“Calum Crichton is a student at Strathclyde University studying Finance. He supports a strong United Kingdom and believes that Scotland is economically, socially, and politically stronger within the union. He authors his own blog, from which this article is cross-posted.”
“This survey suggests that over the long run, there is no trend in one direction or the other. Support has tended to oscillate between around a quarter and a third in this survey. The most recent reading of 32% is to the higher end of the range.”
That was the finding of the latest British Social Attitudes Survey when it analysed how Scots felt about independence, according to one of the co-authors Professor John Curtice from Strathclyde University. This finding by itself was not significant. Indeed, the vast majority of polls and surveys have consistently put support for independence around the 30% mark. Sometimes it’s been very marginally above (as it is here), while other times it’s been very marginally below, but on average polls indicate only one-third of Scots want to break away from Britain.
But there were some interesting aspect of the survey, which have given an insight into how the debate about Scottish independence will probably develop. When asked about who should make the decisions for Scotland (i.e. not using the word “independence”) more respondents said the Scottish parliament (around 40%). Essentially the question means exactly the same thing as “independence”, but it’s asked in a slightly different way. The survey also discovered that the main reason most Scots don’t want to leave the UK is that they think separation would fail to raise the standard of living or improve the economy, and given the current financial climate economics is likely to be a key theme in this debate.
Given these results, it is obvious why the SNP are trying to sell the idea of independence by arguing that it would mean Scotland makes decisions for itself (this could be debated). That may be the case, but it does not automatically follow that because the Scottish parliament makes more decisions the living standards or the economy will improve. And this is the big problem the nationalists face. They will never be able to provide a cast-iron guarantee that separating from the UK will benefit Scotland, which is why the Better Together campaign will focus a lot on the economics, which strongly indicate that Scotland is stronger as part of the United Kingdom.
Indeed, being part of the UK means that Scotland has access to wider resources that can be pooled and directed to the areas which need them most. The challenges society faces these are no different in Scotland than anywhere else in the UK. There exists some inequality, and economic growth has been sluggish for a few years. But will a change in constitutional structure really change this? Surely by working together and sharing risks and assets Scotland, England, Northern Ireland, and Wales are in a much better position to face these challenges? Remember it’s not about who does what but about what gets done.
The other benefit the SNP have proposed for independence (which ties in with the “self-determination” argument) is that the Scottish parliament would have greater potential to attract business and address inequality in Scotland if it could control taxes. Of course, there are practical problems with this (which I’ve touched on previously here), but another point is that even assuming control of all taxes they would not vary much from rUK, simply because of the labour and capital mobility across the country. If Scotland was taxing business and individuals too highly it would be very easy for them to move to England or elsewhere. But nevertheless most Scots feel that Holyrood should have taxation powers, with Westminster remaining responsible for national defence and foreign policy. The debate over who should control what taxes and by how much could be an interesting one.
However, these “advantages” the SNP claim independence would bring can already be obtained as part of the union. Indeed, a quick look at the Scotland Act 1998 confirms that the Scottish parliament does actually have the power the vary the rate of income tax set by Westminster by 3p in the £1. And the Scotland Act 2012 allows parliament to control taxes on land transactions and landfill, as well as allowing it to introduce new taxes subject to certain strict criteria. It has even been suggested that if Scotland stays in the UK it will gain the power to set its own income tax rates completely, although Westminster has repeatedly said it will not devolve corporation tax (and with good reason). The pro-UK side will need to remain open to further devolved tax powers while ultimately showing the benefits of sharing a unified tax system (in particular corporation tax).
So who is likely to win? Of course, it’s impossible to say for certain, but there is no doubt that Better Together are in the favourable position. They have human nature (generally against change for change’s sake), public opinion, and the facts on their side. But in 2014 the nationalists will play on the increased national pride (with it being the second year of homecoming and Scotland playing host to the Commonwealth Games and the Ryder Cup). About 25% of the population will vote for independence no matter what, and about 40% will vote to stay in the UK no matter what, so each side will have to appeal to the 35% in the middle who are undecided.
It will be a close one, but I think Better Together will win.Share on Facebook