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Alasdair Drennan

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Refocus the Debate

Posted: 23/10/2012 18:17

Serious discussions about Scottish independence began in May of last year when the SNP won an unexpected majority in the Scottish Parliament and yet the debate has failed to move much further than the discussion of a referendum question. Now that details of the referendum have been confirmed, it is time to turn to answering the real questions the Scottish people have over the future of their country.

Growing weary of discussions over referendum questions, the country has began to question what exactly an independent Scotland would be. We have questions about our membership of the European Union, our currency, our membership of Nato, tuition fees for students from the rest of the UK and the future of public broadcasting in Scotland and up to this point; these questions have been left largely unanswered. Additionally there are other questions, which seem insignificant to most but will massively impact the lives of many. What will happen to bus routes that currently operate between Scottish border towns and their nearest city - Carlisle?

The SNP launched their Scotland Forward campaign with a document that set out a vision of what an independent Scotland would be. This document failed to answer, in detail, the questions the debate has raised. It talked of a commitment to the EU but failed to explain what Scotland's position in the EU would be and what the process for joining would be. This is important given that joining the EU as a new member state would require the adoption of the Euro at some point in the future. It has also become apparent over summer that the SNP position on Nato membership is no longer as clear as it once was. The party once took a hard line against Nato membership but it will now be debated at the party's conference in October whether this should be changed. More concrete information is required before anyone can make a well-informed decision on the future of Scotland.

Instead of presenting solutions to the problems that would emerge from building a new country, it seems that the campaign is being set up to manipulate a sense of nostalgic Scottishness into the voters. An independent Scotland today would be entirely different to the nation that existed before the Act of Union was signed in 1707. However, the referendum on Scottish independence is proposed to take place in 2014 - the 700th anniversary of victory at the Battle of Bannockburn. It is insulting to try to manipulate the electorate into voting for independence because of a battle that took place centuries ago.

In an event at the Edinburgh International Book Festival this year, two proponents of independence argued that focusing on the details of the process of becoming independent was distracting from the overall debate that, in their opinion, should be about what Scotland could do as a nation in the future. It was suggested that when devising the NHS, William Beveridge did not need to figure out exactly how many bedpans would be required in hospitals, in the same way that the SNP should not need to figure out what will happen to every bus route that operates across the border. There is, however, a very stark difference between these two examples. Had the NHS not been the success it turned out to be, it would have been possible to return to the status quo pre NHS, however, if a new Scottish nation fails to create the promised benefits it would be near impossible to rejoin the United Kingdom. It is important those campaigning for independence do not attempt to mould the debate into an abstract discussion of an invented Scottish nation whilst leaving the voters confused about what exactly they are voting for - the voters have a right to have their questions answered.

Similarly, it is important that the motivations for independence are justified. Those participating in the book festival's debate believed that the overwhelming majority of supporters believed that an independent Scotland would genuinely be better off economically and socially however this is a naïve belief. It is not difficult to come across those supporting Scottish Independence simply because of a dislike of the English or a sense that Westminster posh-boys are pushing the Scottish around.

Scotland should not break away from the rest of the UK over a 200-year rivalry or because 2014 was a particularly 'Scottish' year. There needs to be a much more detailed and transparent vision of Scotland made available in order for the Scottish electorate to determine whether independence is the best option for Scotland.

 

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