As an Englishman who has never lived much north of London, Scotland to me has always been a little remote and abstract. Almost all of my trips there have been social and to the Highlands so I tend to think of Scotland as a place of dramatic scenery, remote landscapes, friends, parties, rain and midges. The same description (less the midges) would apply to other recreational locations such as Austrian and Swiss ski resorts. Until the independence campaign my view of Scotland was as a remote part of the UK – not fundamental to my quality of life but nice to have.
I was aware that, under the Benham formula, Scotland received a disproportionate allocation of central government funds but wasn’t surprised or disconcerted by that- it’s a large and sparsely populated region for the most part. I was also aware of North Sea oil, but viewed that as a UK resource rather than a Scottish one, not least because it was exploited with UK, not Scottish, money.
On this basis, my initial reaction to the whole Independence proposition was that it would be a great shame to break up the UK but I had no particular axe to grind and would be largely unaffected by the outcome. However the vitriol of the nationalist campaign allied to the blithe economic assertions of Alec Salmond and his ghastly retinue have rather changed all that. As UK politicians start making further concessions to the SNP, effectively increasing devolution and subsidy to Scotland I’m beginning to think that I would prefer to call the nationalist bluff.
For a start, I did not vote for anyone to share Sterling with another country. If Scotland wants to be independent it can jolly well have its own currency. The independent Scottish economy might or might not be a basket case, but if it is not controlled from Westminster it should not be supported by the non-Scottish tax payer, explicitly or implicitly. The current government has no mandate to discuss this, and I suspect that it should be subject to referendum if it were. While I applaud George Osborne for making this point in part, it should be emphatically stated by everyone that a shared currency is not, and will never be an option.
On the back of this, it should also be made clear that while further refinement of devolution may or may not happen, the choice that Scottish voters have is between the status quo and an independent Scotland with its own currency. The strength of remaining in the UK should stand or fall on the current offering, and back room deals to grant further power and subsidy to the Scottish Parliament should be explicitly ruled out.
Many, particularly unionist Scots, accuse the no campaign of possibly sleepwalking into losing the vote. This is, I think, missing the point. There is little or no downside to me in Scotland leaving the UK. For a start the electoral bias in Westminster caused by Labour’s disproportionately high number of MPs from Scottish constituencies would evaporate, and with it the West Lothian question. The important result of this would be that the remainder of the UK would be very unlikely to ever be stuck with a socialist Labour government ever again. This in turn would give an opportunity to resolve the huge problems of pensions, health spending and deficit from a more economically literate position.
We would also benefit from losing all the health and welfare spending caused by the current low levels of health and wealth of the average Scot, to the benefit of our own welfare spending. And of course, the Benham formula would no longer be necessary. Ok, we would lose the revenue from whisky production, shortbread manufacture and tartan sales and licensing. But we would also gain employment as Scottish based civil and public servants would have to be replaced with English and Welsh ones. I suspect that the economics are neutral.
Weather forecasts would no longer have to include the chance of rain in Stornoway and traffic reports on the radio would spare me listening to the tribulations of the M9 or A82 which currently block airtime as I slog round the M25. Football results would no longer contain details of the current state of the Celtic versus Rangers war.
Scotland would still be there for the social purposes for which I use it – and as I generally fly north I am already having to produce my passport to get on the plane so crossing an international frontier (in or out of the EU) is no additional hardship or inconvenience. Scotland would still play in the six nations, probably no better. A few prominent sportsmen would have to rebadge, but they can be replaced – as they would have been as their careers start to succumb to anno domini. But best of all, we would be spared the diatribes of the SNP coterie who would finally have to take responsibility for their own actions and problems rather than blaming it on the English.
Finally, if Scotland votes to leave then that’s an end to it. If the independent Scotland is a success then fine. Well done. If not, perhaps we could consider a new act of Union. But the terms might not be as generous. If the “yes” campaign loses, as most think it will, we face further decades of haggling, fanciful numbers and complaint. The SNP will be unable to admit that it was wrong and will continue to seek further devolved powers, while evading responsibility.
To my surprise, therefore, while I find the arguments put forward by the separatists risible I hope that they win.