The referendum debate is increasingly split along class lines. Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Why the Yes campaign isn't winning the economic argument in "middle" Scotland

The Yes campaign is losing the economic argument – this could be more to do with establishment unionism than seeing through the SNP's "bluff".

The economic case for Scottish independence practically makes itself. Britain is in headlong decline. During the 1970s average economic growth in the UK was just shy of 2.5 per cent. Over the course of the last 14 years it has been closer to 1.5 per cent. In the early 1980s the UK had a trade surplus (due, in part, to the boost provided by North Sea oil). These days, its trade deficit stands at more than £20bn. Owing to the erosion of trade union power under successive Conservative and Labour governments, Britain now has the second highest rate of low pay in the OECD. Six years after the crash, average UK earnings are still some-way below inflation and won’t return to their pre-recession peak until 2020.

And it gets worse. For the last three decades, Scottish growth rates have lagged behind growth rates in the rest of the UK, as well as in other comparably-sized European states. According to one recent study, as much as 70 per cent of the Scottish economy is foreign-owned. Because of the high concentration of manufacturing jobs north of the border, Scotland has been particularly badly hit by successive rounds of (Westminster-imposed) deindustrialisation, while the increasing focus on London-based finance as the motor of UK growth has locked Scotland into a monetary policy regime which actively undermines its manufacturing exports. So anyone who seriously believes Scotland benefits from the UK needs to explain why, when it comes to Scotland’s economy (particularly its industrial economy), the UK has such an abysmal record.

Yet, despite all this, large numbers of Scottish voters remain unconvinced by the economics of independence. Earlier this month, a YouGov poll showed that just 27 per cent of Scots believe Scotland would be better off outside the UK, while 49 per cent think it would be worse off. Put simply, the Yes campaign is losing the economic argument – an argument it has to win if it is to stand any chance of securing a majority for independence in September. Unionists are acutely aware of this, which is why, on Tuesday, George Osborne challenged the SNP to lay out what independence would mean for Scotland’s deficit, for its oil and for its currency. “These are the questions that shape all our lives”, Osborne said. “They dictate our mortgage and tax bills; the quality of our schools and hospitals; the safety of our jobs and opportunities of our children. Our economic security hangs on [the] answers.”

Although the SNP insists it has answered these questions, it’s clear that the broader nationalist message – which stresses the strength and untapped potential of Scotland’s economy – just isn’t getting through. But why? Better Together’s theory is that ordinary Scots see through the SNP’s “bluff”; that, as the “risks” of independence become clearer, more and more people are retreating back into the “safety and security” of the Union. There’s probably some truth to this. Many ordinary Scottish voters are still uncertain about what independence will actually entail and (ironically) seem hesitant about “gambling” on Scotland’s future while the effects of the financial crash still linger.

But there’s another theory. As most people now accept, the referendum debate is increasingly split along class lines, with poorer Scots disproportionately supportive of independence and wealthier Scots disproportionately opposed. For obvious reasons, voters who don’t own their own homes, run their own businesses or work well-paid jobs are keen on the idea of change, while those with relatively secure lives have a much greater stake in the status-quo. Better Together speaks directly to the self-interest of this latter group. Take Alastair Darling’s interview in the Daily Mail last week, in which the former Chancellor fretted about the effect independence might have on Scottish financial institutions, dismissed Nordic social democracy (“[it means] higher income tax and VAT up to 25 per cent”) and accused the SNP of “bullying” the CBI. This is establishment unionism in its purest form, completely detached from the sort of “progressive”, centre-left unionism the Labour Party claims to represent.

So far, the No campaign hasn’t had to work very hard to keep its affluent base on side. “Middle” Scotland hasn’t felt the rough edge of Britain’s post-war decline in the same way or to the same extent as “lower” Scotland has. In fact, even as the collapse of manufacturing devastated communities in Scotland’s (now Yes voting) former industrial heartlands, the financialisation of the Scottish economy created a whole new sector for Scottish professionals to thrive in. Can the Yes campaign convince middle-class Scots, in what little time is left before September, to change their minds? Or will Scotland’s doctor, lawyers and bankers prove themselves every bit as petulant and conservative as their counterparts in other parts of the UK?

Screengrab from Telegraph video
Show Hide image

The Telegraph’s bizarre list of 100 reasons to be happy about Brexit

“Old-fashioned light bulbs”, “crooked cucumbers”, and “new vocabulary”.

As the economy teeters on the verge of oblivion, and the Prime Minister grapples with steering the UK around a black hole of political turmoil, the Telegraph is making the best of a bad situation.

The paper has posted a video labelled “100 reasons to embrace Brexit”. Obviously the precise number is “zero”, but that didn’t stop it filling the blanks with some rather bizarre reasons, floating before the viewer to an inevitable Jerusalem soundtrack:

Cheap tennis balls

At last. Tennis balls are no longer reserved for the gilded eurocrat elite.

Keep paper licences

I can’t trust it unless I can get it wet so it disintegrates, or I can throw it in the bin by mistake, or lose it when I’m clearing out my filing cabinet. It’s only authentic that way.

New hangover cures

What?

Stronger vacuums

An end to the miserable years of desperately trying to hoover up dust by inhaling close to the carpet.

Old-fashioned light bulbs

I like my electricals filled with mercury and coated in lead paint, ideally.

No more EU elections

Because the democratic aspect of the European Union was something we never obsessed over in the run-up to the referendum.

End working time directive

At last, I don’t even have to go to the trouble of opting out of over-working! I will automatically be exploited!

Drop green targets

Most people don’t have time to worry about the future of our planet. Some don’t even know where their next tennis ball will come from.

No more wind farms

Renewable energy sources, infrastructure and investment – what a bore.

Blue passports

I like my personal identification how I like my rinse.

UK passport lane

Oh good, an unadulterated queue of British tourists. Just mind the vomit, beer spillage and flakes of sunburnt skin while you wait.

No fridge red tape

Free the fridge!

Pounds and ounces

Units of measurement are definitely top of voters’ priorities. Way above the economy, health service, and even a smidgen higher than equality of tennis ball access.

Straight bananas

Wait, what kind of bananas do Brexiteers want? Didn’t they want to protect bendy ones? Either way, this is as persistent a myth as the slapstick banana skin trope.

Crooked cucumbers

I don’t understand.

Small kiwi fruits

Fair enough. They were getting a bit above their station, weren’t they.

No EU flags in UK

They are a disgusting colour and design. An eyesore everywhere you look…in the uh zero places that fly them here.

Kent champagne

To celebrate Ukip cleaning up the east coast, right?

No olive oil bans

Finally, we can put our reliable, Mediterranean weather and multiple olive groves to proper use.

No clinical trials red tape

What is there to regulate?

No Turkey EU worries

True, we don’t have to worry. Because there is NO WAY AND NEVER WAS.

No kettle restrictions

Free the kettle! All kitchen appliances’ lives matter!

Less EU X-factor

What is this?

Ditto with BGT

I really don’t get this.

New vocabulary

Mainly racist slurs, right?

Keep our UN seat

Until that in/out UN referendum, of course.

No EU human rights laws

Yeah, got a bit fed up with my human rights tbh.

Herbal remedy boost

At last, a chance to be treated with medicine that doesn’t work.

Others will follow [picture of dominos]

Hooray! The economic collapse of countries surrounding us upon whose trade and labour we rely, one by one!

Better English team

Ah, because we can replace them with more qualified players under an Australian-style points-based system, you mean?

High-powered hairdryers

An end to the miserable years of desperately trying to dry my hair by yawning on it.

She would’ve wanted it [picture of Margaret Thatcher]

Well, I’m convinced.

I'm a mole, innit.