The question of the referendum is not "could Scotland be independent?", but "why should it be?"by John McTernan / July 24, 2014 / Leave a comment
This piece is a response to Neal Ascherson’s cover story on the Scottish independence referendum in the August issue of Prospect
“Aye right,” I thought when I finished Neal Ascherson’s article, “Why I’ll Vote Yes,” in the current issue of Prospect. It’s the most Scottish of phrases. The only one in any language I know where two words for Yes when put together mean No.
Neal, like me, has lived in London for decades, and, again like me, loves Scotland. As Hugh MacDiarmid wrote: “The rose of all the world is not for me./I want for my part/Only the little white rose of Scotland/That smells sharp and sweet—and breaks the heart.”
But if I was living in Scotland, on 18th September—like most proud and patriotic Scots—I’d be voting No. For 30 years now public opinion in Scotland has barely shifted. Throughout that period at least six out of ten Scots have not supported separation, and four out of ten or fewer have supported it. Through Tory and Labour governments, whether the economy is booming or crashing, those figures have stayed stubbornly the same. That’s a story that is not reflected in Neal’s piece, and for good reason: he was speaking for himself. I want to explain why his passion and eloquence are not finding an echo among a majority of Scottish voters.
Robert Louis Stevenson rarely wrote in Scots, but he has a wonderful phrase—”a strong Scots accent of the mind.” There’s one word that expresses that “accent”—it’s “Why,” the fundamental Scottish word. It was the question asked by David Hume and Adam Smith during the Scottish Enlightenment. It was the question that spurred those great Scottish inventors and scientists from James Watt, who improved the steam engine in the West Midlands, to Sir Alexander Fleming, who discovered penicillin in West London.
Yet it is the great un-answered question of the referendum. Not could Scotland be independent? Of course it could. But why should it be independent? What are the benefits? What are the costs and risks? Neal can’t tell us. He sets out many noble aspirations for Scotland, but fails to explain why or how independence would achieve them.
His case is really that Scotland should leave the United Kingdom because…