Outside the marginals

a commentary on the politics that followed the UK 2010 & 2015 elections

Scottish Independence

From “south of the border” (just) this issue seems to be becoming a bit of a mess. I don’t have a vote (despite Scottish roots) and do not envy those who do. The line between agreed facts and asserted aspirations seems to be very blurred. Perhaps this is inevitable as this is not an agreed “divorce” (c.f. the Velvet Divorce of the Czech Republic and Slovakia).

The vote is to leave the UK – “to be independent”, if the vote was that the UK be split, that would be different, but then everyone within the UK should have a vote.

There are implications – whatever the question – for the rest of the UK.

Prospectus. The SNP’s White Paper is part prospectus and part election manifesto. The manifesto element is largely irrelevant to the independence decision (other than to acknowledge that policy decisions will be possible). I don’t think that the SNP is arrogant enough to assume that they will remain near permanently in power (and remain the same political colour); it strikes me as a distraction to include an SNP manifesto in the White Paper.

The SNP behaves as if the prospectus part of the White Paper is agreed. Do Scots vote on the basis that the White Paper can be delivered? The Scots cannot vote to direct the rest of the UK (rUK), so what if post “Yes” the Scottish Government cannot deliver because the rest of the UK don’t see why they should make “concessions”? Presumably they are committed to going independent on less favourable terms than the SNP are promising. That makes the White Paper look like a false prospectus.

But what alternative did the Nationalists have and have they made a problem into an opportunity? The problem was that the UK Government will not pre-negotiate. This leaves the nationalists with no choice but to propose/assert aspirations. The UK Government and Unionists are then using this to apply the old strategy: FUD; Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt. (Originally deployed by IBM against those thinking of buying non-IBM.) However FUD is often seen as bullying, so have the SNP forced the Unionist camp to deploy this strategy and hence exposed the “Better together” campaign as a front for continued insensitivity towards and domination of Scotland by an “English Elite”? Quite possible. (see: BBC Website 16 February 2014 Scottish independence: Salmond accuses ‘bullying’ ministers) Are the separatists following the currency row secretly thinking “Gotcha! Whoopee!”?

Surely in trying to make up your mind on this issue what is important is what constitutional and administrative differences will there be and how is the transition to be managed? If the separatists win the referendum, the SNP may well choose to have a very modest manifesto for the subsequent (Scottish) General Election.

For the Nationalists to lose that first General Election (to parties that are essentially Unionist) would be disastrous for all, so they don’t want a manifesto that “frightens the horses”. Likewise they do not want to win and be shackled with a heavy programme of reforms when they will be wanting to concentrate on making independence work.

On some of these details agreement should be relatively easy after a Yes vote, but not without possible wrangles.

Other far more substantial issues look as if they will be very hard to negotiate and Scotland’s Future seems to assume a very optimistic outcome to those negotiations.

Security. How do we (rUK) ensure that “undesirables” (illegal migrants, terrorists, or merely people who Theresa and Dave don’t like) do not enter rUK across the Scotland / England border?  If we do not have a physically controlled border, someone in Millbank (and their colleagues on the Albert Embankment) will be taking a distinct interest. We (the UK) already have a porous border (with the Irish Republic) and have been (and probably still are) very concerned about who crosses that border. We address these concerns by saying (however distasteful the thought), “well we have the Irish Channel, we can set up an inner control border between Northern Ireland and the “mainland” of the UK and hence confine problems to part of the UK that is more used to living in a state subject to terrorism.” I strongly suspect that we also have “intelligence assets” in the Irish Republic keeping track on who is coming in and out of the Irish Republic. Will the (separatist) Scots be prepared to tolerate some level of control/surveillance of their border points by rUK? Does not sound like independence to me. Alternatively they can have a physical (fenced) border with border posts and similar controls to those seen by “aliens” entering Heathrow.

Currency. We (rUK) have to be clear that anyone can use “the pound” as in coinage and notes, just as we can hold and use US dollars and Euros. But we have no say in how the US dollar or the Euro are managed. So there are four main alternatives:

  1. A separate currency – which everyone seems to be ruling out (at the moment) due to the problems of establishing one.
  2. A currency union – which requires agreement from all parties and a surrender of sovereignty. But the Scots will be a minority party to such a union and rUK will in effect be underwriting the success (or not) of the Scottish economy.
  3. A pegged currency – like the Irish Punt between 1927 and 1979, subject to English monetary control. The Irish broke the pegging to follow a different interest rate policy in the European Monetary System.
  4. Not have a currency but use the British Pound in the same way Panama uses the US dollar.

Arbitrage will limit any authority trying to set up alternative interest rates on a currency it does not control (options 2, 3 & 4 above). So an “independent” Scotland will not be able to set substantially different interest rates (or distinct monetary policy) to the rest of the UK – without a separate currency.

If separatist Scots want a say in managing “Sterling” they need to be part of a currency union – which means surrendering some sovereignty. But how much influence will they have?

“You are hardly going to have George Osborne sitting in the Treasury imposing austerity and trying to retain the UK’s ‘AAA’ credit rating while allowing a free-for-all north of the border.”
The Guardian: 28 February 2012: Can Scotland be independent and keep sterling? quoting Ross Walker, UK economist at the Royal Bank of Scotland

A major problem at the moment seems to be that monetary policy is set to suit London (or at best the Greater South East). Scotland has little influence at the moment as part of the UK (a problem shared with the English Regions, Northern Ireland and Wales) – how can they expect more influence if they are not part of the UK? If Salmond wants to advocate the status quo for the currency and just expects rUK to co-operate on this and other matters Salmond has to accept that he is not actually seeking to leave the UK but to split the UK. The difference is critical because a vote to split the UK should be UK wide.

Many say that some Scots will vote for independence out of “bloody mindedness” because they are so sick of “England” (read London) pushing them around. Not without reason. After the Scots have given the two fingers to rUK it is quite possible that there will be a similar level of “bloody mindedness” by those represented by the rUK Government. The spurned “English” will not want to be pushed around by the Scots.  “Why should we underwrite the Scots? If they want to be independent they should stand on their own two feet”.

Europe and other Alliances/memberships. Whilst logically I would have thought that if a country already within the EU was to split, both parts would then remain in the EU. But this is not a situation of a country splitting into two (when all would have a vote), but part of a member state splitting away. The argument then is that it conceptually splits away from everything associated with the state it is leaving; EU, NATO, Commonwealth, UN.

Now it some cases it may be possible for the new state to quickly join some organisations (such as the Commonwealth) on virtually identical terms as the state of which it used to be a part. In other cases (such as the UN) it is probable that the new state would be recognised and admitted – but on different terms; Scotland would not, for instance, have a permanent seat on the Security Council – and mischief makers will probably question rUK’s continuing status on that body.

I think the EU is however a different kettle of fish; I can see that countries with separatist movements (Spain being the obvious example) will want to make this as difficult as possible. Other candidate countries will also not see why Scotland should “jump the queue”.

Mr Barroso [president of the EU commission] cited the example of the Spanish not recognising Kosovo.
He said: “We have seen Spain has been opposing even the recognition of Kosovo, for instance. So it is to some extent a similar case because it’s a new country and so I believe it’s going to be extremely difficult, if not impossible, a new member state coming out of our countries getting the agreement of the others.”
BBC News Website 16 February 2014 Scottish independence: Barroso says joining EU would be ‘difficult’

I can see a long transition period with possibly a “fudge arrangement” whereby Scotland is allowed to ride on the coat-tails of rUK (pragmatically this has to be in the interests of both) whilst it waits for membership. It will not therefore be truly “independent” but will be dependent on rUK and it will be subject to EU regulations etc., but not have the influence – a bit like Norway or, more possibly, Greenland. The major problems will arise if and when Scotland is admitted – the price may be (1) not getting a “Thatcher style” rebate and not getting the “Major opt-outs” and (2) having to join the Euro and possibly the Schengen Agreement. This then raises border issues with rUK. You cannot have Schengen and an open border between England and Scotland.

Meaning of Independence

If you cannot be half pregnant, can you be half-independent? Unlike pregnancy, a county’s independence is no longer a binary yes/no, but somewhere on a continuum – no matter what UKIP might say.

The Scots Nats seem to desire independence from Westminster/Whitehall, but not from Brussels. Curiously at the moment it looks as if pragmatically they want to cling to certain aspects of dependency on Westminster/Whitehall yet will be forced to be independent of Brussels.

So even if the Scots Nats could negotiate the level of continuing dependence that they seem to, at least temporarily, crave, will it actually meet the desires of a majority of those resident in Scotland? Or will the expected compromises be so great that many will vote “No” and hope that devo-max (whatever that turns out to be!) will give them more autonomy without the problems associated with setting up a new state?

Or in the end will all the economic and administrative arguments count for nothing? How many Scots will sacrifice some prosperity, some alliances, and much convenience for the emotional benefit of “being free”? Principally free from Tories who come to Scotland to lecture and “bully”, from Tory Governments that they have not voted for in decades but also free from a remote bureaucracy that seems more interested in floods in Berkshire and wars in lands even further away, than in the quality of life of Scots. (A few Northumbrians, Cumbrians, Lancastrians and Tykes may wish they could join them.)

It’s all for nothing if you don’t have freedom.

And dying in your beds, many years from now, would you be willin’ to trade ALL the days, from this day to that, for one chance, just one chance, to come back here and tell our enemies that they may take our lives, but they’ll never take… OUR FREEDOM!

Braveheart Quotes: IMDb

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7 thoughts on “Scottish Independence

  1. Against an Economist article (Alex Salmond’s big problem 22 February 2014) I have added a further development of this post:

    Given that they might do this (separate what-ever the cost), someone needs to spell out the real prospectus for this “new country”; Alex Salmond’s “Scotland’s Future” (ignoring the SNP manifesto built into it) strikes me as a false prospectus and I doubt that it is deliverable.

    Scotland (and only Scotland) is voting to *leave* the UK; it is not a vote “that the UK should split” – that would involve all of us and would be a very different question against a very different prospectus.

    Spelling out the real prospectus will in some respect play into Salmond’s hands as he wants to play the “bullying card”. But if it is not spelt out we face the propsect of a “yes” vote and then a whole lot of Scots thinking they are entitled to everything in “Scotland’s Future” (because they voted for it – and that’s democracy) and then feeling very peeved when rUK declines to deliver (because we never voted for it – and that’s democracy).

  2. Forcefully expressed example of the opinions that I suggest might sway the balance on politicoid

  3. Martin Hulbert on said:

    Maybe the net result of an Independent Scotland, and certainly if the boarder lands / Northumbria to the Lakes joined them that would leave rUK being put into its place ( or rather the place that UK should currently be on the international stage). A minor member of the EU and UN, outside the G8 (G20?) and then able to reduce our FO costs considerably.

    Of course the Scots may decide to take their (shared with Germany) monarch with them – they could always lease back to rUK!

    England has not had effective border controls since we joined the Singke Market. Intelligence led activity can only supplement knowledge and experience, not superceed it, especially if the intelligence is controlled.

    The TP aided and abetted by the rest of the Westminster gangs just employs bully boy tactics over this independence issue, even if the gangs are dressed up as Eton prefects. Perhaps if the Whole Uk wanted to remain the London or London and Home Counties monopoly needs to be removed, and if rUK wants to retain Wales, the South West, Northern England etc: just maybe remove government from London to The Leeds cities, or to keep Whole UK up to York, Newcastle, Carlisle or Glasgow.

    The other possibility is for London to cede authority to Edinburgh where there is a reasonable sized parliament building already for the number of upper tier members needed and get the lower tier members to work from their constituencys and vote / speak via computer. This may be unacceptable but us a low cost option had required serious consideration – although there are many surplus town halls up North that would suffice!

    Of course this would be best operated by removing all political parties from government by excluding goose who have ever joined a political party from being MPs in either tier. One can dream, but seriously removing all government from London would be a good start. But is there any reason to suppose that a Scottish parliament would not do a better job of representing and governing the Whole UK than a London based one?

    The centre for Whole UK finance could become Cardiff and all senior civil servants and ministries could be based in Belfast. London could then remain a successful tourist destination with hotel rooms available tourists at Buck House, Downing St, H of Parliament and Whitehall. HS2 can be abolished, – why do you need connections to London, and cross country services will improve all round. All embassies could be cased in Plymouth, Aberystwyth or Norwich (restricted to 3 staff each and no CD or DI facilities), GCHQ becomes a call centre for PMQs which have by law to be answered fully and truthfully, while the nominal elected or Swedish style monarch ruler could have a modest house in Birmingham, oh and Sutherland and Westminster properties are returned to the ordinary people. All of Whole UK would then feel part of rather than sidelined by the powers that be.

    Apologies this blog site and my iPad produce strange autocorrects as I watch ‘to’ change sometimes to ‘yo’!

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