The AV referendum was pathetic and the various ideas surrounding the House of Lords — abolish, reform, burn it — now seem to be drowning in silence. There was a reform bill in 2012 but it was dropped due to Conservative opposition. Nick Clegg surely would have had a solid mandate at this point to threaten to drop the coalition in response, but instead complained they had “broken the coalition contract” and left it at that.

Repeatedly we hear complaints over the “West Lothian question” — that Scottish MPs may vote on matters that are devolved on the Scottish parliament and influencing English/Welsh/Northern Irish affairs unfairly as a result. Who allowed this to happen? The Westminster government. Instead of effectively dealing with this when first forming the Scottish parliament, it remains to this day in 2014. Apparently a decade is not enough time for the British parliament to solve this.

Reform in the UK is dead.

I have no plans to claim the UK is undemocratic. I am well aware that it functions as a democracy on a basic level but one must question the value of a union where one nation can always be overruled by another nation. A union cannot satisfy all members if it does not take into account each member’s views equally. England dominates the UK politically and economically and it remains as the dominating force in all of Westminster’s decisions. There are a myriad of issues where Westminster has failed to properly represent the three other Celtic nations in the British union, but I’ll take on the infamous Bedroom Tax for today. I trust you will argue about the other possibilities in the comments or in a physical fight with placards.

The “Bedroom Tax”, at its most basic, is the idea to charge people for owning a house with x amount of unused rooms that could be bedrooms. This is, in theory, a very good way to deal with the overcrowding and insane prices faced by citizens of cities like London. The problem is that it actually is not a tax whatsoever. Instead, it is a cut in housing subsidy for those on housing benefits. So instead of charging richer persons who typically have much larger property for far less people, it is the poor who instead pay for having a “spare bedroom”. Even if this spare bedroom is in fact for the equipment of disabled people. I could argue further as to how ludicrously misguided this policy is, but instead let’s look at public opinion in Scotland:

In Scotland, 38% of those polled either tended to oppose or strongly opposed the changes made.

In Wales, 33%. In North of England, 33%.

In South East of England where the British government is based: 25%.

You can’t help but feel there is a disconnect between the base of the UK government and the outer fringes of the union.

The best example of public opinion towards policy is of course the ultimate opinion poll: the election.

Just by taking a quick glance at the map from the UK General Election of 2010, I don’t think it’s unfair to claim Scotland doesn’t see eye to eye with the rest of the UK politically. Especially if you then look at the following year’s election for the Scottish parliament, the historic night where the Scottish National Party won 45.4% of the Scotland’s constituency vote.

In contrast, The Conservatives won 36% in 2010’s UK General Election.

For a bit more perspective, let’s look at Labour in the past:

In 2005 Labour won 35.2% and in 2001 they won 40.1% of the UK’s votes.

Despite various criticism across the media, the SNP remain the most democratically popular party. Yes, Alex Salmond has more of a democratic mandate to lead Scotland than any other UK Prime Minister in over a decade. Like him or not, Scotland voted for the SNP and the upcoming EU elections have them possibly taking a third seat of the six available.

A final point about how democratic this union is is that of when one of its members may not continue to use the currency that it helped to found. When Scotland is not allowed to use the British pound upon independence, does this not raise the question: who is? Wales wouldn’t then, surely. Northern Ireland wouldn’t be allowed to either…

But if England left the union leaving Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland behind, do you think they’d be allowed to use the British pound? I’ll let you answer that one.

The argument of identity is of course inevitable in the separatist debate. At the most basic, we can take a look at how the Scotland’s residents identify using the 2011 Census:

  • 62% of respondents described themselves as “Scottish only”.
  • 18% responded as “Scottish and British”.
  • And in total, 83% of respondents had “Scottish” as part of their identity.
  • Therefore, 75% of Scots describe themselves as “Scottish only”.

Identity is essential in the referendum as it underlines not only political differences, but also variance in linguistics and culture.

The British identity is currently in flux as political parties like UKIP hijack it to justify xenophobia — to suggest that a worker born in the UK somehow deserves a job over a worker born in Eastern Europe. I have long tried to ignore this development in British politics as the politics of an extreme fringe, yet UKIP are currently polling at almost one-third for the EU elections. In 2009, the party won 9 seats in the UK with 0 of these coming from Scotland.

The British identity, due to the rise of groups like UKIP, has become an identity obsessed with historical grandure and isolationism. Scotland, on the other hand, has looked towards joining the Nordic Union if it achieves independence; it is ready to take pride in co-operating with other small nations founded on mutual respect and equality.

As a young bisexual man, I think it’s important to highlight the recent votes for same-sex marriage as it reflects the individual parliaments quite well:

In the UK: 359 voted For, 154 voted against and 7 abstained. 69% of MPs in favour.

In Scotland: 105 voted For while 18 voted against. 85% of MSPs in favour.

Some could consider this a marginal difference but to me it is a key reflection of how Scotland is ahead. Scotland is a country that looks outside its borders; excited to contribute to Europe but also to help it change in the right way. The UK, instead, looks like an isolated relic the Empire crumbled into.

There are economic arguments aplenty, but even David Cameron agrees that ‘it would be wrong to suggest that Scotland could not be another such successful, independent country.’

Even if Scotland was temporarily poorer or found itself in difficulty along the line, is it not better to learn to live within your means? The United Kingdom spent the oil money irresponsibly, no one doubts this. Yet why do we trust it to do better with the rest than if we were to take control of it ourselves? Is the risk not worth it?

I would suggest the risk is not only worth it, but it is necessary. Scotland needs the freedom to control its own affairs, to raise and lower taxes, to debate on the international stage and to get it wrong. We all get it wrong sometimes and to avoid a step forward on the risk is to avoid doing anything at all. Some of us take this risk when to go to university. Some of us do it going for that job we always knew we wanted.

On September 18th, 2014, I will vote Yes because I want us to take the risk. I want to leave a union obsessed with wealth above principles. I want a country that has people as its principle.

Joseph L. Reid
National Collective

Joseph is an 18 year old student at the University of Edinburgh studying Chinese & Italian.

Image from Dan Taylor