Some people are annoyed.
Some of those people will be Scots who read the title of this piece. Me too. I’m as mad as hell and I won’t have to take it much longer. Those resident in Scotland will have their vote on the 18th of this month, the rest of us will have our vote next year, in the UK general election.
Hearts and minds.
There has been much discussion, some idle some not, about the ‘No’ campaign. The question of whether Scotland should be independent is a matter for both heart and mind. I suspect that many Scots, even if they are going to vote ‘No’, would secretly love Scotland to be an independent nation but their mind over-rules their heart. For many of us in England, Wales and Northern Ireland I suspect that many a heart is for maintaining the union, but what about our minds? This is something that perhaps politicians have not yet considered. Or if they have, they’ve done so in private.
You see, what Scotland is really doing is considering a divorce. To be honest–about time somebody was–in the majority of Scottish minds it’s not so much a question of leaving the Union as leaving England. At this point I could go into detail about the history of England and Scotland–the two wars of Scottish Independence, the Battle of Halidon (A Scottish victory in 1314, yes seven hundred years ago, it goes back that far) and of course the Glencoe Massacre. It’s interesting but ultimately pointless. The Act of Union in 1707 joined England and Scotland under James 1st of England, who was James 6th of Scotland. That means we’ve been together for 307 years and now you (maybe) want a divorce.
So, you’re off then?
The question of whether or not Scotland becomes an independent country is, rightly, a matter for those in Scotland to decide. What happens in Scotland post-independence is a matter for the Scottish Government and they will be answerable to Scottish voters. However, in matters where the Scottish Government reaches a decision which involves the UK then the UK Government has a say–and they are answerable to UK voters. We’re going to be talking about two separate countries with democratically-elected governments, signing agreements but before we get to that stage, we first have to get through the divorce.
Hands up those of you who know of an amicable divorce where both parties have argued that the other should have more of the joint possessions and both parties have remained friends after it’s all over. Don’t be shy, hand up now…hmmm, not many. Years ago, the solicitor handling my divorce told me that most start off amicably enough, a small number remain so amicable he sometimes wondered why those concerned were getting divorced, but most turned acrimonious quite quickly. So, what’s the betting on this one?
The first disagreement is going to be over the Pound Sterling. Let’s be quite clear about this because I’m not aware that anybody has actually mentioned this small point. It’s not England’s Pound, it’s not Scotland’s Pound, it’s the UK Pound. If Scotland leaves the UK then you don’t get the Pound. YES, you can use the physical Pound, the UK is not going to invade if you decide to make it legal tender in Scotland BUT Scotland will not have a central bank. What does that actually mean? It means that the elected Scottish Government (the thing that the SNP always bang on about–the Government elected by the Scots for the Scots) has no effective say in economic policies. The Bank of England will take whatever steps they deem necessary to safeguard the value of Sterling, the UK Government will put their two cents (pence) worth in but the Government of the Scots, for the Scots and by the Scots, will have no say whatsoever. Some independence!
I said earlier that I was as mad as hell and my vote came later. No way am I going to vote for any party in a UK General Election that agrees to a monetary union with an independent Scotland. I don’t think I’m alone in this point of view either, but most of those in the UK outside of Scotland haven’t really thought about this yet. I can sum my attitude up as ‘sorry to see you go, all the best and goodbye’. The SNP and ‘Yes’ supporters can witter on all they like about the British Isles but when you come right down to it,saying that there should be a ‘special relationship’ between an independent Scotland and the other country on the same island is like saying that all countries in Europe have to closely cooperate because they occupy a close geographical location. Russia and Ukraine spring to mind at this point.
The SNP would have the Scottish voters believe that a currency union is in everybodys’ best interests, but is it? The most quoted example seems to be that UK companies exporting to Scotland would suffer disadvantages with currency exchange rates. Sorry, but no. The people who would suffer would be the Scottish consumers of those imported products. Doubly so, I think. The UK companies would price their exports to take into account currency fluctuations and I somehow think that a Scottish Government would find itself having to levy import duties.
Oil, black gold. Aberdeen tea.
At this point I’m sure somebody is muttering ‘yes but we’ve got our oil, you stupid Sassenach’. It’s true, you have and by consensus of opinion oil would be about 15% of an independent Scotland’s GNP. Leaving aside any question of future oil price, production and exploration, for the SNP oil seems to be the answer to every financial problem that might be encountered. So much so that rather than 15% it sometimes seems like oil might be 80% or more of GDP. It’s not a bottomless pit (or should that be well?). Not only is there a finite amount, there is a limit to what can be extracted at any one time. It simply won’t be practicable to suddenly up production to meet a financial shortfall and that isn’t the end of the problem. The SNP make much of an ‘Oil Development Fund’, citing Shetland and Norway as examples of how wonderful this will be. Two points. Both those funds were started at a time when the oil industry in the North Sea was booming. It ain’t booming now and I doubt it ever will be again. The second point is both Shetland and Norway invested the funds and lived off the interest, as it were. That means not rummaging around in the piggy bank when times get a bit tough. To put it simply, the proceeds from oil sales are only a future capital asset if the capital hasn’t been spent in the past. Something Salmond and his sidekicks don’t like to talk about.
Other economic promises made are about attracting inward investment into Scotland, upping productivity and stimulating growth. All easier said than done, particularly productivity. Particularly if there is talk of a ‘fairer society’. However well-meaning, that seems to translate into higher wages for the workers, higher taxes for those on higher salaries and no change in productivity because, let’s face it, we all want something for nothing if we can get it. You might be thinking that if salaries were raised then you might fall into a higher tax band but I couldn’t possibly comment. UK institutions with their headquarters in Scotland are talking about relocating if there is a ‘Yes’ vote, banks in particular. The first thing that Scotland would notice in the evnt of a ‘Yes’ vote would be an outflow of jobs south of the border. Portsmouth would love to build Navy ships, so would Plymouth and the Royal Navy never has had ships built in a foreign country. An independent Scotland would be a foreign country, it’s not rocket science and if the divorce does turn acrimonious…speaking of rocket science, yes we will take our submarines (and the associated jobs) back. It will cost the rest of the Uk money but we will do it and we won’t be kindly disposed towards you for having to spend it. The same thing if you do keep Sterling but renege on your share of the National Debt. We’ll cover it but please believe me on this, some time down the road, when the opportunity occurs, we’ll give you a right royal screwing in return.
Speaking of Royals, although Brenda doesn’t have a say in all this (rightly) if you do go your own way I’m not at all certain that she’ll agree to be your head of state, even if you want her. Not her decision? A comment I read just yesterday indicated that actually it might be. The Commonwealth? Haven’t heard anybody mention that but I wouldn’t bank on it either, pre-supposing you want to be a member. Acrimonious, moi? If you think so now just wait until the morning of the nineteenth.
Last night I heard a respected (Scottish) economic historian say that for Scotland to vote for independence would be like voting to become like Belarus. Unfair? I don’t think so. You obviously won’t be a part of the UK, you may not even be in the EU and if you are you’ll be joining as a new member. Since 1996 new joiners have had to adopt the Euro. You’d also have to negotiate your own terms of entry. You’d be out of the UK and any concessions that the UK currently enjoys would not automatically be available to you. Salmond has been disingenuous at best over the question of being in the EU. It is quite true that negotiations concerning Scotland’s membership could start before formal independence BUT, in terms of what you would have to do to join that would make bugger-all difference. Salmond would be negotiation for an independent Scotland to join the EU and for that to happen 28 countries would have to agree. I suspect that there would be a period of time when Scotland was not in the EU. Did somebody mention borders control?
I’m still as mad as hell.
Whichever way Scotland votes, the UK will be changing. Now that might not necessarily be a bad thing. I haven’t thought-through the implications of a federal UK but certainly I can see that more devolution of central power to the regions might be an advantage. One not so obvious implication springs to mind. EU grants and loans for regions are available. Currently the Westminster government listens to the regions, applies for the total monies wanted then doles them out. What this means in practice is the beneficiaries of EU regional grants and loans are not liable to repay them, the UK is as a whole. If, say, a Cornish Assembly took out a transport loan and the economic benefits of improved road/rail links didn’t materialise, Cornwall would be liable for the repayments and might have to be bailed out. If there is more devolution of fiscal powers then fiscal responsibility must be legislated for as well.
Scotland is now being offered something referred to as ‘Devo-max’ if they vote to remain within the union. For those outside of the UK, this means that a Scottish Assembly would have powers to set internal fiscal policy. It is a little more complicated than that but you get the general idea. The SNP tries to make much of the fact that they wanted to have this option included in the referendum. I think this is nonsense. The referendum is about whether Scotland wants to remain a part of the United Kingdom. It never was about maintaining the status quo vis a vis the devolution of power.
Now, in an attempt to ‘save the union’, the UK Government is preparing to set in train profound constitutional changes in the event of a ‘No’ vote. I would be happy for the UK Government to acknowledge that changes are necessary and to start a debate amongst all constituent parts of the UK about what those changes would be but I am deeply unhappy that the Scots have been promised specific changes before that debate has taken place. Those changes, if they come about, would be the basis of any changes throughout the UK and we haven’t had a conversation about them yet.
I don’t see any realistic alternative to a Cameron government after the next election but Dave, you’re going to have to be one smooth talking bastard if you don’t want to be booking the movers.