I was pleased to be asked to contribute to the Spring 2014 edition of the Crossroads magazine, distributed in Fairmilehead. You can find the whole publication here.
I was asked to write about my views on the independence referendum, and how I thought independence would affect people in the local area. I have reproduced my article below:
The title of this publication is very apt for this discussion, as this year, Scotland reaches a crossroad.
We faced an earlier crossroads not so long ago when Scotland decided to back devolution. Devolution is a process and that process is not complete – I believe that we need to keep thinking about where power is best placed, whether in Westminster, Holyrood, local communities or with people themselves in Fairmilehead.
The best of both worlds
Independence isn’t the end-point of the devolution process; it is the derailing of it. The “Yes” vision of independence is one of a centralised state at Holyrood. Devolution, on the other hand means, that people elect politicians at different levels: power is spread more evenly, and we still have our say on how we run our affairs locally. The Fairmilehead Community Council and the contribution of the community organisations in the area prove this.
Through a successful and maturing Scottish Parliament with power over schools, hospitals, police and transport etc, and through the strength and security of the nations of the UK working together, we have the best of both worlds.
In fact, my idea is much bigger than nationalism: it’s the pooling and sharing of resources together, across the UK, for the common good and on the basis of need, with a focus on the things that bring us together not apart.
Strength and stability
In Edinburgh of all places, we know the benefits of having a strong foundation. When the global economic crisis came, it hit Edinburgh hard – exposed as we are with our world-leading financial institutions. However, our currency, our banking sector and ultimately our economy were protected through the actions of a strong central bank.
It is a foolish person who builds his house on sand, but an even more foolish one who does not learn from the storm. The government stepped in with a bailout for RBS alone that was 211% of Scotland’s GDP. When we speak about the lessons of the recession, surely beyond all else it is that the UK economy benefited from being strong enough to survive the storm.
Pooling and sharing
It isn’t just in the economy where we are pooling risk and sharing resources. In International Development – with its government department based in Scotland – our combined efforts see more return.
We pool our risk not just within the UK but internationally, and as a result we sit at the top table in the UN, NATO and the EU. Our shared resources give us the impact and influence in world affairs – and we are protected by strong and well-trained armed forces. Yes, these organisations don’t always get it right but we need to ensure we influence the debate.
The list of ways we pool and share is vast and the entire UK benefits – e.g. the BBC, where we pool £300m in licence fees as Scots but get back £3bn of programmes.
World leading universities
Scotland has more universities in the World’s Top 200 per person than any other country. We benefit hugely from UK and EU investment in research funding. Our scientists and academics at Edinburgh University, many who live locally, are backed by grants and funds from throughout the UK (they get 14% of UK wide funding on 8.4% of the population) – ensuring our inventions and discoveries continue to make Edinburgh a home of enlightenment, and allow us to punch above our weight internationally.
Businesses are now saying publicly what they have been saying to me privately, that they would have to consider leaving Scotland if there is a yes vote. My primary job is to stand up for my constituents. Any policy that undermines the jobs and livelihoods of residents in Fairmilehead should be resisted at all levels. Simply to ignore these warnings is to do a disservice to the local people we are elected to represent.
Perhaps our greatest shared resource is the Pound with a shared central bank. The Pound is a strong currency: providing us shelter from crisis such as in the Eurozone; allowing the UK to control its own monetary and fiscal policy.
Our mortgages and other savings are backed by a strong central bank. That means low interest rates for borrowers and guarantees if things fail. I am the first to say that the Pound in our pockets isn’t stretching as far as it used to: prices have been rising faster than wages for some time now. However, control over our currency means we can control inflation, interest rates and the flow of money in the economy – helping individuals and businesses.
At the time of writing, Alex Salmond’s plan is to enter a formal currency union with the remainder of the UK. That has been ruled as something which would not be beneficial Scots or the UK. So we need to know the Plan B. Are we to be like Panama and just use the Pound, putting the entire economy at risk. Remember, the SNP used to call the Pound “a millstone around Scotland’s neck” and preferred the Euro. However, surely the reasons for discounting the Euro are exactly the same reasons why the UK discounts a currency union with Scotland.
The impartial analyses produced by the Governor of the Bank of England and the Permanent Secretary to the Treasury should not be easily disregarded and for the Yes camp to merely suggest they will not take any of the UKs debt if they do not get their way is irresponsible. It would be catastrophic for Scotland’s economy.
Imagine two of your friends went out for dinner on the understanding that they would both foot the bill at the end of the meal. But at the end of the meal, one of your friends leaves, refusing to pay their share. Would you go out for dinner with that friend again? We all know what happens when we don’t pay our bills.
It is clear the only way to guarantee keeping the Pound is to vote to stay in the UK and is one of the most positive cases for staying.
Leading, not leaving
Scotland has a very proud history but the big social and economic challenges of today are not resolved by building a border but by breaking down borders – working together to create a better, fairer society.
I firmly believe that we should be leading, not leaving the United Kingdom. We can look forward to a strong covenant between the nations of the UK, with evolving devolution, if you will join me in voting no in September.