As I prepare for the final exam of my degree I can hear the voices of my high school English and Modern Studies teachers echoing through my head from the distant past: “remember to answer the question”. Physics and Computing were a bit more straightforward to approach and my chances at Higher Maths had been slightly scuppered by my teacher deciding to go off and manage Berwick Rangers. Alongside not really getting to grips with it, having scraped a 2 in Standard Grade. Mostly the latter if I’m entirely honest. Anyway.
Which isn’t to say they were demanding a simple “yes” or “no”, one of the skills of those kind of exams is to figure out what the question is really asking. In those cases it’s normally prompting at a quick explanation of the issues and then some argument about them. Seems pretty straightforward from a relaxed perspective but, hyped up on a mix of Irn Bru, Roxette and the prospect of getting out of small town Midlothian for the
bright lights dark clubs of Glasgow and University figuring out what the question meant in the few minutes available wasn’t always the easier task.
For the referendum, of course, we know the question ahead of time: ”Should Scotland be an independent country?”
The answers are more Standard Grade multi-guess, we can pick Yes or No and that’s it. No hour to write a justification, just one of two boxes.
That doesn’t mean that it’s not worth considering what the question is actually asking though. You can choose to interpret it a number of ways.
You could, for instance, choose to to interpret it as asking if it means you prefer David Cameron or Alex Salmond to lead the country. I’m not sure that stands up but it’s how the SNP part of Yes sometimes presents itself.
You could also choose to interpret it as asking if you’d prefer Patrick Harvie and Alison Johnstone to either Alex Salmond or David Cameron as the Green part of Yes sometimes presents itself. That stands up even less.
Then there’s interpreting the question as asking if you’d rather the sky fell in and we were given nothing but sackcloth to wear. Not that likely really.
Me? I think the question should be interpreted as asking “Will independence maximise the political freedom of Scottish people in determining their own future?”
Even then that’s a more complicated question than it appears. On an initial glance it’s tempting to answer Yes because smaller political units mean more freedom. Don’t they? Well.. no. Not always. Otherwise what’s the point of government at all? Some times pooling sovereignty with others increases the number of things you can do, provided you get collective agreement to do them. This is something which arguments for withdrawing from the Union but not the European Union implicitly accept, as does the proposal for a currency union post-independence.
There’s obviously some freedoms to be gained from independence, but there would be trade offs as well. The question is really about the balance between those two.
To rephrase the question as a more open ended “please discuss”, it could be framed as “what policy decisions would be opened up and which closed off by independence?”
That’s a question I’d like to see answers to from both sides. I’ve given it some thought and I think I know what the answers are but you never know, I could be wrong.