Still part of the Union?

December 16, 2013 10:31 am

The biggest British political event of 2014 is, potentially, the vote on Scottish independence onSeptember 18. I say “British”, but it is of course just Scottish residents who will be voting “yes” or “no” to breaking free from the United Kingdom. The rest of us UK citizens, in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, won’t have a direct say.

The vote has not yet received enough attention in the London-based media, but that is bound to change in the new year. While the “no” (“Better Together”) campaign currently has a reasonably healthy lead in opinion polls – 57% against 34% in the latest Ipsos MORI survey – the real debate has only just started. I’m not sure that Scottish voters have been giving this issue their undivided attention just yet. But Scottish first minister Alex Salmond is a brilliant campaigner and debater. Aside from the economics there is simply a sense of patriotism to appeal to. The independence campaign is called Yes Scotland. It is inherently positive, while those resisting independence are invited to vote no – which could be portrayed (inaccurately, I think) as an expression of negativity towards the idea of Scotland itself.

I would probably have counted myself among those complacent onlookers down south who felt sure the no camp would win, until a conversation I had this weekend. It was a private chat, so I will simply say it was with a member of a distinguished Scottish political – and solidly Unionist – family. But this person told me that at this stage he/she was most likely going to vote yes, for independence. Sure, the first few years might be difficult, but after that – why not? Why not independence? And my interlocutor was someone who had a good grasp of business realities, and did not deny that there might be an initial hit to Scotland’s prospects.

Outsiders looking in may have their own selfish reasons for hoping voters in Scotland will resist the yes campaign’s arguments. In a reduced UK, the English would go from making up 83% to 92% of the population – potentially bad news for Northern Irish and (especially) Welsh citizens. Labour supporters of course fear the loss of dozens of Scottish MPs. And from a sentimental or human point of view, it would seem a shame to put a bigger barrier between Scots and other Brits, who have shared a (supra-)national identity for centuries. I have a Scottish aunt, cousins, friends – will these people be just a tiny bit further estranged from me as citizens of a separate state?

It seems pretty clear to me that the practical economic arguments against independence should dissuade most Scots from voting yes. Enormous and lengthy uncertainty would follow a vote for independence. Any Westminster government would negotiate very hard, withdrawing existing subsidies fast. Would an independent Scotland be allowed to keep the pound while attempting to undercut, for example, UK corporation tax rates? What about EU and NATO membership? What about submarine bases?What about the corporate HQ of the Royal Bank of Scotland? These are all rather daunting questions with few convincing answers as yet.

But these are all negative questions to ask. The task for Better Together is to provide the positive evidence that supports their campaign’s title. Why is the Union a better option for Scots, and not just a less bad one? What is their positive vision for a Scotland that chooses to stay inside the UK? What’s in it for them?

Those of us who do not live in Scotland can only hint, tactfully, at these questions. In one sense it is not our business. But in another it matters enormously to us all. This is the big responsibility that rests on those north of the border who are trying to persuade their fellow countrymen and women to reject independence.

  • http://peterabell.blogspot.co.uk/ Peter A Bell

    Stefan Stern admits to being among the “complacent onlookers down south”. And it rapidly becomes clear just how detached from the referendum campaign he is. In one paragraph, under the guise of listing the “practical economic arguments against independence” he offers a catalogue of the fallacies and inanities which form the basis of the anti-independence campaign’s arguments. Nonsense which, in Scotland, was debunked and dismissed a long time ago.

    But the world looks different from within the bubble of London village. A perspective further distorted by unwise reliance on the mainstream media for information. Those of us who are closer to the campaign and observing the reality rather than the propaganda peddled by an almost exclusively unionist press never fail to be struck by the pompous confidence with which journalists and commentators not so reliably informed parrot the propaganda in the evidently sincere belief that they are musing upon pearls of wisdom. The result is not always entirely comical.

    With all of that sincerity in evidence, Mr Stern claims that there would be “enormous and lengthy uncertainty” in the wake of a Yes vote. In fact, there is very little uncertainty. The Scottish government has set out a remarkable clear picture of how the transition would work, how long it would take – around 18 months – and what the initial conditions would be like. Such uncertainty as remains is almost entirely down to the UK Government’s failings. For example, while asserting all manner of fantastical nonsense about Scotland being expelled from the EU, they stubbornly refuse to ask the EC for an official opinion on the matter.

    Similarly, all the British parties are making silly noises about the matter of the currency union. But none of them will state categorically that it is no policy to abolish the currency union when Scotland votes Yes.

    Some of the ignorance on display is barely forgiveable even making due allowance for Mr Stern’s quaint belief that he can get all the facts he needs on the constitutional question by reading The Telegraph. He continues to believe in the “subsidy junkie” myth many months after even the UK Government officially abandoned that hoary old propaganda line. He continues to imagine that Scotland could somehow be the only country in the world that was, by some mysterious means, be prevented from using its own currency. A currency which is, in any case, freely tradeable as a global reserve currency.

    It would be heartening to think that Stefan Stern was the last person to become aware of the repeated and comprehensive debunking of the “bank bail-out fallacy”. There is good reason to believe that Alistair Darling and his Tory allies in project Fear are cognisant of the convention that national governments are only liable for such bail-outs if the choose to accept liability. And then they are only liable for that part of the bad business which falls within their jurisdiction. Darling et al continue to lie about this, of course. How unfortunate that, on top of all his other problems, Mr Stern is so gullible as to be taken in by such obvious untruths.

    Anybody is, of course, entitled to comment on Scotland’s independence campaign. I just wish they would take the trouble to ascertain the facts before doing so.

    • robertcp

      If Scotland votes for independence, the UK negotiators should only work for the interests of what is left of the UK, for example, Scotland will only be able to keep the pound if it is in the interests of the UK. Scotland’s interests will be irrelevant if they choose independence.
      Incidentally, I am Welsh and not English.

      • Peter Mechan

        robertcp, are you having difficulty reading the comment to which you are replying? Firstly the Pound Sterling is as much Scotland’s as the rest of the UK. Secondly it is a traded currency and therefore Scotland could adopt it if it likes, it does not need the permission of the rest of the UK, the Bank Of England or anyone else.

      • Alan Bothwell

        “Incidentally, I am Welsh and not English.”

        I am interested as to why you think this is relevant to Peter A Bell’s post?

      • varrie29

        Scotland owns a share of the pound , as it is part of the ‘UK’. As much our currency as it is the English’s.

        • Steve Stubbs

          Nobody ‘owns’ the pound. It is a fiat currency, controlled by the Bank of England.

          • varrie29

            Which Scotland owns a 9.4% share of.

    • Steve Stubbs

      Why would they need to seek the EU view on EU membership when it has been stated quite clearly already a number of times? Again this week, Van Rumpuy said that any part of an existing member breaking away and becoming independent would immediately cease to be part of the EU and all existing treaties and agreements would cease to apply. They can then start (note – start) the process of applying to become a member of the EU, but this requires both joining the euro and also the unanimous agreement of all member states.

      Spain has already said that they will veto any such application as they battle to stop Catalonia having a referendum on independence themselves and doing exactly that.

      Unless I read that wrong then Scotland cannot despite what the SNP says remain in the EU; and can keep using using Sterling in the long term only by remaining outside of the EU, and accepting they have no control over their currency policy.

      • http://peterabell.blogspot.co.uk/ Peter A Bell

        Van Rumpuy does not speak for the EU. He was talking about Catalonia, not Scotland. His is but one opinion. There are others which contradict him. Unionists are very selective in the opinions that they attend to.

        Spain has not said that they will veto Scotland’s membership of the EU. In fact, Mariano Rajoy was quite assiduous in avoiding being so explicit. You obviously heard what you wanted to hear and not what was actually said.

        I am weary of explaining why it is not in Spain’s interest to oppose or veto Scotland’s continuing membership of the EU. The more so because the reasons are patently obvious to anyone who is actually analysing the political realities rather than searching for a stick with which to beat the independence campaign.

        I’ll give you a clue. Spain’s official position is that Scotland’s independence has no relevance to Catalonia because the constitutional circumstances are entirely different.

        You say that Scotland “cannot remain in the EU”. And yet you omit to explain the process by which Scotland might be expelled implied by this assertion. This is not surprising, as there is not such process. And please don’t come back with the nonsense about Scotland not being expelled but voluntarily quitting. In the first place, this runs totally counter to everything that the Scottish Government has said about the desire to remain in the EU. And, in the second place, there is a process by which a members state can leave the EU. But that process has to be initiated by the member state in question, and it takes years to complete.

        You finish with some old nonsense about currency. There is absolutely nothing which can prevent Scotland continuing to use the pound after independence. It is a fully tradeable reserve currency. And there is no way that any EU member state can be forced to join the euro. This too is something which has been explained repeatedly and comprehensive. But to no avail. Unionists seem to have a bit of a cloth-ear problem.

        On the EU membership myths and propaganda of the anti-independence campaign, there is an excellent paper at Scottish Global Forum. On currency, I suggest you look for articles by George Kerevan with the key terms “currency wars”, or visit the Business for Scotland website.

        There really is no excuse for being so ill-informed.

        • Steve Stubbs

          Lets start with the fact I am not a Unionist. I fully support (and pray for) a yes vote. So don’t assume .. For the record, I was bought up in Maryhill, Glasgow and spent 25 years of my working life living in Aberdeenshire or Shetland…

          You say Van Rumpuy does not speak for the EU – He is the president of the council for goodness sake. If he doesn’t then who does?

          “You obviously heard what you wanted to hear and not what was actually said”. Let me reverse that, you obviously read what you want to see and not what I wrote. I never said Scotland could not use Sterling if it so wants. What I said is that new members joining the EU are required to adopt the Euro. See the Lisbon Treaty, or as it was formerly called ‘The EU Constitution’.

          I have read Alex Salmond’s fairy tale from one end to the other, unlike I would suggest most of those on this forum. Whilst I hope that Scotland goes on its way, and takes Wales and Norther Ireland with it please, you are never going to get a yes majority unless the people believe what they are being told, and at the moment the polls are clear, they don’t believe it. They are seeing themselves as Turkeys, with a vote on Christmas coming.

          Life is too short to argue the detail – no doubt in the fullness of time you will be blogging “we wuz robbed” and seeking to blame everyone but the Scots themselves..

          I look forward to it. And good luck with the vote.

          • http://peterabell.blogspot.co.uk/ Peter A Bell

            Herman Van Rompuy is President of the European Council – a body which has no legislative powers. In fact, it has no formal powers at all. It has influence only insofar as it may sometimes reflect the consensus of the heads of government of the member states. The President does not speak for all of those heads of government. He speaks only for his own office. His opinion on the matter of Scotland’s continuing membership of the EU is no more authoritative than Alex Salmond’s.

            Scotland would not be a new member of the EU. Scotland has been in the EU for 40 years. Those 40 years can no more be wished away than the EU citizenship of Scotland’s people and the rights of other EU citizens residing in Scotland.

            Members of the EU are required to accept that they will join the euro. But there is no obligation beyond that. There is no set time-scale. They are first required to meet certain criteria. And there is no way that they can be forced to meet those criteria. In short, the scare stories from Project Fear about Scotland being compelled to adopt the euro are complete nonsense. made all the more nonsensical by their insistence that Scotland will, by some utterly mysterious process, be expelled from the EU.

            Assuming that you are referring to the White paper, “Scotland’s Future”, if it was the “fairy tale” that you claim it to be then even the incompetents in Better Together should have been able to discredit it by now. They have tried, and failed.

            Only fools and unionists imagine that the polls predict the result. Sensible people are aware that polls this far out can do no more than indicate trends. And the trend is very clearly away from No towards Undecided and Yes.

      • John Daly

        Following a Yes vote, Scotland will have 18 months remaining as a member of the United Kingdom before Independence Day of 24 March 2016. During that intervening period (whilst still a member of the EU), discussions and negotiations will take within and between Scotland/UK/EU that will result in agreements being in place under which Scotland will take her own seat as a full and independent member of the EU on Independence Day.

        • Steve Stubbs

          And I believe in the tooth fairy too. Take a look at the laid down timescales for negotiations, an IGC and a ratified Treaty change, All of which will be required. You are looking at 4 years, and a unanimous vote from existing members. Despite what Peter Bell says above, you have an uphill battle to get Spain ion side for that, with both Catalonia and the Basque region looking for a precedent to follow.

          And don’t assume Cameron will sit still and allow Scotland to negotiate whilst he still in theory speaks for the UK. If the Scots can’t agree the terms of separation from the rest of the UK, it will be used as a lever. And you and I both know the big sticking point will be apportioning the national debt – but seems to me the Barnett formula is the way to go, you get more of the goodies now , you can have more of the pain later. After all thats what is paying for your current expenditure levels..

          • John Daly

            The four year timescale may be relevant to a country trying to join the EU from without. However, Scotland will be negotiating from with and largely the theory of continuation will apply. The 18 month time scale has already been deemed as “realistic ” by Prof Crawford.

  • Chris Smith

    The only thing I can add to Mr Bells’s astute comments is my utter astonishment that there are still people , like Mr Stern, who are prepared to show the world their complete ignorance rather than remain quiet and accept that some might , without the proof he has so freely given, think it to be true

  • John Daly

    Can the author describe to me the process by which an Independent
    Scotland wouldn’t be allowed to “keep” the pound. Bearing in mind that
    Scotland jointly owns it and it is a fully tradeable currency.

    • robertcp

      If Scotland leaves the UK, it will no longer own the pound. It will be a new nation state.

      • John Daly

        If Scotland becomes a “new country” doesn’t then rUK too?

        • robertcp

          I don’t think so but I am not sure! The truth is that we do not know what will happen if the people living in Scotland vote for independence. They should not, however, rely on the English, Northern Irish and Welsh being nice and reasonable.

          • varrie29

            New nation state ???? Have you ever read a history book ?? Scotland IS A NATION STATE. The ‘UK’ is NOT a country, it is a political union of separate sovereign nation states.

          • robertcp

            If Scotland is already a nation state, why bother having a referendum? Is Scotland already independent?

          • varrie29

            Erm , do you actually know ANTHING about Scotland ? As I’ve already said , it’s a nation state in a political union. The referendum will end that political union. With a border, a legal system, a government, an education system etc etc etc etc, how can it not be a nation ??

          • robertcp

            Scotland, like Wales, is a nation but it is not an independent nation state. That is the issue that will be decided by the referendum.

      • Peter Mechan

        The pound is internationally traded. There is nothing to stop any nation on Earth from using it? Please do try to educate yourself before making silly comments.

        • robertcp

          So why don’t they? It would be a good move for some countries with worthless currencies.

      • varrie29

        Isle of Mann uses the pound.

        • robertcp

          So what? It is not an independent country.

          • varrie29

            Yes it is !! It’s not part of the ‘uk’ !!

          • varrie29

            It has exactly the same status as Canada, Australia etc. A country that is independent , but still has the Queen as head of state.

          • robertcp

            This referendum is about Scotland having the same status as independent nations like Canada and Australia. It is not about Scotland becoming a Crown Dependency like the Isle of Man, which does not control its defence and foreign policy.

          • varrie29

            The Isle of Mann government chooses to contract it’s defence out to the UK government.

          • robertcp

            I will take your word for it. As it happens, the Scottish people are not going to vote for independence, so we will never know who is right about what will happen after independence.

          • varrie29

            Ho !! So you’ll know the lottery numbers too then ?? We shall see, I think you may be wrong on that one. Still 9 months for people to get clued up/wised up. And as you seem to know very little about Scotland, I won’t be betting any money on your prediction.

          • robertcp

            Neither will I!

          • Sam Mitchell

            Rubbish…. join me canvassing in an area that has a great many incomers who have chosen to leave what they no longer regard as the country they grew up in…. in fact three of the leading lights within our YES group are all incomers who reject the corruption that unionists fail to recognise or deal with….

          • robertcp

            You are entitled to your opinion. Maybe we will know what happens after independence!

    • John Daly

      So, to repeat. Can the author describe to me the process by which an Independent Scotland wouldn’t be allowed to “keep” the pound. Bearing in mind that Scotland jointly owns it and it is a fully tradeable currency.

      • Steve Stubbs

        I repeat as you clearly like repeats –

        Nobody ‘owns’ the pound. It is a fiat currency, controlled by the Bank of England.

        • John Daly

          Hi, Steve. Are you the author?

          • Steve Stubbs

            Of what?

  • Ringan

    What an astonishing display of arrogance and ignorance!

  • Alan Bothwell

    “In a reduced UK, the English would go from making up 83% to 92% of the population – potentially bad news for Northern Irish and (especially) Welsh citizens.”

    What??? What the hell is wrong with the English that makes it bad news for the Northern Irish and (especially?) Welsh to be in union with them? And, if they are so bad, why is being in a union where they make up 92% so much worse than being in one where they are 83%?

    In any event, Scottish independence is not about “the English” but a quite normal desire for self-government, and the prospect of building a better, more humane society. I would have thought that anyone claiming to be ‘Labour’ would understand and sympathise with that.

    “Labour supporters of course fear the loss of dozens of Scottish MPs.”

    Ah, perhaps we get to the truth! The reality is that the way Scotland votes is rarely decisive when it comes to deciding Westminster governments.

    “And from a sentimental or human point of view, it would seem a shame to put a bigger barrier between Scots and other Brits, who have shared a (supra-)national identity for centuries. I have a Scottish aunt, cousins, friends – will these people be just a tiny bit further estranged from me as citizens of a separate state?”

    What century are you in? We live in a Europe, a world, where the barriers between nationa and peoples are coming down, where most thinking people don’t give a damn what identity another person has, and you are worried about your Scottish family being in some way ‘estranged’ from you just because they live in another sovereign state? I have a brother and his family, and many cousins, who have citizenship of another nation state on the other side of the world; in what way does that put barriers up, other than having to travel? How would being in another European state estrange me from my many members of family who live in England? Pure nonsense.

    I think too many Labour people get caught up in their own party’s propaganda (and that of their Tory and Liberal Democrat allies) about ‘separation’. We won’t be going anywhere, we’ll still be friends and allies, and you will still be welcome. We’ll just be governing ourselves, that’s all.

    And, without the comfort blanket of “dozens of Scottish Labour MPs”, Labour in the rest of the UK will have to think seriously about an alternative to current Tory ideology; other than imitation, that is.

    • Sam Mitchell

      excellent post…. hit the nail on the head…..

  • varrie29

    Have never read such garbage in my life. Typical ignorant English ill-informed lies. ‘Subsidies’ ??? Just ignore the £17 BILLION of oil and gas revenue flowing into London’s coffers every year, to be spent on the Olympics, illegal wars in Afghanistan (£15 MILLION PER DAY) etc etc etc. Utter twaddle.

    • Steve Stubbs

      That’s part of the reason I look forward to Scottish Independence, we will finally see the truth of this assertion. Mind you, if you add in the enormous cash subsidy made to keep the Royal Bank of Scotland solvent ……………

      • stuart_mckay

        You are referring to the approx £2 billion contributed by Scotland in excess of their obligation if Scotland had been independent country. Agreed; an enormous cash subsidy paid by Scotland.

        • Steve Stubbs

          No, sadly I am referring to the 37 Billion pounds that the Bank of England had to inject into RBS to keep it solvent. I guess when you add that to the flow of cash north over the the previous 280 or so years it somewhat outweighs the recent few years contribution. What was it Burns said? Ah yes “We are bought and sold for English gold”

          • stuart_mckay

            RBS is a private company as are the other banks. Government money injected was a government choice because the banks were “too big to fail”. The point I thought by now to be well understood is that the money required is calculated on where the individual contact for the debt was made. The location of the banks head office is irrelevant. This is why the largest amount of bail out money was paid to RBS by the United States. It is also the reason why the UK government covered some of the debts of the Bank of Iceland. The money paid by the uk government to “bail out RBS” covered the proportion generated by transactions in the UK and Scotland paid it’s portion on a per capita basis. If Scotland had been independent it would only have been liable for the portion generated in Scotland and that would have been approximately £2 Billion less. Therefore Scotland subsidized the rest of the UK. I do not blame you for not understanding this as better together have been trotting out this nonsense since the start of the debate. In fact, Annabell Goldie, a past leader of the Tories in Holyrood, a party that gained only 17% backing at the last election, still trots this out at every opportunity despite being ridiculed by the audience on tv debates. Her reward for this devotion to the union; a seat in the Lords.

      • varrie29

        Royal Bank of Scotland ?? Surely you mean RBS group, 90% NatWest , therefore 90% English. So it’s failure is an ENGLISH FAILURE. Typical hypocrisy from the English, RBS was a ‘British’ bank when it was doing well, then suddenly a ‘Scottish’ bank when it got into trouble. The ‘Andy Murray’ syndrome strikes again. Fact is England hasn’t had a male Wimbledon winner for 78 years now, and still waiting. No doubt the fact Henman never won it will somehow be ‘Scotlands fault.’

        • Steve Stubbs

          Well that’s got someone fired up then. Five postings in succession getting more and more hysterical. But can I refer you back to my earlier post – I WANT Scotland to vote yes. I will be delighted to see it. If I was a believer I would pray for it.

          And then we will see the truth of all the FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt) being thrown about by both the Yes and the No camps north of the border, and yawned over by most of the English.

          Would you care to discuss how the labour party is going to cope with the loss of all those MPs? This being Labour List and all.

          • varrie29

            For , hysterical , read factual. And where are your rebuttals of those figures ??? The very fact the English yawn over it is good enough reason for us to be well shot of the lot of you. If, in fact that is true, you being obviously so sure that you speak for 53.5 million people. Same old myth re. Scottish Labour MPs at Wastemonster, Only twice in the last 18 elections have Labour relied on Scottish MP’s to form a government , and one of those was a minority that only lasted 8 months, 1974.

        • stuart_mckay

          wither it is a Scottish bank or a British bank is irrelevant. See my post above.

          • varrie29

            My comment was in reply to Stubbs who seems to think we owe the English for bailing out RBS, which of course is complete garbage.

          • stuart_mckay

            Agreed

      • varrie29

        Don’t forget the enormous cash subsidy , £14-17 billion per annum YOU get from Scottish oil, not to mention whisky revenue, cheap electricity, subsidised house insurance etc etc etc etc, All at Scotland’s expense. Nor the 9.9% we pay for English-only projects like HS2, Crossrail, Jubilee , Olympics, Trident etc etc etc. Don’t let the truth get in the way of your ignorant, ill-informed, ethnicist ,lying diatribe, will you.

      • varrie29

        Ps before you mention the Barnett formula, that gives Scotland £9 billion extra, £8 billion LESS than the oil revenue. FACTS.

      • varrie29

        Look forward to your first visit to the petrol station in March 2016, wonder how much it will be down there when the import duty is added ???

      • varrie29

        Oh , and we’ll be having back the £64 billion in interest we’ve paid on London government borrowing in the last 30 years, misspent by governments we didn’t elect.

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