Ironically, the last time J. K. Rowling appeared on my radar she had walked away from the M.S. Society Scotland following a mass exodus of volunteers and course leaders from the society caused by inflexible London management. All funding for MSSS was ‘centralized’ in London and everything had to be approved by the management down there. MSSS had been running free ‘self-management’ courses in conjunction with Arthritis Scotland for the benefit of anyone living with a long term condition. Funding was pulled from the classes by London management because the MSS’ remit was Multiple Sclerosis and these classes weren’t specifically for people with M.S. The Health and Social Care Alliance Scotland report that in the UK around a quarter of those with long term conditions have three or more conditions. An initiative promoting inclusion, support and solidarity between people with long term conditions is a positive thing and should be encouraged. In the backlash from funding being pulled in the classes there was a mass exodus of volunteers and members from MSSS and J. K. Rowling to her credit disassociated herself too.
I suppose Rowling has either forgotten about this episode or the parallel is lost on her.
Today J. K. Rowling donated £1,000,000 to the Better Together campaign in support of London rule. Here’s what she had to say about her donation:
“I came to the question of independence with an open mind and an awareness of the seriousness of what we are being asked to decide.
“My hesitance at embracing independence has nothing to do with lack of belief in Scotland’s remarkable people or its achievements. The simple truth is that Scotland is subject to the same 21st-century pressures as the rest of the world.
“It must compete in the same global markets, defend itself from the same threats and navigate what still feels like a fragile economic recovery. The more I listen to the yes campaign, the more I worry about its minimisation and even denial of risks.
“Whenever the big issues are raised – our heavy reliance on oil revenue if we become independent, what currency we’ll use, whether we’ll get back into the EU – reasonable questions are drowned out by accusations of ‘scaremongering.’ Meanwhile, dramatically differing figures and predictions are being slapped in front of us by both campaigns, so that it becomes difficult to know what to believe.”
Firstly, isn’t the biggest issue here that the Scottish vote doesn’t have a significant impact on the outcome of Westminster General Elections? Where is the motivation for me, a Scottish voter, to go and vote in a General Election when my ‘democratic voice’ is drowned in a sea of English voters, with concerns geographically distinct from my own? What is the point in me even following Westminster politics when my vote has no effect on it? The answer to that question is that it has an effect on me. Yet I have no say in the matter. I, my family and friends, my workmates, my community are all relegated to impotent spectatorship.
Now, yes, Scotland does need to navigate ‘a fragile economic recovery’. The precise amount of debt that Scotland assumes after the dissolution of the Union depends on the agreement reached between the two governments. The Fiscal Commission Working Group’s report for the Scottish Government suggests that Scotland’s share of the debt will be more manageable than the UK’s whether the debt is split by population or by working off Scotland’s previous contributions to UK public finance. On top of that, Scottish voters have a greater degree of influence over who is dealing with this debt than under the current Westminster system. Under Westminster austerity, the number of emergency food packages handed out at food banks in Scotland between April 2013 and March 2014 was reported as 71,428 – compared to just over 14,000 the previous year. Under Westminster austerity, 913,138 people in the UK received emergency food packages in this same period. The question, to me, is whether or not I am happy with the way that a Westminster government – unelected by me – is traversing this ‘fragile economic recovery’ and whether or not I would like to have some form of influence over how it is dealt with.
Next, Rowling says that the Yes campaign is drowning out reasonable questions with accusations of ‘scaremongering’. Well, that’s not really fair. Vote No Borders ad campaign was pulled from cinemas after Great Ormond Street disputed their claim that Scots would struggle to get care there post-independence. The Better Together booklet distributed last month turned out to be somewhat liberal with the truth. In January a Better Together chief was chinned by Noway’s Finance Ministry for wrongly suggesting Norway could only afford an oil fund because of much higher taxes than Scotland. Tom Morton quite literally put words in Nicola Strugeon’s mouth in April. Shall I continue? There can be absolutely no doubt that the No campaign has relied on misinformation and ‘scaremongering’. As for the issues that Rowling specifically mentions as being dodged under the banner of ‘scaremongering’ – Oil revenue, Currency, EU membership – well, Yes Scotland hasn’t shied away from answering any of those questions. In fact it has responses to every single one of these issues posted on its website and it is fair to say these go a little beyond accusing the NO camp of ‘scaremongering’. Drastically different figures are being slapped in front of us by both camps, as Rowling says. However, given clear instances of misinformation from the NO camp, is the most sensible response to this really to conclude that we are ‘better together’?
Finally, Rowling attacked a straw man ‘fringe of nationalists’ who would ‘demonise’ her for giving her opinion on Scottish independence as someone who was born in England. She said, ‘when people try to make this debate about the purity of your lineage, things start getting a little Death Eaterish for my taste.’
98 days and counting.