Let’s get the identity thing out the way: I’m British. My Mother is Scottish, with Ginger hair and Gaelic-speaking parents, a fear of sunshine and everything. My Father is mostly English, with a Welsh grandparent and an Irish surname. So as far as I can work it out, I’m half Scots, 3/8 English 1/8 Welsh and there’s some Irish in there too somewhere, but I’m buggered if I can find it. As a result I have brown hair, but some ginger in the beard, and I too get sunburn at a fireworks display, and cannot stand direct sunlight. That’s the genetics. Then there’s the Identity. I was Born in Northampton, Schooled in Leicestershire, and went to University in Edinburgh for whom I played Shinty. I have ALWAYS regarded myself as British, Scottish (whom I support at football), English (whom I support at Rugby) and a citizen of the world.

My Late Grandfather was a fearsome Scottish Nationalist, despite having spent almost all his working life outside Scotland, serving Britain – in the Merchant marine, and the Diplomatic Wireless Service. I’ve enjoyed arguing ‘no’ all my life with him, and if Scots vote ‘yes’ I will take a crumb of comfort from the fact it’d make the old rogue happy. I learned to love the rough and tumble of political debate over my Grandparents’ table in Inverness. The Scots are a warm, friendly, resolute and resourceful nation of people, who have achieved, like my Grandfather, great things all over the world, but the political culture is utterly vile. It was in Edinburgh I discovered the swamp of bitterness and hatred that is Scottish politics. I’ve never seen anything quite as unpleasant, and I’ve some experience of Northern Ireland. The principle emotions expressed are resentment, and a particularly toxic brand of zero-sum socialism: what’s bad for the English must be good for me and Vice-versa. And this has been encouraged by the Scottish political establishment which is hard-left Labour, and often Harder left SNP, who have found the English, Tory boogeyman a handy catch-all on whom to blame all failures.

And some of Scotland is an abject failure. East Glasgow contains some of the poorest people in Europe, with some of the lowest life-expectancy in the developed world. This in a vibrant, powerful, wealthy city with arts and culture galore, represents a shocking failure of Glasgow’s labour Political establishment. These people, living in schemes where the men are unlikely to live much beyond their 50th birthday, have been told that it’s all “Thatcher” who closed the shipyards and steelworks, and the “Tories” who don’t care, shifting the blame from a Scottish Parliament and Labour Government in Westminster who’ve had over a decade to do something about it. But it’s easier to make people hate ‘the other’, than it is to rebuild such failed communities.

And the poor bits of Glasgow are the bits most strongly in favour of Scottish independence. Unsurprising, really, they do have the least to lose. Labour is reaping what it sowed.

So we come to the referendum. They’ve given votes to children, hoping they can be enthused by the Braveheart myth; not put what is BY FAR the most popular option – Devolution Max – on the ballot paper, allowed the Secessionists the ‘yes’ answer – the question could have been, “should Scotland stay in the United Kingdom?”; and there is no supermajority needed to destroy the UK, all at the behest of Alex Salmond. If he cannot, under these circumstances persuade people to leap into the Abyss, then the issue should be settled for at least a generation. The SNP got more or less everything it asked for in the negotiations over the referendum. To bleat about BBC bias, and “Westminster stooges” under these circumstances is rather pathetic.

Abyss? Scotland has the potential to be an extraordinarily vibrant place. The land of Smith an Hume, the Edinburgh enlightenment, whose ideas underpinned the USA, industrial engineers, soldiers and statesmen who built then dismantled the greatest Empire the world has ever seen. Many small countries do well. Scotland the second richest bit of the UK after London & the South east, and Aberdeen its second or third richest city after London and Bath, so it’s not clear to me the Status Quo is broken. The Scots population is sparse and so they get more state spending per head and also contribute more tax per head. English Nationalists (whom I despise too) focus on the former, Scottish Nationalists, the latter. The simple fact is any independent Scotland will be running a big primary deficit, but will lack the ability to finance it. Salmond’s plan to not take a share of the debt will make this deficit utterly unsustainable, as no-one will lend. Austerity? You ain’t seen nothing yet.

So I come back to the toxic political culture, and fear that it would rapidly become Venezuela, if the likes of Jim Sillars gets his way. The blood letting that would accompany a recession costing 4% of GDP, which is what happened to Czechoslovakia on its split, whose economies were much less integrated, would be terrible. Scotland’s independence teething troubles could be worse than Czech Republic and Slovakia’s velvet split – 70% of Scots GDP is “exports” to the rest of the UK. The deeply ingrained habit of Scottish politicians is to blame “Westminster” or “the Tories” mean Scotland would be ripe for the kind of “stab in the back, betrayal” narrative that encourages even more extreme nationalism, should it all go wrong. The yes campaign have encouraged their supporters to project all their hopes onto independence, and deserve credit that theirs is a civic, rather than ‘blood and soil’ nationalism, but there will be a lot of disappointment that it’s a lot, lot harder than they thought it was. The nationalist genie is out of the bottle, and it’s going to be hard to put it back, which ever way the vote goes.

Several companies, and plenty of people have said they’d leave Scotland if she votes ‘Yes’. Scotland will find it harder to attract companies without being part of the UK. No companies and few people have said they’d move to Scotland in the event of a yes vote. Not even Vivienne Westwood.

Of course a ‘Yes’ vote could see a resurgence of the Centre right in Scotland. Ooh Look.

But the forlorn hope that Scottish politics becomes sane on independence, is to deny the greatness of what Scotland and the rest of the UK have achieved TOGETHER: one of the richest, freest, most powerful and influential countries on earth. A leader in world trade, and leading member of many international clubs. And we’re forgetting what the rest of the UK provides Scotland. Scotland would have suffered horribly had it been independent in 2008, probably worse than Ireland as Scotland was even more over-banked than was Ireland in 2007. Bigger economies can sustain deficits and have internationally-traded currencies have virtually unlimited chequebooks in a crisis. Sterling is an internationally-traded currency. Small countries don’t have this advantage. And the UK is not a small country by any measure. We (together) have the 6th (or so…) largest economy on earth, the world’s third most powerful military with global reach, aircraft carriers (and planes too in three years’ time…) and nuclear weapons. That is a lot of insurance against unknown future threats. Small countries aren’t richer or poorer than large ones, but they are more volatile and less able to defend themselves against the likes of Putin or assert influence in the great councils of the world. Scots benefit from the UK’s heft.

Do you really think anyone in Brussels will care what Scotland, a nation of 5 million people, thinks? Denmark and Ireland have little influence, and the Experience of Ireland shows just how far from decision making the needs of peripheral economies are to the EU project. Scotland’s economy will not be aligned to the core, as Denmark’s is. It will be aligned to the UK, as Ireland’s is. And Scotland’s concerns will not matter. The EU power-brokers DO, on the other hand care what the UK thinks, even if the UK is a “surly lodger”, to purloin Salmond’s phrase, who has eschewed the Euro, it is a major one at least equal to France.

Scots though they desire to have no influence in the EU, have been told they have no influence in the UK. That’s palpable, hairy bollocks, swinging under a kilt. Blair and Brown owe all but their 1997 majority to Scottish MPs. The last PM was a Scot. And the current one has Scottish Family. And Blair was educated in Scotland too. It’s about “running your own affairs” you say? But you want to participate fully (uncritically, with little influence) in the EU. Is that not hypocrisy? And in any case, you have significant, and soon to be total, devolution of health, education, some taxation and social policy. Scots are over-represented in Westminster. Scots ALREADY run their own affairs. And I hear a lot of Scottish burrs at the top of politics, business, media out of all proportion to the population. It was a Scottish king who took the English crown and Scots have been running Britain rather well ever since.

Who, elsewhere in the world favours Scottish independence? Kim Jong Un, and Vladimir Putin. That’s about it. For the Union, we have Barak Obama, the EU, NATO, the OECD…. (has anyone asked the Pope or the Dalai Lama?) The practical part of me thinks independence and a ‘yes’ vote would throw out all the benefits of being part of the UK, at enormous long-term cost, and for few additional benefits. The last thing the world needs is another Border, or indeed a smaller, weaker United Kingdom.

But that’s not what this referendum is about. It’s about the emotional appeal to the Scottish soul. Are you Scottish? Are you British? How much of each? There are an enormous number of us in the UK who are British and English, Scottish, Welsh or Irish (not to mention Australian, Indian, Pakistani, Jamaican, Nigerian…) too. “British” is an inclusive identity, and as a result Britain greater by far than the sum of its parts. And for many of us, a ‘Yes’ vote would feel like having a limb sliced off. Think about your family and friends down south. Think about your future in a deeply uncertain world. Think about the collective strength of the nations of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Think about how desperately sad many people who love Scotland both in Scotland and elsewhere, would feel if you vote for independence. Vote with your head, AND your heart, to stay Scottish within a great and powerful United Kingdom.

Vote No.

Protest & Political ‘Freedom’, in Practice.

Free societies are richer, but more unequal. Where people in the mainstream of debate in sensible countries differ is in the definition of “free” and the relative importance of “unequal” and “rich”.

The left tend to regard inequality itself as a mitigation against freedom – the existence of conspicuous consumer goods that the poor could never afford compound the humiliation of a low station in life for example. If there is a culture of meritocracy, the poor are made to feel that they deserve in some way, their fate. Thus economic freedom for some constrains the freedom and happiness in others. This is the rationale behind the left’s persistent support for high marginal tax rates, despite the acceptance by the more intelligent of them that such taxation is costly and inefficient and often reduces growth.

For the economic right, growth is everything. If you get high growth, while a few at the top may get filthy, stinking rich, the rest of society also gets dragged up too, but perhaps slower. It’s growth that generated sufficient surplus to enable the nation to afford a welfare state, which would have crippled Victorian Britain. It’s growth that sees almost anyone who wants one able to afford a car. It’s growth that enables most people to enjoy two weeks in the sun every year. Consumer goods, like silk stockings, once the preserve of the Aristocracy are now available to all. Government did not do this. And this explains the right’s attachment to low taxation and lower public spending: inequality matters less than Growth, because growth provides the surplus that can ultimately be spent on the poor, if necessary.

The left have a point. At some point, inequality is demotivating if you have a hereditary stratum of society who see, but cannot grasp the riches others take for granted. In the UK these people subsist on benefits, which keeps them quiescent. But, crucially, there are plenty of routes out of the welfare trap for those intelligent or resourceful enough to take it. Crucially there are (a few) examples of those who have done just that in the House of Lords and at the very top of public and business life in Britain. So while inequality does affect individuals, it’s not in my view as much of a problem as many in the left make out. Better to focus on removing any remaining barriers to individuals’ success than trying to legislate inequality away.

The economic left and right differ on the inefficiencies of various forms and extents of taxation, but accept there must be some. The other great axis of politics – the authoritarian/libertarian divide differ on what constitutes freedom. Freedom to own guns means in practice that some other people die as a result and so lose the freedom to walk down some streets. Freedom to drink does not mean freedom to drive afterwards. Freedom to take drugs (arguably) imposes costs on others and so on. Weighing up these competing freedoms – the freedom to inject heroin vs the freedom to not be mugged by a junkie, is what reasonable politics in a free society is all about. We all must accept constraints on our freedom in order to rub along in a crowded and high-pressure society and in order that the constraints are reasonable, we must argue about them.

As a libertarian, I make different judgments about where those lines should be to most people, but I do accept there are trade-offs. What I can’t accept is the Hyperbole that comes from people on all sides of debate on almost all issues about slippery slopes, about to render us “unfree”, that Leveson or the more hysterical of the pro-welfare left make about their chosen bugbear.

Ultimately, a working definition of ‘unfree’ is where a Government can decide arbitrarily to persecute someone or some group of people, and they have the power to thwart that individual or Group’s life chances.  The Government of the UK simply does not have that power. Venezuela, for all it’s fig-leaf of elections which may or may not be rigged is not free, because the Government does not obey the rule of law, and can persecute a blogger for ‘terrorism’.

Of course, having got Mr. Medina Ravell sacked, and rendered him unemployable, he becomes an implacable opponent of the Venezuelan Government. In the UK someone who wrote elegantly pejorative articles about the Government of the day will find themselves with a job offer from the Guardian, not a 3am knock from the Police. Until this changes, Britain remains free. It pays even the critics of our society to work harder. Protest is futile, when you can increase your power more effectively by getting richer. Argument on blogs/twitter/newspaper is more effective than ranting slogans on the street.

This is why the ranty left and idiot right is so marginalised  No-one listens when they shout. A few-hundred placard wavers have less leverage over political discourse than a single well read and shared blog-post.Their tactics of marches and protests only work in societies where people are unfree to make their point in other ways. The march and protest is a ritual pastiche of protests past (few of which had the effect ascribed to them). Protests are a social event for like-minded people, a Lek for the politically obsessive. Whatever the inequality of power relationships between workers and employers, rich and poor, we all remain free. And the fact is Britons of all stations in life can see this, and so rightfully ignore the political extremes finding it more profitable to spend their energies elsewhere. The louder they shout, the more completely the political extremes are ignored.

Ultimately those on the political extremes have to contend with the fact that while the UK isn’t perfect, it is one of a handful of stable countries whose people are richer than any who have ever lived. Whatever the UK’s problems are, they’re ones many people will hang onto the axles of lorries to endure. The vast majority of people see this, and don’t want (much) to change. This is also why the mainstream is so small there’s just not that much wrong with the UK in the grand scheme of things.

Think about Mazlow’s hierarchy of needs. Many societies struggle to provide the physiological basics of food and clean water, shelter from the elements and so forth. Physical safety requires a reasonably strong and competent government. Friendship and family are simply not in the Government’s gift, though too much Government power can get in the way. In all these areas, free-market capitalist democracy is superior to all other systems yet developed. Democracies don’t have famines, the socialists did. What we’re left arguing about in the west now the big problems are solved, are the top-of-the-pyramid issues of esteem, and self-actualisation. To these problems, we have yet to find public policy answers, if indeed there are any.

This is why I think freedom of speech is the only freedom that really matters. Most other freedoms are not absolute. Because it’s the free market in ideas which has fueled the free market’s success in delivering goods and services to the people, and free speech is the canary in the mine which will warn us long before the Government starts killing people. So long as people aren’t going to gaol for criticising the Government, rational debate works better than placard-waving, by people who are usually fighting battles long lost and won. There’s always hope you can persuade people you’re right. Only the idiots are left shouting on street-corners.