Today is Referendum Day … What might History Show?


  By G.A.Ponsonby
The waiting is over and the day has arrived.  Most of us who vote today will have made up our minds some time ago.
Some have never wavered whilst others have swithered, pondered perhaps even changed their view – Yes, No, Don’t Know.

At some point each of us who walk into that polling booth will place our cross in either the Yes box, or the No box – and at a stroke will be part of history.

But which history will it be?

For me the answer is to be found in the Scotland of the future.  I imagine a young man or woman, twenty five years hence, asking me why I made the choice I did.

I see them smiling, confident outward looking and curious to know the story of their Scotland.  A Scotland without nuclear weapons, a Scotland enriched by a society that looks after its vulnerable.

Selflessness has replaced selfishness.

It’s a Scotland where university education is based on the ability to learn and not the ability to pay, and where our NHS is still in public hands. 

It’s a society that values looking after its people at home over any desire to ‘punch above our weight’ in conflicts around the globe.

Our oil wealth is, at last, being carefully invested for the future.  Some has also been used to invest in renewables.  The old receive free electricity, the surplus of which is exported south in an agreement that sees our neighbours benefit from Scotland’s vast natural resources.

We cooperate with our good friends across the former UK.  Devolution has led to an equalising of society and the gap between rich and poor across the island has very much reduced.

Immediately after Scotland voted Yes, there was a political sea-change south of the border as the working classes and middle classes joined together to remove the old, corrupt political elite that had for so long controlled the power and wealth.

There was a new Union between Scotland, the English regions, Wales and Northern Ireland.  It was a partnership of equals – signified by an island commission.  It was almost the federal state so longed for by Scottish Unionists in the great referendum of 2014, but which would never have come to pass but for the historic Yes victory.

The shared history is celebrated every year with Old Union day.  London, Cardiff, Edinburgh and Belfast host the annual cultural event in turn each year.  Children learn of the bonds that forged past links.

It is of course the vision of a Scotland that Yes offers and I truly hope to see a day when I say “this is why I voted Yes”.  I long to hear them say thank you.

But there may be another history.

In this second history Scotland voted No. 

We see a Scotland blighted by the failure of a Westminster system that moved swiftly to ensure the referendum of 2014, in which it came close to losing, could never again be repeated.

The new federal state promised by Unionist parties never materialised.  The establishment breathed a sigh of relief after No narrowly won and attention quickly turned to the UK general election of 2015 and the EU.

The ‘powers’ eventually handed to Scotland were a poisoned chalice.  The block grant was cut and Scottish taxes were increased to make up the shortfall.

Pretty soon the NHS in England was privatised and public spend began to reduce as private companies set about charging patients.  With England’s public sector spending falling, Scotland suffered as our own grant was cut to reflect the fall.

The first thing to cave in was free University education.  It meant Scots from poorer backgrounds were unable to afford to go to University.

The NHS creaked as the budget was squeezed and it eventually succumbed to the demands of the private sector.  There was now little difference between the NHS north and south of the border.

The Scottish NHS ceased to exist in 2026 when a Labour Government at Holyrood, backed by Conservative MSPs, voted to allow the Westminster Labour Government to subsume the Scottish Health Service into a pan-UK NHS.

As the years passed Scotland became increasingly reliant on England for its block grant as north Sea oil revenue dwindled.  With no oil fund and the renewable sector having been starved of funding by Westminster’s drive for nuclear, the Scottish economy stagnated.

Scottish unemployment increased and income tax levied by Holyrood rose in order to try to protect the tax take.  Pretty soon the Scottish economy was all but bankrupt and MSPs turned to Westminster asking for a bail-out.

An act of the UK Parliament saw the repeal of the 2015 devolution act and the fiscal powers that had been given to Scotland after the 2014 referendum were taken back.

Scottish voters, angry at the inability of MSPs to alleviate the growing poverty and poor health they were having to endure, grew tired of their toy-town parliament.  Voter participation at Holyrood dropped to local council levels.  The Edinburgh parliament had lost all meaningful power and now also relevance to Scots.

The UK, helped by the Scottish electorate, had narrowly voted to remain in the EU in David Cameron’s 2016 In/Out referendum.  However by 2031 another Conservative Government referendum was held which saw the UK overwhelmingly choose to leave the EU.

Out of Europe, English nationalism turned its attention to the subsidy junkie Scots across the border.  Our own MPs and MSPs were powerless to prevent the abolition of the Scottish Parliament in 2040.

In 2040 I don’t want these two young people to ask why we didn’t take the opportunity to vote Yes in 2014 whilst we still had a chance to create something special.

We need to vote Yes today.