Scotland – and my own sadness.

I find the whole debate about Scottish independence deeply saddening. I don’t speak from any nationalistic point of view here, but only from a deep concern about the future, no matter how the Scots vote.

If I was a Scot, I’d probably want to be independent.

There, I’ve said it. I’ve been pretty keen to get out of Europe for a while, and why should Scots feel any different? I want to get back to a state where the Brits can decide our own future without having a different, Napoleonic and Roman system of law imposed on us by unelected, undemocratic fellows from abroad. For many years I’ve described myself happily as “English”. Although since the appearance of the appalling Tony Blair, I’m happier with “Devonian”.

But there is a big difference between my distrust of Europe and the demands for Scottish nationhood. Scotland is already an independent nation. It has its own education system, its own legal system. It’s got the benefit of a shared currency guaranteed by the rest of the British, and full democratic representation. Yes, I know some Scottish just now are saying that they didn’t vote for the present Tory/Libdem government. No, well welcome to the world of democracy. It is the same as, in the past, those occasions all too often when Scottish votes foisted Labour governments on the rest of us. England would more often have brought in Tory-controlled governments. It’s mostly Scotland that has kept the Labour vote afloat.

My biggest fear is that with independence Scotland and England will sink into wrangles and disputes again. It’s all too easy to see a scenario in which Britain is asked (impolitely) to remove all nukes from Faslane, to stop taking revenues from oil fields, and to accept a higher proportion of the national debt than Mr Cameron or any Brit thinks reasonable. In return, two things will happen. Britain will refuse to allow Scotland to share the pound sterling (because that would mean all Britain sharing in any taxation and debt fiascos that Scotland contrives – we haven’t forgotten it was a Scot who sold off our gold reserves and spurred on the banking crash of 2008!), and Britain would repatriate as many jobs as possible that up until now have been heavily subsidised by the UK taxpayers. The jobs in the arms industries, jobs in manufacturing, jobs in banking and insurance … lots of jobs.

There are arguments that all will become sensible after reasonable negotiation. Things will calm down. Reason will prevail.

But reason will go out of the window.

When Mr Salmond bumptiously declares, “What will they do? Invade?” he shows a lack of statesmanship that leaves me breathless. He sounds as much of an international statesman as George W, playing to his own supporters and not caring about anyone else.

The rump of Britain will be hurt, badly hurt, by the Union being broken up just because of the current self-interest of about one half of the Scottish population.

Roughly fifty percent of Scots will decide this vote. That means that the majority, more than ninety five percent of the British population, are having their future decided without any input. The British will need to be involved in decisions that will flow from this break up. Divorces always end messily.Perhaps the rest of the UK will demand a referendum on whether Scotland should be allowed to keep the currency, should they vote for independence.  I would guess the answer would be “NO”. In that case, Scotland could either use the pound, but without protection from the Bank of England, or use the Euro if they wanted. That would mean a currency run and ruled for the protection of Germany, by officials even more remote than Westminster. Ask the Greeks or Italians if that is a sensible idea.

Ah, Europe.

Mr Salmond will no doubt assert that Europe will want Scotland in, and he has already laughed off the idea that Europe might force him to negotiate his reentry on the same terms as, say, Estonia. However, for all his bluster, he must know that France and Spain and Italy and other nations all have little areas that want to break away from their own nations. You only have to think of the Basques and Catalonians. Spain and other states are very nervous about allowing any form of precedent here. They will seek to make Scotland’s entry into the Europe of the future as difficult and demanding as they possibly can. France may, from the point of view of their own national self-interest, seek to aid their ancient partner against England, but that’s a hell of a gamble. Mostly, Scotland will be seen as a new entrant into Europe. That will mean joining the Euro and accepting a raft of additional laws from Europe. And England will not be in a position to negotiate better terms.

And of course England and Scotland will be badly hurt on the international stage. England’s military power has given her status. With Scotland’s departure, her power will be diminished. A nation of Scotland’s size cannot expect to have much say in international affairs. She is too small.

Scotland is a proud, strong nation. It is now, and will continue to be whether part of the UK or independent. But this rift, if it goes ahead, will cost her and its people dear. Lost jobs, an increased cost of living, and all backed up by the oil in the North Sea. But that is a rapidly diminishing resource. And the share of the national debt will be a lot. We, the UK, are already so massively in debt that we make Greece and Italy look profitable. We owe vast sums and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. After all the much-trumpeted “cuts”, we are still spending more, much more, than the last Labour government, and our borrowings are increasing accordingly.

If Scotland goes it alone, it will have to shoulder a share of those debts. A fair share. And without the Bank of England to back it up, the interest charges on those debts will be much higher than is presently the case. The UK has cheaper rates because of the strength of our finance systems, because of London, because of the size of our population. Take away less than ten percent of our population, and we’ll still be able to get the same low interest rates. A Scotland formed of under six million people, on the other hand, will find life increasingly harsh. Especially since, once Scotland does pull away, the only realistic scenario is, that the Tories will get to be in charge of Britain for many years to come. Labour depends on Scottish seats in Westminster.

And that is what leads me to my inevitable conclusion.

Scotland will try to make the best case for itself that it can. England and the rest of the UK will fight hard to limit our exposure to a free Scotland. Whereas in the past shipyards in Portsmouth, Plymouth, Appledore, Chatham and elsewhere have been closed in order to protect Scottish jobs on the Clyde, in future Britain will protect her navy by reinvesting in Britain, not Scotland. Men and women wanting to go into banking will go where the money is, to London. Big companies, such as Standard Life, will migrate jobs and investments to where they can be protected by the Bank of England. All that will bring about anger and resentment on both sides of the border. The more Scots demand all revenues from oil, the more the English will resent the way that Scots have taken disproportionately from the national purse in the past. And so national tensions and rivalries that were buries hundreds of years ago will be brought to the fore again.

I have to admit, I am not surprised by all this. Indeed, I predicted that the Scottish parliament would lead to this, in the same Cassandra-like manner as Sir John Major. It seemed inevitable that if a concession was made, then determined politicians would carry on demanding more and more. The demand for full independence was the logical final step.

However, I think it’s going to be a disaster. If the Scots vote “yes”, it will leave the rest of Britain feeling rebuffed and insulted, after all the funds pushed north of the border over the last half century. It will lead to increasing bitterness.

But if they vote “no”, I’m not sure that it’ll help now. Because the English will resent additional powers going to a tiny percentage of the population. No one appreciates being blackmailed.

As I say, I find this whole scenario deeply saddening. Like John Major, I think that the UK has been the most successful partnership in history, and it’s going to be broken up by a group of self-serving politicians looking to the main chance. In this case, they happen to be Scottish politicians. But of course it was Tony Blair and Donald Dewar who started the ball rolling.

They have a great deal to answer for.

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Comments
11 Responses to “Scotland – and my own sadness.”
  1. <>

    In the event, that would be England, Mike. Scots will tell you it is already, de facto.

    Scotland has not voted Tory for sixty years (unless you count 1997, 2001 and 2005, as one might do, reasonably) but for the last forty we have been systematically de-industrialised thanks to the economic policies of Maggie and her successors. We have also been landed with a Trident base on the edge of our major population centre. I said on my blog the other day that if Westminster relocated a renamed UK Central Bank to Inverness, and the Faslane base to the Thames estuary we might believe its sincerity, but none of that will happen.

    The question that we face is simple: will an independent Scotland create a society that is safer and fairer to all its people, and offers them more prosperous future than continued economic direction from Westminster? I believe that it will.

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    • Many groups of people haven’t voted for the governments they get. I’ve found that most of my life: that’s the trouble with democracy. It’s not a reason for breaking the union, though.
      The idea that Scotland will be fairer and safer as an independent state – well, that really sounds insulting, as though all England is much less safe and unfair, which is patently untrue. In reality the problems are with the political system, or the politicians involved. And Scotland has the same guys raised in the same manner running things. Independence will make not a blind bit of difference. You’ll get a bunch of ex-Labour MPs becoming MSPs and in the future their kids will go on political courses at uni, come out and become advisers, and later still MSPs themselves.
      Still, in terms of safety, the crime rate for the UK will drop significantly when you take Glasgow out of the UK crime stats!
      The main thing I foresee is, Scotland will be too small. It’s too small for a serious manufacturing base, and banks will want to stay with the UK because of access to London’s international contacts. Food will become more expensive because the land available for most arable farming is too far north and food companies will push prices up as employment laws and taxes change. And the Scottish will blame Britain for everything again (because we’re always the bad actors) and that’ll foster resentment in Britain.
      But if the vote is “No”, the new changes in laws benefitting Scots still more than English, Welsh and Northern Irish will lead to lingering resentment too.
      Basically I don’t see any good coming out of this referendum. It was a terrible mistake and will create a great deal of unnecessary tension whatever the outcome.

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  2. Jack Eason says:

    Is Scotland leaving the union really a bad thing Michael? I can fully understand why they want to go it alone. For years now, all UK governments have treated Scotland like a cash cow. I say if they want to go their own way, let them.
    But if at a later date their government comes cap in hand asking for any kind of financial handout to prop up their economy, were I the Prime Minister, I would have only one thing to say to them – “You’ve made your bed, now lie in it.”
    Whether or not it is good for them and bad for us, the whole notion of scottish independance has been brewing ever since James VI became James 1 of England, Ireland and Scotland. A scot brought us together. Now it looks like another scot will part us…

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    • I think it’ll be a very bad thing indeed, Jack. I think there will be growing tensions, with England blamed for rising Scottish prices, for inequities in interest rates and with Scotland being resented for trying to take all oil revenues, hiding behind the British armed services, and trying to avoid any responsibility for the massive debt burden we currently have. It doesn’t work out well, however you look at it.

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  3. Jack Eason says:

    Reblogged this on Have We Had Help? and commented:
    A point of view on Scottish Independance.

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  4. Paul Neimoyer says:

    Mike, there is an alternative should Scotland vote for independence. England could apply for Statehood. Of course we’d let you keep the queen as a figurehead. Think of the benefits of Statehood. You’d have Washington and Congress to make decisions for you. Those on the dole would get fewer taxpayer funded benefits. You could have two shiny new Senators. Congressmen are biased on population. You’ll discover the joys of gerrymandering.

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  5. Ian Morson says:

    Just a socialist comment from me (there’s a change). you are wrong in saying the Scots foisted Labour governments on the UK. I think it was only on three occasions in all the post-war years that the Scot Labour MPs would have made a difference to the make-up of a parliament.

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    • I’ll take your word for that. But there is the other aspect of Labour MPs already voting on issues now and ignoring the Lothian question.
      It was really good to see you again yesterday, matey. We do need to get the ball rolling with our evenings of hilarity, crime and murder! Take care, and have a great weekend.

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  6. Enjoyed your post on story apes blogs (ok, I like thrillers) and was pleased to see you don’t just write about books :)

    I can’t decide on the Scottish issue but that’s because I come from Yorkshire and we suffer not being independent. Basically I think your arguments are sound, and I know Scots who think exactly the same why.

    I’d sit on the fence and say, if it ain’t broke, and it isn’t, then leave as is. The problem is putting ideology before pragmatics, and the pragmatics are usually £s.

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    • Thanks for the comment. Yes, I don’t know what’s best for Scotland or the UK, but I think that this referendum, and especially the narrower, xenophobic comments from a few of the nationalists, has created some real problems for the future.

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