John Barrett: Why I’ll break Lib Dem ranks for Yes

The Yes campaign has gained further support. Picture: Jane Barlow
The Yes campaign has gained further support. Picture: Jane Barlow
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After much thought over many years, I have decided to vote Yes on September 18.

Having been a Liberal Democrat for more than 30 years, elected as a councillor in Edinburgh and a Member of Parliament in Westminster, I will remain a party member, but must break from its position on the referendum.

I am aware of the arguments from both sides, have read the documents available and listened and participated in debates. I have read literature produced by both the Yes and No campaigns and remain unimpressed by the quality of the case and the honesty of the debate from those representing both sides of the official campaign.

I am no fan of the SNP and their many un-costed proposals in their white paper. Sadly for me, I have equally been less than impressed by the Better Together campaign and the actions of the coalition government on a range of issues, from tuition fees to welfare reform proposals and tax cuts for the very wealthy. I have not changed where I stand on a number of issues, such as opposition to the Trident missile system or nuclear power stations. I continue to support free access to higher education and the NHS and believe we must work for a fairer, more just society. The question for me is how best to get there.

When I was elected at local and national level I was always aware of a sense of loyalty to my own party. I never voted for anything I did not believe in and had I remained at Westminster I would have voted against the party on both tuition fees and proposed military action in Syria. I was pleased to see my successor vote that way on both issues. However since standing down from Westminster I feel free to come to my own conclusion on a range of issues – after weighing up all information available, just like any member of the public.

The public often demand the “facts” and want clear answers from both sides before they will make their decision, but the response to questions about the currency, the EU, taxation and much more has not enlightened anyone, as both sides continually offer contradictory views as their “facts”.

I believe neither side is telling the whole truth and that the facts about the future of an independent Scotland, or one remaining in the UK, are not as clear as either side likes to make out. There are risks with either option and if either, or at least one side, would admit to this, they would gain more credibility in the public’s eyes.

Alex Salmond claiming he will get everything he wants in every single set of complex negotiations after a Yes vote is something I am sure that even he does not believe.

On the other side, the No campaign claiming that Scotland’s future use of the pound or membership of the EU will be something they will not support is equally hard to believe.

How often do we get the chance to start afresh? A Yes vote may still be the unlikely result, but it will give us what we need – the opportunity to deliver the change that would be ­forever lost with a No vote.

I am now less concerned with the future electoral prospects of my own party and more concerned about the country I would like to see future generations grow up in. I want to see a fairer country at home, with access to a high-quality health and education system for all, a compassionate and considerate country which cares for those less able; a greener country and an internationalist country.

I now see the only chance of that Scotland being delivered if the people of Scotland are prepared to work together to deliver it. I am.

• John Barrett was the Liberal Democrat MP for Edinburgh West from 2001 to 2010