A debate at Shetland College today into Scottish independence ended with a slim majority voting in favour of sticking with the status quo.
However the hour-long debate, in which MSP Tavish Scott spoke for the “no” campaign and SNP member Danus Skene and Glasgow-based Yes Scotland youth co-ordinator Ross Greer spoke for independence, did manage to shift opinion in the “yes” direction.
Before the debate a ballot was taken – 20 returns yielded four “yes”, 10 “no” and six “don’t know” votes. Afterwards this had changed to nine “yes”, 11 “no” and only two who did not know.
This was very encouraging, said Mr Greer, who is a member of the Green Party.
Opening the debate, he stressed that he did not support the SNP and the issue was not about “one flag or the other”, but about democracy, fairness and prosperity. He said that with only four per cent representation at Westminster, Scottish influence was “negligible”. Scots do not get what they vote for and the system “doesn’t work for us,” he said.
He said Scotland is the eighth wealthiest country in the world but one in four children lives in poverty – in the comparable country of Denmark it is one in 20. Given Scotland’s “vast wealth” it should be an “incredibly prosperous” nation.
Mr Scott responded by saying that Scotland, including Shetland, has the “best of all worlds” by being in the UK. Scotland can set its own policies for health, education and transport but at the same time benefit from the power of the UK internationally. “To ignore all that would be a mistake.”
The benefits could be seen within the UK too – he gave the example of Sir Chris Hoy, who could not have achieved his Olympic medals had he not been part of Team GB. On a personal note, he did not want to use a passport when visiting family in the west country of England.
Mr Skene called issues such as passports a “distraction”. He said the vote in the referendum was about giving Scotland, rather than the UK, the right to make fundamental choices: “It’s about moving from lack of opportunity and imposition to making up our own minds.”
This would include currency. Mr Scott said he did not know what this would mean for an independent Scotland – it could possibly result in Angela Merkel setting the budget.
He also said that the “yes” campaigners were taking a chance “benchmarking” the whole economy on the price of oil and gas, but Mr Skene said the uncertainty prevailed at UK level too. In any case Scotland would have renewables, and separate fiscal arrangements would enable the country to help small and medium-sized businesses.
But again he did not want to dwell on details: “It’s like moving house and worrying about the clutter under the kitchen sink.” He said it was about “my country looking after itself” and that the time was up for the partnership of 300 years, which had been of “greater or lesser effectiveness.”
Responding to a comment that Scotland might find it more difficult to be effective on a “smaller stage”, Mr Greer said that although the UK had many embassies throughout the world it did not necessarily conduct itself well with its “imperialist attitudes”. Arms had been sold to Saudi Arabia and asylum seekers had been sent home to their death.
On a topic closer to home he asked: “What possible benefit does Trident have for us?”
Mr Scott said that being part of the EU had benefited Shetland businesses, and if Scotland had to re-negotiate entry terms, it was possible that: “Spanish fishermen will rub their hands in glee”.
But Mr Skene said the issue was not about money, it was about “self-management” from a country “sure of its own identity”.
Mr Greer agreed that the vote should be about creating a fairer society rather than personal wealth, and pointed out that the UK is in debt to China. But Mr Scott retorted: “Of course it’s about money.”
The debate touched on peripherality – would a centralised government in Edinburgh be any better than a centralised government in Edinburgh? Mr Greer said: “democracy works better on a smaller scale”, and, in his summing up, Mr Skene said that from a Shetland point of view the best chance of increased powers of autonomy would be through a “yes” vote.
However Mr Scott said the SNP campaign was “floundering”, with no-one having any idea where the country would end up if it split apart.