Wizards for YES! A Reply To J.K. Rowling
I only took an interest in Harry Potter when the third film, The Prisoner of Azkaban came out. I like Alfonso Cuarón. It was a pleasant surprise. I got The Philosopher’s Stone and Chamber Of Secrets on DVD to catch up. I didn’t read the books though. Didn’t want to spoil the films! I was excited when Goblet Of Fire hit the cinema, and sad but entertained when it all ended with The Deathly Hallows Part 2.
Today, I was really disappointed to read J.K. Rowling’s essay in favour of a No vote on the heels of a £1 million donation to the No campaign. As a friend pointed out, she is entitled to vote as she pleases, and that’s fair. She’s also welcome to make a contribution to the debate, but Rowling’s reasoning troubles me. She frequently discusses her experience as a single mum on benefits – the very benefits that Westminster is cutting and demonising. Could she have written Harry Potter without the welfare state? Could someone in a similar position do it now? Probably not. I want to focus on the issues she raises though. Without making any personal attacks, I want to highlight some inaccuracies and offer some alternative opinions.
First, Scotland’s Referendum is of interest to many people outside Scotland and the UK. As part of Aberdeen’s branch of the Radical Independence Campaign I’ve recently met with interested friends from Palestine and Catalonia. Comrades in the Basque region look on with interest, as do allies in Quebec and the Veneto [editor’s note: RIC activists recently supported demands for a Basque independence referendum]. Scottish Independence will have an impact outside Scotland. Even Ms Rowling’s Flemish ancestors will be watching, not to mention the massive Scottish Diaspora all around the world!
I was really disappointed how often Rowling describes aggressive ethnic nationalism; I just haven’t seen or experienced that. It’s not the debate I’ve seen at all. I’m not denying it exists but it’s a very small minority. The scourge of the CyberNat is much over-hyped [editor’s note: it’s also preposterous to suggest that the SNP directs the online activities of all Yes supporters, including the dozens of groups that are not part of the mainstream Yes campaign]. The Yes movement is an inclusive, peaceful, civic nationalism. That’s why everyone who lives here is getting a vote; it doesn’t matter where you were born, it matters that you are here now contributing to Scottish society.
An Independent Scotland will welcome immigrants, in stark contrast to the UKIP agenda leading UK politics further right. We wouldn’t have to pander to anti-immigration rhetoric. We could challenge the accepted mainstream media narrative that foreign workers (and the poor) are the source of all our problems; they’re part of the solution.
It’s also really disheartening to see the old ‘Scotland couldn’t have bailed out the banks’ myth rear its head. We’ve seen in recent years that banks are not necessarily bailed out by their own Government; the risk can spread wherever they have assets and conduct business. The Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) and Halifax Bank Of Scotland (HBOS) bailout cost the UK Government £65 billion. That is a lot. However, the US also bailed out RBS and HBOS; £285 billion and £115 billion respectively. Scotland could have afforded it’s share of this:
‘The cost of Scotland’s contribution to the bank bail out as an Independent country would have been roughly the same as it was as part of the UK – roughly 10%’
– Andrew Hughes-Hallet, Harvard professor, international banking expert (source)
I would go further and argue that an Independent Scotland could have legislated better and avoided such a mess at all. It’s also worth noting that 90% of RBS and HBOS employees in the UK are based outside Scotland; along with their income tax and national insurance contributions. Likewise, 80% of RBS’s losses were from the bank’s London business (source).
We’re now just beginning to hear about how badly Alistair Darling and Gordon Brown botched the whole episode (source). Ian Fraser contends in his new book Shredded: The Rise and Fall of the Royal Bank of Scotland, that there was a significant failure of policy and regulation. Indeed, it’s unlikely that taxpayers will ever see a return on their ‘investment’ (source).
Oil And Gas
I also disagree that Scotland is overdependent on North Sea oil. Oil is a bonus, and we should use the proceeds wisely. It won’t last forever, no, but the demise of North Sea oil and gas is greatly exaggerated! Investment is as high as ever. As technology develops more known reserves become accessible and economically viable. According to the UK Oil & Gas 2013 Economic Report, there are at least 15-24 billion barrels left with a wholesale value of at least £1.5 trillion. These reserves will likely take us through to 2055 at least. There are still potential unexplored reserves on the west coast in the Firth of Clyde, which have been blocked by Ministry of Defence operations. In a nuclear free Independent Scotland there may opportunity to investigate further. Using the ‘medium line’ at least 90% of UK oil and gas reserves are in Scottish waters (source, source, source). As demand rises and supply falls, we can also expect the price of oil to increase. We might even be able to establish the oil fund we should have had since the 1970s.
Scotland can also boast higher tax revenue per head than the rest of the UK for each of the last 33 years; a lower deficit; lower public spending and strong exports, and 15 year high inward investment. Too wee, too poor just doesn’t wash anymore, if it ever did.
Moreover, when Standard & Poor’s credit rating agency released their report on an Independent Scotland in February 2014 they specifically noted that Scotland was not over-reliant on oil. Their threshold for considering an economy over-reliant on one industry is if it comprises over 20% of GDP; oil is only around 12-16% of Scotland’s GDP. Indeed, even without oil, Scotland’s GDP is almost as high as the rest of the UK (rUK). With oil it’s much higher than rUK, Germany and New Zealand; a healthy 14th ranking against other OECD countries based on 2012 GDP per capita figures (source, source).
What excites me most about Scotland’s oil and gas reserves is the opportunity they could afford us as an Independent country to pursue greater diversification into renewables. Scotland has all the ingredients to be a genuine world leader in clean energy: 25% of Europe’s tidal potential; 10% of Europe’s wave potential; and 25% of Europe’s offshore wind potential. With the looming threat of climate change low on the Westminster agenda, an Independent Scotland could take the lead.
I dealt with Currency in a previous post, but to summarise, Scotland can use the pound if we wish, with or without the permission of rUK. Personally, I’d like to see Scotland have its own currency, at least long-term, which would allow us full fiscal and monetary autonomy. Short-term though, I’m happy to continue with the pound. The economics would appear to indicate this is mutually beneficial. The Bank Of England (a misnomer) is open to talks. Right now, in campaign mode, the powers of No are bullish. After the vote and when the dust settles a little, common sense will prevail.
Scotland’s place in the European Union probably deserves a dedicated blog post. Suffice it to say here that I don’t foresee an Independent Scotland outside the EU unless the people of Scotland choose to be. As with currency union, common sense will win out. It’s not beneficial to the rest of the EU to keep Scotland out. There is no Treaty provision for five million or so Scots to cease to be EU citizens overnight. Discussions will take place, but I just don’t see how Scottish membership could be denied.
I do think the No campaign has been guilty of scaremongering; ‘inclined to raise or excite alarms especially needlessly’. There has been a consistent focus on negativity and decrying the SNP. The recent patronising LEGO article just the latest in a long line.
Accordingly I found the following passage in Rowling’s essay particularly unsettling:
‘Of course, some will say that worrying about our economic prospects is poor-spirited, because those people take the view ‘I’ll be skint if I want to and Westminster can’t tell me otherwise’. I’m afraid that’s a form of ‘patriotism’ that I will never understand. It places higher importance on ‘sticking it’ to David Cameron, who will be long gone before the full consequences of independence are felt, than to looking after your own. It prefers the grand ‘up yours’ gesture to considering what you might be doing to the prospects of future generations.’
I think that’s a horrible characterisation of any Yes voter. I don’t doubt many people voting Yes will enjoy an opportunity to say ‘up yours’ to David Cameron and the other wealthy elites who dominate at Westminster, but the main reason is for positive change. Hope not fear. No-one wants to be ‘skint’. No-one wants to choose between heating and eating. That’s been forced on most people by successive Westminster Governments.
[editor’s note: the reason most people are voting Yes is to protect future generations from the ravages of Thatcherism, so that they’re not forced to be skint, so they’re not forced to accept the giant ‘up yours’ we’ve seen from Westminster and its elites for more than thirty years.]
Scotland’s world class universities have a crucial role to play in an Independent Scotland, and whilst its true some have raised concerns about research grants, this is yet another example where in the end we’ll come to a mutually agreeable solution. Professor Paul Boyle from Research Councils UK agreed Scotland benefits from the current arrangement, but he also stressed it works both ways. With Boyle’s support it would seem more likely that agreement to maintain the current model could continue (source). [editor’s note: it’s also worth mentioning that while there are groups of academics on both sides, Academics for Yes is much larger and broader is, and is a genuinely grassroots, volunteer-run organisation.]
Yes as a Movement
Probably the most troubling part of Rowling’s post is that she demonstrated no understanding of the wider Yes movement. Yes and the SNP are not mutually exclusive. We are socialists, trade unionists, peace campaigners, feminists, anti-fascists, internationalists, environmentalists; from political parties and from none; young and old; from across racial and ethnic lines; all brought together with the aim of creating a FAIRER, GREENER, more SOCIALLY JUST INDEPENDENT SCOTLAND!
I think it’s very naïve to suggest ‘we will be in the heady position of the spouse who looked like walking out, but decided to give things one last go’. There are no ‘devo max’ proposals. Devo max was deliberately kept off the ballot paper by the pro-Union parties. The future with No genuinely frightens me. More austerity, more cuts, more disengagement, more Governments we didn’t vote for.
I don’t believe that ‘we will have to deal with three bitter neighbours’ either. It’s not going to be an easy Independence, but negotiations will take place, and in the end we’ll meet somewhere in the middle. Mutually beneficial. Common sense. Going forward, a successful Independent Scotland can actually drive positive change in England, Wales and Northern Ireland (source). We can be an example. The rest of the UK would still be one of our biggest trade partners and no doubt a close ally.
For me, J.K. Rowling’s essay is a narrow, negative, short-term look at the Independence referendum. This doesn’t reflect the movement I’ve been part or the debate I’ve seen. The Yes movement is a vibrant, positive, wide-ranging, long-term, internationalist, social movement. It’s energising and re-engaging people. I think it’s important to challenge some of Rowling’s assertions, but on their merits. Let’s keep it sensible. Let’s focus on the issues. Don’t get personal.
In fact, going forward we should probably focus on the abundance of Scottish creatives who are supporting the Independence campaign. You can do a lot worse than start here: 100 Artists And Creatives Who Support Independence. None of them are Death Eaters.
Wings Over Scotland: Civic Nationalism v. British Nationalism
Business for Scotland: 10 Facts About Scotland’s Oil and Independence
Merriam-Webster Dictionary: Definition of Scaremonger
National Collective: An Open Letter to JK Rowling