Why the Scottish Should Vote 'Yes' on Independence

Scotland gave the world the Enlightenment. It's time for the modern heirs of Adam Smith and David Hume to claim their freedom.


And so ends the old order,
With Indyref fever full boil.
Lefties campaign for a border,
Greenies shout Yay for the oil.
Rosie Bell

In May 2011almost a year to the day after I moved to Edinburghthe Scottish National Party (SNP) won a parliamentary majority in the Holyrood elections. This, of course, was supposed to be impossible. Scotland's electoral systemin place since devolution in 1998was designed to prevent majorities.

That result meant a referendum on Scottish independence became inevitable, although it was clear that achieving a "yes" to independence was always going to be a struggle. Not only did many people vote SNP in 2011 because they were furious with Scotland's other political parties; thanks to the country's idiosyncratic electoral boundaries, the SNP won a majority of seats (53.49  percent) with a plurality of the popular vote (44.04 percent).

For a long time, this political reality was reflected in the polls: the "yes" vote lagged behind, often by as much as 20 percent. Both campaigns lacked energy, and debate was restrained. Commentary focussed on the civility of the Scottish people, and the lesson in citizenship the country was giving the world, without appreciating that the civility often had its roots in a lack of engagement.

My first inkling that the debate over "Indyref," as it is called in Scotland, was changing in tone was when, as a lawyer at a commercial law firm, the partners told my colleagues and me not to take a public stance on the vote. Potential clients were starting to choose their advisers based on which way the firm in question was perceived to lean on independence. At first I thought it was just my firm, but word filtered back to me from friends in other firms: they'd received the same instruction, too.

Soon after, the polls began to narrow. Indyref debates around the countryonce merely well attendedfilled to bursting point. There was violence in Glasgow. The numbers registering to vote rose to unprecedented levels. Turnout on September 18 may well exceed 85 percent. People have been warned of long lines at voting stations.

Last week, the polls crossed for the first time, with "yes" taking a narrow lead. At time of writing, the result remains too close to call. The British pound sank against the U.S. dollar on the news, while the London Stock Exchange developed a notable case of the jitters.

Both camps have prepared detailed manifestosrunning to hundreds of pagesoutlining their vision for Scotland's future. The "no" camp, recognising the popularity of devolution, has promised more local autonomy for Scotland, and it is difficult to see howassuming "no" wins on Thursdaythe U.K. will avoid a federal political settlement of some sort.

Meanwhile, the "yes" camp has run hard on the political differences between Scotland and England. The Conservative Party is weak in Scotland: The country turned its face decisively against the Tories in the wake of Thatcherism. For all that Thatcher's economic reforms benefited the U.K. as a wholeand they did, enormouslymany Scots remember the decay of shipbuilding on the Clyde and the Poll Tax (introduced a year earlier in Scotland than in England). The latter led to widespread tax resistance and, sometimes, riots. "Yes" has spoken often of a kinder, gentler, more equal, more progressive country than is Scotland's large neighbour to the south.

At least in recent times, the political differences have been marked on a national level. Remove Scotland from the rest of the U.K. in the general elections of 1964, 1974, and 2010 and the result would have been decisive Conservative majorities. However, the 2014 European Parliament elections were a salutary reminder that Scotland is less different from England than it thinks: The anti-EU, anti-immigration UKIP also polled well. Indeed, the combined UKIP and Conservative vote was greater than Labour's, and only just behind the SNP's.

Indyref's true complexity is incapable of description here, but four issues remain central. They are, in no particular order: oil, E.U. membership, currency, and pensions.

The SNP campaigned over many years for a greater return of North Sea revenues to Scotland (91 percent falls into Scottish territorial waters). Recent scaremongering about the North Sea running out of oil and gas by the "no" camp fails to recognise that it is a basic economic truth that oil fields remain productive at the margins while oil prices remain high. That it is more difficult to recover the resource matters little when there is still money to be made.

However, the U.K.'s tax regime encourages exploration in difficult-to-access oilfields, meaning that no governmentincluding that of an independent Scotlandcan keep the rate of return on oil and gas revenues constant.

When it comes to E.U. membership, it seems that an independent Scotland would eventually accede, but eventually is the key word. Many E.U. member states require referendums in their own countries before the larger trading bloc can admit a new country, and no member state of the E.U. has previously broken up with the smaller bit then applying to join.

This leaves lawyers in Brussels not only rather short of precedents, but also with awareness that Spain has serious separatist movements of its own. Inspired by the Scots, the Catalans and Basques may make a run for it. Both "yes" and "no" have mishandled the E.U. membership issue, failing to understand the legal complexities and, in some cases, providing information that is simply wrong: at one point, "yes" falsely claimed that Scotland would automatically become an E.U. member.

Spooked by the ailing euro across the channel, the Labour and Conservative Parties alike have rejected currency union with an independent Scotland. Scotland's First Minister, Alex Salmond, says that England is bluffing, and he may be right, but it remains true that currency union without true political or fiscal union is economic nightmare fuel, something the slow-motion train wreck of the euro seems to evince at least once a week.

As an alternative to formal currency union, "yes" has proposed "sterlingisation," where Scotlandmuch as Panama does with the U.S. dollaruses the pound without England's permission. This would leave an independent Scotland without a central bank or a lender of last resort. It would undermine the SNP's plans for a debt-fuelled, social democratic utopia: The austerity would be swift and severe, any socialism followed by an aggressive move to free markets and deregulation. However, it would also impose prudence on Scotland's banks and probity on the financial sector, insulating Scotland from nasties like the Global Financial Crisis.

While oil, E.U. membership, and currency have been central to the debate for some time nowthe sheer scale of the pensions crisis, both as it applies to the U.K. as a whole and a putative independent Scotlandhas only come to the fore as the polls have narrowed. Americans often expectorate about their country's social security black hole, but the U.K.'s is off the scale. The state pension is a genuine Ponzi scheme: Current revenues are paying for current entitlements, combined with an ever-growing pool of recipients.

Within the U.K., Scotland's position is worse: its population is both older and sicker than that of England and Wales. The crisis would bite sooner, with public sector net borrowing (what needs to be borrowed over and above tax revenues) rising from 4 percent this decade to around 10 percent by mid-century. In short order, public debt would rise to 200 percent of GDPand, as one commentator put it this week, "that's a larger hole than the one Greece is in."

When I departed the U.K. to work in Australia, I deliberately left my Indyref polling card behind. I thought it improper to vote on the future of a country in which I no longer lived. The wisdom of my decision was brought home to me while writing this piece. Were I still practising corporate law in Edinburgh, I would vote "no." Concerns for my future as a lawyer and the viability of Scottish companies would trump any desire to see something of an uncontrolled experiment with sterlingisation.

From afar, though, I hope "yes" wins the day, because I also think Scotland's robust civic culture would make a fair fist of independence. The socialism would evaporate, sure, but the country would not fall prey to the "resource curse" so common among small, oil-rich nations. That Scotland gifted the world the skeptical Enlightenment would stand it in good stead. Its current inhabitants may prove themselves worthy heirs to Adam Smith, David Hume, and all the rest.

Very glad I left that polling card behind.

NEXT: It's Constitution Day (Not That Obama Cares, ZING), Lindsey Graham is Nuts, About That Whole 'No Ground Troops' Thing... A.M. Links

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. “That Scotland gifted the world the skeptical Enlightenment would stand it in good stead, she writes. Its current inhabitants may prove themselves worthy heirs to Adam Smith, David Hume, and all the rest.”

    My understanding is that if Scotland leaves the UK, it would have the sort of political effects that we would have if California left the United States…

    Labor may never see another Labor PM in our lifetimes.

    The conservatives in 2007 won, what, 15%?…..ions,_2007

    I take it back–Scotland leaving the UK would be of much greater benefit to the Tories than California leaving the United States would be of benefit to the Republicans. As much as California is a one party state, the Republicans still muster more than 15%!

    1. It’ll be interesting, too — Scotland is a net tax consumer, but won’t have the base for the kind of welfare state they have now.

      Labour in Scotland will have to change a lot. Could really imagine the old Conservative party in Scotland being entirely replaced, just to get rid of the old associations.

      1. It’ll be interesting, too — Scotland is a net tax consumer, but won’t have the base for the kind of welfare state they have now.

        Which is precisely why these independence votes almost always swing “no”.

      2. It’ll be interesting, too — Scotland is a net tax consumer, but won’t have the base for the kind of welfare state they have now.

        Which is precisely why small states are better at promoting liberty than larger more centralized ones.

    2. So a win for the notion of peaceful secession as well as a win for European liberalism and, tangentially, their American libertarian cousins. Even if the referendum fails, this has been an exciting initiative.

      CNN had an article yesterday discussing two reasons why the US was concerned that Scotland might gain its independence. Unsurprisingly, neither had anything to do with the precedent the initiative would set in Western states for smaller political bodies to abandon the larger state via democratic referendum.

      1. Since it’s racist for a US state to secede, does that mean that Scotland is racist if it secedes from the UK?

        1. No, England is racist for keeping the ginger man down for so long.

            1. Me too, especially mine. My mom was a ginger but I escaped most of the curse except a light freckling. Nothing like her freakish skin thank god.

    3. It is quite possible that if Scotland leaves the UK, both the UK and Scotland will be more conservative in 10 years.

      The UK immediately (by the next election), because of subtracting many more Labor Scots than Conservative Scots from the UK vote.

      And Scotland, more slowly, as they face the prospect of somehow maintaining the highly generous welfare state with much less funds to work with.

  2. Gotta jump through the hoops and the hurdles I guess. Wow.

  3. Come on, Scotland – do it for the lulz! I promise I’ll come back to the World Pipe Band Championship again. Playing with a band that makes it into the finals again.


    SMOOCHES hth

    1. I need to restock the scotch shelf in case they actually do it.

      At this point, it’s worth it just for how desperate the ‘no’ side has gotten.

    2. Heck, I just want to see them painting their faces blue – just for the history of it. Make the vote look like it’s personal.

  4. Scotland went into the union broke and it looks to leave in the same condition.

  5. The real reason the Scots should vote ‘yes’: Piers Morgan has threatened to come back to America if the ‘Scots’ vote no.

    1. I didn’t realize he’d left. I could’ve sworn I saw him panhandling with his intellectual peers in Tempe a couple of weeks back.

  6. “Scotland’s robust civic culture”

    Evidence plz.

    1. A 16 year old mother-of-three puking in an open sewer is robust.

  7. It should be noted that according to a reporter on the ground there, a major reason why the “yes” is being considered is they desire to become more like Norway (etc.) than like UK or the USA!

    That is, they desire a modern and progressive and forward looking country and wish to opt out of austerity and such things.

    Of course, that many not fit the “reason”able talking points…but it appears to be the truth.

    Hey, I’m somewhat on the same page. Perhaps it’s time to let the USA dissolve except perhaps for a mutual defense treaty and we can make out own little republics (New England, Ca/WA/OR, TX/OK for example) and then we’d have a better chance of having our way.

    1. we can make out own little republics

      “We” tried that once. There were these 13 soverieng “states” that entered into a confederation for mutual benefit.

      Of course, it transmogrified rather quickly into one, giant blob of “USA! USA! USA! Indivisible!”

      Maybe it’ll work THIS time!

      1. Wednesdays are “spell ‘Sovereign’ any way you choose day”, FYI

        1. Wednesdays are “spell ‘Sovereign’ any way you choose day”, FYI

          ‘Dead Reaper’.

          1. +100XP for the Mass Effect reference. YOU CANNOT ESCAPE YOUR DOOM.

      2. It wasn’t that quick. The United States was plural until king Lincoln established federal dominance over the states.

        1. While that might be true in a political sense; it’s not true in an etymological sense. Actually, if you’re going to blame anything, you gotta blame the Mexican-American War.

          1. Which Lincoln opposed.

            1. And Obama opposed the Iraq War. Think about that while you decide how meaningful a politician’s positions were before they held power.

        2. In my world, less than 100 years is “pretty goddamned quick” for a nation.

          I say it started with Adams and the Alien and Sedition Acts, but YMMV.

        3. Well, based on our own version of self-righteous history, we now know what the right thing to do is, if Scotland declares independence: civil war,clearly.

      3. Maybe what will work? You really think the Constitution was an improvement over the Articles of Confederation, or just a power grab for the centralists?

    2. Norway is like norway, because of culture.

    3. And when it turns into another Venezuela the grand experiment will be flushed down the memory hole, right joecraig?

      It’s worth noting that in none of Reason’s “talking points” on the issue has the subject of the leftist nature of SNP been an turned into an argument against secession.

      1. Self-government is a basic human right. Leftists should be allowed to secede too. Especially leftists.

      2. Well, separating the leftists from the conservatives means that the conservatives will be happier and the leftists will get a quick lesson in money. It’s win-win.

    4. “…a mutual defense treaty and we can make out own little republics (New England, Ca/WA/OR, TX/OK for example)…”

      Mass: “Hey Texas… we’ve spent all our money on Head Start and Green Energy initiatives. Would you mind coming to our defense? Currently, our army consists of John Kerry and two old helmets.”

    5. …opt out of austerity…

      Yeah, if only you could “opt out” of scarcity that would be a perfect plan. Really, you should be an economist. You have a genuine gift.

    6. Look, Progressive doesn’t mean forward looking it means:

      1. No axiomatic principles of government

      2. Rule by “experts”

      The first principle of Progressivism is an open door to a lawless, capricious government with no bounds on its own power. The second principle allows a small group to control it.

      In other words, an illiberal evil pile of shit.

      1. Suffices it for me. Thanks!

  8. And so ends the old order,
    With Indyref fever full boil.
    Lefties campaign for a border,
    Greenies shout Yay for the oil.
    ?Rosie Bell

    – 2

    -1 for not putting it in Lowland Scots

    An sae end the olde rander… (Maybe?)

    -1 for not putting it in Scottish Gaelic

    1. I know about 5 words of the gaelic – “fence” = “fence”, mahe = rabbit, grainoch = garbage (roughly), mor = big, beg = little, doris = door…..dubh = black

      OH! Ceol Mor = piobairaechd = “the Big Music”, Ceol Beg = marches, hornpipes, jigs, reels, strathspeys, etc e.g. “Little Music”.

      And I still prefer Ross over MacAllister chanter reeds.

      /tap out

      1. Speaking of grainoch, I used to have such a thing for Shirley Manson.

        Then I saw how cruel Time the Ravager was.

        1. Ugh. Now I feel old. I can only imagine how many times teenaged Knarf Googled Yahooed “Shirley Manson nip slip.”

        2. Yeah, me too. I haven’t seen a recent pic….now I kind of don’t want to… 🙁

          1. Saw them promoting their latest release on World Stage on cable. She seems to go out of her way to make herself look unattractive. Everything from the hair to the makeup to the granny panty pants. I still lust her though. Her voice does something to me. Same with Karen Gillan. I hope neither of them ever lose their accents.

        3. Sheena beats Shirley

  9. So Scotland will become a Third World leftist mess with nothing except oil revenue going for it. That plan has worked really great in the past, lets see it again. At least they make good booze.

    England will become much more conservative. I wonder who will be the happier in this break up? This will be great fun to watch.

    1. This goes through, I’m telling you, it will be a second English Thanksgiving Day (the first being July 4).

    2. So Scotland will become a Third World leftist mess with nothing except oil revenue going for it.

      If they’re like Venezuela, they’ll fuck that up, too.

      1. There goes Scottish breast implants.

        1. They don’t use haggis for that, too?

      2. And the failure will somehow be traced, by those like Craiginasss, to American foreign policy — especially House Republicans.

  10. Didn’t we fight a war over whether a country could secede?

    Isn’t this issue settled?

    1. Didn’t we fight a war over whether a country could secede?

      Isn’t this issue settled?

      That war determined that countries were allowed to seceed from the British Empire.

      1. Yep – any subsequent attempts at separation are teh racist and heresy and are forbidden.

  11. Queen said she’s going to go all Ray Rice on their bitch asses. Or Adrian Peterson though William will have to lift their kilts for her if she goes that route.

  12. What I mean by desperation on the ‘no’ side:…..d-bolts-uk

  13. What evidence is there that the Scots will abandon socialism, rather than doubling down? I haven’t followed this closely, but I thought the “yes” campaign was explicitly advocating doubling down…

    1. They are advocating doubling down… and they will run out of other people’s money much more quickly, since they will have access to a much smaller population.

      1. Since when has reality ever limited socialist ambitions?

      2. When socialist Scotland falls apart, the lesson that world leaders and the MSM will take away is that secession doesn’t work, not that destroying incentive for commerce and trade is harmful to economies.

        1. It will because of a lack of TOP SCOTS in charge.

      3. Not really. They plan to join the EU. That gives them gobs of OPM to piss away.

      4. Yep, the faster they double down, the faster the great experiment is over, again. I say they triple down!

    2. See the Shultz thread above. They wouldn’t abandon socialism, but they’d isolate the socialist votes from liberal votes and make the UK less socialist via subtraction.

  14. My take, if Scotland secedes it would be a terrific time to buy assets in Rump UK (at least after the currency shake-out). Scotland has historically been a net drag on the U.K. economy, as well as its budget. Now, add on the fact that, politically, this leaves Rump UK a modestly more free market economy, and you have the makings of a buying opportunity.

  15. Hey Scots, obey your imperial masters!

    I really hope yes wins, just for the entertainment value, just to see the limeys take a huge kick in the nuts.

    I want to see David Cameron, Piers Morgan, all of the limey fucks crying in their tea! Bwaahhaaahaaa. I will drink to that!

    1. Cameron and the Tories are more or less saying “no… please… don’t go” in the same way Boehner would be saying it if California wanted to leave.

      Labor probably can’t win without Scotland (at least for the moment).

      Although I’m not sure the Tories are really all that free market at this point.

      The Conservative brand goes *nowhere* in Scotland, it’s the opportunity for a new, really libertarian party to stand a chance. Since Labor won’t really be able to afford to take it massively socialist.

      This is going to be great to see

  16. I think the appropriate response is:

    “Knock yourself out, kid”

  17. Scotland should vote “yes” on independence so that the UK no longer has that albatross of socialism weighing it down. I’m all for independence and a free England; maybe then England would be able to get its guns and its liberty back.

    One could only hope.

  18. Can’t London find a modern-day Lincoln who can keep the Union in the Union Jack? Just inform Glasgow that they can be independent all they want, but London will still collect the tariffs and continue to man the forts and other government installations, then send in the Royal Navy to resupply them.

  19. This makes me want to go watch Braveheart again.

  20. I wonder if playing the theme to Braveheart at the polls would affect the vote.

  21. Will they still be part of the Commonwealth?

    Will they still have the Queen?

    Should they appoint their own separate Queen?

    Is there any chance of crowning Karen Gillan as the new Queen?

    1. According to most statements from the “yes” side the answer to the first two questions are yes.

      The Queen is very popular in Scotland, so it’s most like likely that conditions will revert to the pre-1707 condition of two separate kingdoms with the same monarch.

      Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond is keen to stress these associations, pointing out that the union of the crowns predates the union of the parliaments which he wishes to end.

      His government has always maintained that the Queen would still be “Queen of Scots” if the country votes “Yes” on 18 September.

      Earlier this week, he said the Queen “would be proud” to be the monarch of an independent Scotland.

      OTOH, Charles Windsor is not wildly popular anywhere in the Commonwealth, so questions arise as to what the succession will look like after Mrs Windsor’s death.

      1. There is a 50% that any claim to the throne of Charles will cause Rob Stark to launch an offensive, crowned by his vassals as the new King of the North.

  22. I’d be sad to see Scotland go. The libertarian me obviously supports the idea of smaller states. But the sentimental, culturally-interested me mourns the loss. The British people were among history’s greatest. Scotland leaving is a repudiation of the three hundred years of unified British history and identity, insofar as it existed. A repudiation of commonality with their southern ilk in favor of divisiveness. Whether the outcome is ultimately good or bad, I think it a pity.

    1. I’m the opposite. I’m an American, but I’m of Scottish ancestry (Livingston maternal great-grandfather, MacNachten more distantly on my father’s side) and take some pride in that, and so for purely sentimental reasons I’d love to see an independent Scotland. On the other hand, nothing illustrates the difference between being an American of Scottish descent and being an actual Scot like the political climate of Scotland. My ancestors fled England as supporters of Bonnie Prince Charlie and settled in the American South, so there’s a deep, familial love for the “Lost Cause”, but I’m very much afraid that an independent Scotland would be more a poor, socialist nanny-state rather than a nation of rugged individualists–less William Wallace and more Eugene Debs.

      1. My feelings exactly.

  23. If Scotland’s flag was red and had stars on the stripes. it would JUST like the confederate flag.

  24. My last trip to Scotland was for a beef expo. Hearing the term (subsidy) applied to every form of agriculture I begged the question, why? The common opinion was to keep the aggies home (in the North) because there were no jobs in the more urbanized south, and besides everyone down there was on welfare anyway.

    This could provide some amusement.

  25. I think regardless of their intentions for independence by the “yes” side (which involve a democratic socialist society modelled after Sweden and Finland), I do hope they secede if anything to create a precedent for peaceful, democratic secession that will ripple through Europe and the world. I wouldn’t be the least bit sad if more serious secession movements started domestically with the evidence that developed Western countries can break apart peacefully to assert their independence and follow policies that best reflects the values of those who live in that new country’s proximity.

  26. Great article. Scotland needs to go. Think of it as a “walk-about” where they will discover themselves and — if they use the Euro — be forced to live within the sensibilities of economic reality. It should be a win – win for all involved.

    1. Could be. Scotland will take a share (to be largely determined by England) of a declining production of North Sea oil, take all of their non existent tax base, and attempt a socialist paradise on…..what? Meanwhile England loses about 60 super liberal PM’s from Parliament. Could be a win – win, Scotland gets a lesson in the real world and England slouches to the right just a bit.
      At the very least, amusing to watch.

  27. They should do it if for no other reason than their Olympic team would be fantastic.

    Also, the possibility of Scotland getting some summer sports onto the Winter Olympics roster would be great.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.