Last week, I interviewed journalist Chris Gen about an independent Scotland, something he was and is strongly against. Now it’s time to cover the same topics from another point of view.Here, I speak to Dan Paris, who’s at university in Glasgow studying history. He’s Chair of SNP Students and writes for National Collective, a pro-independence campaign.
Lauren Aitchison: Hi Dan. I spoke to Chris last week about some of the basic topics that people have been talking about now that the referendum is well on its way so now it’s time to hear what you think. The first is the voting age, which Alex Salmond has mentioned he’d like reduced to include 16 and 17-year-olds. Is this sensible, or just a ploy to get idiotic teenagers to vote yes?
Dan Paris: Well, quite often, people say that the Scottish government are lowering the voting age because they think that young people are more likely to be “Braveheart nationalists”, but 16-year-olds weren’t even born when Braveheart was released. The SNP have supported that voting age being at 16 for decades and, whenever the Scottish government have had the power, have allowed 16 and 17-year-olds to vote. I think that’s right, because if you’re allowed to leave school, get married, pay taxes and join the army then you should be allowed to have a say over who governs you. The referendum will affect young people more than anybody so it’s only right they get a say.
LA: Do you think the Yes campaign will be able to educate teenagers in a targeted way in the lead-up to the referendum? I think sometimes young people think that politics doesn’t affect them because of their age.
DP: I imagine both campaigns will try and target their message towards young people, and it’s important that young people feel the debate is relevant to them. Voter turnout does tend to be lower among younger people but I’m not convinced that this will be the case for the referendum. People might not necessarily be engaged with the debate right now but it will become very real as the vote comes closer. National Collective, which I’m involved in, has already had a lot of success in persuading people who might not necessarily care about traditional politics but want a better future.
LA: We’ve been hearing about nothing but oil since the campaign for independence was announced. The UK government have told us the oil is running out, whilst telling the rest of the world there’s plenty. What other sources of income do we have and will it be enough when the oil’s all done?
DP: You’re right. The UK parties have been telling us for decades that the oil is running out and yet, investment in the North Sea is still growing. Independence isn’t just about oil; we could be independent with or without it but it does give us a massive safety net that guarantees we could sustain spending at current levels whilst we become independent. The oil will run out whether we’re independent or not- the question is how do we make sure that the wealth is best used once it’s gone?
Scotland has 25% of Europe’s offshore renewable potential, which is a ready-made replacement for oil and gas. We also have a strong knowledge base, with the highest percentage of world class universities per head of population in the world. With the wealth that remains in the North Sea, an independent Scotland could invest in creating a modern, green, knowledge-based economy that could serve Scotland long past our lifetimes.
LA: Do you think the oil will be divided in a way that gives Scotland a decent chunk of it? I’ve read both 9% and 90% as possible figures.
DP: There will obviously be negotiations over the specifics of becoming independent, including what share of the UK assets Scotland would receive, but as oil is a natural resource, it comes under international maritime law and we would receive our full geographical share.
LA: One of the things Chris and I discussed was the idea of Britishness that is actually Englishness.
DP: You see this happen again and again. There’s a funny video on YouTube by Limmy where he mocks the fact that Britain’s Got Talent didn’t come to Scotland initially and then quite patronisingly talk about Scotland when they bother to come up. There’s been a lot in the news over the last couple of years about NHS reforms in England and it’s very rarely pointed out that there isn’t one monolithic NHS, but an entirely separate NHS in Scotland where the coalitions reforms aren’t being implemented.
I think that Scots are confident enough that our culture can flourish, even within Britain so it’s not the most important thing, but it was quite obvious when David Cameron came to Scotland this week that he was “coming north”, that he was a visitor.
LA: I’ll be living in London by the time of the referendum, which makes me feel hypocritical, but unfortunately, all the money and jobs are there.
DP: The absolute biggest problem with the UK is the concentration of wealth and power in London. If you look at other European countries, they’re much more decentralised than Britain is. Regions in Spain and Germany have more power than Scotland does. I hope that after independence, the rest of the UK start to consider how they can spread power further outwards, so that areas like the north of England can benefit from having decision making power the way that Scotland’s benefited from devolution.
LA: Irvine Welsh wrote a brilliant article about that and how he noticed all the money being pumped into London way back in the 70s.
It’s quite noticeable that most Scottish cultural figures are pro-independence.
LA: Do you think David Cameron is, without meaning to be, the best reason for independence?
DP: In the same way that Thatcher was the best reason for devolution, Cameron will probably seem like the best reason for independence to a lot of people. There are thousands of families living in fear of the bedroom tax who must be wondering why this is being imposed on them despite a majority of Scottish MPs opposing it and the Scottish Government opposing it.
But it’s not just a personal problem with Cameron, it’s a political system that’s not working for us. Even when Scotland votes for Labour, we get New Labour, who are only interested in chasing swing votes in the South East of England. It’s hard to look at the record of the Scottish Parliament compared with the record of Westminster and come to any other conclusion, other than that we’re perfectly capable of running our own affairs and doing a better job.
LA: Thanks a lot Dan, it’s been great speaking to you.