Scottish independence: placing blind trust in a meaningless question

There was a discussion on Radio 4 this morning about a possible referendum on the EU. One contributor made the excellent point that asking a simple “in or out” question without more information offered on what either of these options would actually mean would be ridiculous. It would, she said, be asking people to make a decision based on “blind trust – and that’s not democracy”.

This brings me back to the Scottish referendum. It asks a very simple question: “Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country?” But it gives no information at all about what that would mean. That’s obviously because no one knows what it means.

Whatever the SNP might say, they can have no more idea than the rest of us what might or might not happen.

They can’t tell us what currency Scotland would have, for example; how much oil it would have; how much tax revenue it might or might not raise (the list of companies talking publically about “registering entities” down south is getting pretty long); whether it will be in the EU or not; whether it will continue to be able to subsidise its renewable energy industry with UK taxpayers money; or who will regulate its financial industry.

The SNP can’t even tell us – and this is pretty vital – who will be in government on the day of independence. The independence vote is on 18 September, 2014. The SNP thinks that negotiations will take about 18 months – taking us to March 2016.

But most people think it will take a lot longer than that. And there’s a Scottish parliamentary election on 5 May, 2016, one which the SNP are looking pretty unlikely to win. The polls show Labour well ahead and the SNP not much more popular than the Tories.

So here’s the problem: in this referendum Scottish residents are being asked to make a decision about their future and their children’s future based on “blind trust” in a political party that may not even be in power when the time comes.

Compare this with the question put to the people of Quebec when they had their own referendum on independence back in 1980. The question did not ask for any final decision. It simply asked for a mandate to negotiate for sovereignty with any deal being put to the electorate again for a final decision.

The question was this. “The Government of Quebec has made public its proposal to negotiate a new agreement with the rest of Canada, based on the equality of nations; this agreement would enable Quebec to acquire the exclusive power to make its laws, levy its taxes and establish relations abroad — in other words, sovereignty — and at the same time to maintain with Canada an economic association including a common currency; any change in political status resulting from these negotiations will only be implemented with popular approval through another referendum; on these terms, do you give the Government of Quebec the mandate to negotiate the proposed agreement between Quebec and Canada?”

Better isn’t it? I think Scotland needs to start again.

  • jimtaylor

    I am a Scot living in Scotland and I agree with this article right up until the very final sentence where Merryn who is an English person living in Scotland, presumably to get the best that Scotland has to offer, but sounds more like a Colonialist than a settler.
    It is not Scotland that needs to start again, but the SNP!

  • Merryn

    OK good point – the SNP needs to start again. But less of the anti English stuff please. It really doesn’t help.

    • jimtaylor

      My comment was not anti-English, it was anti-anti-Scottish.

      Nobody will know whether Scotland wants Independence until after the Referendum, consequently there is a huge distinction between Scotland and the SNP.

  • mdparis

    Quebec’s 1980 question was not clear because the nationalist government wanted to give the impression that nothing radical was about to happen. This was misleading. Following a second (very close) referendum in 1995, the federal government introduced the `Clarity Act,’ hated by nationalists in part because it said that Canada would only recognize the result of a referendum on a clear question. Of course the problem with referendums is that they’re a blunt instrument. This is why we don’t run government on the basis of them. But it’s better the question be clear than otherwise.

  • WillieH

    This article has two glaring errors. The first is to use Westminster voting intentions to predict the outcome of the Scottish parliament election when we know that the polls for these are vastly different! The second is to say that intention to negotiate in Quebec’s case is a cleared outcome than independence in Scotland’s case.

    No, the SNP won the right to choose the question and Westminster has agreed thay do so. And the question has been subject to scrutiny and adjustment by the electoral commission and is very clear.

  • Shinsei1967

    I think you are complicating matters. Or rather Salmond is.

    The Scots are voting simply for or against independence. Nothing more.

    No one has any idea what an independent Scotland will look like in 5 or 25 years. What will be the oil price, $50 or $250 ? Will Carney and the Chancellors be found to be bluffing over saying no to a currency union ? Will Shetland decide it doesn’t want to fund the rest of Scotland and gain independence ?

    So there is little point discussing a few measures that might be applicable for the next few years. This is a 300 year decision.

    Anyone who is voting Yes because they think they might be £500 better off next year or because they don’t like the bedroom tax is a twit.

    Do you want to be independent or not. Regardless of the possible costs. That’s the only thing that should be considered.

    • Ian Sanderson

      Please don’t put words into Mark Carney’s mouth..

      What he said was “Whatever the politicians decide we’ll make it work”

      It was Osborne, Balls & Alexander who (reputedly) said “No, you can’t”

  • CKP

    The English are attacked by the SNP for failing to make a positive case for Scotland to remain in the Union. I would argue that the prevention of the dire economic and social consequences for a newly independent Scotland is an overwhelmingly positive case.

    I didn’t realise the SNP were so unpopular in Scotland. Clearly the well educated and numerate Scots are not buying into Alex Salmond’s delusional egomaniacal fantasy. My money is on him desperately trying to cling on after he is told NO by his voters.

    • Am Broc

      The SNP are 9% points ahead in the last poll only last week. So that along with the rest of the article was nonesense. The figures used were for a General election in Westminster who nobody in Scotland and especially the SNP GAF about. If the consequences are so dire its for the UK without Scotlands exports. Standard and Poors statement last week which was ignored by much of the media.(Now theres an unusual thing eh?) Where, even without oil an iScotland would start of life with a AAA rating. Remind me what the UK is at the moment and don’t even speculate on rUK without Scotlands figures in its balance of payments.

  • WillieH

    You mis the point that if because of the lack of currency union and thereby Bank of England oversight, Scottish firms have to establish registered companies in England, English companies will require to register in Scotland and meet Scottish regulation to operate in Scotland. This is the increased cost of business anticipated by expert observers.

  • Natalie Graham

    That polling data you link to as evidence that the SNP would be less popular than Labour in the Scottish Government election is for voting intention in the Westminster elections and does not therefore, say anything about who is likely to win a Scottish vote. The reason for this is that since the SNP is not a UK wide party many people who vote for them in Scotland do not do so in UK elections as they vote for the party they want to form the UK government. Understandable really since that is the purpose of such an election. Even if every registered voter in a constituency with an SNP candidate votes for those candidates the SNP could not possibly form a UK government. A recent IPSOS/Mori poll for STV News on the voting intention for the Scottish government elections, for example, is headlined on their website as “SNP open up nine point lead over Labour.” The tories are 19 percentage points behind the SNP. Very different fro the conclusion you falsely draw fro the polls for the Westinster election

  • Val

    The thing with Canada, is that Canada herself was not soveriegn until 1982. I’m guessing anything constitutional would of involved Britain, who by then just ratified anything from Canada.

    But the whole issue of our Country ripping itself apart for no good reason is too depressing, but a dream for eu, France, Germany (an actual real pretend made up nasty country that has succeeded) etc..

  • Chris H R

    Is it possible that your article is flawed and misleading your readers. You seem to misunderstand opinion polls since polls for Scottish elections place the SNP well ahead of Labour and
    have done so for a while. Maybe worth checking?


    Merryn, you have confused CKP who “did not realise the SNP were so unpopular in Scotland” by referencing the wrong poll. Please read what Natalie Graham has to say on that issue I would hope that this is merely a mistake on your part and surely not a deliberate distortion.

  • Borders Biz

    I have just taken the hour to watch the video on the potential crash of the uk debt. It states noone can escape. Surely an independant Scotland can Escape ?

  • Russell Bruce

    For a financial journalist Merryn you do need to do a bit more analysis before writing on the referendum and Scotland. YouGov has a weighting methodology that overstates Conservative support in Scotland and as been pointed out these are UK wide polls. The Conservatives have got nowhere near the YouGov 19-21% calculation in elections in Scotland since 1992.

    Recent Scotland wide polls show the SNP winning both the constituency vote and regional list vote ahead of Labour. The latest poll by Salvation put the SNP on 44.6% for Holyrood, Labour on 34%, Tories on 13% and LibDems on 5%.

    If you are going to write about Scotland you do need to give your readers information that explains Scottish attitudes rather than going with your own opinion and misleading Money Week readers. Alex Salmond remains the most popular party leader in Scotland despite the negative barrage he receives on a daily basis. He is the only party leader in the UK with a positive rating. Even amongst Labour supporters in Scotland he scores twice that of Labour’s leader in the Scottish Parliament.

    It is sensible for Scottish headquartered companies to look at setting up companies in England. Most operate globally and a local presence is both sensible and necessary in the event of Independence. Nobody has said they will leave – the cost and loss of a highly skilled Scottish workforce in the financial sector would be difficult to replace.

    The referendum that will have a much greater, and very negative impact on both England and Scotland, would be Cameron’s in out EU referendum in 2017. Hopefully we will be independent by then.

    Oh, Scotland not in the EU! There is no mechanism to eject a country or part of a member country. How do you take away the European citizenship we have enjoyed for 40 years? We are already compliant with EU demands of membership.

    The SNP may be a social democrat party but it is also pro business. It has promised the oil sector a stable tax regime -unlike Osborne and his predecessors.It intends to cut 3% off corporation tax, reform and simplify income tax. Inward investment is at record levels, employment above UK rates, unemployment lower and a higher percentage of the population economically active.

    There is a lot for business to like. As a Money Week subscriber and active investor I think you need to pay more attention to the numbers Merryn. I have no problem with your personal opinion. In a democracy we are all entitled to that.

    • felonious

      The EU would not be ejecting you because Scotland as an independent nation will not exist until after you win independence. Barroso made this fundamentally clear quite recently, Spain would never agree to Scotland joining as they have their own problems with the Catalans seeking independence; and as you need all members to agree with any new country joining the EU Scotlands chances look very unlikely indeed.

      • Russell Bruce

        You are entitled to that interpretation. Barroso is a politician and will be gone in September. If Scotland votes Yes the negotiations will begin with Westminister and the EU. A group of academics held discussions with the Commission officers. They asked, how long would it take to deal with the terms of Scotland’s membership? Answer 3 months. The British government has been canvassing all and sundry to speak out against Scottish Independence. They even asked Putin!

        Barroso wants the NATO job when he leaves in September and he needs Cameron’s support. A case of back scratching. Barroso over did it on the Andrew Marr show and demonstrated his unsuitability for a post that demands considerable diplomacy skills.

        The Edinburgh Agreement assures that the result of the referendum will be respected and negotiations will begin. The Spanish foreign minister has said that they will not interfere. If Westminster accepts a Yes vote they will not object to Scotland’s membership. Spain does not recognise the validity of the Catalan referendum and that is the key difference. However there is a problem with that in International law but that is also Spain’s problem.

        We have been European citizen’s for 40 years. With no mechanism to eject a state, or part of a state, pragmatism will prevail in the EU.

        Spain will not want to see their fishing vessels excluded from Scottish waters.

    • Am Broc

      Well said Russell RE the EU heres the UK Parliaments own take on this issue. Of course its not had any input from “Call me Dave” but is the better for that in reality.

  • Russell Bruce

    I should perhaps have added that the comment from the anti Scottish Scot referencing colonists and settlers is deeply offensive. English people are welcome in Scotland as are the Welsh, Irish and others from our European neighbours. Scotland needs to grow home grown talent and attract talent from elsewhere. I may disagree with your article but having made your home in Edinburgh, I understand, Merryn you are welcome and should not have to put up with such insinuations.

  • Merryn

    Thank you all for the info on the polls. I’ll look at them all more carefully. But the real point of the article is not how popular or not the SNP are but the huge uncertainty – no one knows quite what they will be voting for and that’s the thing that matters. It matters to me anyway. I’d find it easier to know how to vote if I knew what the currency would be and how the financial/renewable energy/agricultural sectors would be regulated and financed. But I don’t – and I won’t for some time after the vote.

    • Borders Biz

      The currency actually doesnt matter – investments are made in over 85+ different currencies world wide, Groat sporran or even scots pound the economic success in an indy scotland will be from better management, tax incentives to boost business and attract inward investment. The energy etc it is as it has been and better management will establish more investment in green and dark energy sources. I could even suggest a rekindling of the scottish call centre industry. And besides i’m not an economist it’s pretty much in your face that this is what will happen. What is more daunting if you are telling the truth in your own end of britian stories why would you not just accept Scottish Indy as a given creating a financial investment haven from the ruk 900% in dept of gdp!

    • Russell Bruce

      Currency will be the pound. For most people it does not really matter. A currency union, using sterling anyway or a Scots pound pegged to sterling. As you probably change Scottish notes before travelling south you will not see much difference. As investors we buy shares denominated in other currencies and pay dividends in dollars and euros. The renewable energy agenda in Scotland is driven by the Scottish Government. Scotland has the best renewable resources in Europe and research and investment will continue. There is still as much oil in known reserves as has been extracted, but we have to plan for the future. Since when did a Westminster Government plan for 50 years ahead?
      Apart from death and taxes the other certainties are that the sun will rise tomorrow and you have a new day for new opportunity.
      The more we look at UK debt figures and the possibility of a Britexit the more we judge that the big uncertainties lie in staying in the Union.
      NIESR calculate that after a split of debts and assets UK debt will rise to 104% of GDP at the time of Independence whilst Scotland’s debt to GDP ratio would be 81%.

  • jim peden

    As Shinsei1967 pointed out, almost all the information we receive about the future is meaningless.

    I do however concur with your concluding remark- I too think Scotland needs a fresh start. Independence is an obvious way to achieve this.

    In the event of a yes vote Scotland would have less government than at present (see for example Bill Bonner’s recent article in Money Week). I believe the land that gave us David Hume, Adam Smith and James Clerk-Maxwell shouldn’t find the future a problem.

    The biggest problem Scotland faces is one of self-belief.

  • JamesH

    In this article your enthusiasm to rubbish Scottish Independence (as usual) has demolished any credibility, you might have had, to comment on the subject.
    “Who so beset him round with dismal stories,
    do but Themselves Confound, his strength the more is”
    To be a Pilgrim- John Bunyan.

  • CKP

    The Marr episode clearly demonstrates the concerted efforts of pro-SNP online trolls to viciously attack anyone who raises valid questions about the viability of Scottish independence. Moneyweek should be flattered that it is considered influencial enough to attract the attention of these anti-democratic bullies who seek to stifle rational debate. Frankly they have already lost the argument and are reduced to hurling aggressive insults.

  • Tb02mil

    Merryn I always enjoy your honest unbiased opinion. I am a Scot living in Scotland but working in England, I earn a decent wage and pay my share of tax, I always have some family dependant upon the welfare state so I can easily see at close hand the arguement for and against when Salmon is trying his very best to be the pied piper. I don’t doubt that he is a popular leader, his followers believe what he does and no one can deny the man has convistion and passion when he speaks, but his arrogance is simply vile. Salmond promises that Scots will be better off when independent, I think the lad really needs a few lessons in economics, because I regard myself as astute (naturally tight because I’m Scottish) and I am really struggling to make the numbers work when considering the aspects of Merryn’s earlier article on why the numbers don’t stack up.

    Further, I have been working throughout England for almost four years as a Civil Engineer delivering construction projects, subsequent to being involved in two of the largest civil engineering jobs throughout scotland in the previous few years, the M74 completion in Glasgow and the Clackmannanshire Bridge at Kincardine. Our professional Scots are no doubt talented, we are driven and very much have a ‘can-do’ attitude. Our English friends are as talented however slightly more calm and relaxed in their general matter. The main difference I have noticed in working here is the society and environment, no chavs (neds) no graffiti and people generally polite and helpful. Us Scots are definitely more brash. Anyway I digress, the point is this, the talented workforce we have can easily be replaced, our society needs to be improved. Business moving south and the associated unemployment/lack of opportunities/associated social problems spell trouble.

    The next few months will be interesting, Salmond is comedy gold. I have faith in my people and I am proud to be British, long may it continue!

  • EM99

    Merryn, what are you afraid of? This is democracy in action. The SNP have over the last 15 or so years won over a growing amount of the Scottish population. In the last election their manifesto said that they would hold a referendum. People voted for them and here we are.

    For me democracy is at the heart of the issue. Should the people who live and work in Scotland determine all the laws and policies that they live under? What is wrong with asking people (a variation of) that question? The Scottish government has produced a white paper which gives much more detail than any independence proposal / organisation has in history. People will vote in the referendum and then then they will vote on the a new parliament two years later. Who knows how the parties will fare then. If you want to look for doubt and uncertainty you will find plenty: will the rUK be in the EU in 5 years’ time? Will China crash? Will Russia grab Lithuania?.

    I find it strange that you don’t reserve any of your ire for the British establishment who seem to want to frustrate the Yes vote. They could take away away some of the uncertainty by negotiating and planning now (as the police are, as companies are).

    Why not step back a bit? The Scottish people have clearly stated a wish for a referendum. Look at the flowering of enthusiasm in so many different segments of society: National Collective, Wealthy Nation, Mums / Poles / Hibs/ Rangers / EU citizens / expats / Generation Yes/ business for Scotland etc. etc. all for Independence. There’s a great story here that your not reporting. Have all these people been duped? Are they all crazed nationalists swiging for the Braveheart bottle? Or is the tone of their debate really quite quiet, considered, thoughtful (in the main).

    Do you really think that the British state is doing itself a favour by trying to scare people into voting no? Do you do what other people want if they try to bully you into a position? What lasting effect will project fear have on the UK political landscape 1) if it is successful and 2) if it fails? Wouldn’t a more honest approach of the UK Labour party be one of ‘actually we’ve got a conflict of interest on this. Scottish votes are very important for our election chances, but it is for the people of Scotland to decide. We’ll be neutral on this’.

    There are so many angles to the independence story. Your relentless focus on the doubt and fear combined with seemingly distrust of those that live and work in Scotland to make a decent fist of it seems strange for one so educated and informed in many other aspects of life.

    With best wishes,

    Ed McCabe

    • JamesH

      I am looking forward to Lamont’s speech at the Scottish Labour party conference as she attempts to sell the latest devolution nano proposals.Her recent interviews on TV,on this subject,have been incomprehensible and embarrassing.I am sure these devolution proposals have already given the YES campaign a boost and her formal speech will compound this.I also think there will be some prominent labour party members defections to the YES campaign after the conference.

  • Am Broc

    Dearie dearie me gie yersel a shake man. If you’ve ever heard of the scottish cringe it’s writ large on your post. Salmond is an ECONOMIST and he was a very successful one too yet you have nothing but disrespect. Yet you base your opinion on the demonised person you see on TV and for the past 4 years ENGLISH TV at that. Thats as bad as giving any credibility to Merryns tripe. If this bluidy union was so good hundreds of people daily wouldn’t be pledging themselves to YES. In 10 years time after nearly 8 years of Independence people like you won’t even admit to having voted NO such evidence will there be of your folly. Take yer head out from where the sun don’t shine and get home there’ll be plenty work for you building the infrastructure that has been neglected for 307 years. At the moment your part of Scotlands greatest export its people. Thats about to cease. Our sons and daughters will be England’s, Australia’s, Canada’s and America’s no more.

  • JamesH

    Evidence that Osborne et al’s unfounded “dismal stories” on currency union and everything else Scottish have backfired.
    Latest Opinion Poll on Scottish Independence.
    Panelbase-(sample 1036 between 7-14th march)

    YES 40%
    NO 45%
    DONT KNOW15%
    With 6 months to go I think the only worry the YES campaign now have is that they might take the lead too early.

    • David G

      Ah yes, Panelbase whose polls consistently show a higher Yes vote than anyone else’s and who were commissioned by that well-known, impartial news-gathering organisation Newsnet Scotland, more accurately called NewsNat Scotland.

      Poll results are, in the good Scottish expression, mince. They depend on the questions asked can easily be slanted. Personally I prefer to follow the bookies. Right now most odds on a Yes vote are between 7/2 and 10/3.

  • JamesH

    David g
    More evidence from FOURTEEN OTHER POLLS.
    “On average the 14 polls conducted since Christmas have put the YES vote on 42%(once dont knows are excluded),up three points on the equivalent statistics for all of the polls conducted in the second half of last year.There can now be little doubt that the NO lead has narrowed and equally that last months CURRENCY INTERVENTION has so far failed to reverse that trend”
    Professor John Curtice.

  • JamesH

    david g
    continued fro above.
    The odds quoted by bookmakers have no statistical merit.They merely reflect the amounts of money wagered by non representative individuals on the outcome of any event.

  • NeutronWarp9

    The problem with this issue is that nobody knows the answer to whether Scotland will be better off or not being independent until they suck it and see.
    In addition, ‘facts’ can be countered by other ‘facts’, leaving the biggest influencer for many Scots on the eve of polling to be whether watching Mel Gibson’s dodgy version of Braveheart will sway them. Sad, but ‘it is just playing the crowd’ in pursuit of power. As always.

  • JamesH

    Latest Opinion Poll on Scottish Independence
    ICM Research (Sample 1010. 17-23rd March)

    YES 39%
    NO 46%
    DONT KNOW 15%
    This is further confirmation of a trend towards YES.
    “frightening voters with messages of economic doom & gloom is not working…….Better Together is beginning to look like a campaign in trouble” John Curtice.

  • Cordeman

    Anyone who has the open mind (can see, and think outside the box) and has taken the trouble to view our world as a whole, instead of its little parts – especially the small parts like the UK, never mind Scotland, would know that NO NATION is INDEPENDENT today, nor will it ever be.

    For me, or anyone better placed than I to explain further, would be a waste of time and effort. It is SELF EVIDENT, we have not only been told, but are being shown continually, every day, one could say every moment.

    One either sees it, or one doesn’t. The mass have always surrendered their ability to see, to those who use that inability in order to manipulate their thinking along the path they wish them to be moved.

    Scotland’s ‘independence’ vote outcome will be decided not by any of the claims made by those (of the mass) on either side of the border, however valid, or invalid, but by whether it fits in with the agenda decided for our world as a whole, by those who control it.

    ” The whole is far greater than the sum of its parts”

    No, I do not believe there is anything sinister in this, it is just that the process of bringing this about requires too much of a leap in change of thought, and stretch of most people’s imaginative ability, to perceive it.

    Maybe Rabbie Burns did when he wrote ‘For a’ that an’ a’ that, it’s coming yet for ‘a that, that man to man, the wide world o’er, shall brothers be for a’ that.

  • JamesH

    “A Currency Union will eventually be agreed between an Independent Scotland and the rUK to ensure fiscal and economic stability on both sides of the border, according to a UK Govt. minister at the heart of the Pro- Union campaign.”
    Nicholas Watt.Chief Political Correspondent.
    The Guardian Fri.28/3/2014.

  • quite!

    On this topic, Merryn is very funny, but Cordeman is even funnier. Referenda never bind the UK government, but a short clear question is clearly the only option. Merryn, why are you commenting on an issue that has already been decided (and about which you seem to know very little)? I get it, you were aiming to be funny!

  • Pensiion60

    England does not need Scotland.
    England and Wales managed for centuries without Scotland and Scotland manage without England. It is treating Scotland as a colony and its people merely colonial subjects, which is a bit racist really.

    But it also removes Scottish MPs voting on matters that only effect the English or Welsh down in London and vice versa.

    There is one plus and that is the end of the Labour party winning 2015 general election for the London parliament, as a Free Scotland takes way 41 Labour MPs but only 1 Tory MP, so Labour cannot form a government in England, as insufficient Labour MPs against 299 Tory MPs.

    The Lib Dems will cease to exist at next general election, so no point in trying for a Coalition with them.

    UKIP may win European Election in May, but the few people left voting will vote out of habit.

    Now if less than 299 Tory MPs win, then we have no clear winner unless UKIP succeeds to win in Labour areas bringing an MP to London?

    Also there is the example of Norway, a country smaller than Scotland, that manages just nicely, not part of Europe nor of UK or any other nation. The wealthiest nation bar only the one other nation in Europe but not ruled by it – Switzerland.

    With a Free Scotland, they are free to try to Switzerland idea by people’s referendum, of replacing all welfare admin, benefits, tax credits et all with an Automatic Citizen Wage for all adult citizens.

    Staying with London’s government threatens the lives of Scottish elderly with the worse than even the Pension Bill to come with the Flat Rate Pension, leaving the old, especially women, with nil income:

    Fre Scotland – Save a Scottish Granny Today!
    Vote Yes in September 2014 and save yourselves and the English from England’s Labour.