Dear Butterfly Rebellion – Economic Arguments were not Project Fear

Dear Butterfly Rebellion, I’ve lived in Scotland for five years now. I love this country, with its thriving world-class cultural scene, beautiful landscapes and world-class intellectual pedigree. But I also love Britain: the strange and sometimes fractious combination of Scots, Welsh and English people, who are in so many ways so similar and yet so obviously not the same. I campaigned, in Glasgow, for the Better Together movement, and I wanted to answer some of the points made here on your site, from the other side as it were.

With the greatest of respect, there are so many points on which we disagree. However, for this letter I want to try to rebut one of the central arguments levelled against the “55%”: our so-called “Project Fear.” I want show why we raise questions about the economic future of a disbanded UK, and explain why this isn’t about fear but rather a rational and compassionate analysis of our state and its place in the world.

Firstly, let’s look at the central charge made against us perpetrators of “project fear”. We are accused of talking down the Scottish economy, denying its ability to function on its own merit. Now, clearly this narrow point is not true (and I don’t deny that some on the ‘No’ side do make this erroneous claim.) What we are really pointing out, however, is a subtler point about the relative futures of two separate economies, versus one integrated whole. Will Scotland become a third world country without being able to export it’s tweed to Savile Row. No of course not. Rather, to put it simply, we want to protect a prosperous future; not scare you about a poverty-stricken one.

Why is a combined UK economy so important? Well let’s take the example of personal finances, and the golden rule of personal investment: diversification.  The way to insulate yourself against one or other investment going south is to make sure that you also have money in other unrelated businesses, hopefully ones that will be more successful. Countries’ economies are similar; sometimes a few sectors of the economy will do incredibly well and will end up providing a cushion for other parts that have fallen on tougher times. The south of England excels in financial services. As Mr Salmond rightly points out, Scotland has important oil reserves and capacity for world leading renewables in the future. Putting this wide portfolio of specialisations together is a world leading combination. Having a wide and diverse economy allows a mathematician in Glasgow to get a job in the City and a Biochemical engineering specialist in Liverpool to add to the pool of talent in Dundee.

We are not the only ones who value integration. While Mr Salmond is right that a number of countries have become independent in the last few decades – although this has usually been as a result of modern conflicts and large ethnic disparities – the overwhelming trend globally is for further integration. The EU is a prime (if not perfect) example; its free trade and free movement agreements have led to an unprecedented era of peace and prosperity in central Europe. It is a model that is being copied around the globe, in Africa, the Middle East and Asia. Let’s not forget, people in the Ukraine are literally fighting and dying for their right to integrate with their European cousins. We need to move closer together, not further apart.

There are so many other reasons to value the contribution the UK can make to our future too. Take Adam Smith, immortalised on the gates of Glasgow University, the father of modern economics and the inventor of market capitalism. Look at any of the iconic firms and businesses that provide us with so many of the products, sights and jobs that we value today. I want to see the UK continue this partnership, which, historically, has seen such a success. The partnership that stood defiant against tyranny in 1940, and again against Communism throughout the cold war. The partnership that has seen our small nation build a world-renowned healthcare system and create some of the most lionised Universities on the globe. I see no reason why our winning formula should be abandoned. That’s not fear. That is hope.

A Thom, a charaid – Thanks for taking the time to bring your case for Scotland’s economic integration with England, and your belief that its use prior to the 18 September referendum did not constitute part of what has come to be known as Project Fear. Before responding we feel it necessary to underline the fact that fear indeed was an explicit tactic used by the Better Together campaign, along with its partners in Westminster, the BBC, and the rest of the British media. Blair McDougall, the campaign’s director, openly conceded this point at the Labour Party Conference in Manchester in the immediate aftermath of the referendum. So with this in mind it is perfectly correct to speak of much, if not all, of the campaign as a naked effort to frighten the Scots population. Whether or not the economic argument for integration within the United Kingdom constituted part of this terror campaign will be discussed here.

In terms of rhetoric it is worth stating that allusions to united struggles against tyranny during the 1939-45 War and against Communism during the Cold War must be considered redundant. This is neither the 1940s nor the 1950s. It is 2014, and a year in which Scotland was mocked and intimidated for the slightest reference in debate to emotion or its historical memory; both of which are every bit as valid to the people of Scotland as the narrative of Britain is to our English neighbours. Scotland’s silence, therefore, on passion and history were met with nothing other than passionate historical fictions from David Cameron and other exponents of the same British narrative that found itself having to apologise to Irish subjects of ‘Britain’ in the city of Derry for the actions of the British Army (the same British Army that “stood defiant against tyranny in 1940”) on ‘British’ streets, against ‘British’ people in 1972; a people you yourself failed to remember in your declaration of love for being British – “the strange and sometimes fractious combination of Scots, Welsh and English people.” As it is not the 1940s or 50s, neither is it 1972, so we shall move on.

You are perfectly correct. By and large the Better Together campaign did not downplay the Scottish economy. Certainly after international analysts confirmed the viability of our economy, all but a few (including Alistair Darling) found this position untenable. What is at question, if your point is being read rightly, is whether Scotland can have a prosperous future whilst economically bound to its southern neighbour. On the point of diversification you are right and wrong in almost equal measure. Investment spread over multiple sectors does provide safeguards against weaknesses and failures. No one will argue with this principle. Where you are wrong, it is felt, and from the point of hindsight, is that this model of diversification has not, to date, served the interests of Scotland. Sectors within the United Kingdom have failed and they have been supported by other sectors. The financial sector – the City of London financial sector – has failed repeatedly, and consistently it has been protected at the cost of Scottish investment, industry and human lives. Scottish mathematicians have always been free to work in the Republic of Ireland without state level integration.

You write of the greater levels of integration within the European Union as though they are in any way comparable to the economic integration (or control) of Scotland within the United Kingdom. One simply is not the other. All European member states maintain economic and political sovereignty; something Scotland does not enjoy. Had this model be the best argument for Scotland remaining within the United Kingdom then it would stand to reason that the masters of the United Kingdom would not be seeking to disentangle themselves from it. Yet they are. As for the point of the current crisis in the Ukraine, many ethnic Russian Ukrainians feel sincerely that they too are “literally fighting and dying for their right to integrate with” their Russian cousins. This is not so much an argument you make, as much as it is an opinion; a point of view.

We cannot escape certain facts of the British economic argument. It is a set of economic principles that are set in London to the benefit of London, and often to the cost of Scotland and other parts of England, Wales, and Ireland. Boris Johnson and others within the British Establishment have already made their position clear that the British economy is best served by investment in London alone. Scotland has no power (no sovereignty nor autonomy) over these economic decisions – and this has always cost Scotland dearly. The repeated threats to remove what little investment has been placed in Scotland (banking and manufacturing), in which the British Treasury and civil service were involved, has been nothing other than a fear campaign.

Is mise le meas, An Siorrachd

The idea that only the Better Together campaign used negative messaging in the referendum is patently untrue. The last few weeks of the campaign were dominated by the Yes campaign’s claims that the Tory government was hell bent on privatising the NHS. When it comes to negative campaigning, neither side should try to take the high ground.

Why did both sides indulge in such campaigning? As Mr McDougall says, polling shows that these negative messages had resonance with the Scottish people. I would argue that following the polls and making the arguments that have most resonance is not bullying, just smart electioneering. The more important question is whether these messages ring true.

This brings me to the economics of my first letter, where I argued that the UK is indeed a safer place together than apart. In your response you alluded to the recent financial crisis, and pointed out that Scotland has suffered as a result of the global melt down. While we should resist the tendency towards counterfactual arguments; a look at comparable economies and Scotland’s high exposure to the financial sector would suggest that, had it been independent, Scotland may well have fared much worse in 2008. We Unionists argue that, even if one doesn’t share our love for the Union as an institution, at the very least voters should look to their own family and see that they have far better economic options within the UK.

Although, as you spotted, it is not 1940 but in fact 2014: a shared history should not be discounted. What is a nation if it is not a shared history; a shared culture; a common outlook on the world? Though some may not like to admit it, the fact is we share a lot more than just sporting ineptitude and a predilection for talking about the weather. That matters looking forward as well as back.

In your letter you mentioned a good few other points which I have sadly not had time to go into here. In particular I would love to address the concept of sovereignty; the bizarre notion that the EU isn’t an economic unit and the myth that Scots don’t currently have democratic representation. Perhaps another time? However, I feel that my response here, more or less, deals with the main body of your critique. In summary, the “Project Fear” accusation from the nationalists implies that Scots only voted no because of untrue fears propagated by Better Together. I think I have shown both parts of this proposition to be false.

A Thom, a charaid – Excellently put. You’re concession that negative campaigning, on whichever side of the debate was “not bullying,” but “smart electioneering” perfectly underscores how the majority of Scots now feel about the tactics of Better Together. That the Yes campaign spoke of the privatisation of the NHS was a matter of fact. The plan to sell off the English health service is already a reality (see the English press and public debate). A higher proportion of Scots require public healthcare, and so the reality of its demise was a fact germane to the independence debate.

Scotland’s ‘exposure’ to the markets of financial speculation, we must remember, is a product of the Scottish economy’s present entanglement to the London markets. This is why Scotland took such a hit during the economic downturn. It was a matter of infection or toxicity rather than an autogenesis within Scotland. Were we to consider Scotland’s risk had Scotland been independent prior to 2008 it is more likely that the impact would have been similar to that of Norway rather than a miniature London. It is this argument that I would consider to be the myth. If we are to base projections on the hypothetical situation of Scottish independence at the crash then we must also reconstruct a Scottish economy on the basis of that independence, and not merely see it as essentially unchanged except for the lack of political attachment.

– An Siorrachd

11 thoughts on “Dear Butterfly Rebellion – Economic Arguments were not Project Fear

  1. I am not certain whether this is a genuine letter and response or whether it is a constructed correspondence intended to offer two sides of a rather basic and very common argument. But, if you take ‘a step back’ from the unionist case as presented here it is little more than rationalisation for an emotionally held position – and one that is indeed, sadly, held by many in my experience who voted No (though their specific form of rationalisation often differed). The fact the writer concludes by raising a number of issues they “sadly [have] not had time to go into here. In particular …address the concept of sovereignty; the bizarre notion that the EU isn’t an economic unit and the myth that Scots don’t currently have democratic representation” is typical of the fact that the more deeply one ‘pushes’ the argument the weaker it becomes. One is then left with nothing other than Project Fear.

    As for deconstructing the pro union argument, a great deal more could have been said (see the many brilliant articles on Bella Caledonia, National Collective, and Newsnet Scotland, together with the scathing critiques often found on Wings Over Scotland and other blogs). The falsehoods associated with key political and economic issues are also becoming clearer by the day in the mainstream press if one relates current political, economic, and business headlines to the arguments propagated by supporters of the Better Together campaign prior to the referendum.

    In summary, the Better Together case was really a fallacious construction playing upon emotions and intended to primarily serve the interests of a political and economic establishment.whose control over the population (of both Scotland and other parts of the current UK) is rapidly diminishing and unlikely to be recovered. There is, in my opinion, no valid case that can be made for continuing the union in its present form if one wishes to serve the best interests of the people of Scotland (ditto regions/provinces outside London), though desiring change/independence does not mean detachment, indifference, and lack of willingness to collaborate/co-operate with those living elsewhere in the British Isles.



    • I agree with you analysis but I’m afraid I found the referendum a very passionate experience. Particularly when I realised we’d lost the battle, not the war. I was enraged at the self interest of so many people who chose to ignore those living in poverty, and saddened that my age group, over 55s, were largely responsible for the defeat. In hindsight, I suppose it comes as no surprise that we lost, bearing in mind the strength of the propaganda that Goebbels would have been proud of, or am I being childish and slipping into my second childhood. Nevertheless I continue to go to rallies, demonstrations, meetings and see the same passion in the people I meet.


    • Actually this was a real exchange. I know, because I wrote half of it! And thank you for taking the time to read it and respond.

      I do take your point that it is a somewhat basic exchange. When I was asked to write this letter by the blog’s authors, I took the decision to engage with the content on here which focuses strongly on the ‘project fear’ argument. There are many other things which could have been said, and have been by other people, but we didn’t want to force you patient readers to wade through great tracts. Thus the need to be, perhaps overly, basic. I’m sure these debates will rumble on and there will be plenty of opportunity to engage in the more detailed and nuanced issues.

      However I do take issue with your insinuation that my position having an emotional component somehow makes it less any valid. I don’t think you have to read between the lines to see that I clearly do feel strongly about the issue.


  2. May I remind the good Englishman that it was his fellow country people who started a petition against privatisation of their NHS. Most of the Westminster MPS were full of glee that the fear tactics directed mainly at vulnerable pensioners who are not in the best of health and who find it very difficult to feed and heat their selves. However we cannot expect any better from people who fiddle their allowances flip their houses two three and four times protect child abusers, and shred investigation papers to avoid embarrassment for the wrongdoers. Is it any wonder we want rid of them. The Scottish Government has proved it is more than able to look after our own affairs and with full powers in the future nothing will prevent us to flourish.


  3. “The financial servicesexcels in south of England.” There were £B’s mentionioned re this during the No campaign. Is there a truely independent source information / facts on this issue ? Surely the figuers bandied about ( % GDP) 18% income for the UK treasury highlights how the financial services DO NOT CONTRIBUTE in themselves ie the FS Companies and Self Employed . In the main it is PAYE income which if one simply said that those employed / sef employed in FS were to find another form of employment then the net income to the UK treasury would not be much different . This sector therefor has no standing in the inference that a small independent country would lose out on this safety net / raft . There are so many words one can spout and write – its simple for me to state that after UK Union Acts 1707 ,1801(modified 1922) and the years that have passed the N-S devide is the evidence that the ” UK” system of Gov. has not worked – it is passed its sell by date . The political panic measures being pontificated by PM DC and his band with the shadow Gov ad hoc responces surely are clear for all to see ? Even a light years away chance of a Federal States UK whereby a Central ‘ Senate’ was controled equaly by the seperate Federal states and employed / regulated on truely UK issues / Foreign affairs still would involve yet another tier of beaurocracy . Admited the logic of each member state working directly with a central EU ‘ Senete / Assembly’- NOT EU Gov. ( encompasing the same integration of afor mentioned UK states and EU states ) is light years away also but for me the EU line is logical insofar as EU has to become leaner and more efficient else the rest of the world will leave us all behind . .


  4. Perhaps an explanation on Better Togethers need to call everyone over 60 yrs old from a call centre and scare them with stories about losing their pensions and having to work till they are 70 to receive a pension might go a long way to help us understand his ‘love’ of Scotland? And please dont try to refute this, I know several elderly folks who had such calls.


  5. If only the arguments had been this succinct during the referendum, but I suspect they would have taken much of the passion out of both campaigns. I’m not trying to say that we didn’t need facts and figures, I just feel that being out on the streets campaigning and trying to persuade people was what kept me going, there passion was palpable. However, for my own part, I felt that Scotland was perfectly viable economically, culturally and any other ‘……ally’. BUT my reason for voting YES will always be TRIDENT and no amount of smooth talking about the merits of ‘togetherness’ will ever change my mind.


  6. So A couple of years benefitting from living in Scotland gives you the right to end the LIFETIME wishes of Scottish people to be free from the subordination to the Thatcheristic draconian, selfish, greedy, money grubbing anti-social elitist policies of a foreign government.

    Okay, I’ve lived AWAY from Scotland since 1979 – the first year that Thatcher decided to trial her Poll Tax on us Scots I was one of the many thousands of Scots who took my free Scottish Education overseas to look for better opportunities. Scots do that. And it won’t stop because Scotland is an Independent country – they get jobs because they are stand out candidates – and the only reason this would stop in England with an Independent Scotland …would be racism.

    I had to laugh at your comment that the South ‘excels in financial services’ when the role of the financial sector was the cause of the global financial crisis.

    And where is the evidence that Scotland lacks the intelligence to diversify its own economy? In my own travels I noted Scots at the top echelons in every field. Opportunity is the key to that.

    “Will Scotland become a third world country without being able to export it’s tweed to Savile Row. No of course not. Rather, to put it simply, we want to protect a prosperous future; not scare you about a poverty-stricken one.? ”

    What reality do you live in? Scotland doesn’t NEED patronising ‘protection’. If I learned anything as a Scottish lassie alone in my travels is that dependence is for children and MUGS. A capacity to survive and THRIVE and be inventive and creative – it our birthright …and Scots in Scotland may never get to see that – under Westminster rule.

    I come home to Scotland from Australia every year or so (because I can) and each time I see how the distance between Scottish values and British government policies widen to a point of pointlessness.

    I’m not surprised that many ill health and despair are generational issues under that scenario when people never get to experience self determination.

    When will enough be enough for the Scots? When will they stop pandering politely to views such as yours?

    Kids straight out of University fearful of unemployment …and dead end jobs….foodbank despair, shaming the unemployed for the FAILURES of the government to put SCOTTISH taxpayers money where it would benefit Scottish people, austerity measure imposed upon the most vulnerable members of the community, the deep resentment about Faslane. ….on and on and on the issues….

    How dare Westminster impose this on Scots?

    How dare YOU accept this for Scots – as being the best that Scottish people can aspire to?


    • Thank you for taking the time to write such a long, and clearly passionate, response. However I strongly object to being told that I don’t have a valid opinion when it comes to this debate. As a resident in Scotland at the time I had a vote just like everyone else (including the majority of Scots who chose not to vote for independence.) As a British citizen this is an issue which has an effect on me and my country which ever side of the boarder I happen to be residing. I won’t tell you what you should or should not dare to do, but something to think about perhaps.


  7. See that’s the problem – no need to object – I didn’t say your opinion wasn’t valid – it was just ‘British’. To the core. Lie every other British person we heard loud and clear shouting down the real issues that matter to Scots. Your opinion was heard loud and clear.

    How ironic that our egalitarian values mean that the will of the Scottish people is diluted to this watery justification of why they should not be self-determined. Why they should not be ‘allowed’ to manage their own resources.

    Perhaps Thom you are not even aware of the everyday slights that Scots have been fed as part of their culture for centuries. Britain’s ‘protection’ – Jeez!!!

    . Scots are a ‘nation’ when the BRITS decide flattery is the key to getting what they want, but let the Scots attempt to exert that sovereignty …(as in say it’s desire to stay in the EU )….and Scot’s a suddenly have to tolerate being subsumed into collective Britishness. Ugh!

    Lets call a spade a spade. Scotland is a subjugated nation. In every sense of the word.

    The sense of outrage Scots all over the world feel about that is something you will never factor into your justifications of why you voted for ‘what was best for Scotland’.

    Beyond dependence, beyond Independence is a state of Interdependence when people/groups/organisations and even countries join together for mutual beneficiality in areas where their values meet.

    But you cannot get there from a position of subjugation and dependence. It is a choice of equal Independents.

    THAT is what people like you denied the Scottish people. The chance for Scotland to bring it’s strengths to its own country, its own people – the way Scots are doing all over the world.

    That clearly makes me a lot angrier than it does you.


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