Referendum ReflectionsJust a week to go.

On some levels, the ‘Yes’ campaign has succeeded. It seems a great many people in Scotland – approaching half, possibly more, are considering voting for a vision that has been painted for them. A vision of hope and opportunity, and even of a ‘Braveheart’ freedom.

Those who have had questions for the nationalists have often been dismissed as scaremongers. Now the polls seem to suggest many do not care very much about the risks. In the last couple of days I have heard leaders of the ‘Yes’ campaign telling people to put aside their fears, and vote ‘Yes’. There is no doubt that a fundamental tenet of the ‘Yes’ campaign has been to ignore or minimise the significance and the consequences of what they propose. It is as though they are saying, “it may be a leap into the dark, but just hold hands and jump with us, and all will be well.”

There is no doubt that the structure of the Referendum question, the form of the debate and the content of the White Paper presenting the nationalist vision, have all been framed to enable the ‘Yes’ side to use the most positive and optimistic language. They have had the best songs and they have sung them well. But if you are considering voting Yes, please think about some key things first…

Those who have sought to win your vote have done so without care for whether all their promises can be afforded or are even feasible. The gap in  funding runs into £billions per annum, which will translate in practice into higher taxes, cuts in some services (in order to maintain others) and a probable setback in economic prosperity that could lead to less jobs and more unemployment rather than the reverse that they claim. This gap in funding, the lack of attention to the implications of their plans, is one of the great deceits of the nationalist leadership’s approach. Indeed, at the heart of the nationalist case for separation from the United Kingdom there are a number of such fundamental deceits. Another is…

It is not the number of barrels of oil left in the ground that is the greatest concern. Nor even the extent to which we will be dependent upon its volatile revenues. Rather, it is that the nationalists are pretending that they can spend the taxes raised from oil twice. Once, to create an oil fund to protect the future. And then again, to pay for all the services that they promise to deliver meanwhile, many apparently for ‘free’. And the proof of the oil deceit is not so very far away, in…

In Norway, ordinary people in the street can tell you they do not get their high levels of social care on the back of oil alone. As they built up their oil fund, they needed high taxes to pay for their public services. Their social care and welfare benefits are exceptional, but they have been paid for from high taxes, that continue to this day. It is a model we could follow, but no nationalist leader has been prepared to be honest about it.

The evidence is there if you look for it though. Nicola Sturgeon has already admitted that initially they plan to borrow money to put into the oil fund. The nonsense of borrowing in order to save is simply a device of course. To avoid admitting that eventually we will inevitably have to pay higher taxes to pay for all the ‘free’ things and the more things that have been promised, while meanwhile the oil money goes into the fund for the future, as it surely must if we are to have any hope when the oil runs out. But there is more to the Nordic story, indeed a whole…

The use of the Scandinavian model is actually another of the big deceits of the Yes campaign. Alex Salmond has always loved the idea of being able to point to a close neighbour and say ‘if they can do it, why can’t we?’ Superficially it is a persuasive argument, until of course your leading examples fail, as happened with Iceland and Ireland. These countries, that for so many years the First Minister’s argued justified why we should take the great leap of faith, failed badly in the 2008 financial crash, just when Scottish banks were being saved by the Bank of England and the strength of the UK Treasury. Most would have dropped the overly simplistic ‘others can do it, why can’t we’ after that. But not Alex Salmond. He seamlessly, some would say shamelessly, moved on to use Scandinavia in general and Norway in particular as the new models upon which we should base our future and take comfort from.

They are rich and happy, and in the case of Norway they have a lot of oil, so why can’t we be just like them? This argument now underpins why we are supposed to turn our backs on the people of England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Apparently, in the future we are to have more in common with the people of Scandinavia. The problem is that as nice as they are, the Scandinavian people are not remotely like us, culturally, socially or in terms of any kind of shared heritage. And even the Scandinavian people themselves look on in bewilderment as they hear us being conned into this dream upon which Scotland is to be based.

The beauty of the nationalist logic of course is that they just pick the best bits and ignore the rest. This approach serves them well in so many areas and certainly in regards to Norway and the Scandinavian dream. So with the oil fund/high tax rate combination, the nationalists keep ‘forgetting’ the second part of the pairing. Elsewhere, they describe an idyllic country where Norwegians are cocooned in generous social benefits and all go off to their woodland huts at the weekend. They forget to mention that meanwhile they still have soup kitchens in Oslo or that people in Sweden regard the Norwegians and some of their practices like the use of those wooden huts, as rather old fashioned and conservative.

The Scandinavian dream demonstrates some of the weird and wonderful spectrum of possible – some might say impossible – futures being contemplated by various factions within the ‘Yes’ campaign…

It has become clear over time that as well as what we might call the new ‘Scandinavian tendency’, we have groups amongst the most active campaigners within the ‘Yes’ movement determined to see a Future Scotland take a very radical course, no matter the current views of the people of Scotland. It is no doubt assumed that we will be ‘won over’ in due course.

There are Ministers in the Scottish Government, and many leading members throughout the ‘Yes’ campaign, strongly of the view that following independence, we would have another vote to remove the Monarchy. Alex Salmond keeps quiet about that, suspecting he would lose many ‘Yes’ votes  if that was widely understood. He maintains the pretence through his White Paper that the Queen will stay, ignoring how many of his most ardent supporters are determined to jettison that commitment once they get in control. They argue removing the Monarchy is a natural and critical next step, in creating a new Scottish Republic. Who could fill the new President’s role if the more hard line nationalists eventually get their way? Perhaps the First Minister might ‘reluctantly’ step into the breach….

Other factions in the ‘Yes’ camp are determined to pursue a hard left socialist vision in which big business in the widest sense is viewed as bad, with business break-ups and nationalisation used to create a new order. One in which the only good business is a small business or one in public ownership.

Then we have well-intentioned environmentalists and nuclear disarmament activists. Their view that the break-up of the UK can aid their respective causes, is not shared by fellow activists in the rest of the UK, who feel aggrieved at being abandoned for political expediency, when for many the best way to progress these agendas is at the very least UK-wide, but ideally globally, rather than unilaterally and parochially in a small part of a group of islands off the coast of Western Europe.

But what of the greatest nationalist deceit of all…

The suggestion that in Scotland we care more about social justice and poverty than people across the rest of the UK is undoubtedly the most cynical of nationalist assertions. It goes to the very heart of what is wrong with nationalism. To suggest that people in Scotland, simply because of who we are and where we live, are ‘better’ and for the purposes of this campaign, are more caring than others. And, in order to justify the break-up of the United Kingdom, we are to believe that to improve further,  we must separate and turn our backs on the people of the rest of the UK.

This is all nationalist nonsense of course. But it is a vision that a Future Scotland is to be built on. I do believe that Scotland and its people are marvellous and remarkable, but it is truly nationalist nonsense to suggest that we are better than anyone else, or that we will become even better by separating ourselves from those we care for and have lived, strived and achieved so much with over the course of countless generations.

So, given the mountains of words said and printed by those proposing the case for breaking- up the United Kingdom, or alternatively those arguing that we are truly and surely, better together, do we all know where we stand?

I have tried to emphasise to those thinking of  voting ‘Yes’, that they need to understand how and why their own Scottish Government has set out to mislead them. People might consider voting ‘Yes’ for a wide range of very positive principles, but it still means they must align themselves with a divisive and insular nationalism that has throughout this campaign set out to drive wedges between people based on false or grossly exaggerated grievances. If you understand that but are still wanting to vote ‘Yes’, then I wish you well. My opinion has no more value than yours.

I look forward to a time well beyond the 18th September, when the dust has settled on all the rancour and wrangling that I fear will now inevitably follow whatever the result of the vote. With that behind us, we can again see our family, friends, neighbours and work colleagues as just those that we care for and live and work with, rather than as people who have had to take sides in this most divisive of debates.

For all that the ‘Yes’ side have enjoyed this campaign, it deeply saddens me that this has been at the expense of so many on the ‘No’ side who have been made to feel uncomfortable, derided, and sometimes like strangers in their own land. Silenced, by bullying and intimidation. Put off speaking their mind through fear of those who shout loudest and who are so happy to denigrate their opponents. While there has been unacceptable behaviour on both sides, those who have tried to be active online or on the streets in promoting the case for staying together have encountered abuse and a lack of respect time and again. They know the truth of who has set out to silence and deride them, and above all else, the First Minister has set the tone with his cynical, divisive and manipulative onslaught on so much that is good about this lovely country of ours.

I am concerned about whether I have done enough to confront the wrong doing of the Scottish Government and their corrosive nationalist propaganda. Sadly, if the ‘Yes’ vote is in the majority, I fear that some of the very people that have brought their passion to that campaign, will soon become deeply disillusioned with Alex Salmond and his brand of nationalism. They will be let down along with the rest of us, as it becomes clear that winning one man’s place in history has always taken precedence over the future well-being of the people of Scotland. There is even now, a growing sense of triumphalism in the nationalist camp, but there has been much to regret in how they have reached this point. The cost has been a heavy one. And we might all being paying for it for a very long time to come.

On the 18th September the nationalists want us to choose to turn our backs on the people of the rest of the United Kingdom – our families, friends and fellow countrymen and women. As I have said, the nationalists have had some good songs and have sung them well. But I hope with all my heart and mind that the great majority of the people of Scotland will  vote ‘No’ on the 18th September, recognising as they do that ‘Separation’ , no matter how cheerfully and confidently it is sold, is still a sad old song of the past.

Keith Howell for