The No side was accused of being too negative during the referendum. It was said we said ‘you can’t have this, you can’t have that.’
Well, it is true that the No side did point out the economic failings of the pro-independence campaign. Indeed as it turns out we greatly underestimated the economic risks. We said, in our White Paper of September 2014, “Much Cost Little Benefit; the economic consequences of separation”, independence would have cost the average Scottish family at least £3400 ahead. We were wrong.
We based those assumptions on $110 oil, not at the current spot price of $54. We credited Scotland with its geographic share of oil which was worth £5.5bn to the Scottish exchequer. At $54 oil the Office of Budgetary responsibility estimates that those revenues would fall to just £600m – a shortfall of £4.9bn, or an additional £3500 for a family of four, which is equivalent to 40% of the entire Scottish health budget.
Economically it is beyond doubt Scotland benefits from the Union. Oil is a big deal to Scotland because it supports public spending at a greater level of £1200 over person in Scotland than England – but it is not predictable, it is volatile, it is in decline and it is even beyond the control of Britain’s highest paid politician, Nicola Sturgeon. By being a partner with the UK, an economy eleven times the size of Scotland’s, the unpredictable nature of oil revenues can be smoothed out.
Given the collapse in the price of oil if we had voted Yes the SNP would have been forced into literally calamitous spending cuts and tax rises. Scotland’s annual fiscal deficit would have been more serious than that of Greece and without the Bank of England to support it.
However the Nationalists say all that ‘stuff’ about prosperity, or lack, of is negative. Scotland is a dynamic creative country and if only we were free all would be well. So let’s forget the economy and look at culture, education, security, and health instead.
Scotland’s diverse culture flourishes and is enhanced by being part of Britain. Scotland has been a partner in the Union for over 300 years. No one could deny the uniqueness and regional diversity of Scottish music, literature and cultural values. Rather than being emasculated by the rest of the UK our culture flourishes like never before. This is no Union of conformity but one that celebrates the differing ideas and lets them flourish.
The BBC magnifies Scottish influence in a way that an insular Scottish Broadcasting service never could. Scottish voices would gradually be dimmed from the BBC and many other cultural institutions if we had left. For example we hear far less Southern Irish voices on the BBC than Scot’s ones. By being an integral part of the BBC, BBC Scotland’s voice is magnified. This is true throughout the cultural sector. Scottish culture is therefore far stronger as part of the Union
Scotland has a number of world class universities. They are a major asset and a cause for national pride. However these institutions benefit greatly from being part of the UK. This is because they have full and equal access to the UK’s research budgets that would dwarf what an independent Scotland could ever offer. Their power and contribution to society is greatly enhanced with access to the broader British talent pool and to the national research bodies and grants. Ideas transcend boundaries and frankly an independent Scotland would have seen these ideas diminished as budget access was withdrawn and exceptional minds left the country. This would have led to a long slow decline similar to what has happened to the once proud Trinity College, Dublin. It is simply not credible to believe that our great Universities could have held their position separated. The Union is good for education.
We live in troubled times. Scotland’s security is greatly enhanced by being British. The UK’s armed forces are still amongst the world’s best, we have a seat on the UN Security Council, our intelligence and counter terrorism resources are world-beating assets. An independent Scotland could not hope to match these assets. Terrorism has arrived in the many of the least expected places from Glasgow Airport to Bali. An independent Scotland is much better protected by being part of the Union.
It is no coincidence that the three countries that were keenest to see the UK torn asunder were China, Russia and North Korea. Perhaps that say’s all we need to know.
We seem to recall that the NHS was a British invention, not especially a Scottish one. In 1944 Henry Willink, an Englishman, introduced the white paper A National Health Service proposing “a fully comprehensive universal healthcare system, free of charge and available to all citizens irrespective of means”. In 1946 Welshman Anuran Bevan brought forward the legislation that was passed by the Clement Attlee Government. An Act covering Scotland followed a year later. The history of British social reform shows time and again that Scotland does not have a monopoly of communitarian thinking despite the utterances of the SNP.
Indeed the NHS is stronger united. Scotland has many world class health assets, but it is not big enough to provide care in every sphere. Many of NHS Scotland’s surgical operations are performed in England. The Scottish nurse who caught Ebola benefited from care in London for example.
A truly national NHS allows for the economies of scale and specialisations that would not be efficient for a country of five million to do alone.
Opportunities to excel
The Union was born out of economic necessity but has evolved into a cultural family that has spread opportunity and brotherhood across the United Kingdom. While many British people have come to Scotland even more Scots have made their home in England, Wales and Northern Ireland – shaping new British institutions such as the BBC (Lord Reith), benefitting from education and research (such as Fleming discovering penicillin) and conceiving British icons such as Jaffa Cakes and Digestives to Bovril or Rose’s Cordial – or establishing the SAS. Beyond our shores, through Britain’s global reach, Scots have been responsible for building the world’s railways, enabling Honk Kong’s success and teaching the world football (we introduced it to Spain and Brazil!)
By comparison the nationalists promote a very limited view of nationhood. It is insular, narrow and frankly diminishing to Scotland’s many great ideas and philosophies. It is no coincidence that our greatest flouring [flowering / flourishing?] began perhaps twenty or thirty years after the founding of the Union. We continue to benefit from a cross-fertilisation of ideas and are stronger economically, culturally, educationally and in terms of health and security by being Scottish and British.