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Why You Should Vote No To Scottish Independence

September 16, 2014

It isn’t broken so what are you trying to fix?

First published here

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“Look at all these jobs we have created,” Alex Salmond said, splaying his hands far and wide across the Amazon call centre at Waverley Gate in Edinburgh.

Viewers of the BBC 6 o’clock news in November 2011 would have been greeted with an image of an open-plan office; a sea of heads, computer screens and headsets, answering Christmas calls and diligently replying to emails. Here was the workforce, working hard.

It looked good. It seemed good. First minister Alex Salmond had persuaded the giant online retailer to set up shop in Scotland’s capital city and my hometown – one of the greatest coups of his term as first minister so far – instead, I guess, of relinquishing the employer to Slough or some industrial park down South. Since opening in Edinburgh earlier that year, Amazon had worked its way up to employ around 1,000 people in its call centre alone in time for the Christmas peak season.

I was one of the first intakes at Amazon in October 2011, where I worked for three months until mid-January 2012 when I left to do a journalism course in London. Turns out I was in the nick of time. Around half of my colleagues were to follow me out the door just two weeks later, despite being desperate for a permanent contract. Many of them had families to support and mortgages to pay, had commuted in from Fife or further afield every day through a freezing winter, and would once again return to the temp agency wheel of fortune, hoping their next job would last a bit longer.

I was sitting nearby when Alex Salmond came to visit us that day, and he wasn’t happy with the first take to camera. “Let’s do that again,” he said abruptly to the cameraman.

Little did I know Salmond was cooking up a referendum on independence. I went back to talking to an angry customer in Falkirk, whose expensive Christmas presents had been chucked over a hedge by the delivery man.

The point here isn’t to state my dislike of Salmond, or to argue that Amazon employing people is a bad thing. But at the same time, don’t forget the other people I got to know who were mystifyingly not awarded permanent contracts, even though they were probably harder working, better at their jobs than me and more in need of the money.

My point is that, like Christmas workers, the Alex Salmonds of this world will come and go. In the meantime, they can twist and turn the stats to make anything turn in their favour.

I’m not qualified to talk about Trident, what makes us Scottish or British, or whether 16-year-olds should have the power to vote. I will stick to what I know – or at least claim to know best in this debate – and that’s the economy and how we are stronger together.

Let’s re-wind six Christmases. Everything was in a mess. I couldn’t even get a store card from TopShop. But for others, it was a much harsher reality. My friends’ parents went out of business, some of my friends and family were struggling for work; and our neighbours’ houses sat, stagnant, on the market – for months, years.

Today, the UK is the strongest performing economy in the G7 – ahead of the U.S., ahead of Germany, ahead of any other major developed nation in the world. Our house prices have risen again. Unemployment has fallen so fast that the Bank of England had to backtrack on using it as a benchmark to raising interest rates. Consumer spending has kept our economy afloat.

There are further positive signs for the UK. We have positive inflation that is relatively close to target, while prices in the eurozone are falling and heading to deflation. We may be the first developed nation to raise interest rates this year or in spring as we return to normal monetary conditions, rather than cut them to negative rates like in continental Europe to try and kick-start their economy.

Better Together is part of the reason for that, as well as our position in Europe. The UK has, rather amazingly, emerged from the credit crunch relatively unscathed, compared to other countries in Europe. Ireland is awash with half-finished, unused and wasted properties that it built in the boom and failed to sell in the crash. Greece, Spain and Italy still have staggeringly high youth unemployment at up to 56 percent, according to Eurostat. Greece went amok at the devastating austerity cuts imposed by its government after decades of lazy bureaucracy and corruption. And Cypriots were queuing around the block to get to the cashpoint in 2012 when they thought their country was going to be bailed out.

Ireland, Greece and Portugal were given massive loans to tide them over, thanks to being part of the European Union. Yes, they had to accept harsh austerity measures to repay their debt. Those were not good times. But who knows what the alternative would have been?

Things have been a whole lot better in the UK – despite spending cuts which have hit some of us really hard.

In the meantime, we’ve been putting our public voice to good use: we’ve wrangled over whether we want to live next door to Romanians due to UKIP’s Nazi-style open letters in the newspapers and its threats of “diseased” gypsies, we argue whether the benefit system is being abused, and we watch reality show Benefits Street and scream “I told you so!” We are always, always looking for a scapegoat for our problems.

The truth is that most of us are in work. Most of us get NHS treatment if we need it. And in Scotland, we get free prescriptions, free education, free bus passes for the elderly, we are over represented in Westminster – we even brought in the smoking ban a year before England – and we decorated our new Parliament building with hundreds of tiny Highland cows.

Scottish socialist politician Tommy Sheridan screams passionately on the Sunday Politics Scotland show about a free Scotland – but much of our budget is already in our own hands. It is not perfect now, it will not be perfect in 2016. We make decisions, for example, how to spend our NHS budget, yet Scotland is known as the sick man of Europe.

Do you think an independent Scotland means a “free” Scotland? We might be free (for a while) of the “effin Tories” as Cameron put it last week, but we won’t be free of demanding shareholders and corporations acting in their own interests and overseas buyers pushing up house prices.

An independent Scotland won’t be free from international businessmen like Donald Trump who bulldozed down the sand dunes of Aberdeen, forced people out of their homes, built massive golf courses and resorts during a recession and campaigned against renewable energy in local papers. [Watch the documentary You’ve Been Trumped].

We won’t be free of large companies who set up shop in the Channel Islands and escape corporation tax.

We won’t be free of our reliance on oil.

We won’t be free of our dependence on a stable currency – if it depreciates, that hurts our exporters, and the pound has already fallen around four percent versus the U.S. dollar since the infamous YouGov poll last Sunday showed the separatists striking ahead.

We won’t be free of politicians and their whims; we won’t magically reduce Scotland’s deficit (how much it spends compared to how much it earns) of £13.6 billion – 10.6 per cent of GDP – “including a per capita share of North Sea revenue”, it says on the Scottish government website, which is higher than the UK as a whole.

And we won’t lure the great powers of the world like China to become our favoured trading partners just because we welcomed their pandas into Edinburgh Zoo.

We might be free of UKIP – that is, of course, until our own right-wing thugs and scaremongerers raise their heads for attention, sniffing an opportunity when something goes wrong and the public is again looking for someone to blame.

No, in my view we have never been hamstrung or imprisoned by England and Westminster, despite the long-running complaints about the poll tax and a conservative government that we “didn’t vote for”. Rather, thanks to Westminster, we kept the pound and didn’t go under with the euro (which Salmond reportedly wanted), instead we were buoyed by our relationship with Europe and the UK as a whole to come through the biggest recession since the 1930s.

It is because we are part of the UK that we can try to move past the credit crunch, and become optimistic about the future, and save for that mortgage for first time homebuyers, or apply for that job.

Salmond is shoving me out the door with one hand and waving to the BBC 6 o’clock news cameraman with the other. And I don’t want any part of my future – this Christmas or the next – depending on his or on any separatist’s version of a permanent contract.

This is my opinion and does not represent the employees of ETF.com. Please get in touch at rrevesz@etf.com

 

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