Thursday, February 21, 2013

On the Independence of Scotland

Hi everyone,

If you haven’t been living under a rock for the past year or so, you must have picked up news coverage at some point about the Scottish plan of possibly declaring indepence from the UK. It is a hot topic in the UK itself and, because I have a lot of friends in Scotland, I have an above average interest in the matter.  As with all major political issues, there are many points of view and nearly everyone has something to say about one thing or another regarding Scottish independence, whether it is the design of the flag, the system of government or even the design of the coins. The way it stands now, there will most likely be a referendum in 2014 with a proposed Independence Day (if the referendum returns a ‘YES’ vote, ofcourse) somewhere in early 2016. I have already floated the idea of doing it on 18 or 19 March so that it joins in nicely with St. Patrick’s Day and would make up a fine long ‘Bye bye ENGLAND’ weekend to be celebrated between us Fellow Celts.

Being the nice guy that I am, I have done some research on the subject of Independence and have come up with a list of considerations for my friends in Scotland(and the rest of you who are interested in the matter) to ponder on before the referendum next year.

1.        Do you really want it ?

What is ofcourse the main thing, is that the Scottish people will need to vote YES to Independence. If there is no interest in being independent, the idea is dead in the water, no matter what. Now the problem here is that the numbers vary depending on whose figures you look at. Some polls have the YES vote as high as 45% with 24% undecided, while others put the NO vote as high as 58% with nearly no one undecided. On top of that, the yes/no vote ratio proves to be very volatile and keeps changing from one moment to the next, perhaps illustrative for the Scottish character. From a decision-making point of view, I would personally suggest that the vote should get a 2/3 majority because it is such an important issue with far reaching consequences and you don’t want to create a situation similar to Northern Ireland, where there is a nearly equal split in Yes/No and we all know what happened there. 

                                            Or what happened here, for that matter

But aside from political and statistical considerations, something that especially the YES camp has to consider is...

2.         Day to day life is not going to change dramatically

Apart from a heightened sense of national pride and nationhood, independence is not going to change day to day life in Scotland all that much.  Independence will not make Scotland a second California, where the streets are paved with gold and every enterprise turns into a billion dollar business. There won’t be counties full of vines, producing some of the world’s finest wines and there won’t be white sand beaches all along the coast. Independence will not transform Glasgow into a Northern Hemisphere Sydney, with some of the most beautiful urban scenery in the world, and Independence also will not result in high speed mono-rail bullet trains zapping up and down the highlands at 10 minute intervals. If you want to get from Edinburgh to Inverness, you will still have to get on a normal train for 4 hours and you will still see more of Aberdour, Ladybank and Pitlochry than you care for. The only thing that may practically change is that you might have to bring your passport if you’re going to Newcastle or Blackpool for the weekend.

                                         Next stop, Inverness. Or maybe not.

And speaking on going away for the weekend, if you’re heading over to England, you might want to go to the bank and get some foreign cash, because..
             3. Scotland will be forced into the Euro

This issue normally triggers the strongest outburst of objection.  The usual train of reasoning is that because the UK politely declined the Euro when it was introduced, Scotland will do the exact same thing when Independence is declared. On top of that, the second argument is nearly always ‘we don’t want it, so we won’t get it’. Apart from the fact that you, as Working Class Average Joe, do not get to want or not want anything, unless you have some connections in High Places(which, most likely, you don’t), there are some important things that people conveniently overlook when you mention the connection of the Euro with Scottish Independence. If, like me, you have done some research on the matter, beyond the ‘Fuck it!’ line of thought when it comes to these matters, you realise that the most important thing in the whole Euro thing is not what Scotland wants.    IF Scotland declares independence from the UK they will, by the standards of the United Nations, be labelled as a Breakaway State, very similar to when Croatia decided it didn’t want to be part of Yugoslavia anymore. And as a Breakaway State, you are basically a new country, without history, as far as the UN are concerned, despite the obvious fact that everybody knows that there has been a land mass called Scotland for as long as anybody can remember. Because you are a new country, you will have to apply anew for membership of the UN, the World Trade Organisation, NATO and.. here comes the kicker: the European Union.  When a new country wants to join the EU, the government of the new country will have to open negotiations with the EU Leadership in Brussels and the EU will draw up an agreement with certain rules, agreements and demands. Membership to all these bodies will not be a problem, since Scotland does not harbour large numbers of terrorists and isn’t earmarked as a global centre for drug trade. However,  given the current state of the economy, the EU will be keen to strengthen the Euro zone with another country that has excellent relations with one of the stronger economies in the EU (especially given the state of affairs in Greece, Portugal and Ireland).  Plus it gets to encroach on the territory of the British Pound, which is basically the bureaucratic equivalent of putting your extended hand at the tip of your nose, wiggling your fingers and shouting “NANANANANAAA.”  While it would ofcourse be awesome to have Euro coins with the Scott Monument or a whisky distillery on them, this will not go down well with the man on the street in Scotland. 

                                                 The new Scottish Euro coin

And speaking of money, ofcourse the biggest issue for any country declaring independence is ofcourse that.. 

4.                     You’ll have to pay your own way.

Despite all the misgivings that you will hear hurled in the direction of the English, their football team and the government in London, on a typical afternoon in a Scottish pub, there is one thing that people there tend to overlook, namely that London picks up a large percentage of the tab for nearly everything that happens in Scotland.  According to this article:

Scotland is contributing just over a billion more in revenue to London than what London pays for in Scotland, but numbers like these are always a bit muddled because it isn’t always clear which amounts have to be attributed to which jars on the budget shelf. Take for example the railroads. You might be inclined to say that the aforementioned train from Edinburgh to Inverness is something that is a Scottish issue and that should be paid for by Scotland. The picture changes, however, when you consider that that same train ultimately started in Newcastle, and in some cases even in London, so who should pay for it then? In any case, a lot of this is unclear, and I would advise mr. Salmond to urge his accountants to do their homework twice over before publishing their final report. 

These are, in my opinion, the main points of consideration for the people of Scotland. As an encore, I also have a short thought on ..

5.                    The implications for the rest of the UK

Take a look at what a map of the UK would look like if you take Scotland out of the equation:

A lot of people already say that that little bit of UK across the sea looks a bit weird, but with Scotland out of the picture, it looks even stranger, like a sort of British Alaska(but without the bears or the skiing opportunities) or perhaps something comparable to the Faroe Islands which are, technically, part of Denmark, but are nowhere near Denmark by any stretch of the imagination. (In case you have no idea where they are- the Faroe Islands are a cluster of tiny islands, roughly halfway between the North coast of Scotland and Iceland). I was recently talking to a friend of mine who is from the North and who considers herself to be British and from the UK first and foremost which, I have to concede, is technically the case. When I brought up the issue of Scottish independence, she told me, as I expected, that she would not be happy with that at all. Even though Scotland will still be there, physically, a lot of people in the North feel that they will lose touch with Britain, if even only on a spiritual level, because Britain will no longer be just across the water, but much further away from any point in the North.  Besides that, without Scotland, the UK will basically just be England and Northern Ireland, because in Wales people don’t really give a hoot about the UK and whether or not they are part of it. 

So, what will the future bring for Scotland and Britain? Nobody knows at the moment. Nothing is certain and only time will tell. What is an interesting final thought on this, is that the developments in this case are closely monitored in other parts of Europe, like Catalonia and Flanders, where breakaway movements are also gaining momentum.

And with that, I will return to my drink and leave you for the night. 



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