If you had been living in a cave for the last 3 years, with no access to the media, you could have been forgiven for thinking that you have returned to a parallel universe if you watched this week’s news programmes covering the Scottish referendum debate. Yes, it really has come full circle, yes you are seeing NO campaigners telling us that trading with neighbours with different currencies doesn’t cause any real problem and, yes, you are watching YES campaigners warning us of the costs and dangers of having a distinct national currency.
However, you perhaps might not be so surprised to see that the wider YES campaign is in turmoil, caught between the principle of self-determination and defending a policy that is specifically an SNP rather than a YES policy. While Dennis Canavan, Chair of YesScotland, Patrick Harvie of the Scottish Green Party and most of the other smaller parties that make up the Yes campaign are not in favour of a currency union with the UK, Alex Salmond is telling the BBC that “we” in YesScotland support this policy. Salmond, as often before, is the one who can’t see the dividing between his party and the pro-independence campaign.
The wider YES campaign has reacted by seeking a clearer alternative, to guard against uncertainty in the electorate, and is keen to see a Plan B and probably plans C and D.
The SNP reaction has been to ignore this and pursue a ‘fingers-crossed’ agenda that is very unlikely to succeed given that all of the main UK parties have said that they will take the advice of the Permanent Secretary to the Treasury who has advised that the ‘remaining United Kingdom’ (rUK) should reject the policy as not being in their interests.
On The Politics Show Scotland today (Sunday 16th February), The Scottish Government’s Finance Secretary has also ruled out an independent Scotland joining the Eurozone. He was quite clear on this, he wasn’t talking about the SNP, he ruled out a newly independent country joining the ERM, a pre-requisite for joining the Euro. Again, he forgets that this might be SNP policy, it isn’t a policy shared by YesScotland who are (supposedly) neutral on the issue.
The currency issue has blown up in the SNP’s face and the wider YES campaign could suffer from that. Hopefully the campaign will prevail and remind voters that we are campaigning for self-determination, the right to choose what do about Scotland’s currency, not fighting to support the SNP’s preferred manifesto.
Many YES campaigners fear the prospect of uncertainty among the electorate, it’s the perceived wisdom of both sides of the debate that uncertainty will benefit those who oppose Scottish independence. That’s why Better Together’s Alistair Darling ended his slot on The Politics Show by concentrating on the uncertainty created by the latest expert opinion on an independent Scotland’s membership of the EU. Darling’s position on this issue is absurd; there is at least as much uncertainty on EU membership if Scotland remains in the UK. The possibility of a Conservative Government in 2015 could mean that they will enter ‘re-negotiations” on their EU membership. It’s clear there is no appetite for a new treaty among the other countries, leaving the Tories with their “Plan B”, a referendum on the UK remaining in the EU. Opinion polls suggest that UK voters would most likely choose to leave.
This latest uncertainty has arisen after EU Commission President Barroso had stated that Scotland would have to apply to join the EU as a new state and that some member countries might veto their membership. While that is, strictly-speaking, true I believe it is unlikely. The EU has a one-track expansionist outlook. Rejecting Scotland’s membership, a country who would be a net contributor with a sizeable share of Europe’s oil production and vast territory in the northern seas, doesn’t stack up. We are asked to believe that Spain would veto membership as they don’t want to encourage their own internal secessionist movements. But this would not be necessary as Spain could veto any newly independent country from their own state, whatever they chose to do re Scotland. And, unlike here in the UK, independence for Spanish regions must be approved by the central Spanish Government. Accepting Scotland as an EU member does not set a precedent that would oblige them to accept independence for Euskadi or Catalunya.
While we guess at what outcomes may or may not be likely, whether Labour or the Tories will win the next UK election, whether Scotland can enter the EU or a Sterling zone, all of those developments will take place and be decided after the Scottish referendum. That means that, by definition, they are not certain. A state of uncertainty is the one thing we can be certain about. And what’s wrong with that? Anecdotally, most of the people who are pro-independence want to have the chance to change Scotland. They see the referendum as chance to vote for self-determination, and only then set about shaping the kind of Scotland that will emerge in the coming years.
The YES campaign should embrace the uncertainty, and place it at the heart of it’s campaign. The fact that we don’t know what will emerge is fundamental to the whole notion of self-determination.
Negotiations on a newly-independent Scotland’s EU membership can only take place after the negotiations to complete the process of independence. This means that they will likely be happening after the next Scottish elections. These elections, if Scotland votes yes, will be the first elections for the first Government of a new country. Given that it is unlikely that the SNP will see the ‘perfect storm’ that led to their landslide victory in 2011 (the voting system makes it virtually impossible) we could see a new coalition in Holyrood take on the task of EU negotiations, currency decisions etc. We might even see a Labour/Lib Dem coalition in Westminster finish the independence negotiations, head to head with a similar Lib/Lab Government in Scotland. The permutations are many, with the parties involved changing mid-negotiation a distinct possibility.
It is impossible to predict what will happen in the event of a yes vote, it’s time to accept that and be bold enough to take on the debate, not deny the uncertainty. Obama won his historic election in the states by doing just that, promising change. The US voters didn’t need to know the exact details of the change, they embraced the opportunity to open the possibility for something new and different. As it turned out, there wasn’t much change over there, but nothing was lost by trying it.
The Scottish voters are just as likely to go for that option, uncertainty is not always a negative option, call it “change” and it becomes a positive. For that to happen though, the YES campaign must bypass the SNP manifesto and stand on their own, don’t shirk from the difficult debates, only by winning those arguments can they win the referendum.
Jim Monaghan is a pro-independence member of the Labour Party