It is just over a month until Scotland goes to the polls to vote on the most prominent question in Scottish Government since the creation of the Scottish Parliament. Should Scotland separate itself from the United Kingdom of Great Britain and become an independent nation?
I’m going (assuming I get back there in time) to vote NO. This is why.
One – We Don’t Need To Change Our Status
Let’s be brutally honest. Scotland is not an oppressed nation. We do not live in fear as jackboots crush our necks, our culture is not under threat and we are not strangers in our own country. Scotland is not Kurdistan, Tibet, Basque or even Eastern Ukraine. Scots are not being herded into death camps or forced off the land into slums. We have a parliament of our own, rights to vote for Scottish, British and European politicians and generally life is pretty good.
Do we really need to rock the boat?
Two – It Would Be Impossibly Complex
India used to be a united nation under the British. When independence came in 1947, so did chaos and near-Civil War. Separating out Scotland’s rightful share of everything owned by Great Britain (military bases and industries, for example, as well as railways and airports) would be fantastically complex.
For example, what percentage of the British Armed Forces would go to Scotland? The Scots Guard would probably be Scottish, but what about the SAS, Royal Navy, RAF and suchlike? Scotland houses a number of military installations crucial to defending Britain, including airbases and radar installations. Would those continue to be run by the UK or would they become Scottish? And, if so, what happens to the personnel?
And then there’s the nuclear question. Would an independent Scotland keep nukes? But the main base for the British nuclear deterrent is in Scotland. Would Scotland allow the base to remain there or would the newly-independent Scottish Parliament demand that the nuclear submarines were moved? If so, the cost of building a new base in England would be staggering.
Here’s another question. My parents were born in England, I was born in Scotland and grew up in Edinburgh … and I consider myself British. I have friends and family on both sides of the border. Now, where do I fit in if we enter a brave new world of Scottish independence? Am I British, Scottish, English or what? Britain is not a country where there are sharp divides between racial groups, certainly not between Scottish/English. How many families will be affected badly by an attempt to brand them as either Scottish or English?
And what about the Royal Family? Would they be part of Scottish life or would we become a republic? If so, what happens to the royal possessions within Scotland?
And that barely scratches the surface. Imagine the worst divorce case you’ve ever heard of and multiply it a million-fold. That’s how bad it’s going to be.
And this leads to …
Three – We Can’t Afford It
Divorces are always expensive when there’s money and property involved. Just think of all the stars who have had high-profile divorces where there are literally millions of pounds at stake. It’s going to be a great deal worse as we try to separate Scotland from the rest of the United Kingdom. I can’t even begin to estimate the costs we’d face, all of which would be paid by the Scottish taxpayers. What? You think England is going to pay when we’re leaving them with a mess to clear up? Of course not.
We would need a whole new bureaucracy to deal with the problems, everything from reissuing passports to opening diplomatic missions overseas. And this bureaucracy would be unlikely to go away when it’s work was done. It would remain a steady drain on the Scottish Taxpayer.
Of course, this is par for the course with the Scottish Parliament. The parliament building itself grew hideously expensive as building progressed (despite the fact we already had a perfectly good one) and the Edinburgh Trams became a financial nightmare (despite the fact it would have been far cheaper and more flexible to buy a few hundred new buses). And then there’s the concept of free education, which merely moves the bill onto the taxpayers instead of the students.
Overall, the costs would be staggering and Scotland is not a wealthy nation. Do we really want to shoulder the costs of independence?
Four – It Would Be Immensely Disruptive
I have a British passport. So does every British citizen. Legally, there’s no difference between someone born in Scotland and England. But what would happen if Scotland becomes independent? Would a Scottish passport be available at once? Would British passports still be considered valid? Technically speaking, a case could be made that every Scottish citizen living abroad would be there under a false passport (a crime) as soon as Scotland becomes independent. Do you really want to deal with the problems this would cause?
That’s not even the most serious problem. Right now, travel between England and Scotland means nothing more than travel between Edinburgh and Glasgow. Would we have to put in border control booths along the border?
And then there’s the economic question. Businesses cannot thrive when they’re unsure of where they stand, at least legally. Would a large corporation like BAE SYSTEMS be governed under British law or Scottish law? Furthermore, what about the costs of doing business?
One of the major employers in Scotland is the defence industry, which largely sells to the British Armed Forces. The military prefers to buy from home-grown industries where possible because they don’t halt shipments for political reasons. But would this continue if the Scottish shipyards were in another country? I have a feeling that the Royal Navy would be pressed to reduce its investments in Scottish facilities as much as possible, weakening the Scottish economy and costing jobs. (The Scottish Navy would be unable to supply enough contracts to keep the shipyards going.) And a sudden surge in unemployment will have knock-on effects that could prove disastrous.
We would also not have a financial security net. Britain is a wealthy country. When the economic crisis hit, the British economy was able to handle it. Smaller countries like Ireland and Iceland were much less able to cope with the chaos, which led to their effective surrender to the EU. What would happen to Scotland if there was a sudden sharp drop in oil revenue, for example? I doubt it would be pleasant.
Furthermore, would we use the Pound, the Euro or a newly-created Scottish currency? Using the former two would mean subordinating our economies to either London or Brussels (assuming they allowed us to use their currencies without argument) while the third would cause considerable disruption in its own right. Britain can afford to back its currency, an independent Scotland would be a far more questionable proposition, as far as the markets are concerned. The value of the ‘Scot’ would sink rapidly at first, almost certainly leading to capital fleeing the country. Savings would decrease in value for quite some time.
But let’s consider something more personal. Right now, in the UK, everyone pays the same prices in large shops and supermarkets. I don’t think that will remain stable if Scotland becomes independent. Believe it or not, shopping is more expensive in Ireland than in the UK. Why? The costs of doing business in Ireland are higher. What sort of other cost increases will affect businesses if Scotland becomes independent … and how will they be passed on to the consumer? What about pensions? Benefits? There will be a colossal risk of disruption to benefit payments to people who rely on them.
In short, THE COST OF LIVING WILL GO UP.
Call me a cynic, but I rather doubt MSPs will take a pay cut in sympathy.
Five – We Would Not Be Guaranteed Entry Into The EU
Leaving aside the question of if we actually want to join the EU (the SNP, despite claiming to want independence for Scotland, has not shown any enthusiasm for leaving Europe) there is no guarantee we would actually get into the EU. In fact, as I noted earlier, the EU is a political project, governed by nations that would have very good reason to veto Scotland joining the EU.
How many countries in the EU, let me ask, have separatist movements? The answer, according to Wikipedia, is pretty much ALL of them.
Do you really think that those nations, which really don’t want to face the hassle of dealing with separatist movements of their own, would be eager to encourage Scotland’s entry into the EU? They wouldn’t, because that would be cutting their own throats. Instead, they have every reason to make our entry into the EU as difficult as possible, no doubt forcing enough conditions from us to seriously cripple Scotland’s independence. (This is, to all intents and purposes, what happened to Ireland and Greece during the economic crash.)
The same could be said for the UN. There are too many nations with separatist groups who would have every interest in making it as painful as possible for us.
What does this mean for us? Right now, Britain can sell freely within the EU, at least in theory. An independent Scotland would be shut out of European markets until we negotiated entry to the EU, which would cripple our economy. And again, it would cost jobs.
Six – We Would Lose Much Of Our Influence
Britain is not the mighty empire it once was, for better or worse. But we still have a great deal of economic, military and political clout. Scotland would not possess that clout, regardless of our aspirations. The EU would consider us to be little better than Greece or the Eastern European States – states that “missed a good opportunity to shut up,” as the former French President put it, back in 2003. We would have little or no influence within the EU, no matter the formalities of the situation. And if we balked, we could be denied access to EU markets.
Britain can and does deploy a formidable military force, despite recent cutbacks. But an independent Scotland would not be able to match that deployment, even for a greatly reduced military. Indeed, the costs of modern military equipment are so high that smaller militaries are unable to keep up with the larger ones.
Furthermore, Britain can and does send a substantial portion of foreign aid to needy countries around the world. Scotland would be unable to make a similar attempt at charity – and Britain’s ability to do so would be sharply reduced by Scottish independence.
In short, we would be giving up an influential position for one that would have very little influence. And we’d cripple England’s influence too.
Seven – It Would Damage Our Security
One thing history teaches us is how quickly the world can change. No one anticipated the First World War, yet it shattered the pre-war balance of power. The sixty-nine years of relative peace in Western Europe since the end of the Cold War may not last indefintely. Indeed, the terrorist attacks in New York, social unrest on many European streets and the rise of Putin’s Russia may lead to an end to a period of unprecedented peace.
Splitting up the British Armed Forces (to say nothing of everything from the police to MI5 and MI6) would weaken both Scotland and England at a very dangerous moment of world history. Would Scotland be a member of NATO? Almost certainly not, for the same reasons I outlined against an easy entry into the EU. I don’t think the Americans would thank us for disrupting the British military.
And there is another point to consider. A recent report noted that a number of Scottish soldiers were considering staying with the British Army if independence came. Why? Because there would be more chance for action among the British Army. The Scottish Army wouldn’t offer so many chances of excitement, promotion and an actual career. We might end up with the shell of an army as competent and experienced men insist on heading south to stay with the army they know and love. (There are a number of men from the Republic of Ireland in the British Army, who joined because they wanted real excitement.)
Finally, there is the question of nuclear weapons. The SNP is divided on the issue, but tell me – is it really wise to abandon the ultimate guarantee of British/Scottish security? It isn’t so long since the Ukraine gave up its nukes in exchange for a paper guarantee of its territorial integrity, a guarantee that has not been honoured by outside powers. Nukes and a creditable delivery system ensure that we cannot lose a war so badly that we will be crushed, or – more practically – can counter any threats of nuclear blackmail. Keeping nukes does not mean that we will use them. It merely means that we can use them, if necessary.
I am not unbiased in this matter. I honestly doubt that anyone is, not when this decision will have far-reaching implications for our future. However, I have weighed up the evidence as best as I can and concluded, without reasonable doubt, that Scottish Independence will be bad for Scotland.
There are few rewards for being a small country adrift in a sea of sharks. That is what we will face, as an independent state. Nor, if there are any benefits from independence, will we see them in a hurry. Indeed, the drawbacks will materialise with staggering speed, while it will take years to see any improvements to our living standards.
Finally, I will admit that I do not like Alex Salmond. He isn’t the Dalai Lama, Nelson Mandela or another person with a genuine cause. I will concede he probably believes deeply in the cause of Scottish independence. However, his flag-waving stunts and unwillingness to discuss the nuts and bolts of an independent Scotland worry me. I see him as style over substance.
In short, I don’t want President Salmond.
Worse, even if I put all that aside, President Salmond would have very little influence in the world. The problems facing a newly-independent Scotland that I outlined above will not be directed by Scotland, but by outside powers. We would face a long period of disruption as the world tries to sort out where everyone stands, now that Scotland is no longer part of Britain.
The SNP – and the Scottish Parliament – has not, in my view, shown any real capability for financial management. There is no such thing as a free lunch – someone always pays. The issue of free education, for example, sounds good … but the costs will be shuffled onto the Scottish Taxpayer. Hard reality will impact the SNP’s dreams and leave them shattered, while we pay the costs.
Scotland does not need to be independent. Furthermore, the costs of independence far outweigh the benefits.
I’m going to vote no. And I think you should too.
[If you agree with this post, please share it as wildly as you can. I welcome comments and discussion, either here or on my forum.]