Outside the marginals

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

Unconsciously Uncoupling the United Kingdom

I am feeling increasingly uncomfortable about the approaching Scottish Independence Referendum.

I write as a typically mongrel Briton with ancestors from Scotland, Ireland and England (yet to discover any Welsh). I live just south of the border, so I have no vote. Without grandparents born in Scotland, I will not have any post-independence right to Scottish citizenship. I will have significant “foreign” roots and foreign cousins.

Salmond has played his campaign with great skill whilst the Anti/No Campaign/”Better Together” group seem (from this side of the border) to have little traction and no consistent coherent message.

I don’t want to see an Independent Scotland but I am becoming convinced that independence is best for those living in Scotland.

I fear that there is a gathering momentum behind the “Yes” campaign and a very distinct possibility of a majority for independence. The Westminster parties seem to be either unaware of this possibility or unable to respond – and are drifting towards an unconscious uncoupling. Now it is quite possible that, out of range and the circulation areas of Scottish Media, I do not notice the message of the Scottish “Better Together” campaign – but I do notice the “Yes” campaign.

A “yes” victory (however narrow) will be a seismic shock for many Westminster politicians – and yet they will have to pull themselves together and try to “respect the result” and negotiate an “uncoupling” that will not disadvantage the remaining UK whilst not poisoning future relationships with our new Northern neighbours.

Yet one of the reasons that I suspect Scots “those in Scotland” will vote “yes” is because they are heartily sick of the contempt with which many in Westminster treat anyone much North of the Thames Valley. That does not bode well for “post-yes” negotiations.

We have seen occasional flickers of interest from Westminster politicians but the interest is rarely sustained or coherent. The flickers are often toe-curlingly embarrassing (at least from 300 miles north of London) and the impact is predominantly negative. Often any positive impact is immediately cancelled by another anti playing a hard ball. The “No” campaign has no strategic direction. There was early on a very wise (in my view) decision to try to keep the likes of Cameron out of the debate, reasoning that this was a “debate for Scotland” and not a “Scotland” vs. “Tory Westminster” debate. However, the Holyrood White Paper “Scotland’s Future” raised so many aspirations as either certain or already “agreed”, that London and Westminster have got sucked into playing hard ball and left themselves open to accusations of bullying.

I don’t like the Scots Nats claims that so many issues are either agreed or will “definitely be agreed” – it could lead to false expectations and hence to “post-yes” negotiations in an atmosphere that could be poisonous. (see previous post on Scottish Independence) I suspect that they could have put forward a more cautious prospectus just stressing that whatever the negotiations post-vote, Scots would become master’s of their destiny and not subject to the fiat of Westminster. Such a pitch could I think have won – even if it did not provoke the current rash of Westminster bullying.

That in essence is why, if I was in Scotland, I think I would vote “yes”. However from this (English) side of the border I dread such a result.

We (rump United Kingdom – rUK) would be much more conservative, much more Euro-phobic (never mind a few more phobias) and much less tolerant. I doubt that the Welsh will exactly see this as an improvement. I am not sure how Northern Ireland will feel given historic links with Scotland. In addition it is quite possible that other parts of England (peripheral to that city on the South East periphery) will feel even more alienated from Westminster and will wonder why they cannot have “what the Scots have”.

We may be governed by a traumatised Conservative (and Unionist!) Government committed to a European membership renegotiation (with “partners” who see such a renegotiation as a distraction) and committed to continue with the critical reconstruction of our economy, forced to address negotiations with a triumphant Scottish government. Their negotiations with Scotland may be as reluctant as Europe’s negotiations with rUK.

We are told that such a result will have catastrophic implications for the security of the West – certainly our standing in organisations like NATO will be diminished – after all what will be our international clout if we can’t even hold together internally? Whilst our nuclear deterrent will not be immediately disrupted, Scottish insistence on “no nukes” will force a rethink.  Where will the nuclear submarines be based?

  • Will the citizens of Barrow-in-Furness be prepared to be a nuclear base as well as a submarine manufacturing town? Or might access to the Atlantic (without going through Scottish territorial waters) be too difficult? It is not inconceivable that within the expected life of such a base (30 years?), the status of Northern Ireland may change (either to independent and possibly nuclear free, or even to part of a united neutral Ireland) and Wales may follow Scotland down the independence path.
  • Will the citizens of South West England be prepared to host a nuclear base (with easy access to deep water) – or might they be feeling more antagonistic towards Westminster?
  • Realistically could you put a nuclear submarine base close to the South East (and the capital) or is the English Channel too congested for nuclear submarines to covertly slip out on patrol?
  • Could our “independent deterrent” realistically be based in the United States?

(I don’t buy the idea mooted by an anonymous minister that a deal would be done on keeping the base at Faslane in exchange for letting the Scots into a Sterling Currency Union. I can see that UKIP – and others – might insist on a referendum before rUK goes into a currency union and gives up some sovereignty to the “rebellious Scots”. If saying “no” to currency union were to also cause problems with basing our nuclear subs, it is quite possible that people on the left would join with UKIP etc to campaign against a Sterling Currency Union.)

Potentially Scottish Independence has unpleasant consequences for England. Perhaps that might concentrate the minds of the Westminster elites and force them to come up with a strategy to persuade the Scots that there are good reasons for them to stay in the Union. And this must mean lancing the boil of the resentment felt towards Westminster and the City of London by the rest of the country. To my mind this has to include reforming the relationship between “the capital” and the rest of the United Kingdom. Is there any chance that our two major parties could agree on such a reform?

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One thought on “Unconsciously Uncoupling the United Kingdom

  1. Pingback: Post “yes”: a 2014-2018 hypothesis | Outside the marginals

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