Imagine, if you will, a city in the Borders. Not a city by the skin of its teeth either; a city that can legitimately compete with Glasgow and Edinburgh, and Manchester and Newcastle, for that matter. Sound ridiculous? Well for now, sure. But what about in an independent Scotland?
I spent part of my childhood growing up in the Borders, a few miles outside of Kelso. Whether North or South it’s rare I find someone who’s even heard of this historic town, let alone is familiar with it. By contrast, mention Liverpool and people all around the world will recognise the name, even if the only two references they can give you are a football team and the Beatles.
Is the idea of Kelso, or Jedburgh or Galashiels or Hawick (already world famous now thanks to ‘Hay-wick’ Avenue in Grand theft Auto V) or any of the other towns along the southern stretch of Scotland expanding to a level where their names are recognisable to Texans, Parisians and, er, Sydnians, optimistic? Seemingly unreal? Against all the odds? No doubt. But then who would have thought a tiny country within spitting distance of the Arctic Circle with a population that’s only recently broken the 5 million mark would have changed the world so dramatically and permanently?
Churchill, a man not without his faults but no slouch when it came to prose, perhaps put it best. “Not since the ancient Greeks has such a small group of people changed the world as much as the Scots.”
There’s a club no one would mind being a part of. Ancient Greece, the birthplace of democracy, philosophy, Aristotle, Archimedes, Plato, really good God myths and the Olympics. There aren’t many who get compared favourably to that.
For a bit of context, what clubs are we in now as part of the UK when it comes to comparisons? Well, we’re one of only two oil-rich countries in the world who don’t have an oil fund. The other’s Iraq. So there’s one.
Sure we’re rich even without one, but we already know that per capita Scotland will be richer. That aside though, what does our wealth translate to for the ordinary man? The centralisation of wealth and prosperity around the city-state of London. One of the most abhorrent rich-poor divides in the modern world. Food banks being set up not in the faraway and mythical land of Africa, but Sheffield, Derby and York. A wealthy nation does not by default equate to wealthy citizens.
So why would it automatically be different in an independent Scotland? It wouldn’t. That’s the simple truth. Saying, ‘it will be better’ is no more helpful or inherently truthful than saying, ‘no it won’t.’
Say rather, ‘it should be, it could be, and probably would be.’ Mistakes will be made, of that we can be certain. There will be corrupt politicians, ineffectual government agencies, public service bureaucracies and beer snobs ruining the pub for the rest of us whether Scotland is independent or not. But what could happen in an independent Scotland that couldn’t happen if it remained part of the UK?
The central tenet of the pro-independence argument is the most obvious. Imagine you are the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. You live and work in London, the financial centre of the world. You’re responsible for 60-odd million people. Do you focus on the 50+ million that live relatively near to you, or the 5 million that live in the wild North and don’t particularly like you anyway? Even if they do like you, even if you want to help everyone equally, the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. That’s just Spock– I mean logic.
Then imagine you’re the Prime Minister of Scotland. You don’t have to worry about the 53 million across the border; your only concerns are the 5 million at home and laughing at Johann Lamont. In which position are the 5 million going to be better off as a result of your actions? Then apply the same Spock to every other aspect of public service. Things are better already.
Then there’s the decentralisation of wealth. Wouldn’t we just end up with Edinburgh and Glasgow (very different but most certainly twin cities the like of which aren’t seen elsewhere in the UK) being dual Londons? Wouldn’t they suck up the money and the talent the way Vince Cable says the English capital does? Again, maybe. Independence isn’t a silver bullet that automatically solves the problem. It does provide the opportunity to address it though. An independent Scotland can look at how the UK has grown from the industrial revolution and note the mistakes made, the better to avoid repetition. Growth can be encouraged all across the country, from the Highlands to the Borders.
And so we come back to the City of Kelso. It’s not just this potential decentralisation of wealth that could help it grow. Imagine if it turns out Scotland is not just a good enough place to do business that companies such as Standard Life don’t immediately pack up shop and leave completely (insane though such a reasonable idea seems, of course), but is actually better for certain industries than the rUK. Just as companies could leave Scotland relatively easily and set up shop in England, so too could English companies relocate to Scotland. Picture a Newcastle call centre, enticed by a local government grant or more adaptable tax regime, popping across the border and providing several hundred or indeed thousands of jobs to locals. It’s not the most ridiculous hypothetical you’ll ever hear.
Yes, as I conceded at the start, such an idea is optimistic. When did that become an undesirable trait? Where is it written that reality must be disconnected from positivity? How dare anyone hold you back from trying to be the best you can be, because you might fail?
Still think the above is daft? Imagine that call centre deals internationally. Then imagine Scotland is an enthusiastic member of the EU and the rUK has just left it. Which is the better business model for them?
It’s a dream for now. Democracy, philanthropy and equality were dreams once. Dreams gave birth to great literature, wondrous constructions and technological marvels. Dreams connected the world through the Internet, dreams allowed us to care for our neighbours with socialised healthcare and dreams allowed us to touch the face of the moon.
Dreams could give birth to a Scotland that the greatest of us never dared imagine would come to fruition. In September, Scots have the chance to live that dream. I can’t wait.