Debates over national independence are seldom rational. Since they deal with what may happen in the future, each side must convince voters that it is the better soothsayer. In the political battle over Scottish independence, which will come to a popular vote on September 18, two competing visions are clashing hard.
The “No” camp, which goes by the slogan “Better Together,” has run a campaign that focuses primarily on the costs of separation, which are hard to price but estimable. The “Yes” campaign’s response has been to dismiss such concerns as “fear-mongering,” highlighting instead how much better Scotland would fare after independence. In so doing, the Yes camp has rested its case on a counterfactual that can never be proven, seemingly a weaker hand to play.
Yet the key nationalist claims are not without merit. First, since the 1980s, Scotland has overwhelmingly voted for the Labour and the Scottish National Parties, whereas the United Kingdom has voted Conservative. As a result, most Scots feel that they often end up with a government they didn’t vote for. The establishment of the Scottish Parliament in 1999 went some way toward addressing the democratic deficit. But since the body has limited fiscal powers -- and no independent monetary powers -- it has provided only a partial fix. Second, Scottish voters, the Yes campaign argues, favor a generous welfare state backed by a government that defends public institutions from austerity. And third, most Scots, so says the Yes camp, want to be part of the European Union at a time when the British government is thinking about parting ways with Brussels, so independence would safeguard ties to Europe.
As a wish list, such priorities may seem admirable, especially if one’s politics stand center-left. But to what extent are they achievable? That question has formed the crux of the No campaign, which has shied away from extolling the benefits of the union and stressed instead the economic risks that would come with independence. The core in the independence debate has been over what currency an independent Scotland would use; after all, if you are not in charge of your own money, one has to question the extent to which, like a teenager who never leaves home, you are truly independent and can set your own goals.
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