The White Paper on how the SNP believes a (sort of) independent (sort of) sovereign Scotland was published today, to much fanfare, analysis and bunkum.
One of the problems with this argument is that the heart of it on both sides is irrational. Its about a belief that Scotland is either better off alone or as part of the union. To me it feels that it is this belief that is the starting point and that political / social / fiscal / monetary / strategic considerations are the retrofitted onto the basic position.
I say this as an instinctive unionist. I see myself as british, despite both maternal grandparents coming from Kerry. We’ll come back to the irish thing in a moment, but as an international relations post grad, capital markets operator and comms advisor to a number of sovereign states and parastatals, I don’t see much future for small independent sovereign states on the edge of europe.
What’s funny is I’d like the UK to be run to a lot of the SNP non nationalist mandate. I’m instinctive leftist. I’m happy to pay higher taxes if it means better education and health for all, thereby allowing social mobility and a strategic redistribution of wealth. I also don’t think Trident is necessarily the most cost effective deterrent available (TLAM might be worth considering, or copy the French Force de Frappe)
All of this however is by the by, because I fundamentally disagree with the fudge that the SNP has gone for.
They don’t actually want true independent sovereign status. They want an ultra independent form of federalism, with the monetary safety net provided by a shared currency – the Pound. This would allow a more socially focussed fiscal policy in edinburgh that is not purely underwritten by Scottish taxation, but by Scottish tax, and the ability to borrow in an inherently stronger currency, the backbone of which is based in England.
If I was being snide, I’d say SNP wants to be Greece, with a Teutonic Westminster ready to bail them out if it doesn’t work.
My more balanced point is that the last few years have demonstrated that it is nigh on impossible to have a currency union with wildly divergent fiscal and monetary policies. The EU is drifting towards further pooling of sovereignty as the price of long term economic stability.
The SNP clearly knows that the Scottish Economy, even with a significant proportion of UKCS reserves, is not strong enough to support a robust free floating unpegged currency that is one of the foundation blocks of a truly sovereign independent nation. It knows a pure scottish currency is ripe for destruction by international cap markets – thereby making the borrowing vital to the SNPs ambitious spending plans next to unaffordable.
The Irish thing is less about ireland and more about the end of the British Empire. Ireland shared the fate of many ex colonies in that because it went for a fierce form of independence from Westminster, they chose to live in a more impoverished state than might have been the case. They were however truly sovereign and independent, determined to throw off the weight of oppression
Of course there are strong commercial and social ties between Ireland and the UK, but you can’t go to Dublin or Cork with a London accent and not be made aware that you’re in a foreign country.
All of this is a slightly long winded but over simplified way of suggesting that the SNP does not want pure sovereign independence, and I remain to be convinced that anything like the Scottish populace does either. Much of the British Empire, from Dublin to Delhi actively fought for independence, because there was a passionate belief that they should govern themselves no matter what the cost. They’d prefer to live in their own pigsty than someone else’s palace. (Think this is a butchered Gandhi quote)
I don’t see the same fire for freedom in this debate, perhaps because there hasn’t been the same level of exploitation in Scotland as was the case is Ireland or India or Kenya (or it happened 400 years ago) and that on a net/net basis, membership of the Union has actually been a benefit to the majority of the population?
Other issues worth examining are that the EU is very unlikely to expedite membership for a new sovereign that has chosen to set up this situation, and doesn’t want to join the Euro. The EU is looking east, integrating the former Warsaw Treaty countries. I’d also point out Salmond’s less than professional management of the poorly regulated expansion of the Scottish banks and the Libya / Lockerbie issue where he looked deeply green. Salmond is a big beast in Scotland, and probably the UK, but he seems to lose his touch on matters that are less straightforwardly political
I’ll conclude where I started. I don’t think the SNP really wants to be sovereign. Their policies suggest some sort of fudge. I do however feel that the UK is sleepwalking towards a constitutional crisis, whereby the SNP’s braveheart romanticism creates belief in enough of Scotland to “win” a referendum
What happens if scotland votes for independence, but Whitehall / Bank of England refuses to allow scotland to use Sterling and repatriates assets and jobs unilaterally?
I don’t see the sophistication on either side to manage this situation as it is belief and romance that has dominated the debate so far, not a hard headed discussion of monetary, fiscal and geopolitical balance.
But then its a lot more fun to shout “Freedom!”