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on 6 April 2014
Despite being English I have been taking a very strong interest in the upcoming Scottish independence referendum. If successful it will (as this book's front cover shows) change the map of my country and result in a whole set of consequences, some good, some bad, both for Scotland and the remainder of the UK. In my opinion this issue is not been given the attention it deserves in the English media and public discourse.

I have no strong views on the matter either way - from a purely emotional/historical viewpoint I think it would be a shame to sever the UK, though I also have much sympathy for Scots angry at finding themselves ruled by a government they did not vote for (again) and in a country in which the economic, social and political power is so heavily and increasingly centred in just one area - namely London and the South-East of England.

This book is perfect for someone like me who wants an objective, non-partisan overview of the arguments on both sides and a primer on the background to the referendum, Torrance begins with an overview of how Scotland got to this point, with a look at devolution, the 1979 referendum and the development of the Union overtime. He then goes on to give a separate chapter on individual issues such as the economy, defence, culture etc. before ending with a look the the two campaigns and their respective personalities. Along the way he covers all the hot-button issues the referendum debate has been throwing up - the monarchy, EU and NATO membership, the pound, Trident and so forth. He gets a good balance between giving a thorough overview whilst not drowning the reader with facts and figures. I found especially useful the frequent references and comparisons to other countries - obviously Ireland, as the last country to leave the UK, gets frequently mentioned, as does Quebec and Canada which is probably the closest parallel to Scotland/UK.

There are also a couple of chapters which take a 'what if' approach, in which Torrance pretends to be writing in 2024 looking back at the result from both the yes and no perspectives. I'm not a huge fan of this kind of long-range speculation (remember all that cr*p about the 21st century being one of peace and cooperation we saw back in 1999-2000? Or those 1970s tomes positing a Japanese-dominated world in 20 years?) but they are quite short and raise some interesting points (not least what will happen to the SNP in the event of a 'no' vote).

Obviously some will see bias here or there against their favoured side, though as a dispassionate observer I found the book to be remarkably even-handed and fair to both sides. For example Torrance criticises the SNP for the fact that in some policy areas they remain very wooly and unclear in what they actually want to see (e.g. a future Scottish army), but he also criticises the Better Together camp for a campaign based more on scaremongering voters with the potential negative effects independence could have rather than making a positive case for the Union.

Overall I would heartily recommend this book to anyone with an interest in the referendum or British politics generally. It is well written, strikes a good balance between fact, anecdote and analysis and has a humorous disregard for the blandishments of both sides in this seminal debate.
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on 24 February 2015
Unlike many of the Scottish Referendum books, which were written with a clear bias towards YES, this book provides a much more balanced assessment of the history and events surrounding the big day. For that reason alone it is to be recommended.
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on 18 June 2014
A well constructed analysis of the circumstances of the soon to be referendum. Although written from a perspective that supports the Union, David Torrance has convinced me we should encourage Scotland to cut the apron strings, the alternative to an independent Scotland is constant political irritation from Holyrood, an irritation we can do without.
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on 21 January 2014
Author and journalist David Torrance has written by far the best book about the September referendum on Britain's future.

Norway's oil industry is publicly owned. Scotland's isn't, yet Salmond still talks of Scotland's `£1 trillion worth of oil'. Most of it, of course, goes in profits to the owners of foreign oil companies. Salmond claimed that with independence this would mean `£300,000 for every man, woman and child in Scotland'. Salmond said that with independence, "the profit from the land shall go to all."

In 2011-12 Scotland generated 9.9 per cent of UK tax revenues and received 9.3 per cent of total UK spending. Of course, 9.3 per cent of total UK spending, £64.5 billion, was somewhat larger than Scotland's total tax take - £54.9 billion, including a share of oil revenues.

The Bank of England would still run monetary policy and, with a currency union, it would require a `fiscal sustainability agreement' that would limit Scotland's ability to decide its taxing and spending. As Alistair Darling observed, "if you have a currency union, there are terms and conditions about your taxation, about your borrowing, about your spending." The Bank of England would still set interest rates, including Scotland's mortgage rates.

EU rules would require a breakaway Scotland to regulate its own, over-large banking sector, not leave it to the Bank of England, as the SNP now proposes. Earlier, Scottish Finance Secretary John Swinney had argued that the `financial incompetence of UK authorities ... [was] a strong argument for independence, not an argument for the continuation of London mismanagement'.

Swinney later claimed to have had a `very helpful dialogue' with the Bank of England over future arrangements. The Bank formally denied this.

Salmond told MSPs that the renewables sector had created 18,000 jobs in Scotland when the true figure was 11,000. Professor John Kay pointed out that renewable energy "was inherently unprofitable, and viable only through cross-subsidy from electricity consumers, mainly English ones." The Scottish government repeatedly misses its carbon reduction targets.

Again and again, the Scottish government promises that Scotland could leave the UK and keep all the benefits of Union. For example, as Torrance notes, "Swinney even tasked the Fiscal Commission Working Group with `considering the affordability of state pensions', which hardly seemed consistent with repeated claims that nothing would change following independence."

The NHS is administered separately in Scotland, yet it is fully integrated with the rest of the UK: patients from the rest of the UK, like Scots in the UK, are all entitled to free service at the point of delivery. If Scotland broke away, reciprocal agreements would have to be negotiated.

The SNP says it opposes the British state's `illegal wars'. In fact it backed the wars against Afghanistan and Libya. Salmond said an independent Scotland would not have ruled out military action against Syria, so the Scottish government is less progressive on this than the Coalition government!

In 2007 SNP Deputy Leader Nicola Sturgeon said, "Scotland would automatically be a member of the European Union upon independence. There is legal opinion to back that up. I don't think the legal position is in any doubt." In the real world, if part of a member state leaves the EU it has to reapply for membership and that can only be achieved with the consent of all the other members, the assent of the European parliament and ratification by all 28 legislatures. The SNP knew this: Scottish law officers had consistently told ministers that an independent Scotland's membership would not be automatic but a `policy objective' requiring `detailed negotiations'.

The same applies to a breakaway Scotland's relationship to NATO: it would have to apply for membership. Foreign Affairs spokesman Angus Robertson claimed that an independent Scotland would `inherit its treaty obligations with NATO'. NATO replied, "A new state would not be a party to the North Atlantic Treaty, and thus not a member of NATO. If it were to choose to apply for NATO membership, its application would be subject to the normal procedure, as outlined in Article 10 of the Treaty."

Salmond has admitted that "Scotland is not oppressed and we have no need to be liberated." This raised the obvious question - what then is the pressing need for independence?

Torrance observes, "there was no precedent for secession in a modern, successful (loosely defined) welfare state." It would be a leap in the dark.

Britain's institutions, especially Britain's trade unions, have a great responsibility here. We must all be saying to Scotland, `Don't go.' We are stronger together.
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on 4 January 2014
I was disappointed as a great deal of the content was biased towards a 'no' vote and in so doing highlighted what is currently happening in the UK. Surely this is a golden opportunity to improve upon the status quo. The opening chapters, however, proved interesting as they updated the histories of the Union and, in particular, the late involvement of Ireland and Wales. I found some of the comments about the leadership of the SNP to be quite derisory!
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on 21 May 2014
His use of conjunctives, such as 'almost' and 'next' is superb. But the bits in between are rather poor. Buy an ice cream maker. Much more satisfying.
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on 21 May 2014
Beware that if you buy this book, you will get the perspective of a Unionist, proudly spinning everything to maximise the Union glories, and the independence terror. Everything will be slanted in favour of the Union. His day job is as a columnist for the Herald. Every day of the indyref, they (including his own column) have been smearing the Yes campaign, Alex Salmond and the SNP. He will insist to everyone that his journalistic credibility is intact that he is in fact neutral. He's not. Look at his Twitter timeline, or read his articles.

I don't know if there is a neutral book about the Scottish Independence Referendum, but this is certainly not it. There's no way he can be so biased in his regular job, then write a neutral book. It may be well written, but balanced or neutral it's not.
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on 21 May 2014
He tries to come across as balanced and reasonable, but he is a tory unionist through and through, and full of his own self-importance which really transpires in his prose. Give it a miss, plenty of good books out there on the subject. May I suggest 'blossom' by Lesley Riddoch.
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