NEXT Thursday it will have been a year since our historic referendum when we decided Scotland should remain a full member of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. We chose to remain Scottish and British rather than go our own way in the world as singularly only Scottish.
And yet since that day the strength of the Scottish National Party has grown. It recruited tens of thousands of new members to the party. Eight months later it smashed Labour Party in the general election and looks destined to maintain that momentum by winning an unprecedented third term in power at Holyrood.
Likewise the polls suggest that were we given the chance to vote again in a second referendum that Scotland would change its mind and vote for independence. It is enough to make those that believe in the United Kingdom ask: “Is independence inevitable, can nothing be done to stop it?”
Well, I have a message for those that fear all is lost and it is a very simple one. Nothing, absolutely nothing is inevitable in politics. Forget the polls, which as the general election showed us can be wide of the mark and deceptive about people’s true intentions. The fundamental reasons that Scots voted to stay in the UK have not changed, they remain true even now, indeed they are in fact stronger than before.
Like all elections or referenda, when people are actually faced with making their mark they have to confront the really difficult questions. They cannot just accept soundbites, they cannot just accept blithe assurances or lazy assumptions, they need to ask themselves what will happen as a result of their choices. They need to live in the real world – and when that happens they put their heads before their hearts and face the truth.
And what is the truth? In last year’s referendum it was clear that for all the fine-sounding plans that could make each of us anything between £500 and £3000 better off through independence, the sums simply did not add up.
On three crucial issues the SNP had no answers that could survive the white heat of persistent questioning: it could not say what currency we would have or deny this would put at risk tens of thousands of jobs; it could not explain how for a nation so reliant on oil tax revenues we could sustain our high levels of public expenditure without the country eventually going into debt as oil ran out, and it could not confirm if we would or would not be inside the European Union and what that might mean.
These three issues impacted on others; the cost of living could be expected to rise – through higher energy prices and higher supermarket costs – while different relationships with the EU and policies on immigration from the rest of the UK would inevitably lead to border controls that had not existed for more than 400 years.
None of this has changed and the SNP still has no answers to these challenges. In fact the positive arguments for remaining in the UK are better than ever.
The UK continues to build its economic recovery which we benefit from, especially the creation of more employment while the public finances are improving.
The price of oil – which Alex Salmond predicted at $113 a barrel would provide us with insurance against his gamble – has fallen to $49 and has been low for months. More than 5500 direct and 65,500 indirect jobs have gone and investment is being cancelled as the industry is in terminal decline even if the price of oil improves. There will be no oil fund; tax revenues have fallen to just £700 million, their lowest in forty years. That would have left a black hole of some £3 billion in an independent Scotland’s finances.
None of this matters while being in the UK – for we remain big enough to absorb the impact – but alone we would have drowned in our debt.
Meanwhile the Greek euro crisis has shown how sharing a currency such as the pound when saddled with debt and as the weaker partner makes sovereignty meaningless. England would have become our Germany, dictating the terms without us having any means to put our case where the decisions are made.
Nor do any of the companies that indicated they would have been forced to relocate to England where their customers are have reason to change that view – they would still have to go. Instead they remain in one economic market able to stay in Scotland and trade across the UK.
And with David Cameron set to obtain some sort of deal with the EU not available to Scotland – we will stay or leave together – but in either case will have a better economic relationship than Scotland could obtain by itself.
Rather than escape austere economic policies that are now being wound down we can see we would have faced the most bitter financial problems in living memory.
So am I disheartened by the polls? Not a bit of it, I laugh in the face of adversity, believing when the facts are once again faced the Scottish people will see that opportunity and prosperity remain better inside the United Kingdom.