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From today’s York Press: Scotland really does decide now

September 17, 2014


Scotland really does decide now

11:48am Wednesday 17th September 2014

By Stephen Lewis

The people of Scotland go to the polls tomorrow in an independence referendum which remains too close to call. Whatever happens, there will be huge implications for the rest of the UK. STEPHEN LEWIS canvasses opinions in York.
Ian Gillies, Scots-born Lord Mayor of York

York’s Scottish-born Lord Mayor says he will feel a mixture of sadness and anger if his countrymen do vote for independence tomorrow. “I’d feel anger that they had made that decision, and sadness that they have felt they had to make it,” he says.

Cllr Gillies may have lost his Scottish accent years ago. But he lived in the Scottish coastal town of Buckhaven in Fife for the first eight years of his life, and went to Buckhaven primary school.

“If Scotland play England at football, I would always support Scotland,” he says. “But I have two daughters born in England, and four grandchildren.” If push came to shove, and he had to choose between applying for a Scottish passport or keeping his UK one, he’d certainly choose to remain a UK citizen. But he would be deeply saddened.

He accepts that to many Scots, the Westminster government seems a long way away.

“But there is more that binds us together than keeps us apart. There’s our heritage – for more 300 years we have been integrated. We’re commemorating the one hundredth anniversary of the First World War this year. My great uncle was in the Black Watch. There are so many stories about fighting side by side. We should be a nation. Why do we have to have these people driving a wedge between us?”

He has no problem with greater devolution for Scotland, he says. In fact he believes there is a case to be made for greater devolution for English regions such as Yorkshire, too. Yorkshire has a big population, and a larger land area than Wales. It makes no sense, as far as he is concerned, for politicians and mandarins in far-off London to be deciding whether money should be spent on a bypass in Wiltshire or on upgrading the A64 here. “We should have more say in how that money is spent.”

But independence for Scotland? No. There are just too many uncertainties, he says. How would Scotland defend itself? How much of the UK debt would it take on? How would it police its borders with ‘foreign’ England?

A vote for independence could split Scotland, and also potentially cause divisions with England, he worries. “We’re all part of one big country. Divided, we potentially fail.”
Martin Smith, professor of politics at the University of York

When the results of tomorrow’s historic referendum come through, Prof Smith will be surprised if the Scots have voted for independence. It may be very close, he says. “But I think the nos will win. I may be wrong.”

The polls, while they are up and down, do suggest a narrow win for the No vote – and he thinks there may be a group of undeclared No supporters: people who will vote no even though they haven’t said they will.

There are others who, when they get into the privacy of the voting station, decide voting for independence would be just too risky. “It you vote no, you know you are getting more of the same. If you vote yes… well, nobody knows what would happen.”

There is no reason why an independent Scotland shouldn’t be viable, he says – he thinks the no campaign is being dishonest when it questions whether an independent Scotland could keep the pound. The cost to the rest of the UK of denying the pound to Scotland would be just too great. “There would be all sorts of transaction costs for English business.” But, ten years from now, an independent Scotland would be very different, in ways we cannot predict.

The strength of the independence movement north of the border has caught Westminster politicians by surprise, Prof Martin says. He believes there are a number of reasons for it. The long campaign and the debate that have characterised it has got Scots people thinking about the possibility. There is also a strong anti-establishment element to the Yes campaign – and having the Conservatives in charge hasn’t helped.

There are also very real ideological differences north and south of the border. “In Scotland, the public sector and community sector are seen as legitimate,” Prof Smith says. Alex Salmond, therefore, has been able to make great play out of saying how he would defend the NHS. “The Conservatives, meanwhile, are seen to be privatising the NHS.”

Whichever way the vote goes tomorrow, he believes politics in Britain will be changed forever. Even if Scotland remains part of the union, it will have much greater powers of devolved self-determination. And inevitably there will be moves towards greater devolution in the rest of the UK.

He doesn’t think that will take the form of regional parliaments or assemblies. Instead, he believes, it will take the form of devolving greater decision-making powers to ‘city regions’ – a process which is already under way.

That will continue and become more formalised, he believes. Ultimately, as more power shifts to the regions, the brain drain to London may come to an end –which may be no bad thing.

If the yes vote wins tomorrow, meanwhile, the effect could be shattering. “In a sense, London will have failed and there will have to be a major shake-up. But whatever happens, there is going to be change.”
Stewart Arnold, an East Yorkshire businessman and academic who is Vice Chairman of the all-party Yorkshire Devolution Movement

WHICHEVER way the Scottish referendum goes tomorrow, there will be huge implications for the way the rest of the UK, and particularly England, governs itself, says Stewart Arnold.

Government in the UK is, at the moment, heavily centralised in London. Whether the Scots vote for independence, or merely some form of ‘devo max’, there will be many people south of the border looking enviously northwards and thinking ‘I might like a piece of that’, he says.

Mr Arnold, an East Yorkshire businessman and part-time lecturer at the University of Hull who chaired the Campaign for Yorkshire 2002-3, says that once the referendum is over and whichever way it goes, there will be a “desperate need for all people to sit down, get together and say ‘Right, this is what we want Yorkshire to look like in the 21st Century’”.

In fact, he says, there should be a National Constitutional Convention formed in different parts of the country to look at the most appropriate form of government for each region.

“That hasn’t happened up to now,” he says. “Instead all we have had is announcements from various party leaders that some very modest powers might be dragged out of Whitehall.”

In Yorkshire – a region with a “clear sense of identity and… a population as big as Scotland” – everyone from politicians, trade unions, business people and churches to the wider Yorkshire community should be called together for a “conversation about powers coming from London and a timetable for implementation”, he says. The aim should be to bring government closer to the people.

He would like, ultimately, to see a Yorkshire assembly with as many powers as possible: power over everything, in fact, bar defence, foreign policy and macro-economic policy.

And where should such an assembly be based? York would be the obvious place, he says. “There are no obvious buildings which could be used. But York is the place that binds the three Ridings together and it sits at the centre of the county.”
Graham Meiklejohn, a 40-year-old Scot who lives in York, works for the railway and also owns a public relations consultancy.

“Born in Dundee, raised in Edinburgh, living and working in York for the past decade, I have observed the arguments made during the Scottish independence referendum: arguments that have been passionate, heated and, in some cases, ugly,” writes Mr Meiklejohn.

“But they have lacked the substance needed to explain just exactly how an independent Scotland will run itself.

“Having read the Scottish Government’s paper on independence [Scotland’s Future] it failed to outline just exactly how this new country could be run. It makes many assumptions but the real detail of independence has not been thought through.

“A similar comparison can be made with the devolution referendum of 1979 that was rejected by voters. The case to say “Yes” wasn’t effectively made.

“The second referendum to establish a Scottish Parliament in 1997 followed active discussion on just how devolution could work, learning from the failure of the first referendum.

“At the centre of this was the Scottish Constitutional Convention that brought all parts of civic society together to discuss the practical issues of what and how, making devolution a credible choice for Scotland.

“No surprise then that almost 75 per cent of voters said “Yes” when asked in 1997 if they wanted a Parliament in Scotland.

“The difference between 1997 and now is that, with the referendum tomorrow, voters still have no clear vision over how an independent Scotland would be run or manage its affairs.

“Asking those living in Scotland to dream of a better future with no substance is not a credible alternative to hard facts to support a “Yes” vote.

“Independence? No thanks. I’m proud to be Scottish and part of the United Kingdom.

“But just as Scottish devolution wasn’t dead when it was rejected by voters in 1979 coming back again in 1997, I don’t see Scottish independence being dead if it is rejected in 2014.

“It will come back on the agenda only next time joined by wider debates across England, Wales and Northern Ireland that could result in wider devolution and a strengthened, not separated, United Kingdom.

“If so, I’d vote for that.”
Views from York…

CHARLOTTE HUTCHINSON asked people in York about the prospect of Scottish independence.

Jade McCarlie, 24, Gillygate, York

“I would feel quite sad. It’s nice having the United Kingdom together as one, there’s a sense of belonging, like we’re all in it together. A lot of businesses in York and the north deal with Scotland, so I don’t think it would have a positive impact economically.”

Chris Mein, 67, a Keele University academic who lives in the city centre

“I’d be disappointed. I’m from Scotland and I don’t think it’s wise at all. It wouldn’t directly affect York, but maybe economically it would have an impact. It wouldn’t affect the culture of York though.”

David Jarman, contact centre manager, 53, lives in central York

“I’d be very disappointed. Breaking up the United Kingdom is unnecessary. They can achieve everything that they want without independence. There are too many unknowns economically with the currency, banks and all the trade. I work in the tourist industry and there are lots of customers from Scotland coming to York. If there’s a currency exchange it will become more expensive for them to come here. It’s a worry.”

Jason May, Tennis Instructor, 29, from Heworth, York

“I think it would be pretty daft to be honest. I don’t really see the point or get why they even want it. I don’t think it would make any difference to us here in York.”

Sarah Hird, Radiographer, 49, from Holgate

“I’d be sad. I can understand why they want to, but for Britain I think that we’re all better together.”

Jen Patterson, doctor, 24, from Glasgow

“I’d be really pleased. As a country we’d prosper, we have such a strong national identity. I work in the NHS too and we don’t want it privatised. We see what’s happening in England and it’s scary. I don’t think it would impact York at all. I’d still come to York as a tourist, it would be like going anywhere else, even if there was a currency exchange.”


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