The main feature of living in a modern democracy is that nearly everybody gets to vote. As John Donne once said in a rather different context an election “comes equally to us all, and makes us all equal when it comes”. At one point only people with a certain amount of property could vote. At another point men could vote but women couldn’t. Now every citizen over the age of eighteen can vote. A Nobel Prize winning scientist has one vote. So too does a person who left school with no qualifications. Some people follow political debates closely. Some hardly follow them at all. Some people think they understand all the issues while others vote because of intuition or because that’s the way their friends vote. None of this matters as it all evens itself out. In a large population the wise counterbalance the foolish. If you ask a million people a question, very often the majority have the correct answer. There is a wisdom in crowds. Anyway that is the system we have and there is no changing it.
There is only one issue in Scottish politics. This has been the case since the SNP were first voted into power in Holyrood. Other issues are talked about and debated, but they don’t matter. Scots do not vote according to their opinion on what to do about education or health care. The vast majority of Scottish voters vote according to whether they want Scottish independence or they don’t. This remains the case even if an election is not explicitly about Scottish independence.
In this way our politics has come to resemble the politics of Northern Ireland. People there vote according to identity. The difference is that they tend to unite behind one Pro UK party (the DUP) or one anti UK party (Sinn Féin). I suspect that many Northern Irish voters don’t particularly like either of the main parties they vote for, but they are aware that the alternative is to split the vote and thereby damage their side of the argument. There may come a time in Scotland where the Pro UK side has to unite rather than split itself into three parts. Whichever of the three turns out to be the strongest and most Pro UK may gain the vote of all Pro UK Scots. We are not there yet. But there will come a time if the Conservatives continue to increase support that sensible Labour or Lib Dem voters will reason that they can live with Ruth Davidson’s centrist politics as she has the best chance of defending our position in the UK. We still have a way to go before we shake off the tribalism of voting for red, blue or orange. But the nationalists shook it off a while back and they all now vote for one party or for parties like the Greens that are fellow travellers and will do what the SNP asks. At the very least, in the forthcoming council elections vote in such a way that we send a clear message to Sturgeon. We don’t want another independence referendum anytime soon. If the SNP do worse than expected and if the Pro UK opposition increases its support it will strengthen Theresa May’s hand.
Because there is only one issue in Scottish politics it is worth looking at the main arguments in such a way that they are comprehensible to everyone. A lot of what is written in newspapers and spoken about by politicians is very dull. People quote statistics at each other and make up stories about what would happen if we vote one way or the other. I think voters have seen through this.
Many of the threats made during the EU referendum have already been shown to be exaggerated. It is very important that a political campaign is grounded in truth. Never exaggerate and never present something that is uncertain as certain. We can’t predict the future, but politics is about presenting the best guess about what might happen. Don’t get bogged down in figures, but rather try to deal with fundamentals. The key is to develop a set of clear and relatively straightforward arguments. These can then be presented by word of mouth in ordinary conversation with other Scots. This sort of grassroots campaign is I think the best way to get our message across.
These arguments remain valid whether there is an independence referendum campaign or not. The task is to persuade moderate Scots who are tempted to vote for the SNP not to do so. Don’t bother with those who will never change their mind. The arguments that are crucial to this are all to do with independence. Anyone who votes for the SNP who doesn’t want independence is clearly confused for the SNP will use that vote to attempt to gain independence. Whatever short term benefit such a person thinks they might receive by voting for the SNP is at the expense of a longer term risk to the UK. This is like smoking. Whatever short term pleasure it gives is massively outweighed by long term risk.
I am going to list what I consider to be the main disadvantages involved in Scottish independence. I am then going to list some of what Scottish nationalists consider to be advantages. In this way it should be possible to assess the risks and the rewards of voting for the SNP in any and all elections.
It’s crucial to realise that while I think there are disadvantages to Scottish independence, this does not mean that I am in any way being negative about Scotland. I’ve always accepted that Scotland could become independent. Long term it could do so successfully. The success of a country generally depends on the resources at its disposal, its strategic situation and the choices that its government makes. Nearly any place in the world could in theory make a success of being independent.
If history had turned out differently the borders of Europe today might contain rather fewer countries or a great deal more. Germany reunited while Yugoslavia split. This process of division and unification has been going on for centuries. But just because a place could be independent doesn’t mean that it ought to do so. California clearly could be independent. It would immediately be one of the biggest economies in the world. But there has to be a very good reason for a place to change its international borders. The reason for this is that such changes are usually associated with uncertainty and sometimes turmoil. It is very difficult to predict what happens when international boundaries are changed. Recent history in Europe shows that there can be unforeseen consequences that no-one could have guessed at the time of independence.
Who could have predicted that Belgian independence would be one of the causes of the First World War? Who could have predicted that when Nikita Khrushchev gave Crimea to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic that this would lead to war between Ukraine and Russia? Establishing international boundaries should be done with care and only rarely. Dividing people who have a shared history, who speak the same language and who have a very similar culture should not be done for short term reasons. If every people in Europe who are as similar as the citizens of the UK decided to split up we would have dozens of extra European countries. Northern Germans are much more different from Southern Germans than Scots are from the English, Welsh or Northern Irish. People in Italy speak languages that other Italians find difficult to understand. The same can be said for people in Spain and people in Belgium. If Europe as a whole went down the route of Scottish nationalism, there would be mass uncertainty, disputes about territory and most probably wars. We have a responsibility to not set an example to others that may be damaging.
There is a categorical imperative to act in such a way anyone else could do likewise. If it is justified for Scots to seek independence then it is equally just for Bavarians, Burgundians, Sicilians and the Flemish. But if the peoples of Europe split up into tiny subsets it would set our continent back centuries. It would be to undo the progress that we have been making since medieval times. You cannot logically think that Scottish independence is justified while denying that it is justified for others in a similar situation. But Europe is made up of hundreds of formerly independent countries. There is nothing special about Scotland.
The disadvantages of Scottish independence
Scotland’s deficit is the gap between what we earn and what we spend. Economics is frequently turned into a very complex subject by people swapping big numbers and long words. But the essence is usually quite easy to understand. If I earn £20,000 per year but spend £25,000, I have a deficit of £5000. I’m making a loss. Every year that I make a loss I owe someone else more and more. After the first year I owe £5000, after the second year £10,000 etc. A person or a business cannot continue in this way. To continue to make a loss for very long means I go out of business or become bankrupt. There are only two ways to reduce or eliminate a deficit. Either I have to earn more or spend less.
Scotland has the largest deficit in Europe. It’s not just me that is saying this. The SNP Government’s own figures show it. There is no need to go into percentages or to discuss big numbers involving billions. Such numbers rarely add to our understanding of an issue.
The reason Scotland is not bust is because we are a part of the UK. This means that we receive from the UK Government a lot of money every year. This money that is assigned according to the Barnett Formula allows Scotland to have on average higher public spending per head than other parts of the UK. This is perfectly reasonable as it is much more costly to provide services in sparsely populated parts of Scotland. The cost is shared between the whole UK population. Obviously if Scotland became independent it would cease to receive any money from other parts of the former UK. The cost of providing healthcare and postage to the Western Isles would not be met by the UK population as a whole, but by Scotland alone.
Why is Scotland in deficit? There are many reasons. Scotland like the North of England, Wales and Northern Ireland had an economy that depended historically on heavy industry. All of these parts of the UK are poorer than the South. Heavy industry ceased to be cost effective in most Western economies as it could be done cheaper elsewhere. It isn’t the fault of people from Detroit or Motherwell that the industry they used to be involved in closed, but it takes time for new productive and profitable jobs to appear. Economies only change slowly.
Scotland for the past thirty or forty years has been doing better economically than many of the northern parts of the UK because we had the good fortune to have North Sea oil. Unfortunately it is unlikely that the oil that is left in the North Sea will ever bring a profit again. It is expensive to drill oil from under the sea. Fracking in the United States and elsewhere undercuts North Sea oil and is the main long term factor that is likely to keep the price of oil such that it is hardly worth drilling for it near Scotland. The cost of decommissioning oil-rigs is likely to be more than they earn in the future. Oil therefore is not going to help Scotland’s deficit.
Scotland’s deficit is more than is permitted for members of the EU, much more. The EU has recent experience of member states with large deficits, living beyond their means. It would therefore be the case that if Scotland were to become independent the EU would require that Scotland reduced its deficit considerably before being allowed to join.
How do you reduce a deficit? You can earn more. This means growing the economy. Every country wants to grow its economy, but economies change slowly. I might want to earn more. Who doesn’t? But I realise that to earn more I would have to find a better job. This might mean me taking a course. It might mean me working harder. Naturally it would be possible for the Scottish economy to grow. Above all it depends on a Scottish Government making good choices. It also depends on the actions of ordinary Scots running successful businesses. But none of these things would happen overnight. For this reason one of the first things that the first Government of an independent Scotland would have to do is cut public spending. They would also have to raise taxes. Unfortunately to bring a large deficit down to a manageable level would require large cuts to public spending and large tax rises.
Would it be possible for a Scottish Government to cut its deficit down to manageable levels without wrecking the Scottish economy? This would be the dilemma. Cutting spending and raising taxes would almost certainly put the Scottish economy into recession. But it is just this that we would need to avoid in order to have a chance of growing our way out of our deficit. The answer is not to go there. No sensible people would put themselves in this position if they could avoid it.
Scotland’s deficit means that we simply cannot afford Scottish independence. It can only be because so many Scots don’t understand what this deficit is that we are even having the debate at all. It is grossly irresponsible of the SNP to suggest that independence is even a viable option. It isn’t. It would mean that the standard of living of the majority of Scots would fall massively. It would mean unemployment and poverty because we could no longer afford the level of benefits that we do at present. It would mean poorer healthcare and poorer education. I strongly suspect it would mean an exodus southwards. If you think we have had austerity in the past few years, just try the austerity that would come with Scottish independence.
A country’s debt must not be confused with its deficit. The debt results from the deficit. Every year I live beyond my means adds to my debt. It is normal for countries to run small deficits and equally normal for them to have large national debts. But again as we have seen in Europe recently these debts can become problematic.
Every year Scotland remained in deficit it would be adding to its debt. But this would not be the sum total of Scotland’s debt. It is likely that Scotland would have to inherit a share of the UK’s national debt. What this would involve is uncertain. It would depend on the divorce negotiations between Scotland and the former UK. I say former, because Scottish independence would involve the destruction of the UK. Some Scottish nationalists think that Scotland could avoid inheriting a share of the UK’s debt. But in this case Scotland could not expect to have any share in the UK’s assets. Nor could Scotland expect to receive any help from the former UK. I imagine they would see refusing to accept a share of debts that have been incurred together as an unfriendly act. If I shared a flat with a friend and we had shared bills, I would expect my friend to pay her share of the bills if she chose to leave the flat. If she didn’t I don’t think I would see her as a friend anymore.
We don’t know the size of Scotland’s debt. But we do know that the interest rate that Scotland would pay on this debt would be higher than the UK does at present. The amount of interest that a country pays is determined by the international bond market. This market has great confidence that the UK or Germany will repay its debts, or bonds. For this reason the UK pays a very low interest rate. It has a long track record of repaying debt. As a newly independent nation state however Scotland would have no track record at all. For this reason borrowing on the international markets, which would be necessary given our economy was in deficit, could only be done by paying significantly higher interest rates than we do at present.
It is likely that Scotland would inherit a share of the UK’s debt. Any attempt to avoid this would lead to a difficult diplomatic climate for the newly independent Scotland. But whatever debt Scotland had, we would have to pay a much higher interest rate than the UK does. This would in turn make it still harder for us to reduce our deficit.
The majority of Scots want to keep the pound. It is highly unlikely that this would be possible if Scotland became independent. It is the norm when countries become independent that they set up their own currency. There are exceptions however. In 2014 a lot of time and energy was spent debating whether Scotland could keep the pound after independence. The SNP said we could, while the UK Government said we couldn’t. What we have been learning over the past few years however is that it is problematic to say the least to have currency union without political union. This is the essence of the problem in the Eurozone and the reason why that currency is not working out terribly well especially for southern Europe. The UK has a political union and we also transfer money throughout the UK by means of, for example, the Barnett Formula. The reason the Poundzone works well is because of our political and transfer union. The SNP would however break the political union and stop the transfer union. This is simply to turn the Poundzone into the Eurozone. But the UK has spent the past twenty years or more precisely trying to avoid being in the Eurozone.
This in essence was the argument in 2014 for why the UK would not want to maintain a currency union with an independent Scotland. The circumstances have changed however. Now the UK is going to be outside of the EU, while the SNP want Scotland to be a member of the EU. If it was difficult in 2014 to suppose that currency union was possible after Scottish independence it is still harder now. Being in or being outside the EU is liable to involve different economic rules. Moreover, in order to join the EU Scotland would have to promise, at least theoretically, to join the Euro. This would immediately destabilise the pound. It would be similar to the risk of Greece leaving the Euro. Why would the former UK agree to this?
What are the alternatives for Scotland’s currency? Unfortunately we don’t yet know what the SNP propose. If they have a plan, they haven’t made it public yet. The options though really are these. They could use the pound unofficially like some countries use the Euro or the dollar. They could set up their own Scottish pound. Or they could join the Euro.
Using the pound unofficially would mean that Scotland had no control whatsoever over monetary policy. These things would be set by the Bank of England and Scotland could have no influence on them. Using the pound unofficially would make it difficult for Scottish financial services to continue in the way that do at present. Would you invest in a country that used someone else’s currency without permission? I certainly wouldn’t.
Given the choice between joining the Euro and setting up a Scottish pound, I would much prefer joining the Euro. The Euro has many faults and there is a risk that it might cease to exist. But it is reasonably stable and is backed by a powerful European Central Bank. I would be much more confident if my money were in Euros than in Scots pounds. The problem however is that in order to join the Euro a country first has to have its own currency. We would then have first to change pounds Sterling into Scottish pounds and then change Scottish pounds into Euros. We would have to set up a Scottish Central Bank only to abolish it when we joined the Euro. This would be expensive. It would also be difficult for Scottish businesses which would have to continually convert whichever currency Scotland was using this month so that they could do business south of the border. Every time any of us went on a visit to England we would likewise have to change our money.
The biggest problem we would all face however is this. All of our mortgages and all of our salaries are at present in UK pounds. Imagine if we set up a Scottish currency with an exchange rate of one to one. On day one a mortgage of UK pounds worth £200,000 would become a mortgage of sco200,000. But what would happen if the Scottish pound fell 10% in relation to pound Sterling. My house in relation to pound sterling would be worth 10% less. My salary in relation to pound sterling would also be worth 10% less. Some Scottish nationalists have suggested that we might peg the rate of the Scots pound to the rate of pounds sterling. But anyone who remembers the Exchange Rate mechanism will realise that pegs can break. All told there are risks involved in changing our currency. I don’t know what would happen if we had to have a new Scottish currency. But then neither do the SNP.
There is a reason why most Scots would like to keep the pound. We trust it. The alternatives also are not pleasant. Some of the best businesses in Scotland involve finance. Most of them have customers in other parts of the UK. There is no way that UK customers are going to take out insurance with a company based in a country that does not use UK pounds. I don’t go to a German company when I need financial services, why would a citizen of the former UK go to a Scottish company when he could find an equally good one in London?
The only easy way for Scots to keep the pound is if Scotland remains a part of the UK. Leaving the UK would probably involve taking on a new currency which involves considerable risk and has the potential for every one of us losing money. 10% of your house’s worth isn’t a trivial sum, nor for that matter is 20%.
Our wealth as a country is dependent on trade. The UK is leaving the EU. This will affect how we trade with EU countries. We do not yet know much or how little will be changed. It will depend on the negotiations that will take place over the next couple of years between the EU and the UK. What we do know however is that it is unlikely that the UK will remain a part of the EU’s Single Market.
It’s important to be aware of what the EU is and what it is not. The EU is primarily a customs union. By joining this customs union a country is able to trade freely with every other member. But this is not strictly speaking free trade, as we have to pay a large membership fee each year to join. What’s more because we are a member of the EU’s customs union we automatically have to charge a tariff when we trade with non EU countries. While we are a member of the EU we cannot make a trade deal with any other country. Only the EU can make trade deals for us.
It can be seen therefore that there are plusses and minuses to membership of the EU. For a price we can trade “freely” in the EU’s Single Market, but we cannot trade freely with any country with which the EU does not have a trade deal. Leaving the EU may involve damaging our trade with EU, but this might be offset with more beneficial trade relationships with other countries, such as the USA, Australia and New Zealand. The task for the UK Government is to minimise the damage to our trade with the EU while obtaining the best possible deals with other countries. Only time will tell how this works out for the UK economy. It’s worth remembering however that many economists think that the cost of our membership of the EU is more than we would pay in tariffs even if the EU chose to charge us at the highest possible rate. For this reason even if we walked away without any sort of deal we would still save money.
Scotland does the vast majority of its trade with other parts of the UK. The UK’s Single Market is more vital to Scotland than the EU’s Single Market. This is not least because the UK’s Single Market has been going for much longer, does not involve any sort of currency exchange, and is complete. The EU’s Single Market is somewhat limited. It does not for instance fully cover service industries, which are vital for the UK and the Scottish economy.
The UK leaving the EU is a game changer with regard to Scottish independence. If Scotland were to leave the UK and join the EU, it would mean that Scotland ended up in a different trading bloc to the former UK. If the EU chose to impose tariffs on the former UK, this would mean that Scotland as a member of the EU would have to impose them too. Different regulations would apply in the former UK to Scotland and they would each have different currencies. This would mean that the UK’s Single Market would no longer cover Scotland. If the former UK were able to develop free trade relations with countries like Australia and the USA, these deals could not apply to Scotland.
The market that is most important to Scottish business is the other parts of the UK. Scottish independence would force Scotland out of the UK’s Single Market with which we have the closest relationship based on centuries of shared law and tradition. Scotland would continue to have free access to the EU’s Single Market so long as we paid the membership fee. But this market is not nearly as important to our trade as the one we would be leaving.
If the UK had remained in the EU, then it might have been possible for Scotland to obtain independence without damaging our trade with the other parts of the UK. But this is no longer possible. Given that a country’s wealth depends on trade, and given that the vast majority of Scotland’s trade is with the other parts of the UK, then it is necessary to conclude that Scottish independence in these circumstances would make us all poorer.
There are two main threats to security in Europe. The first is Russian expansionism, the second is terrorism. In order to contain Russia we need a strong NATO. The strength of NATO is twofold. One it has armed forces capable of reacting to a threat. Two it has nuclear weapons that act as a deterrent.
Some years ago Ukraine made a treaty involving Russia whereby it agreed to give up the nuclear weapons that were situated on its territory and Russia agreed to respect the frontiers of Ukraine. If Ukraine had kept these nuclear weapons, it would appear doubtful that Russia would have annexed part of Ukraine.
The fight against terrorism depends primarily on intelligence. The UK has one of the best intelligence services in the world. We only fully share our intelligence with countries that we completely trust. These are called the Five Eyes. These countries are the UK, USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. The security of the UK depends on this arrangement.
If Scotland became independent, it would have the consequence of destroying the British Armed forces. Scotland is an integral part of the British Army, Air Force and Navy. None of these could retain their name, nor their flag, if the United Kingdom ceased to exist. If there is no Great Britain, there can be no British anything.
It is unclear how much the USA at present is willing to defend Europe. Donald Trump has isolationist tendencies. Unfortunately in Europe there are only two serious armed forces, the British and the French. Destroying one of these is not going to make Europe safer. It will not make Scotland safer either.
There are two countries in Europe that can use nuclear weapons to deter aggression. One is France the other is the UK. The SNP do not wish to allow the UK nuclear deterrent to remain in its present harbour. There is nowhere else for it to go. If the USA decided to remove its nuclear deterrent umbrella from Europe, then we would be left with the UK deterrent and the French deterrent. Scottish independence could mean that NATO in Europe lost half of its deterrent capability.
The UK does not routinely share all intelligence with other EU countries. If Scotland caused the UK to cease to exist, it is not at all clear that the former UK would choose to share intelligence with Scotland. At least initially Scotland would have no intelligence capability whatsoever. It is hard to see how this arrangement could make us safer.
War may seem far away and we may feel that terrorism only happens to other people. But the UK went to war in 1939 to defend Poland and it is perfectly possible we might wish to defend another European country against Russian aggression. It is in the nature of security that threats are unexpected. What is clear however is that breaking up the British armed forces and getting rid of our nuclear deterrent would delight our potential enemies and dismay our friends. We might in the decades to come need the British armed forces. We have needed them quite often in the past. Future generations would not look favourably on those who decided to dismember the means by which we have kept our country safe for so long.
So long as the UK remained in the EU it was possible to argue that Scottish independence would not involve erecting a hard border between Berwick and Gretna. This situation has now changed. If Scotland were in the EU while the former UK was outside the EU, then it becomes ever more likely that a manned border will have to be erected between Scotland and England.
It is a condition of membership of the EU that a country agrees to join the Schengen zone. This allows passport free travel between EU member states and also some other non EU states such as Norway and Switzerland. The Republic of Ireland is not a member of Schengen because it joined the EU prior to it being a requirement. It is this and this alone that might allow an open border between Northern Ireland and the Republic to continue after Brexit.
One of the main reasons that the UK voted to leave the EU is to control immigration. But if people were able to travel to Edinburgh from the EU without showing their passport they could get on a bus and go straight to London without showing a passport too. The only way to prevent this would be to have border controls between England and Scotland.
Even if Scotland were somehow to avoid membership of Schengen, the fact that we would be part of the EU’s Single market might necessitate some form of border control or at least some form of monitoring. EU citizens without limit will be able to travel to Scotland if Scotland is part of the EU’s Single Market. But what will prevent them slipping over the border so as to work illegally in England? How will tariffs on goods moving from England to Scotland be collected if not at a border?
The UK’s voting to leave the EU has once more radically changed the situation with regard to Scottish independence. If Scotland joined the EU, then the border between Scotland and England would be the border between the EU and the non-EU. Nothing is certain, of course, and a way might be found to keep the border open. But it is crucial that people realise that an international border is not just a line on the map. It can have real consequences and it is sometimes necessary to show documentation when you cross. Anyone who is concerned about there not being a manned border between England and Scotland would be well advised not to make that border an international one.
- Loss of influence
We cannot change our geography. Scotland will always be the northern part of an island we share with England and Wales. Our relations with the people living there and in Northern Ireland will always be more important than our relations with small countries in Eastern Europe or in other parts of the world. We also cannot change the fact that we in Scotland have a small population of around five million while the other parts of the UK have a population of around sixty million. Whether we are an independent country or not what goes on in the other parts of the UK will have an effect on our lives. If there is a recession in England there will probably be a recession in Scotland. Our economies are interconnected because our families are interconnected. The question then is do we want to influence the politics of our larger neighbours or do we want to have no influence?
There have been nine Scottish Prime Ministers. There have been a large number of Chancellors of the Exchequer and Foreign Secretaries. At various points in history a UK Government has depended on Scottish MPs to give it a majority. What this means is that historically Scottish voters have been able to influence the politics of the whole of the United Kingdom, not just Scotland.
Scottish independence would mean the loss of the MPs we send to Westminster. We would no longer take part in UK General Elections. Instead we would only have members of the Scottish Parliament.
At present the UK is a fairly influential player on the world stage. We are not as important as some larger countries, but nevertheless we are one of five permanent members of the Security Council and our views on a number of issues are influential. Scottish voters by influencing and frequently choosing the UK Government have far more influence than if they were voting only for members of a Scottish Parliament. The reason for this is population. It is rare for small countries of five million people to have much influence beyond their own borders. It is still the case that international relations are dominated by “great powers”. Germany has rather more influence than Slovenia.
Scottish independence would not only mean that Scotland had less influence, it might very well mean that the former UK would have less influence too. When the British armed forces, nuclear deterrent, and UK flag ceased to exist, other countries might consider that the UK’s place at the Security Council should cease to exist also. If the former UK ever tried to influence another country, that country could justly point out that you couldn’t even keep your own country intact. Why would we listen to you? Scottish independence therefore would not only lessen Scottish influence it would lessen the influence of all of us. It would be an act of self-harm. It’s hard to imagine the citizens or Government of the former UK looking at Scotland favourably for causing this harm. Probably the biggest danger of Scottish independence is that it would damage our relations with the other parts of the UK for decades to come. No-one can predict what consequences would flow from this.
One of the crucial aspects of EU membership is that it gives EU citizens the same rights in other countries as they have in their own. It was for this reason above all that Scottish nationalists supported membership of the EU because the EU would guarantee them the rights we enjoy at present as British citizens. Now that the UK is leaving the EU the EU could no longer guarantee the rights of the Scottish in the other parts of the former UK. If a Scottish citizen was able to live and work in England it could not be because the EU said that he had that right, it could only be because the former UK agreed to give him that right. The right would be contingent on that agreement.
It might be argued that Scottish citizens of an independent Scotland would retain their British citizenship. This is perfectly possible. But again it would depend on the agreement of the Government of the former UK. This Government might decide that it did not wish to allow dual nationality with Scots. We just don’t know how citizens of the former UK might react to Scotland voting for independence. They might wish to cooperate and be as helpful as possible. Alternatively they might be rather more hostile. They might say to Scots. We are happy for you to remain British citizens, but only if you refrain from taking out Scottish citizenship. They may ask us to choose. We just don’t know. It is likely that Scots would continue to be able to live and work in England, but there are no guarantees. It would all depend on the divorce negotiations and on future relations between Scotland and the former UK.
At the moment I have all sorts of rights because I am a British citizen. I will get a pension at a certain age. I can get free medical treatment anywhere in the UK. I can get benefits. I can live and work where I please and I can travel to huge numbers of countries without a visa. Some of these rights would no doubt continue even if Scotland became independent, but there is no guarantee that all of them would. Every country in the world gives a special status to its own citizens. If you choose to cease to be one of those citizens you cannot complain if some of your former rights have been lost.
Nicola Sturgeon continually complains about the fact that Scotland voted to remain in the EU, but the UK as a whole voted to leave. She complained that Scotland was being dragged out against its will. The problem with this sort of argument however, is that it could equally well apply to parts of Scotland in an independence referendum. What would happen if Scotland as a whole voted to leave the UK, but parts of Scotland voted to remain? Could these parts likewise complain about being dragged out against their will?
There have already been some reports that Shetland might not wish to stay in an independent Scotland. I imagine Orkney might take a similar view. Their history is rather different from the other parts of Scotland. Why should they not be able to remain in the UK if that was their wish? The same could be said for the Scottish Borders. Who is to say that the international boundary of Scotland could not be moved up a few miles to better reflect the wishes of people living there?
Some people have argued that any part of Scotland that remained contiguous with the UK should be allowed to remain. On this basis if Pro UK territory reached as far as Aberdeen then Aberdeenshire could stay in the UK even if the majority of Scotland voted to leave. But why should territory have to be contiguous. Other countries have exclaves. Alaska is not connected to the other parts of the United States.
Nicola Sturgeon’s argument about people being dragged out against their will could be turned against her. It would be amusing if an independent Scotland amounted to Greater Glasgow and Dundee. The former could be called the West Bank, while the latter could be called “Eyeless in Gaza”. The rest of Scotland would no doubt miss them, but we would get over it.
This may appear far-fetched. But then again Scottish independence a few years ago seemed far-fetched. There is however quite a long history in Europe of boundaries being determined by local plebiscite. The present boundary between Denmark and Germany for instance was determined by a vote in 1920.
If Nicola Sturgeon became leader of an independent Scotland, how long would she continue to rule? She isn’t fifty yet. She could go on for at least another thirty to forty years. The SNP have destroyed the Labour Party in Scotland. It is fanciful to suppose that Labour would somehow be resurrected upon independence. What purpose would the Conservatives have in an independent Scotland? The essence of the Conservative Party is the Union. A Pro UK party in an independent Scotland might as well give up. The Liberal Democrats too have been destroyed by Scottish nationalism. At least they might be pleased that there number one priority of being in the EU was fulfilled. But the Lib Dems would hardly provide a challenge to the SNP who had just succeeded in fulfilling the goal that they had campaigned for over the course of many decades.
The dominance of the SNP in Scottish politics happened by surprise, but for the moment it is complete. No other party can challenge them for leadership. No other party comes close. But not only do other parties not challenge Nicola Sturgeon, neither does her own party. SNP MPs and MSPs are forbidden by SNP rules from saying or doing anything that could be considered to be critical of Sturgeon’s leadership. They must agree with each and every one of her policies. How long would this numbing conformity continue in an independent Scotland? Well so long as there is no opposition it would continue indefinitely.
Scotland has free and fair elections and there is no reason to suppose that this would not continue in an independent Scotland. But nevertheless we would be likely to face decades of one party rule. Nicola Sturgeon could decide to give up leading her party immediately upon obtaining independence, but why would she? Who could stop her in the decades ahead? When countries become independent it is common that the party that achieves this independence becomes the natural party of government. Would Nicola Sturgeon become Éamon de Valera in skirts? She would have been the one to finally kick the Brits out both from Scotland and from Ireland. She would have succeeded where the Irish failed. She would have destroyed the UK and made the word “British” obsolete. Who could challenge Sturgeon after doing all these things?
The SNP have authoritarian centralising tendencies. They have a tendency to identify their own party with Scotland, such that any criticism of the SNP becomes a criticism of Scotland. We have already got to the stage where crowds of nationalists listen to Nicola Sturgeon with rapt attention and with tears in their eyes. SNP shops sell posters of Nicola Sturgeon and framed prints which Scottish nationalists no doubt put on their walls. Would these “dear leader” tendencies increase or decrease if she succeeded in becoming the leader of an independent Scotland?
Scotland would no doubt remain a democracy if the SNP won their battle for independence, but it would be a democracy where the leader would go on and on rather like Salazar in Portugal or Castro in Cuba. We would have elections and these would probably continue to be free and fair, but they would have little point as we would already know the result beforehand? If this sounds attractive to you then by all means vote for independence. Statues of Sturgeon and Salmond in the streets of Scotland would delight their supporters and might even revive the Scottish steel industry, but they would be memorials to a funny sort of democracy that involved precious little choice. Careful what you vote for Scotland.
The Advantages of Scottish independence
The main advantages of a vote for Scottish independence are that Scotland would become a sovereign, independent nation state and that it might be able to join the EU.
The odd thing about arguing with Scottish nationalists is that they think that Scotland already is a country and a nation and that it already has sovereignty. I have always thought that a country or a nation in the fullest sense of that word is a sovereign independent nation state. For this reason I have long argued that while Scotland is correctly called a “country” and a “nation” it is not one in the sense in which France is. This is usually met with first astonishment and then anger. I always reply if you think that Scotland is already a nation and a country why are you campaigning that it should become one? You obviously cannot become what you already are.
But let’s be clear, whatever Scotland’s status now, if it were to become independent it would become a nation and a country in the same sense as every other such sovereign nation state.
I think sometimes this is really all that most Scottish nationalists want. They are patriotic about Scotland realise perhaps unconsciously that Scotland is not a country in the fullest sense of the word. There’s something pretendy about a country that isn’t independent. It’s really this and this alone that motivates people like Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond to campaign for decades.
On becoming independent Scotland would have a seat at the United Nations. It would take part in all sports individually rather than as part of the UK team.
For Scottish nationalists there would be an independence day to celebrate and they would have that warm glow about Scotland joining the real nations of the world.
If that’s what you want then I really don’t have an argument. There is a logic to Scottish nationalism:
Scotland is a country,
Countries ought to be independent,
Therefore Scotland ought to be independent.
This argument doesn’t work for me because I don’t think Scotland really is a country. Rather Scotland was a country some hundreds of years ago and since then it has frequently been called a “country”. But this is just a way of speaking. The Isle of Dogs is not after all an island.
There is a flag waving side to Scottish nationalism that really just wants recognition of Scotland being an independent country. Perversely Scottish nationalists think of Scotland always as if it already was independent. In this sense they wouldn’t really gain anything from independence. They already think that Scotland is a country and a nation. Nicola Sturgeon acts as if she is the leader of an independent country. What the nationalists would gain, turns out to be rather illusive. Yet they are willing to put us all to such trouble for something they will swear blind they already have. How dare you say we’re not already a sovereign nation? Then what will you really gain? Yet this illusive something is all that they really want. They don’t want anything else. It’s all rather peculiar. Perhaps you have to be a Scottish nationalist to understand it.
But beyond the flag waving what would Scottish independence bring us?
At present the Scottish Parliament controls all devolved issues. There are also reserved issues that are controlled by Westminster. Devolved issues include healthcare, education, agriculture and law and order. That’s quite a lot of power over ordinary life when you think about it. Upon independence the Scottish Parliament would gain control over the reserved issues. These include immigration, defence and foreign policy. How wonderful we could now have our own Scottish foreign policy. What would it be? Would anyone notice?
I suspect after the first few days of flag waving, the Scottish people might be rather indifferent to the practical reality of these new powers. In the end what most people care about are day to day issues.
The reality is that the Scottish Parliament already controls most of the issues that affect us in our ordinary lives. Beyond the fact of being independent I think many Scottish nationalists would be disappointed with the new powers that were under their control. Do you really want to rise up and be a nation again so as to determine whether your navy will have one destroyer or two?
In the last decades the UK Government has made a number of concessions to Scotland. Firstly we were given a Parliament. Then that Parliament was given extensive new powers. All the while the UK Government has been willing to pay a substantial amount of money each year to Scotland. We have used this money to give ourselves free prescriptions, free eye tests and free tuition. We have more public spending spent on us than many poorer parts of England and Wales. But somehow it’s never enough. But still the Prime Minister has to listen to Nicola Sturgeon. It must be rather wearing. You just know going into the conversation that nothing you say will be enough. But we’re all Brits we’ve stuck together for a long time, so we’re willing to put up with people like Sturgeon.
But how do you think Sturgeon would get on if she tried these sort of tactics in the EU? How would Angela Merkel react if confronted with a fist clenching Nicola Sturgeon who appears permanently just about to blow a fuse? This is the choice that Scotland now faces.
Scotland would become a sovereign independent nation state, but immediately upon doing so it would seek to give up at least a part of this sovereignty by joining the EU. Scotland would be a proper grown up country of course. The flag waving could be indulged in frequently and with vigour. But practically speaking a devolved Scottish Parliament in a UK outside the EU would have considerably more power than an independent Scottish Parliament within the EU.
On devolved issues the UK Government does not interfere. It frankly makes much more sense as well that we have a common macroeconomic, foreign and defence policy. The EU on the other hand has any number of rules and regulations that control what the Scottish Parliament can and cannot do at present.
Long term where is the EU going? None of know. If Marine Le Pen is elected French President there may not be an EU next year. If the Euro faces another crisis who knows what will happen? What we do know however is the direction in which the EU is heading. The intention is that it will become a fully federal United States of Europe. This is happening gradually but inexorably.
Having gained its sovereignty and independence therefore Scotland would be joining an organisation whose purpose was to gradually take both away. It might not happen immediately but it would happen soon. You would still be able to wave your flags and pretend that you are a real country now, but you would look south of the border and realise that in reality the former UK was far more independent than Scotland.
A vote for independence would be a vote for huge uncertainty. If Scotland’s future depends on EU membership, it’s worth reflecting that any member of the EU could decide to veto our membership. Spain might like to send a message to Catalonia that joining the EU after independence would not be straightforward. It would be rather unfortunate to end up both outside the UK and outside the EU. But no doubt the flag wavers would still think that it was worth it.
I have outlined a number of possible disadvantages that Scottish independence would involve. The possible advantages look meagre. An independent Scotland would not be wealthier than we are at present. Nor in reality would it be more powerful. It might gain independence and sovereignty, but the SNP appear willing to trade these away so long as they have the illusion of independence and sovereignty. It amounts to this. The SNP want to put us all through the trauma of separation just so that we can have the illusion of flag waving. This would no doubt be worth it for those desperate to wave flags, but the rest of us would be left with thin gruel.
I think the UK is going to make a success of Brexit. It will involve some tricky negotiation, but in a few years it could lead to great economic success. Imagine if we in Scotland were looking southwards at their success having anchored ourselves to a declining EU which didn’t give us much prosperity, but instead took away the independence and the sovereignty the SNP had apparently fought for. Who would be to blame? Of course we Scots would be to blame. But who do you think we actually would blame. Who do we always blame?
This post was originally published by the author on his personal blog: http://effiedeans.blogspot.co.uk/2017/03/a-defence-of-uk.html