Who voted yes and who voted no?
What’s going on is a very Churchillian observation: If you’re not a liberal when you’re 20, you’ve got no heart. And if you’re not a conservative when you’re 40, you’ve got no brain. If you are older and have a mortgage and a pension, you don’t want to lose control of those existing assets. So basically you like the status quo. And if you're young and you’ve lived for the past 15 years coming of age under a set of governments whereby it never seemed possible for you or any of your mates to get any assets, despite the fact that most of you have been to college and you’re all pretty smart people, you begin to question things. So for many young people, which was most of the yes vote, independence is less of a claim to nationalism or anything like that and more a referendum on the political economy that they’ve grown up in.
What was the argument at the heart of the Yes campaign?
One of the major ways that people would talk about it was as if it’s a couple having a divorce. But the problem with the divorce analogy is that people are individuals. Individuals can divorce and split assets and survive. But these are not two people. This is one country and it’s been one country for 300 years. What was behind the scenes on this was a crisis of elites. This is a questioning of the way the economy has been run for the past 30 years. Current political elites are seen as a bunch of self-interested kleptocrats. And this vote in Scotland has brought a lot of these views to the table. For example, what you see in Spain with the rise of the new left-wing Podemos party in the European Parliamentary election and the new left-wing parties in Greece under austerity is very similar. It's the young protesting the choices they are presented with. So particularly amongst young people, they’re asking, “Is our future only this or is there some other way of doing this?” You can see where the beef comes from.
Do you think this is the end of the push for independence?
The genie in the bottle in all this is something called the West Lothian question, which has been around since the 1970s, which asks why the the Scottish members of Parliament get to sit in the House of Parliament and get to vote on all the issues, but the English Members of Parliament don’t get to vote on things that pertain just to Scotland. There’s an asymmetry. This is only going to get worse after the referendum with the promises of more powers to Scotland. There’s no easy answer to the West Lothian question. You either have a fully federalized state, which is very difficult to get to from a country that prides itself on not having a written constitution. Or you vote for independence. But more devolution is just more asymmetry.
Can the government do anything to bridge the divide between the two sides?
I spoke to some of the intelligencia that were on the Yes side. I disagreed with them. I would not have voted this way, but I understand where they’re coming from. They look at Britain and all they see is London and its finance-centered economy. Finance is 8 percent of the U.K. economy in terms of GDP. But in 2007, it was generating 40 percent in tax receipts. If that’s 40 percent in taxes, what percentage of that is the total reward that is coming out of one small part of the country? And then you look at the rest of England. An underlying component of GDP is called GVA, Gross Value Added. Since 2000, there’s been no GVA growth outside of London until you get to the Scottish border. So what exactly is the business model of this country? To be crude, it seems to be financial services hiding oligarchs’ money and a very compliant central bank that gives everyone their own personal Fannie and Freddie so that people can swap houses with each other again as a form of middle class income growth. And that may be overly harsh and overdrawn but to some of the Yes campaign's leading lights that's what's going on. So they ask, “Can’t we try anything else?” And I think part of the puzzle of the Yes campaign is because they didn’t want to be seen as anti-English they didn’t make that argument directly. But they’re looking at the hollowed out nature of the British economy and they’re asking, “Is this a good growth model? Do we really want to be stuck with this?” So it was a referendum about independence as a means to an end. The end was a different economic model.