What status quo?

Stories abound of people who when asked how they would vote in a Scottish independence referendum say they would vote No. Why, they are asked. Shrug. Just because. Just because what? Just because they would. Some of these people are just not interested in politics and the world around them beyond Strictly and Love Island. Others have been brought up in families that always voted Labour, or Tory. There was little thought involved when casting a vote. Their cross went where it had always gone. Others still are scared of change and cling to the status quo.

My computer dictionary defines status quo as: “the existing state of affairs, especially regarding social or political issues: they have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo.”

Vested interests

Unsurprisingly many vote for a certain party (usually Tory) because they believe they have a ‘vested interest’. These people believe their business, social standing, land ownership, potential for being awarded a peerage or other honour will be harmed by voting for another party. They fear socialism as that spells huge losses to them personally, so they will do everything within their power to stop Labour getting into power.

When it comes to the SNP the situation is even worse. The SNP stands for whisking the traditional rug from under their feet, taking away all they have worked hard to achieve, leaving them penniless, friendless outwith their precious Union, bereft. They fear what taxes might be imposed to impoverish, reduce income and returns on investments; what might happen to the acres owned for centuries or more recently purchased; the promised business contracts and honours; their chairmanship (often lucrative) or membership of this or that body or organisation? A lurch leftwards would threaten comfortable lives. A lurch into independence would, they believe, see their world come crashing down.

A step into the unknown

For others the status quo is something to which they desperately cling because change is a step into the unknown. Change might affect their job, their pension, their prospects, their lives. Change is feared because it can’t be controlled, often can’t be anticipated, and results in feelings of powerlessness and trepidation.

Some pensioners fear independence because the meagre pension, the lowest in north-west Europe, might be at risk. If this is relied on to put food on the table and pay the bills then naturally there is terror at the prospect of losing it.

Pensioners were told by Labour in 2014 that their pension would be at risk, might not even be paid in an independent Scotland. Visions of the workhouse, which not so many generations ago was where many ended their days. Others were told by their bosses that with independence they would lose their job, the company would pack up and move south. It might not even survive. And how despicable were those who pedalled the story that with independence desperately ill children would no longer be able to receive specialist treatment in London.

Change is natural

Change equals fear. The prospect of change engenders more concern and apprehension than anticipation and welcome of new challenges. Yet change is natural. The world around us changes all the time. We just have to look at old family photos to see that change – in clothes, housing, food, jobs, living conditions, modes of travel, holidays, education, health. And while it’s understandable many people fear losing what they have, their comfortable lives, everything the status quo as it now is delivers, the changes in the Tory pipeline are much more likely to put lifestyles at risk than independence. Independence is now the safest option.

The status quo of today means higher food and fuel bills. Ofgem’s decision to alter the price cap every three months means annual bills could exceed £4,200 – a sum very many can’t afford. We also have a plummeting pound, average wages falling at the fastest rate for more than two decades, soaring transportation costs, children living in poverty, and benefits, such as pensions, under threat as Tories determine to cut back – cuts which will affect the lower paid and retired whilst benefitting the well off. The gap between those who have much and those who have little has never been so great.

The status quo – in 2014 and today

In the Guardian John Harris writes about fuel poverty, when energy costs exceed 10% of a household’s net income. In the financial year 2019-20, just under 20% of UK households were in that category. That figure could escalate to well over 50% by the start of next year, with 60% in fuel poverty in Scotland, a country which has produced billions in oil and gas and now renewable energy revenues. Harris writes: “the immediate future will be defined by skyrocketing energy prices, economic woe and a profound social emergency – and power will be a grinding matter of crisis management.” We need to question whether Truss or Sunak are up to this.

Harris concludes;

”The unavoidable truth is that the United Kingdom is in such a fragile, frayed state that it can no longer keep its people warm or adequately feed them.”


So the status quo today is very different from the status quo in 2014. Then we were still in the European Union. We could travel easily between 28 countries, holiday there, attend university, work there, marry unhindered by red tape and governments determined to send you home. For 34p per person per day (£124 per person per year) we enjoyed freedom of movement, basic medical cover with a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) and no limitation on stays. Plus the benefits of EU membership to business and trade, legislation on working hours, holidays, maternity leave and a whole raft of other social issues which the two vacuous contestants for Tory leader want to ditch completely.

Today’s realities

Now, in the present status quo, we have an imminent recession, lorry queues of an enormous length waiting to get papers checked to cross the Channel, businesses relocating to EU countries, insufficient workers to keep the health service functioning, industries and agricultural businesses going broke, sparse supermarket shelves and inflation heading to 13% and perhaps more. Today, everything you buy from bread to electricity to new shoes to mortgages and rent is more expensive, whilst what you are earning has declined. By 2024 household incomes will have declined by 5% – the largest fall since records began more than half a century ago.

And judging by the utterances of the two candidates vying for Tory leadership very many changes, most of which will be enormously drastic and damaging to the lives of ordinary people, will soon be coming down the line whichever is elected. Both, along with most other Tory, and some Labour MPs, welcome a privatised health service for which health insurance is required. That would see many who can’t afford, or are unaccepted by insurers because of health issues, with at most basic healthcare provision. Cradle to grave healthcare will be replaced by chequebook care.

Meanwhile the Labour opposition sits on its hands, abstaining when it should be challenging, wanting to make Brexit work rather than persuade that a return to at least the single market would be in the UK’s best economic and social interests.

List what you have

So if you fear change then maybe sit down and list in one column what you had in 2014. In a second column list what you might have by the end of this year under the leadership of either Liz Truss (backed by American-praising ultra right-wingers) or Rishi Sunak (backed by American and other financiers and bankers as well as US healthcare companies). In a third column list what you could have in an independent Scotland. Yes, that column will be a bit empty at present. But think of the style of government we have at Holyrood, the mitigations of Westminster policies (such as the bedroom tax) put in place, the determination to help families with young children (with measures adopted lowering child poverty in Scotland), the compassionate way in which those benefits devolved to the Scottish parliament are being implemented, free health and social care, free university education. These are an indication of the type of country the Scottish government envisages for an independent Scotland.

The Scottish government’s measure to help reduce child poverty are having a positive effect with Scotland now with the lowest child poverty numbers in the UK.

Your voice will matter

If you still fear what an independent Scotland might bring, then remember you will also have a say. Your voice will be heard, will matter. Come independence you will be able to vote for the party you want in government – whether that be newly formed Labour, Tory and LibDem parties, registered in Scotland and focussing on Scottish rather than Westminster issues, or the SNP or any other party that might win seats in the Scottish parliament. Remember 1999 and 2004 when, because of a system of proportional representation, we had Scottish Socialists, Independent MSPs (Dennis Canavan and Margo MacDonald), Scottish Senior Citizens and Save Stobhill Hospital MSPs. It was your votes, your choices that put these MSPs into Holyrood to pursue the policies you wanted. In Westminster, by comparison, the voices of people in Scotland matter not a whit. We are outvoted, ridiculed and demeaned. Just watch Prime Minister’s Questions on television for a sickening flavour of this.

The Scottish Government’s paper, Building a New Scotland confirms that independent countries, of a size similar to Scotland, and with fewer resources than Scotland, have built fairer, more equal societies, while Scotland’s potential has been held back by damaging Westminster Tory governments that we’ve rejected since 1955. What’s more, the Tories are now raking back powers from Holyrood, to make it appear ineffective, irrelevant, giving an excuse to close it down completely.

Professor Michael Keating FBA FRSE FAcSS is a political scientist specialising in nationalism, European politics, regional politics, and devolution. He is Professor of Scottish Politics at the University of Aberdeen and Fellow of the Centre on Constitutional Change at the University of Edinburgh.

So, time to decide or at least reconsider, have a think about whether it will be Yes or No come the referendum. Will you continue to shrug and hope for the best whilst the UK you know crumbles around you. Or will you look at your three lists and come to the conclusion that independence may be scary, but that an unknown future in which you have no say in a Tory UK will be even worse.

Surely the decision isn’t too difficult.

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