Jaber Jabbour has a financial advisory business, has worked for Goldman Sachs and was named as one of the 40 under 40 rising stars in investment banking in Britain by Financial News.
The recent Commonwealth Games in Glasgow provided me with the opportunity to visit Scotland for the first time. With “two birds, one stone” in mind, I decided to contact the City of Glasgow Conservative Association to find out if they were running any campaigning sessions for the referendum. It turned out that they had planned an extensive and regular schedule to canvass and leaflet every ward in Glasgow, so it was very easy for me to join them when I was there.
As a rule, I never make generalisations about any nation or ethnicity as I believe that each person should be judged purely based on their individual characteristics. However, as I was canvassing and interacting with Scots for an extended period of time, I noticed that the majority of them share one specific attribute. Despite the fact that I have many Scottish friends, I had not noticed this before: Scots are very approachable.
If you asked a Scot on the street how to get directions to a certain destination, they wouldn’t leave you unless they were certain you weren’t going to get lost. On the doorstep, even those who disagreed with us would engage in pleasant conversations and debates about politics. When walking down the street, people would come to us asking to take leaflets to read. On one occasion, a voter asked me – a complete stranger – to come inside their flat to canvass an elderly woman who could not walk to the front door.
I initially found it difficult to reconcile the fact that Scots are so pleasant, charming and outward-looking with the fact that many of them are considering leaving a family with whom they have been living for over 300 years. However, I learned from my brief experience in Glasgow that Scots voting for independence are not inward-looking people who cannot live and work with others who are slightly different from them. The conversations I had in Scotland expanded my understanding of Scottish politics.
Needless to say, Conservatives are a very rare breed in Glasgow. Whenever I mention that I am a Conservative, people express their surprise. I ask innocently about the reason for the surprise. The answer is my ‘ethnicity’. I disagree and explain why my personal values are Conservative.
The impression I got from ‘Yes’ voters is that they are very passionate about their cause. They blame Westminster and the ‘establishment’ for all the problems in society. They view independence as a panacea that would solve every misery. They remind me a lot of UKIP supporters.
On the other hand, ‘No’ voters regularly cite two issues they view as unfair about the referendum. The first is that Scots not living in Scotland are not allowed to vote in the referendum. The second is that 16- and 17-year olds are allowed to vote. I also noticed that, on a couple of occasions, voters felt that they had to whisper to me that they would be voting ‘No’, lest their neighbours hear them.
However, this is not the full story. There is a third camp: the Undecideds. This is a sizeable group, especially given that the referendum is next month. In my view, the majority of these voters will eventually decide to keep Scotland within the UK. They are very concerned about the uncertainty following independence. They usually say that with independence, if Alex Salmond is right about his promised land, there is little to gain. However, if Salmond is wrong, there is much to lose.
I think this is the best argument for the Better Together campaign. It is a practical argument that is based on impeccable logic that could be used to determine the outcome of every decision made under uncertainty: simply compare the upside to the downside and assess whether the potential benefit gained from the upside justifies taking the risk of the downside.
I believe that the key factor in defining a country is its values. Whilst values are sometimes difficult to define and to quantify, they are very real. The ethos of a society, in my view, is the invisible hand that is borne out of the interactions of all of its members. That hand leads them along a certain route. Although there might be some small differences between the values of Scots and the values of the rest of the UK, the difference – if it exists – is too small to justify the administrative nightmare of establishing a new, independent country.
Finally, I personally would have liked to see the Conservatives sharing the lead role in the Better Together campaign. This is not only because our activists are campaigning as hard as Labour’s, but also because our Conservative and Unionist Party has literally built its name campaigning for unionism throughout history. However, I understand the various political and strategic reasons why Labour was offered the lead role in this campaign. As a result, I am very proud of the sacrifice that the Conservatives have made by giving up our spot in the limelight and instead putting Scottish interest above party politics.
We must also remember how David Cameron, by applying the Conservatives’ principles of localism and bottom-up governance, has owned devolution and delivered a decisive punch to Salmond’s fantasies. In the more likely event that Scotland remains part of the UK, Cameron’s decision will prove to be a major factor in saving Scotland from the uncertain downsides of independence. And who knows, Scotland might return the favour next May and increase its support for the Conservatives, which might be just enough to save Britain from the uncertain downsides of a Labour Government.