I’m sure it wasn’t without a great deal of thought that you decided to intervene in the referendum campaign. I make a habit of ignoring celebrity and so all I know about you beyond a certain series of books is that you were born in England and reside in Scotland, and anyone North of the border displeased with that fact can sod off. As far as most of the Scottish Harry Potter fans I know are concerned, you are Scottish, and that’s that. So as much as I disagree with your stance on independence, I wholeheartedly support your right not only to your opinion, but a vocal one. The day we embrace a society where such freedom of speech is discouraged, I’m looking abroad (a wee while ago I would have quipped about moving to France, but Front National have stuck something of a spanner in that joke).
Unfortunately however, I couldn’t help but take issue with the content of what you said in your statement and I’m certain some people will be heavily swayed in their decision-making process by it, so whilst I’m sure you won’t have time personally, in case any of them should happen to be reading further afield today, I thought I’d take the liberty of writing an open response.
I like that you note there are friendly, considered people of both sides of the debate. Of course this is true, just as it’s true in practically every political debate one can picture. You go straight on from there though to note,
“…there is a fringe of nationalists who like to demonise anyone who is not blindly and unquestionably pro-independence…”
This is true, of course. Again though, as with every other political debate out there, bad behaviour is hardly limited to one side. Though you’ve (thankfully) avoided use of the single-word pejorative term used too often to describe Yes supporters, we both know you’re talking about the much feart ‘Cybernats’ of modern lore. Acknowledging and condemning such behaviour is not something I, nor any of the Yes supporters I engage with online or off, have a problem with. Your happy balance of before though is absent here. ‘BritNat’ is just as horrible a term to throw around as ‘Cybernat’ but whilst I unhappily assume you will be subjected to some abuse for making public your position on this, I doubt very much it will equate to the threats and intimidation levelled daily at Alex Salmond, Nicola Sturgeon et al. If you had changed your wording only slightly, I wouldn’t have had a problem.
“There is a fringe of nationalists on both sides who like to demonize anyone who does not blindly agree with them.”
I, for example, am not blindly anything, having come to my position as a Yes supporter after years of research. I’ve been looking into this issue since the 90s. There are no Scottish nationalists who seek to demonize me though. There have been some British ones. I appreciate that the paragraph of note may have been written with a sense of trepidation about the results of your statement, but you did add to the popular narrative that all abuse in this debate comes only from one side, and I’d hazard a guess that at least part of what you might receive as a result of your statement is based in part on that. I don’t defend it here; merely explain it.
You later go on to mention the RBS bailout and since I like to be bogged down in figures no more than most, I’ll be quicker on this point. The cost borne by the UK of the RBS bailout was about £43 billion. Doing the roughest of sums, Scotland’s share of this was less than £4 billion. Scottish GDP for 2008 alone, was just under £150 billion. So of course it would have been tough had Scotland borne this cost alone, but since 2008 was hardly a high blip as far as Scottish GDP goes, we could undoubtedly have afforded our share.
The real point is there: we could have afforded our share, because whether or not Scotland could have afforded the entire bailout alone is irrelevant. Banks are bailed out by the countries they operate in, not the ones where a building has a plaque on the side. That’s why when it came to that ‘English’ bank, Barclay’s, it was the United States of America and Qatar who funneled money in, to the tune of some £550bn and £6bn respectively. Whether Scotland was independent or not, London couldn’t have afforded not to bail out RBS, though you have to wonder if an independent Scotland would have allowed the risky gambling so prevelant in the UK capital. The whole discussion is irrelevant depending on what kind of mood Mr Darling is in however, as we’re frequently told RBS will be moving to London along with every other large Scottish business, so we wouldn’t have to worry about bailing it out anyway.
Later on, you note that “reasonable questions” are drowned out by accusations of scaremongering. I’d hesitantly suggest that I don’t think anyone has ever sought to drown out questions about independence whether in this fashion or another. Given the very obvious scaremongering that’s gone on however, you can hardly be surprised when people react with irritance to a question which was reasonably answered a long time ago.
Let’s assume on currency (despite one UK minister being caught out telling the truth) that there will be no union. Scotland can’t join the Euro immediately; it’s a legal impossibility. Its options then are Sterlingisation (which the UK government has said wouldn’t work) and an independent currency (which the UK government has said wouldn’t work). In Mr Osborne’s latest testimony on the matter, he ‘effectively; said that if Scotland wished to retain any currency of any sort, it had to be the pound as part of the UK. This isn’t scaremongering? Scotland couldn’t float its own currency with its own central bank as most other countries do? It couldn’t enter an informal currency union like many besides do? Despite claims that they’ve yet to produce a plan B, the Scottish government has said time and again that though it expects a currency union, its plans and Scotland’s development are not bound by one.
You then mention, “our heavy reliance on oil revenue if we’re independent” but when Moody’s looked at the Scottish economy, they (not known for their optimism) said it wasn’t ‘overly’ reliant. There’s no denying a large chunk of our finances come from oil (around 15% off the top of my head but don’t quote me), but there’s also no denying that even if you take away every penny of oil revenue, Scotland still has more or less the same finances as the rest of the UK, indeed better than most because the UK’s figures are artificially heightened by the money being thrown around the capital. Oil is the cherry on top; not the cake itself.
Next you mention, “getting back into the EU” which suggests, with all due respect, that you’ve fallen for some scaremongering yourself. I specialise in constitutional, international, and human rights law. I can’t tell you exactly what will happen with an independent Scotland and Europe, just as I can’t tell you exactly what will happen to Scotland as part of the UK when this Europhobic in/out referendum hits the UK in 2017. I can tell you what’s likely though. International law by requirement has always been malleable to the requirements of the day. The thought of European immigrants in Scotland (including ones such as yourself, should you choose not to opt for Scottish citizenship), alongside those Scots living and working throughout Europe, to say nothing of the millions of Scots still residing in Scotland, immediately losing their rights as European citizens & residents absent any choice in the matter because a small country off the edge of the continent opted for self-determination from a neighbour universally unpopular throughout the continent is not only palpably ridiculous, but in brazen opposition to the heart of the EU. Of course there will be negotiations, but the founding principle of the European Union is the protection of individual persons and states, not damnation of them because they brought to an end a badly written Treaty. Europe wants Scotland in for selfish reasons (energy provision being but one of them), and the fact that this specific set of events is unprecedented doesn’t change that.
I’m conscious of the fact that I’ve gone on some time, so I’ll try to be brisk with my remaining points. You spend a paragraph noting that some Scots are more concerned with sticking it to the Prime Minister than they are the future of their children and grandchildren. I’m not entirely sure what the purpose of this is, but I hope it’s not simply to deride. It certainly isn’t helpful. You quote the IFS which claims to be independent, but then so does The Independent and there are few who would agree. You quote ‘Scotland’s Choices’ saying, ‘it would be a foolish Scottish government that planned future public expenditure on the basis of current tax receipts from North Sea oil and gas,’ which is true, but no one is doing that. Oil receipts fluctuate; as you’re no doubt aware they’re down about four billion this year, but that’s a direct result of record investment by the major oil companies and you can say what you will about their ethical practices, but they know how to turn a buck. Over five, ten, fifteen, twenty years, revenues balance out and everyone with a grain of sense bases future finances on the basis that in good years we’ll save to cover the shortfall in bad ones. Whereas oil has been a boon to every other country in the world that’s discovered it, why is it suddenly a curse when it comes to Scotland? As I said above, it’s a sizeable chunk, but it’s not all our economy is.
You mention the threats to medical research, or what, from my reading of the letter you mention (which, while not signed by nobody, did just have fourteen signatories) the possible, we’re-not-sure-but-maybe, threat to medical research in an independent Scotland. Firstly the idea that there’ll be some sort of intellectual iron curtain between Scotland and the rest of the world is ridiculous. Research is conducted at the best facilities you can afford, and universities cross borders every day in the pursuit of knowledge. Even if that were the case however, you mention MS as a personal cause. I have history with Alzheimer’s myself, and would very much like to see greater treatment and eventually a cure for it developed in Scotland. There’s no practical reason for this; I’d just like it to be something my little club gave to the world. They key is the cure though, and in the end I don’t care if it’s developed in Dundee or Denmark. Neither do investors. Drug companies chasing a pill that cures cancer want the patent; not the pride of having it developed next door. Global medical research will continue whether we elect our own fully-empowered government or not.
You’ve mentioned the further powers we’ve been promised, but let’s not forget Westminster parties have form on this. The BBC’s Andrew Neill, no great friend to the idea of independence (as in, he ardently hates the idea), put it best when he said every new power Scotland had received was because London parties were scared of the SNP. Labour and the Tories have consistently been opposed to devolution. Tony Blair was no great fan either, but he was an opportunist and concerned considerably more with violence in Northern Ireland than representation in Scotland. Now all of a sudden the SNP are the majority party in a parliamentary system specifically designed to prevent such an occurrence, and greater devolution is on the cards again? The Tories have outbid Labour, and even their plan is based on ‘greater responsibilities for tax-collecting.’ I’m all for greater responsibilities for the Scottish Government, but without the ability to decide how that revenue is spent, what’s actually being offered is more red tape and more costs to bear north of the border, for no return. It’s a swindle, based on the hope that the average voter can’t tell the difference between ‘responsibilities’ and ‘powers’.
Your idea of us being the most popular kid on the block should we choose to stay is without foundation. By contrast, the idea that we’ll be punished if we do has been confirmed (albeit in somewhat murkier language) by the Westminster parties time and again. Barnett will not remain as it is. Were that due to Scotland keeping its own revenue and having greater powers then that would be one thing, but it’s not. Almost every major politician you can think of that has reason to discuss it has said we should get rid of it. There will be no reward if we stay. We won’t be able to dictate terms, because we’ll have no more leverage than we did yesterday. We won’t be in a “heady position as the spouse that almost left,” we’ll be the abused party going back for more because we’re scared to make a go of it on our own. I appreciate that’s a distasteful analogy. It is however, an accurate one.
The fact that “separation” as you term it will be difficult doesn’t matter. Whether it takes five minutes or five years, if we do nothing the time will pass anyway and only through action will we be able to begin to fix things.
I appreciate you’ve likely thought about this a long time. I understand that given your substantial donation, you’re unlikely to change your mind. That’s not personal; no one likes to go back on an investment; it’s human nature. On the off chance you read this though, please believe me when I say the following.
I’m not blind to anything. I’m not a cybernat. I don’t hate people who disagree with me on this issue. I have huge amounts of respect for you as an artist.
You’re on the wrong side, Jo. Of all the political decisions either of us will ever make in our lives, this is by far and away the biggest, and you’re just dead wrong. Please change your mind.