|He can talk the talk, but Alex Salmond has no real plan for Scotland’s future|
This Thursday will see the biggest vote in modern British history, one which could trigger the break-up of our nation if the people of Scotland side with First Minister Alex Salmond and his dreams of independence. Such a possibility would leave Britain and Scotland worse off, and therefore it is vital that the No campaign prevails. The Union is an arrangement which brings multiple benefits to its constituent nations, and a vote for independence would drastically weaken the rest of Britain whilst plunging Scotland into a highly uncertain future.
Unfortunately, it is the Yes camp which seems to have the upper hand at the moment, and although polls remain too close to call there are fears that Salmond could well swing the vote in his favour. It would be disingenuous to deny that the First Minister is a highly skilled and canny politician, and as a result he is single-handedly responsible for the upturn in the Yes campaign’s fortunes. Alongside other figures from across the political spectrum including Nigel Farage, George Galloway and the late Ian Paisley, Salmond is a combative rabble rouser who fuses populist rhetoric with a deeply-held ideological commitment, with devastating consequences for his political opponents. He is certainly not a man to underestimate, and has provided the pro-independence campaign with clear and authoritative leadership.
In comparison, the No camp has appeared rather tired and disorganised, accused of running a negative and scaremongering campaign and blighted by its multi-party makeup. That isn’t to say that it has lacked competent leadership, and Alistair Darling should be commended for the civilised way in which he has steered the campaign, often in contrast to Mr Salmond’s bullyboy tactics. However, the First Minister has been able to get away with painting the No camp as a front for the Conservative Party, an accusation which goes down well in Scotland’s socialist heartlands but in reality is simply not true; after all, the two most prominent figures fighting to save the Union are Mr Darling and former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, both Labour politicians.
Indeed, the Conservatives have played a minimal role in the run-up to the referendum and David Cameron has appeared very relaxed about delegating responsibility to Mr Brown and Mr Darling, despite their political differences. After all, the Conservatives are a toxic brand across Scotland with only one MP and a visible Tory presence would have simply played into Alex Salmond’s hands, providing him with futher ammunition to use against the No campaign.
So why is it so crucial that the people of Scotland reject the chance of independence on Thursday? The argument for the Union is a complex and multi-faceted one, but ultimately it should come down to one core question – would an independent Scotland be a more prosperous, powerful and influential nation? On the surface, it is easy to see why independence is so tempting, but in reality it would be highly detrimental, condemning Scotland to a future of political isolation and economic instability. Alex Salmond likes to make grandiose promises, yet much of what he has promised will almost certainly not be possible.
For example, Mr Salmond has declared that an independent Scotland would seek to join the European Union, but this would need to be approved by all current EU member-states, an unlikely prospect given that the Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has declared that he would veto such a move. Furthermore, even if Scotland did enter the EU it would be obliged to adopt the euro as its official currency, despite the fact that this has already been ruled out by Mr Salmond. This would be deeply problematic, and so far Salmond has avoided confronting this crucial issue, an area which has proved to be his biggest weakness.
According to Salmond, an independent Scotland would seek a currency union with Britain, thus retaining the pound, but such a proposal has been repeatedly ruled out by Chancellor George Osborne as well as the Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney. Therefore, it would seem that the most likely scenario would be Scotland using the British pound without exercising any control over the running of a central bank, a system of ‘Sterlingisation’ similar to Panama’s use of the US dollar. This would inevitably prove to be disastrous for the Scottish economy and would almost certainly trigger spending cuts and tax increases.
Although Alex Salmond has made a compelling emotional case for Scottish independence, it would be wrong to claim that in contrast the pro-Union case is simply concerned with the rather sterile questions concerning international alliances, currency unions and budgets. Indeed, I believe that the best arguments from the heart are on the side of the No campaign, even if they have been less passionately presented. A vote for independence is a vote for separation, a vote for division, a vote to end one of the most successful unions in world history.
The people of Scotland share so much in common with the rest of Britain, and it would be a tragedy if those same people were to become foreigners for the sake of some constitutional tinkering. Some of the most amazing places in Britain are to be found north of the border, from the buzzing cities of Glasgow and Edinburgh to the beautiful and imposing scenery of the Hebrides and the Highlands. I don’t want these places and their inhabitants to become a foreign land, and instead we should continue to celebrate our unity as well as our vibrant diversity.
Political change will come to Scotland regardless of Thursday’s result; even if independence is rejected, all parties have accepted that plans for further devolution will be required, and quite rightly so. Such reform would signify a positive step and would be a far more preferable option than independence, granting the Scottish administration greater power whilst still remaining part of Britain. Independence may seem like a glamourous and exciting option and it certainly has a very convincing salesman in Mr Salmond, but hopefully the electorate will come to the conclusion that the Union is far too important to be broken up – we really are better together, and I urge the people of Scotland to vote No on Thursday.