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Voting for independence
Before the 2014 referendum on Scottish independence, I spent a lot of time thinking about the kind of country I wanted to live in, and how it should relate to the wider world. I came to the conclusion that it wasn’t possible to make a decision based on facts, well-argued analysis, and expert predictions. Rather, I identified the issues that were most relevant to the way I thought about our governance, and made my decision based on how I felt about those issues. And I was happy to vote for independence.

Looking at the key issues that drove my decision:

  • I believe in localism (in a positive way). We ought to have smaller political units that are more closely connected to the people who live in them. A smaller country is a better country. And that power should be devolved down to the smallest practical political unit.

  • The Westminster government is distant from Scotland, and from Scottish priorities. (This is not to say that it is undemocratic, but rather that Scottish priorities are not well represented).

  • National institutions inevitably have an English focus, and Scotland is often regarded as “them” rather than “us”.

  • Immigration is seen as a major problem in much of England. It isn’t regarded in the same way in Scotland, and as a nation we would welcome more immigrants.

  • The emphasis of our tax system needs to be different. Scotland has a much smaller percentage of top-rate tax payers, and needs to be more active in adapting our tax system to encourage inward investment (perhaps by offering a different model of corporation tax).

  • Scottish industries — oil, whisky, ship building, fishing, finance, technology — need specific and active support from the government.

Thinking about those, and similar, issues in relation to Britain in Europe, I’m convinced that voting to leave Europe is the right decision on Thursday. This is not an anti-European or anti-foreigner stance, but a genuine belief that we are not served well by further European integration. A belief that Britain can prosper, and indeed push ahead of Europe with economic performance and with social issues. An escape from the pervasive belief that a larger institution always knows best. And an escape from the bureacracy, cronyism, corruption, and lack of democracy in many of the European institutions.

I can understand arguments from both sides of the referendum, and can see many different points of view on each side (and many distinct reasons why people would vote to leave or vote to remain). But I hope that everyone votes for a positive reason — because they believe in the direction they are voting for, rather than because they are afraid of the alternative.

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I disagree with your penultimate paragraph because I see Europe - with its admitted problems - as a mostly well-intentioned effort by national governments to work together in a fairly loose framework, rather than a central government, or something aspiring to be one. (The treatment of Greece last year gave me some pause on that.)

However, I not only agree with everything else you said, but think you've done an excellent job of expressing something important clearly and simply.

I particularly agree with your final paragraph and the desirability of voting - whichever way you choose - for positive reasons. The success of everyone's personal opinions will go through ups and downs, but overall I think the world will be a better place if people try to make it so, rather than trying to prevent it getting worse. They may sound like the same thing, but I think there's a surprisingly big difference between the positive and negative approach.

P.S. Good to see you today!

Always good to meet you in a St Andrews street!

Thank you for your comment; I appreciate it. I felt motivated to write something about the way I feel about independence for two main reasons:

Firstly, I’ve spent time talking to remainers over the past few weeks who don’t appear to have an appreciation of why someone would vote for independence, and are all too ready to ascribe negative motivations to leavers. So I felt it important to collate my personal, positive, feelings about both Scottish independence, and about Britain leaving Europe.

Secondly, it appears that online discourse has been ramping up to an unpleasant level of nastiness in the last few days. The high feelings could be partly a reaction to recent events, but maybe a heightened level of online antagonism was inevitable in the final week of the campaign. We saw a similar level of bigotry towards the end of the Scottish referendum campaign, and to an extent it still lives with us. This needs to be fought with understanding, patience, and a positive message.

It shouldn’t be a difficult exercise to try to understand why one’s political opponents think the way they do, and how they reach their decisions, particularly if one starts with an assumption that most people, across the political spectrum, are kind and caring (even if they think in totally different ways). I find it very disturbing when seemingly intelligent people ascribe negative motivations to people they don’t agree with; if others don’t agree with them, they assume that the reason must be stupidity, or greed, or malice, or that they’ve been somehow led astray.

Hi Toby,

Thanks for posting this. It was a pleasure to read a nuanced opinion, given that much of the EU debate has been so ungrounded.

I found it particularly interesting, because I agree with nearly all the points you make. I too believe in localism and had I a vote in the Scottish independence referendum, I probably would have voted for independence too.

Yet on the EU question, I will vote Remain. Mainly on the issue of Free Trade - I believe that a post-exit UK would find it very difficult to negotiate Trade deals with the rest of the world on better terms than we have already. The best analysis I've seen on this is at by an EU law professor. My choice is also coloured by the knowledge my wife's job in Financial Services would disappear or be relocated to Ireland.

If we leave, Michael Gove has talked about 'bumps in the road', but I think the consequences are likely to be much more serious than that. An EU exit hurts the whole UK economy, not just the Scottish industries that you'd like to help.

I reached the same conclusion as Toby, for much the same reasons.

Sadly, the heated rhetoric has only increased since the result being announced, probably fanned by the SNP as leverage to get a second independence referendum (the more aggrieved people seem, the greater the political pressure).

I disagree with Gavin's description of the EU as "a fairly loose framework" - it is, after all, self-defined as "ever closer union", and the responses so far from EU leadership have focussed on deepening EU integration still further. They have integrated currency, customs, immigration controls and now starting to include military elements too - is there any real sense in which that body, with its own flag, parliament and laws is NOT yet a central government?

If it really were a loose framework for cooperation - more akin to the UN or NAFTA - I'd have supported it. As a body which writes and enforces laws, and forbids us to negotiate trade agreements with other countries? No - hence my vote.

One factor in my decision was their insular nature and inward focus - they're obsessed with internal trade, to the detriment of external, which is why they have fewer trade deals than you might expect: 52 of them ... 3 of which are with parts of the British Isles, and very few of any significance (China, and one with Canada which hasn't taken effect yet). I expect we will find it easy not only to replace but to surpass that quite quickly, assuming our government has the sense to start working on that! (Several governments have already confirmed willingness not only to negotiate trade deals with us, but to assist us in doing so with other countries; meanwhile, the EU's attempted trade deal with the USA probably won't happen any time soon, particularly without our help. (Post-Obama, Britain will almost certainly be able to conclude a deal years before the EU manage it!)

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