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What will a marginal NO vote mean for the short and long-term future?

(Published by The Malay Mail on 18 September — n.b. Graham Paling currently lives in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and as such was unable to vote in today’s Scottish referendum)

Is Scotland heading for a painful divorce from Britain?

As Scottish voters head to the polls today to decide whether to remain in the United Kingdom, I want to share my interview with Graham Paling, Group CEO of Mongoose Publishing (Kuala Lumpur, New York, Singapore and Mumbai). He was born, brought up and educated in Scotland, but has always viewed himself “as British rather than Scottish”, a trait he attributes to his English parentage.

“But, hey, no-one’s perfect!” he quipped in his soft Scottish lilt, before turning to my first question:

Will you be voting today in the Scottish referendum for independence?

“Actually, I’m off to New York on business this Wednesday (yesterday) and so I will be as far away as ever come the big day on Thursday…”

You told me in late August that you’d vote NO to separation as you couldn’t see, given the paucity of information, how Scotland would function economically without England. Is this still the case?

“Well, my feelings now are more pronounced and less blasé as we approach the finishing line, and I am surprised at my conclusion.

But before I get to that, let me first say that I think like a businessman because I am one. Even when entering a small, long-term business strategy you need all the facts. Here, we are talking of breaking a 307-year union of nations, forever, with far too many fundamental questions either fudged or avoided.

Scotland would be ill-advised to go independent, and the irony of it all is that in 5 years time I think Scotland will be in a poorer place, while England a stronger one.”

Excuse me for asking the obvious, but why will England be stronger?

“England has always had the ‘weakest identity’ within the UK, and I think the loss of Scotland will allow the concept ‘of being English’ to proliferate more readily without the shadow of the UK hanging over it. I also feel that economically, England has more strength.”

And Scotland a poorer place?

“Let’s face it, there are only three reasons why such a small country as the UK gets noticed these days on a world stage, and that is our history, our defense strength and London. Scotland will have none of these.”


Yes supporters congregate at George Square in Glasgow September 16, 2014. — Reuters

The Scots have always been massively passionate and fiercely proud of their heritage; what’s so awful about them wanting to reinforce their nationalism by cutting the apron strings with those down South?

“The underlying sentiment of nationalism in my mind is never a good thing, and in a world that is supposed to be global I feel nations splitting up into smaller ones a futile and sentimental gesture at best. I think to lose Britain, and we will lose it, as Scotland is an integral part, will be sad. We share a great history and arguably we shaped a large part of the modern world. We’ve done this in a union the like of which the world has not seen, and to throw it away should not be taken lightly.”

What do you think of Alex Salmond’s cunning “Team Scotland” versus “Team Westminster” campaign, whereby voting NO makes you somehow “Un-Scottish”?

“There will always be resentment towards Westminster no matter what happens. In my time in Scotland and London I learned there is a fundamentally different mindset between their governments; one which can never really be bridged. In my opinion, the sentimental reasons for a YES vote are too dominant. Maybe the heart is ruling the head, but that is part of the Scottish passionate disposition.

Also, no matter how much the UK government acquiesce to Scottish demands there is still an underlying momentum for full independence.”

Can you predict the results of today’s voting?

“I think the vote will be a marginal NO as I feel a lot of no voters are being quiet, for fear of being un-Scottish, and the YES momentum has increased very vocally as one would expect. Nationalists throughout history have rarely been noted for their subtlety and rarely express their views quietly.

What will a marginal NO vote mean for the short and long-term future?

“I worry that the bitter aftertaste and disappointment for half of the nation will cause divisions and resentment long after the ballot boxes have closed. More concessions will come from the UK and over time, devolution will morph into independence in everything but name. A second election will inevitably ensue and independence will be ratified.”

And finally, if you were in Scotland today: how would you vote?

In order to save the long drawn out pain of a slow, bitter march to independence I think reluctantly “YES” is perhaps the right way, despite the risks. We can only blame ourselves if it all messes up, and we can take the credit if we prosper.

It is too convenient within the current devolution scenario that a Scottish government gets all the praise for the good news and blames Westminster for the bad. The inevitable way forward is full accountability for a Scottish government, and that can only be achieved through independence.

For me, heart-breakingly, it means the end of being who and what I have been for the past 50 years, British.

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