My name is Matt Wells, and I'm the assistant editor of the Guardian in the US. Basically, I steer the ship, deciding what news stories we cover each day, and how we cover them.

I also grew up in Scotland, and although I live in New York now, my heart is in the Highlands. You’ve probably heard that Scotland's about to vote on whether or not to split from the rest of the UK. This is huge.

Last night, I answered some of Stephen Colbert’s questions on Scottish independence (FYI he supports a “Yes” vote)

I’ll be answering even more questions from you today about the independence referendum here.

Want to brush up? Here are a couple handy guides to Scottish independence from my colleagues at the Guardian:

And here's some more of my work for the Guardian - although I mostly edit other people's stories.

Go ahead & AMA!

UPDATE 4.25pm ET - It's been great answering your questions. I have to go and do some more work right now but I'll try and check in tomorrow and answer some more. In the meantime the Guardian is doing loads of coverage including daily live blogs, the vote is on Thursday and the result will come sometime between 5am and 7am BST Friday, which is midnight/2am ET.

Comments: 1886 • Responses: 48  • Date: 

Mottel374 karma

If Scotland leaves the United Kingdom, who gets custody of the Scotland Yard?

matthewdwells819 karma

Have you seen that building? They can keep it.

albacore_futures341 karma

One of the biggest arguments put forth for Scotland's independence is that they want more input over fiscal / monetary policy, because the Bank of England has been too austere. Yet, Scotland wants to use the Sterling (removing any control over monetary policy), and might very well join the Euro, which would effectively require several years of immense austerity cuts and then require Scotland to derive its fiscal policy from Berlin, instead of London.

In the short term, big companies like RBS have announced they would relocate. Scotland's economy would be dominated by alcohol exports, tourism, and maybe oil / LNG depending on if they get the fields or not. Scotland would also have to take on its share of the UK's debts - it can't just leave without paying for its part of things - which would immediately create a large debt, on top of the estimated 6% of GDP deficit it would have at the start.

In other words, a newly-independent Scotland would be unable to control its monetary policy, would immediately enact severe cuts in its much-cherished government spending, and (if it joins the Euro) would eventually cede what little fiscal control it had to Berlin.

What's the point? Isn't more devolution of powers from London to Edinburgh preferable to the above scenario?

matthewdwells179 karma

I think the argument over monetary policy is over-stated. Scotland doesn't have much control over its monetary policy at the moment. It's dominated by England. More devolution of powers from London to Edinburgh might be preferable, but the trouble is, it's not on the ballot. (Even though the SNP wanted it to be.) The three main political parties have only in the past few days signed up to this - and don't agree on how it should be implemented.

It's also undoubtedly true that the nationalists have under-stated the problems facing a newly independent Scotland. North Sea Oil revenue is notoriously hard to predict, there will be pressures on public spending, and it's not clear how much debt a newly independent Scotland would take on.

joydivision84306 karma

I'm a Scot who recently moved to the United States. Obviously I am a current holder of a British passport. What will happen to my nationality post any yes vote? Since I was born pre referendum, can I hold UK and Scottish nationality? Or will my UK citizenship be annulled?

matthewdwells415 karma

The Scottish government says that “Scottish-born British citizens currently living outside of Scotland will automatically be considered Scottish citizens.” So you’d be entitled to a tartan passport. They also say that dual nationality would be permitted, but the UK government would have to agree to that.

We did a good explainer on this recently.

XTP66644 karma


matthewdwells72 karma

She would remain a British citizen. Depending on where she lives now, she might be eligible to apply for Scottish citizenship.

Sea_Bitch24 karma

Do you know what about foreign people who have lived in Scotland 6+ years and want to get a British passport? Will they be entitled to a Scottish one or just British? Will they have a choice? I am in this situation.

matthewdwells80 karma

Scotland would be a separate country that would develop its own immigration policies. You wouldn't be able to get a British passport as you would not be living in Britain.

mrs505291 karma

What do you think drove the Scots to this loud cry for independence? Were there crucial moments in history? I understand that the political preferences in Scotland at this time are different from those in England, but why now, why wasn't this referendum held years ago?

matthewdwells348 karma

This is a REALLY good question. In the postwar years, the independence movement was rather ugly, characterised by anti-Englishness and extremism. But this latest campaign, I think, is really different. Much more about how the shared values and visions of the people of Scotland have become so diverged from those south of the Border.

Globalscree188 karma

Yes, but is that more a a distinction in viewpoint than say someone in Charlestown Cornwall to someone in Pimlico London to someone in Liverpool. Britain is made great by its cultural diversity.

I live in Kent and would love to know what values and visions I have that are so divergent from those of the Scottish. Our economy is in the midst of a fragile recovery when investor confidence is shaky at best. This uncertainty brought on by such things is nothing but bad for us on both sides of the border.

Further, where was the independence movement in the boom years of the late 90's early 00's. Now we are in tough times, is it really every man for themselves?

Curiousandcurser162 karma

As a scot maybe I could offer my take on things. I don't believe that the key motivator behind this push for indepedence has anything to do with anti-English sentiment. Instead it's a feeling that the current political system simply does not function in a satisfactory manner and taking control over all of our own affairs will allow for complete reform of the political system. There has been too many elections now where the government has not been voted in by the vast majority of Scotland. Imagine if it was the other way around - would you be happy that someone in Edinburgh was controlling the purse strings and making the majority of decisions on how things are run in Kent?

matthewdwells29 karma

Yes. I agree completely with this.

richardwrinkle208 karma

How happy is William Wallace in his grave right now?

matthewdwells389 karma

What's the opposite of spinning in your grave? That.

pmflood168 karma

Do you think Scotland will get control of the North Sea oil? And how important is the North Sea to Scotland's economy as an independent nation?

matthewdwells205 karma

Yes, and very.

voodooclownnose167 karma

Do you see this as a future trend? Large nation states breaking in to smaller regions but being connected through larger international bodies?

matthewdwells348 karma

It's REALLY unusual to have smooth, non-violent, successful secession movements. I think that'll continue to be the case.

rozwell37154 karma

What do you think Scotland would look like in 50 years if we vote Yes on Thursday?

matthewdwells474 karma

Like everywhere else, probably - much the same except a little warmer.

RyanCast1128 karma

From what I as an American understand, the UK is to the left of our politics so even the conservative parties there are center left for us. Now in reading about Scottish independence I keep seeing that Scotland is the more liberal part of the UK and England tends to be the more conservative part. Would Scottish independence push UK politics to the right making it basically similar to the US?

matthewdwells152 karma

It’s certainly true that the left-of-centre parties in the UK - the Labour party in particular - fears being shut out of government for a generation if Scotland secedes. Labour will go into meltdown if Scotland votes Yes on Thursday, not least because a Yes vote means a ton of Scottish Labour voters went against the party line. But I don’t think there will be a fundamental shift in the centre of gravity of British politics. If anything it’s moved to the left in recent years.

buzziebee125 karma

Why does this vote have to be a simple yes/no vote? Wouldn't a preferendum be more reflective of the desires of the Scottish people?

matthewdwells248 karma

Yes. And that was David Cameron's big political misjudgement.

trancurama105 karma

What will happen to scots who are curently in the british military?

matthewdwells129 karma

In the event of a yes vote, the status of units - as well as bases and equipment and so on - would be the subject of negotiations. Any Scots serving in units of the British army that remained with the rest of the UK would likely be given the option to choose whether they wanted to join the Scottish army.

machon8991 karma

Any idea why the Guardian came out supporting a No vote when they're supporting an institution which came around knocking on your door demanding you destroy hard-drives containing information on government surveillance?

Also, why are the press, by and large, not focusing on the risks of Scotland remaining in the UK when there is a credit bubble which is developing in the South East of England as a result of increasing housing costs?

For what its worth, I think the Guardian is a superb newspaper, and I've enjoyed the different coverage from their columnists and journalists have put out!

matthewdwells185 karma

I have to say that I disagreed with our editorial line on independence: I thought the central argument - ‘please stay, promise it’ll be a wee bit better’ - was unconvincing. But the Guardian has been around for 200 years and it’s not survived that long by imposing one ideological editorial line on its staff - which is why it’s a great place to work and a great website and paper to read. Comment is free!!

ForecasterEnten78 karma

Although you are in NYC currently, what's your current feeling on how the vote is going to go? I know the polling average suggests "no"is currently ahead by a little more than 2.5 points...

matthewdwells152 karma

It’s really hard to say because the turnout is going to be huge and they are letting 16- and 17-year-olds vote for the first time. (Yes! The kids get a say.) Polling could be way off base. My feeling is that the momentum is behind the Yes campaign. We could be in for a big shock on Friday.

But ForecasterEnten, you're the expert on polling!

TheRealBijoux77 karma

What is the likelihood that this is really going to happen? And if it does, will it give places like Quebec and Texas bright ideas about seceding from their countries?

matthewdwells137 karma

The leader of the Texas independence campaign visited Scotland earlier this year. Presume he was getting tips on how to run a good campaign....

therablador50 karma

As a fellow Scot and an aspiring journalist, how has your career been affected by the Referendum? Are there ever serious conflicts of opinion between you and your colleagues?

And, I must ask, what was it like meeting Colbert?

matthewdwells64 karma

My career started on the Edinburgh Evening News and I was on the Scotsman at the time of the 1999 devolution referendum that led to the setting up of a parliament in Edinburgh. The late Scotsman editor, Alan Ruddock, my career mentor, gave me a choice of jobs: Scottish political correspondent in the new parliament or London correspondent. I chose the latter, ended up at the Guardian and now here I am in New York. Most of my colleagues here are American - so no conflicts! Although the Guardian came out in favour of the unioin last week so I might need to tread carefully when I'm next back in the London HQ.

Colbert was a hoot. He was completely charming, his team are total professionals and it was a great honour to go on a show that I watched for years.

BrightShark9444 karma

Are you a fan of Amy Pond? (:

matthewdwells43 karma

Love her!

Prufrock45142 karma

My sense of the campaign from across the Atlantic is that the British government has been very sour and negative in its approach. I don't see any real concessions to the complete alienation of half of Scotland, any sense that Whitehall is going to do anything to win back hearts and minds.

What do you think will happen if Scotland votes no?

matthewdwells78 karma

The best thing the No campaign did was to name themselves “Better Together”. What a great name - gave off such a positive vibe. But then they hit the “fear” button hard and tried to scare the pants off everyone in Scotland.

That backfired badly and now they are panicking. Basically in the past week they’ve pretty much promised that Scotland would be a separate, fully federal state in the UK. Which is what Alex Salmond, the Yes leader, wanted on the ballot in the first place. It’s been a total catastrophe. Whatever happens, huge constitutional upheaval is on the cards.

applejuicestatus30 karma

This seems very sudden. How long has the current independence campaign been brewing in the UK?

matthewdwells60 karma

It's actually been brewing for a long time. There have been two previous referendums - one in the 1970s and another in 1999, although the questions were about more power for Scotland, not full independence.

But it all came to a head after the Scottish nationalists won outright the election to the Scottish parliament in 2011 - a total shock, because the electoral system in Edinburgh, with elements of proportional representation, had been set up to make such a result really hard to achieve.

EDIT: the second referendum was in 1997, and led to the setting up of the Scottish parliament in 1999. It was described at the time as the "settled will of the Scottish people" by the then Scottish secretary, Donald Dewar. That proved not to be the case.

cvillemade6 karma

I do have a few questions, actually!

What would independence mean for Scotland as it relates to their economy, EU membership, and future relations with Britain?

Could we realistically expect to see a free Scotland in the near future?

matthewdwells17 karma

The economy:

The ‘No’ campaign says the economy will be severely harmed by independence, pointing to Scotland’s ageing population, the finite nature of Scotland’s oil reserves, and the increased taxes that will be needed to plug the gap.

The ‘Yes’ camp points out that there are vast untapped reserves of oil, that Scotland’s GDP is 2,300GBP higher than that in the rest of the UK, which would make it the 14th richest country in the world.

The real answer is that no-one really knows, because there is no precedent for this.

EU membership

Another scare tactic deployed by the No camp is that Scotland would not be able to re-enter the EU very easily. Most observers however think that the process could be quick. The EU doesn't want instability.

EDIT: that should be 2,300GBP per capita higher than the rest of the UK.

two_off2 karma

What types of stories do you lean toward for steering the paper?

How do you decide between all the major events, which ones should get more coverage - Ebola, ISIS, Scotland, celebrity death, ...?

What prep did you get before you went on stage for Colbert?

matthewdwells7 karma

I run the news report in the United States, so I decide on American coverage, aimed principally at our American audience. On any given day, you want a good mix of stories - the big political and diplomatic developments, some original journalism of your own about things that Guardian readers in the US care passionately about (inequality, voter disenfranchisement, women’s rights and LGBT issues are good examples), and leavened with a bit of fun. (I liked the article we did recently on Americans not understanding Peter Capaldi’s Scottish accent on Doctor Who!)

And yesterday the editor of our op-ed section, Matt Sullivan, asked me whether he could run this headline. (My answer: hit ‘publish’ and run away very fast)

As for Colbert prep: I did a lot of reading, and while I was advised very strongly not to make any jokes (leave those to him), I rehearsed some lines so I had things to fall back on. Most of all I tried hard not to laugh, as I wanted to play the ‘straight man’ part as best I could.

davesaysciao2 karma

If it's Yes, but independence turns out to be rubbish, is there a back out plan (can they take a mulligan)?

matthewdwells1 karma

No turning back!

WyattHawke1 karma

If Scotland are not allowed to keep the British pound, and also have to renegotiate a deal with the EU, will people then still vote for the SNP later do you believe?

matthewdwells3 karma

I think the question of the future of the SNP is interesting. In an independent Scotland, what would be the point of the SNP? Would it split into other parties? Would Scottish Labour survive - having opposed independence? I think there could be splits and new parties all over the place.

sheslikebutter0 karma

Do you think the scare tactics being used in an attempt to force people to vote no are at all accurate and that Scotland's going to descend into chaos if yes passed?

I'm just a casual observer to the whole situation but I feel team No's tactics come across as highly exaggerated, perhaps even dishonest.

matthewdwells3 karma

The entire strategy of the No campaign has been a catastrophe. They've got themselves into a right old guddle, to use a great Scottish word