I have refrained from blogging about the Scottish Independence referendum on the grounds that anything an English person living in England says on the subject will be ignored or treated as either patronising or irrelevant and probably both. Following last night’s debate, between Alex Salmond First Minister, SNP and leader of the campaign for a Yes vote and Alastair Darling former Chancellor of the Exchequer and leader of the campaign for a No vote, I felt it was high time I did write something.
Firstly, I am annoyed that I don’t have a vote. There was an act of Union between Scotland and England, Wales and then Ireland and yet only one part of the union is getting a say on the subject as to whether it should continue. This does not seem to be democratic to me. Of course there is no telling what the voting in the rest of the United Kingdom might deliver. Perhaps they might vote Yes!
Secondly, the talk is that if there is a No vote (current poll prediction is 56% for No), Scotland will be offered further devolved powers. In this scenario what about England? We have devolved powers from Westminster to the Northern Irish and Welsh Assemblies and a greater range of devolved powers to the Scottish Parliament. Scotland has always had it’s own legal system for example. Despite current devolved powers Scottish (and Welsh and Northern Irish) MPs and Peers have continued to vote in Parliament on matters that are devolved to the individual nations and principalities. This is the famous West Lothian question and has not been addressed by any of the political parties. As part of any further devolution settlement can we at least address this undemocratic system. As all MPs represent geographical constituencies having no votes on particular subject like NHS in England would only be fair in exchange for devolved powers. Given the ability of any TV programme to count and handle millions of votes in a TV talent contest in a few broadcast minutes it seems inconceivable that our elected representatives cannot agree out of 650 MPs who can vote on any given subject.
Thirdly, demographics matter and one of the comments I heard today was on the relative voting power of London and Scotland. London has 73 constituencies serving a population of 6.5 million living there, whilst Scotland has 59 MPs for 5.3 million. This is out of 650 MPs. The ratio is approximately the same 89,000 eligible voters per MP. Yet London MPs cannot vote on devolved matters but 59 Scottish MPs do when it does not impact their own constituents.
Relative economies are interesting as well. London as 22% of the UKs GDP of $2.5 Trillion dollars (approx $550 billion). Scotland has $214 billion of that. London’s share of the UK minus Scotland would therefore go up to nearly 24% and the runt of the UK would drop to $2.3 Trillion. These figure are I’m sure disputed by the SNP and Yes campaign.
In terms of a democratic and economic deficit it is London that is being ignored and on a wider scale England. Scotland has no prescription charges (nor does Wales) and no University tuition fees for residents. According to the ONS here, Scotland receives £10,152 per head of population of Public Sector spending compared to England’s £8,529. Again who has a democratic and economic deficit? It is not Scotland.
In the end as with all independence movements around the world the vote (at least there is one) will be down to the Scottish voters who turn out and tick a Yes or No vote. In the last Scottish Parliament election in 2011 turnout was 50.4%. I would hope that more than half of the Scottish residents on the electoral role would bother to vote in this referendum, after all the SNP has changed voting rules to allow persons over the age of 16 to vote. Let’s say that the turnout is 100% of the 4 million on the electoral roll; therefore, each campaign needs a minimum of 2,000,001 votes to win. Out of nearly 64 million people in the UK it’s future could be decided by less than 3.2% of the population. How’s that for democracy?