By Tony Banks, of Business for Scotland
In my view, there is a vote for independence in the hearts of most Scots. But emotion apart, it’s vital we use our heads to understand the rationale for putting Scotland’s future in Scotland’s hands.
I recognise that within the UK our futures are intertwined. I am both Scottish and British. I care not only about my fellow Scots, but about everyone across these isles. So let me explain why I am convinced a Yes vote in next year’s referendum will be good for Scotland – and the rest of Britain and Northern Ireland.
First, we have to tackle the blight of inequality. The UK is currently the fourth most unequal country in the developed world. The Fiscal Commission Working Group, whose number includes Nobel Laureate economist Professor Joe Stiglitz, says that since 1975 the UK income gap has grown faster than in any other developed country. And inequality, he says, is one of the biggest inhibitors of economic growth.
Professionally, I am involved in the care home sector. Our company helps elderly people who need support get the most from their latter years. In doing so, we contribute to the economy by providing employment, paying taxes and creating wealth. I, therefore, have a particular interest in Professor Stiglitz’s central message that supporting those most in need is key to promoting broader economic health. Fairness and prosperity are two pieces of the same jigsaw.
This resonates with business people like me. For example, I want to hire the brightest possible and most committed people with a vocation in caring – their socio-economic background matters not. It is also in the interests of a stable economy to have high levels of productivity – and that means giving everyone of working age a fair opportunity to realise their potential.
Secondly, the leading international economists writing the Fiscal Commission report concluded that Scotland could not tackle inequality without a change to the economic and political model of the UK. We need to consider as voters whether the UK offers the optimal economic and political model to achieve greater equality – and sustainable economic growth.
It is clear that in this respect the UK is not OK. We have a London-centric and short-term focused system that has failed to learn the lessons of the financial crisis or address sectoral and geographic imbalances.
Population in London and the South-East is expected to rise by two million over the next seven years. But the latest economic figures suggest no improvement in the balance between manufacturing and services despite the concerns of senior figures on the left and right of the economy and politics, including Lord Heseltine. These voices are not opposed to the growth of financial services in London or elsewhere. Rather, they recognise that sector’s sustainable success is as much dependent on the development of the wider economy as any other.
A Yes vote next year can be the trigger for major reform that will be in the long-term interests of the City of London and the rest of the UK. Westminster needs to recognise that by letting go and allowing other parts of these islands to compete and create wealth it will benefit everyone.
The numbers going back decades don’t support the belief that London’s performance will trickle down to the rest of the country, be that the north-east of England or the central belt of Scotland. We have a sound financial basis on which to prosper independently but our potential is constrained by the Westminster straightjacket. Scotland needs the powers to compete and both competition and fairness are good for Britain’s economy.
Independence should be seen as a catalyst for structural reform across the UK. George Osborne worries about this because it involves change and he is more comfortable with the familiar. For him, that involves tailoring policy towards a City of London-led recovery pursued – not because it is necessarily sustainable – but because it retains power and improves the prospects of short-term political success in the South-East of England where elections are decided.
I was not sure about declaring my views on independence so early in the debate – that was until Mr Osborne came to Scotland last month and continued the convention favoured by successive Westminster governments of trying to pull the wool over our eyes. We have been told for generations that we were too poor and too small. Now, because those arguments have been disproven (we more than pay our way in the UK), the same people pretend that everything about independence is complicated and difficult. They reckon if they muddy the waters enough, Scotland will lose the confidence to vote yes next September.
But we mustn’t forget that the referendum is essentially about the right to choose. Will we choose to take Scotland’s future into our own hands – or leave it with politicians in a Westminster system that isn’t working for us? Even when, as an independent country, we are co-operating with other countries in these isles – whether it be on currency, pensions, defence or financial regulation, we’ll be free to make choices that are in our interests.
My third factor is something we choose already – our national identity. Let’s be clear: a Yes vote does not mean the end of Britishness. It does not mean an end to the union of monarchy, the defence union through NATO, the currency union or the family and social unions of these islands. What it means is a change to the political and economic union so we can have the economic powers to make for a more prosperous and fairer society according to our own priorities and goals. It also means maintaining Scotland in the European Union in contrast to the direction of travel at Westminster.
I will cheer on Mo Farah at the next Olympics in Brazil because I choose to feel British whether Scotland is independent or not. It doesn’t matter either if Mo Farah is wearing Team GB or England colours.
As a youngster growing up in Scotland I began to realise the extent to which we are capable of ploughing our own furrow in a way that works for all of us. When all the political posturing is done about shared currency or North Sea oil, it boils down to whether the people have the individual and collective confidence to build a better future for everyone across these isles. Then we can be truly better together. I support an independent Scotland because I am British.
Tony Banks is a new member of the board of Business for Scotland. Falklands veteran Tony is the Chairman of Balhousie Care Group, Scotland’s largest private care home provider comprising 27 care homes and employing more than 1,000 staff.
This article first appeared on the Business for Scotland website and is republished here with kind permission.