By John Close
This is a touchy one for some people so I feel like I should start with the disclaimer that 1) I don’t in any way dislike Scottish people or Scotland as a whole, and 2) that in my ideal world this wouldn’t even be up for debate and Scotland would forever remain part of the UK.
Saying that, it is an issue that peeves me off like nobody’s business. I JUST DON’T GET IT! Why would any sane country (I’m looking mainly at the Government of said country) try and move away from a union which has basically kept it on the political map? No offence to any very nationalistic Scots out there, but do you really believe that an independent Scotland would have even a fraction of the political clout that they enjoy as part of the UK? I for one certainly don’t. It’s thanks to money, weapons and friends in high places that Scotland has any power at all, and as I see it, an independent Scotland would have very little of these at all.
Let’s start with the last of the three, which is arguably the most important in maintaining a world leading political position. Friends; everybody needs them and none more so than a country trying to break free and make it alone. But would Scotland have any if it left the UK? Part of this debate hangs on whether it would be able to remain part of the EU and therefore stay pally with the mainland after it basically told its only bordering country where to go. The Scottish government says that it will use the time between the referendum and independence to negotiate its membership, but the planned 18 months hardly seems enough time to do that. Especially if tricky situations come up about whether Scotland has to join the Euro, or sign the Schengen agreement as any other new entrant would by EU law.
And if Scotland loses out on its EU membership, it would also lose out on any money it was banking on receiving. The Schengen opens up a can of worms. Would we have to have some border controls between a Schengen Scotland and a Non-Schengen UK? It seems ridiculous that any kind of border would be implemented, but it legitimately could be in order to prevent abuse of the system by people from mainland Europe moving into the rest of the UK through Scotland.
Then there’s weapons, and for this we have to look to NATO. This is also heavily linked with ‘friends’ problems which could plague an independent Scotland, because if you haven’t got friends in Europe you could really do with some in North America, especially the US. The Alliance have already signalled that they would have problems with Scotland joining the group, mainly due to the removal of the Trident nuclear deterrent from the UK base at Faslane. This could cause all kinds of problems for Scotland as they would no longer be protected by the guarantee of intervention by the US if anything went drastically wrong and the Romans descended once more. Granted, this is incredibly unlikely, but it does also raise the slightly more credible argument of Scottish defence, however unnecessary it may seem.
The SNP (current ruling party of Scotland) have laid out plans for the defence of their realm, which is all well and good, but the main issue I see here is that they would lose that certain sense of security that comes from knowing the guy with the biggest stick in the playground has got your back. It’s not enough to make you soil yourself, but it’s enough to make you wearier of what’s going on.
Now to the big one, the one that everyone’s talking about; money. The SNP say that an independence vote would make Scotland richer. And in this they do have a point, there’s every chance that by going independent Scotland would enjoy huge amounts of wealth from the taxation of North Sea oil and gas reserves. But even that isn’t exactly certain, nobody knows just how the lines will be drawn and how the oil and gas will be divvied up. Although it seems silly to suggest that Scotland won’t get the lion’s share of the reserves, they can’t tell us exactly how much they’ll get, because they haven’t negotiated it yet, and plumbing for independence when you don’t know whether you’ll be able to foot the bill seems slightly irresponsible to me.
Aside from the natural resources in the sea, Scotland would also have to shoulder some of the debt it has accrued as part of the UK, though this is likely to be a small percentage of the total $1.4 trillion, and could well be paid back to the UK in some of those tasty oil and gas fields we were talking about earlier.
The big economic issue with independent Scotland is that it completely lacks a financial centre. Nowhere in Scotland is there a city that could rival London for dominance of the economic landscape, and this in turn means that it may struggle to bring in the big boys of the finance industry who already have a strong foundation in the City. Oil and gas are all well and good while the prices are high, but basing your whole economy on commodities whose values aren’t assured seems to me like a gamble too far.
Only time will tell whether Scotland can make it as an independent state, if it ever becomes one at all. I just worry that the grass may seem greener on the other side (or at least some people may tell you it’s greener) until you take the plunge and find it’s really covered in manure. At the very least I’d like to see a better thought out plan presented first, one that comes AFTER the negotiations about oil/gas/debt, and sets out exactly how an independent Scotland would keep its place at the forefront of the world both politically and economically without the help of the rest of the UK.
No doubt anyone reading this has quite strong opinions either way, so do let me know if you think I’m spot on, or even if you think I’m a rambling idiot.