In two weeks Scotland has the chance to vote itself independent of the rest of the UK. Jesse and I can’t vote, of course – we haven’t lived here long enough and don’t have the required immigration status – but it’s amazing to live in Scotland during the struggle.
You see signs like this (“Yes” is “yes to independence”):
And like this:
I love that the “no” camp is being so polite.
Every village of any size in Scotland has a Yes office and a No thanks office. I frequently drive by food-truck-like vans handing out “yes” literature, and we even get pamphlets through the door (the Royal Mail apparently doesn’t know that we’re immigrants).
I thought you might be interested in the issues at hand. I am too, but it’s pretty hard to sort the hyperbole and groundless promises from the hyperbole and unsubstantiated threats. And as an immigrant from another country who did this 250 years ago, I’m not really qualified to make this decision, and as a representative of the University I shouldn’t – at least publicly. But here’s what it looks like to a long-term guest:
In short . . .
In short, the “yes” campaigners claim that an independent Scotland would be able to harness its own natural resources (oil, whisky and shortbread, as far as I can see) to provide better health care, education and pensions. It would keep the pound as its currency and join the EU soon after the split. It would also have the agency to move the nuclear weapons out of Scotland.
The “no” campaigners (who prefer to be called “Better Together“) claim that Scotland has too much international debt, and not enough oil, to survive financially on its own. It argues that Scotland would actually lose many of the benefits that make life sustainable – the NHS, the BBC, national lottery funds, national research funds, social service charities, national rail, etc – and will not have enough money to support these services on its own. It also says that Scotland would not be able to keep the pound as its currency, meaning that the country would have to either come up with and back its own currency (read: massive inflation) or use the Euro (which is in itself complicated because it usually takes years to join the EU). Either way, taxes would rise and quality of life would quickly retreat.
The two issues that concern me most are immigration and educational policy. If the “yes” folks offered Scottish passports to immigrants already living in country, I would be their biggest fan. If the “no” folks claimed that all UK visa holders would be forced to move south and reapply for Scottish visas, I’d take up a “no thanks” sign myself. In actuality, it looks like our UK visas would be honoured in Scotland until they expire, at which point we’d have to apply for Scottish visas. It would honestly be suicidal for Scotland to kick out all its immigrants – the oil industry would ground to a halt and Aberdeen would be deserted. But the truth is – we don’t know. No one’s saying. The best anyone can promise is, “we’ll work it out.”
The other problem for me is future employment. Scottish students attending Scottish universities have their education paid for by the Scottish government. EU law says that all EU students must be able to attend universities in other EU countries at the same price as the indigenous students pay (which is, in Scotland, nothing). Because of some kind of loophole, English and Welsh students currently pay £9k per year to attend Scottish universities.
If Scotland split from England, England and Wales would become just two more EU countries – meaning that their students could attend Scottish universities for free. See the problem? The only people paying tuition would be from North and South America, Asia and Africa. If Scottish universities admitted enough of them to keep the lights on they would no longer be Scottish universities. If no one pays tuition, the Scottish government can no longer free high-quality education to all Scottish students, a major component of their platform. “Yes” folks say this won’t happen. “No” folks say it will.
In the end, the problem is this. One side makes a claim – that Scotland will be able to use the pound, that English students won’t need to pay tuition – and the other side immediately says, “That’s not true.” But no one seems to know who the final arbiter is. Does England own the pound? Can it deny its use in other countries? Or can Scotland say, “the pound is ours too, and we will use it”? Is there any proof that Scotland does or does not have the financial resources to support an NHS-like service? I don’t know, you don’t know, and I think ultimately the Scottish public, as passionate as they are, don’t know either.
But they have to vote in two weeks, and right now there’s only a six-point spread – and closing. Hold onto your hats – and don’t be surprised if Jesse and I turn up on your doorstep, deported and distraught, in two weeks.
If you’re interested in reading more, try these links:
And if you’d like to weigh in (why not?) in a way that won’t bias the national discussion, participate in the St Andrews poll: