Brian Monteith: lies, damned lies and results

Volunteers have unanswered questions on what independence will mean for Scotland outside. 'Pic: Ian Rutherford

Volunteers have unanswered questions on what independence will mean for Scotland outside. 'Pic: Ian Rutherford

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There are lots of lies being spread around in this independence debate and it’s one of the reasons many people have taken their time to decide how they will vote.

It’s also a reason some people, having thought they would vote one way, have changed their mind and decided to vote another. They discovered what they had been told was a lie. Probably a big lie, or they wouldn’t be changing their mind!

Some of the lies are easy to spot.

The most outrageous is that if Scotland stays in the UK the NHS will be privatised. I have explained before how this is a complete fabrication so will move on from the details of public finances – short of saying the NHS was invented by a Liberal (Beveridge), delivered by Labour (Atlee) and has been managed by the Tories for most of its life (Churchill, Eden, Macmillan, Home, Heath, Thatcher, Major and Cameron). Every government of every hue has, over its time, increased spending on the NHS and kept it free at the point of delivery. That’s not about to change. No-one who proposed such change would get elected.

Another obvious lie are all the guarantees being offered by either side about our futures after September 18. No-one actually knows with any certainty what will happen. Can Alex Salmond really guarantee our pensions when he is saying he will not take Scotland’s share of UK debt – which includes any state pension liabilities? That suggests to me that the UK would not have to honour any obligation to pay pensions to Scots. Those facing retirement should think about that.

Can honest John Swinney really guarantee our savings when he can’t tell us what currency the banks will be able to use? Think about that. Can the spunky Nicola Sturgeon really guarantee free tuition fees for Scots while charging English students £9000 – against EU law? School students and parents should think about that.

Can Alex Salmond really guarantee Scotland will become an EU member when his Plan B means no central bank and charging English students tuition fees will break the EU’s conditions of entry? Everyone should think about that. There are many more I could run through, you probably have your own favourite from either side. The problem is that because we often want to believe them – wouldn’t life be so much better with guarantees – that we fool ourselves into believing them. But think about that for a moment and you soon realise life is just not like that.

The biggest lie being put around can be heard from every nationalist and it is this – vote Yes and we’ll never get another government we didn’t vote for. It’s a lie, and here’s why.

The governments we get, be they British or Scottish – or even our councils like Edinburgh – are determined by our voting systems. The outcome depends to a certain degree on the system we use. Let me explain with a football analogy. In 1965 Hearts lost the Scottish League to Kilmarnock on goal average (but would have won it on goal difference), the system was changed later and in 1986 Hearts lost the league on goal difference, when they would have won it on goal average. Them’s the rules, fairness has nothing to do with it.

My point is that different elections use different systems. In 2011 the SNP became the majority party at Holyrood on a minority vote. Across Scotland it polled 902,915 votes (only 45 per cent of the votes cast) while the year before the coalition government parties polled 878,326 votes (only 35 per cent of the votes cast). In both cases there were more people voting against those that won than for them. In each case “Scotland” as a single entity did not get the government it wanted for more people wanted somebody else.

Systems matter. As recently as 2005 more English voters voted for Michael Howard’s Tories than for Tony Blair’s Labour – but the voting system delivered more Labour MP’s, and the Scots Labour MPs sealed the victory.

No country that is a democracy always gets the government it votes for. Only very rarely, exceptionally does that happen. In Scotland we have to go back to 1955 – sixty years ago – when the Tories won 50.1 per cent of the votes and a majority of the seats. The country has never since voted for the government it got.

It is a conceit to believe that an independent Scotland will never have a Tory government; every Western country has a strong Tory party and more often than not they are in power. And yet we hear it every night on telly, “vote Yes and you’ll never have a Tory government again” or “you’ll never have a government you didn’t want.” It is a lie. How can the SNP guarantee Scotland would be different from any other democracy? It can’t and it is therefore no reason to vote for leaving the UK. You may have others – but wanting to stop the Tories is just blind prejudice. We all need to accept the democratic outcomes our systems deliver – and creating a border will not change this truth.