I have been fortunate over the past few years to have been able to work in Norway, Ireland and Denmark. These are countries that are comparable to Scotland, in terms of population, climate, political ethos, and physical resources. It is clear to me that people in these countries have a better standing of living than us, they are healthier, and are more confident in themselves. It is not hard to verify this. All that is needed is to take a flight from Edinburgh or Glasgow to Oslo or Copenhagen, and compare the quality of respective airports. The next step is to sit on a bench on any city-centre street and make a count of the proportion of people who look happy and fit, as opposed to those who look obese and ground-down. These observations can be backed up by human development statistics, but the reality of the contrast is available to anyone who makes this journey and keep their eyes open. Maybe the best way to convince people to vote “yes” is to buy them a ticket to one of these places.
How can we make sense of this? I invite you to consider the possibility that the UK, as an entity, is existentially sick. Throughout the modern era, Britain has been a giant on the world stage. We have had an empire, been in the vanguard of scientific and technological progress, maintained a democratic system, provided universal health and social care, and stood up to totalitarian regimes. But these achievements have run their course, or are in the process of doing so. Our armed forces are shrinking. The NHS in England is gradually being sold off to American health-care corporations. There are many people who do not have enough to eat. There are not enough houses for people to live in. The media, political life and financial services are riddled with corruption. There are no UK politicians who are trusted by more than half of the population. The income and opportunity gap between people at the top, and the rest of us, widens year by year.
We cling on to the reminders of past glory – a seat on the UN Security Council, four Trident submarines, something that is called a National Health Service, the BBC. We retain some influence because we use the same language as the USA, which has become the main language for international business and science.
Any living entity has a life-cycle. It is born, grows, reaches its full powers, then declines and dies. Something else in then re-born. It seems to me very clear that this is what is happening in the UK, and that a deep appreciation of this reality is what is leading people in Scotland to opt for independence now. There is nothing that is being said by any of the leading UK politicians, or even by voices outside the political system, that describes and explains how anything is going to get better, how the re-birth might happen, and what shape it might take. What they talk about is how to minimise and manage the decline.
Think about the recent history of successful countries such as Norway, Denmark and Ireland. Each of them, in their own way, touched bottom and then re-defined themselves and regrouped, and ultimately came back stronger.