Martin Browne, Law Practicer at Burton Copeland
Associate Researcher of the Manchester International Law Centre
I am British, for 300 years the island of Britain has been in full union with England and Wales as part of the same country as Scotland. Each, along with Northern Ireland is a strong resilient nation, uniquely and voluntarily part of the United Kingdom, one of the greatest, most powerful, innovative and democratic states to have ever existed.
I am British, (I am also Irish) but I am not Scottish, and so I have not been given the option to vote in this referendum on whether part of the Union dissolves and secedes from UK, but there is a strength of feeling in the UK in that the overwhelming majority of the population do not want Scotland to become an independent state, they think that we are ‘Better Together’. Allow me to set out a few reasons why.
Principally, there is no good reason to believe the Scottish people are currently being denied their right to self-determination, the future prospects of an independent Scotland are not sufficiently clear such that it would be a beneficial step for a new state to be created. At this point in time, and especially since devolution was established following a referendum in 1997, the Scottish people have had better representation of their interests than other constituent parts of the UK. Along with a directly elected legislative assembly that has broad competencies to govern domestic issues (and from 2016 enhanced tax raising powers), the Scottish people have had Members of Parliament in the most senior and influential ministerial roles in London including a Prime Minister between 2007-2010 and Chancellor between 1997-2010.
When Scottish interests have not been fully considered, this has been during periods of rule by the Conservative party. In this regard they are even more similar to those of us in the North of England who have been ignored and mistreated by illiberal, protectionist and corporatist policies. As Scotland has 1 out of 59 Conservative MPs, Greater Manchester has 2 out of 27, and 1 out of 16 in the North East of England. That alone does not justify independence, it does however justify remaining part of the country, conversation and national debate.
The UK is a large and active state in a number of international bodies. Critically for the UK, it has a seat on the P5 UNSC and is the third largest EU member state giving it an incredibly influential role based upon its history, population, and GDP which will all be detrimentally affected in the event of Scotland saying ‘Yes’ to independence. Other practical considerations include the loss of 10% of armed service personnel, impacting the ability of the UK to commit to current and future humanitarian commitments. More acutely, the soft power of the UK will diminish, although probably guaranteed successor-state status, the UK will no longer be seen as resilient in control of its own affairs, or able to contribute financially, diplomatically or militarily. There is a reason that Obama has called for the UK to remain a united, robust nation and that China prefers the strongest trading partner possible.
There are very few differences between the British-English and the British-Scots. Our recent history has been entwined. We share the same music, sporting heroes, politicians, television and films. There is more that binds us that divides us, the mutual benefits of the partnership should continue to develop, those bonds should not be destroyed when there is not sufficient popular will for the seismic change.
Throughout history, independence campaigns have resulted in overwhelming displays of public unity in favour of that significant and permanent step. In South Sudan in 2011 the margin of victory was 98%, following the breakdown of the USSR, the lowest winning margin was 50% (Latvia) and highest 100% margin (Azerbaijan). Even the agreement constituting the legal platform for this referendum states that “[it] should deliver…a fair test and a decisive expression of the views of the people of Scotland”. Whatever the result, it will be very close. The people of Scotland are split down the middle, there is nothing decisive about this referendum. That is not to say it will lack legal power and effect, against what may be desirable, the threshold to be honoured is 50%+1. But it may lack the respect required, it may make the process of establishing independence tricky and it may not allow an independent Scotland to thrive as it could continue to do so from within the United Kingdom.
I have no doubt that an independent Scotland, if it held overwhelming public support, with a concrete plan on building a sustainable economy would be strong enough to survive on its own. It is a beautiful country, rich in natural resources, dramatic landscapes and a raft of potential to exploit. If you have never been to Scotland, go if you can. However the campaign for independence has become too idealistic, proposing to retain all the benefits of being part of the UK whilst making everyone better off.
A vote for independence cannot be based on false promises, false hope. Leaders of the Yes campaign have showered voters with an expensive shopping list of policy proposals. There needs to be honesty in these debates, equally the UK should be honest about how the Scottish people can be treated better under future governments. Without a currency, a concrete and balanced economic plan, without negotiations and answers to questions on continuity in organisations such as NATO and the EU, I don’t think a politician of integrity would be asking the Scottish people to vote at all.
Within the one, are many. There has always been a sense of that feeling within our largely unwritten constitution. With the constituent parts of the Kingdom working together we are greater. With the youthful, re-energised, politically active Scotland, the UK will be able, in the next 18 months, to face the tightest General Election in 35 years, an EU referendum on a knife-edge, constitutional change, and a catalogue of many other unseen challenges, we need Scotland just as the Scottish people do.