I’m probably going to regret posting this, in case the cybernats and cyber-other-lot come piling in, but with six weeks to go, I do have to make a decision about how to vote in September’s referendum. Last night I actually hurried home from the pub in order to catch the big debate between Alex Salmond and Alistair Darling (and does anyone else think ‘Salmond and Darling’ sounds like an unsuccessful pilot for an odd-couple detective series?) but sadly this just consisted of two men in suits shouting over each other and scoring debating points so after about fifteen minutes of amusing myself on twitter with the #ScotDecides hashtag I took pity on the other half and turned it off so I could cook supper instead.
The debate (in so far as I did follow it) turned mostly on the mechanics of who will have what after independence – the pandas, the pound, the oil – but to be honest, I’m not that bothered about all that. Whatever happens, an independent Scotland is unlikely to turn into South Sudan, although there’s a risk it might turn into, say, Ireland. Nor, realistically, is it going to become the land flowing with milk and honey that the independence campaigners suggest. It will sit somewhere within the spectrum of other wealthy western democracies – possibly a little poorer but hopefully a little more equal than it would have been had it remained in the UK. I can live with that. There’s a greater risk that the Rest of the UK will suffer from its loss – from an England left ‘locked in a room with Nigel Farage’ (as James Meek so vividly phrased it), to a Northern Ireland left seriously destabilised by the possibilities opened up by the break up of the UK. That does worry me a bit more. In fact, I’m beginning to feel that by moving to Scotland I’ve been accidentally handed rather too much responsibility for another country’s entire future for comfort, and my previous stance of planning to vote yes just to have one over on the Scots Nats when they assume I voted no on the grounds that I’m (half) English is looking a bit frivolous.
But seriously, how to decide, especially now it’s looking close enough that my vote might actually matter? Obviously not by watching the debate. There have been other debates and hustings held locally that have apparently been more illuminating, but I’m not sure I’ll ever make up my mind by listening to other people talk about it. I’m hampered by having no gut feeling on the matter, seeing as I’m not Scottish and – despite having been educated here for six years, and lived here for another six years – I know I never will be. There are some who would argue that we shouldn’t have a say in the matter at all, especially as there are thousands of Scots who won’t because they live in the rest of the UK – but then again, we’ve made a positive decision to throw in our lot with Scotland by moving here. If anything, we’ve got more of a stake than someone who returns at Christmas and wears a kilt to weddings but won’t be paying any of the extra taxes (not that that’s necessarily a bad thing. In fact, if I thought an independent Scotland might go for a more redistributive fiscal policy I’d vote for it like a shot, but I suspect it will just squander the oil money the way the UK has done for the last 30 years while pretending we can have the public services of Denmark on the tax regime of the United States).
So short of tossing a coin in the polling station, how should I make up my mind? There have been competing pros and cons going round my head for a while and it goes a bit like this:
Pro: it would be exciting and interesting to be part of history, and live in Europe’s newest country
Con: that didn’t work out so well for the Crimea…
Pro: Scotland is much more egalitarian and instinctively left wing than England, so no fear of ever living under a conservative government again
Con: we will have a large and grumpy and possibly permanently right wing neighbour to our south
Pro: Scotland can pioneer new ways of doing things and we might end up living somewhere a bit like Denmark
Con: except that the economy will be heavily dependent on oil, which doesn’t bode well for it becoming a green cycle-friendly place
Pro: living in a small country means we can influence policy more easily as we’re all that much closer to the levers of power
Con: the danger then is it’s all about who you know … I’ve seen enough of how things work close up to worry that we’ll end up living in a banana republic only without the climate for bananas and it won’t even be a republic.
And so on.
None of this is particularly helping. At the moment I’m leaning towards voting yes, just out of the human instinct to poke something to see what happens. I apologise in advance for doing this to what is not, at the end of the day, my country, although I do at least promise to stick around to suffer or enjoy the consequences.
What would you do?