John McLellan: Why you should vote No

The No vote is still leading the polls. Picture: Getty
The No vote is still leading the polls. Picture: Getty
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Tomorrow’s vote is not between the creation of a new, completely independent state and no change at all. The only certainty from two years of argument, claim and counter-claim is that Scotland will never be the same again.

The status quo is not on the ballot paper and as well as the creation of a properly accountable Scottish Parliament for the first time, a No vote will herald a revolution in the way the entire UK is governed.

As Scotland gains more control over its finances with the devolution of income tax, the way public money is raised in England, Wales and Northern Ireland must also change. So too must the West Lothian question be answered.

Decisions which directly affect our incomes will be made in Edinburgh and for the first time we will see the direct relationship between the money we earn for the Scottish Government and the way it is spent.

We have that with local councils – we pay our council tax, expect our services to be good and blame no-one but the council when they are not – and it is high time the same principle extended to Holyrood.

The need for change is clear and understood. Having worked with Ruth Davidson and David Cameron’s team to produce the Conservative proposals for the development of devolution, I know there is a real commitment to deliver them.

A No vote doesn’t just reaffirm Scotland’s place in the United Kingdom but should lead to the creation of a United States of Great Britain in which its constituent parts control their domestic interests with the security of a single UK market, diverse economy and stable currency in which they also have a say.

I say an enthusiastic Yes to that.

This will be what the whole of Europe craves and what Australia and the US enjoy – states with real powers operating in a single market with a single currency bonded by political union.

It will not be easy – this is no Calman Commission tweak – but the challenges of a new settlement are nothing compared with what will follow a Yes vote.

The terms of separation from the UK and membership of both the EU and Nato will all be subject to negotiations which have already been compromised by a promise to 
complete by March 2016.

At the heart of it all is money. The SNP’s vision for Scotland is not proper independence as most of us understand it, because its central proposition of currency union without political union hands ultimate control of Scotland’s economy to a foreign country with no responsibility whatsoever for our wellbeing.

The Bank of England and UK Treasury ultimately answer to the electorate for their decisions, so a Yes vote and the departure of all Scottish representatives from Westminster removes any influence we have over its decisions.

Imagine the outcry if a chancellor banned all Scottish MPs from debates on UK economic policy, yet that is effectively what the SNP would have us believe is in Scotland’s best interests.

Similarly, UK Treasury decisions cannot be compromised by political decisions in a foreign country beyond its control so it has rightly been ruled out.

The fall-back of using the pound informally, again with no political control, no central bank and a retaliatory refusal to share the UK national debt, would be catastrophic for Scotland.

The answer is to establish a central bank, or use our own currency or the euro, but SNP strategists know it would be unpopular and would cost millions of pounds already committed elsewhere.

Scotland’s current public spending – around £65 billion – runs a deficit of about 8.3 per cent even when oil revenues are included, so with the oil cash falling (set to drop from £3.8bn to £1.6bn a year in the 2020s according to the Office of Budget Responsibility) and commitments to increase public spending (to cover an ageing population), create an oil fund and cut corporation tax, the chasm in Scotland’s finances would widen from day one.

With no central bank and the loss of all HQ functions for major finance houses such as Standard Life to London, the crucial financial services sector will be crippled. This is not just a brass plate exercise and the job implications for Edinburgh are huge.

Mr Salmond is fond of saying that no country ever got poor by having oil, but plenty countries get poor by spending money they don’t have.

The country which sees borrowing costs rocket because of a debt default, hobbles its financial services industry, cuts oil taxes to shore up dwindling production, slashes corporation tax to try and stay 
competitive, siphons off cash into an oil fund and at the same time increases public spending will get poor pretty quickly.

Nationalists have provided no credible answer to this fundamental issue because they know the only solution is to jack up personal taxation.

For richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, with the polls neck-and-neck no-one is denying the marriage of Scotland with the rest of the UK is hanging in the balance, but the very fact we are having such a life-changing debate in relative calm is one of the privileges of living in a stable, civilised and mature democracy.

We are privileged because we live in an affluent, peaceful country where ambitions can be fully realised and you can rise to the very top of a nation which retains global influence politically, culturally, financially scientifically, medically and militarily. No less than seven Scots have been British prime ministers since 1900.

Living in such a wealthy country as the UK we are right to demand a good education for our children, advanced healthcare, a decent home and guaranteed security, but we need to remember they aren’t free and someone has to earn the money to pay for them.

This is not the UK or the Scotland of the 1970s; the 
painful post-industrial revolution of the 80s is over, we have survived the calamity of banking crash and the country is beginning to thrive once again.

At the same time, an energised Scotland is about to win direct control over its domestic affairs and the United Kingdom, still a global force for good, can emerge not just intact but renewed and stronger.

So I’m voting no to the break up of the successful island nation into which I was born, no to losing control of our finances, and no to jumping off an economic cliff.