9 Oct 2012

Scottish Independence: Good for Everyone Except the Scots?

So, the (nearly) newly elected Scottish government is holding a referendum on independence. Is it a good idea? Well, if you take old-fashioned patriotism and hatred of the English out of the equation, then it’s clear to see that there’s a whole medley of reasons why it wouldn’t be a good idea, and many of the Scots know it. Despite this, the Scottish people still elected a majority ‘Scottish National Party,’ government, so perhaps the Scottish electorate need a quiet reminder as to what life would be like after independence.

·      Debt: An independent Scotland would be required to take on a percentage of the UK national debt, which as of the end of June 2012, stood at £1.0383 trillion. It can either be partitioned on the basis of population, in which case Scotland which holds about 8.5% of the UK population would take about 8.5% of the debt (£88.3 billion) – or by GDP, in which case Scotland which produces about 6% of UK GDP would take about 6% of the debt. (£62.3 billion) Either way, they’d probably find themselves paying a higher percentage of interest on their borrowing with the insecurity of a smaller treasury- especially with the way that the European debt crisis is going.

·      No suitable currency: Salmond has said that he would want Scotland to stick with pound sterling. But that would mean Scottish monetary policy would be decided in the ‘meddling, imperial’ capital, London. This is before you even consider the likelihood that a newly independent Scotland would need a weak currency to kick start its industry and promote exports. We all know what happens when an artificially strong currency is used by a small ailing economy: exactly what’s happened in the Eurozone.

·      To be EU or not to be EU? : An independent Scotland would almost certainly join the EU. If, indeed, Scotland joined the Eurozone, it would find itself at the whim of the ECB in Frankfurt. So there’s really very little they can do to claw back control of their monetary policy, and destabilisation would almost certainly follow.

·      The Scottish education system would suffer: Scottish students currently pay zero tuition fees; a privilege which the English do not enjoy. If Scotland was to become independent, the current exception excluding English, Welsh and Northern Irish students from receiving free education in Scotland would no longer be able to continue- so the Scots would have to treat English students like any other EU student and give them free fees, causing tens if not hundreds of thousands of English to flock to Scottish universities. That would put pressure on finance, and probably mean that fees would have to rise for everyone.

·      Infrastructure, justice, institutions? : A frequently forgotten part of the argument is the fact that Scotland would have to completely reorganise its constitution. Institutions like the health service, police forces, courts, border controls, military etc. would need to be altered in order to remove past collective British systems of control. For example, the Supreme Court’s jurisdiction over Scotland would cease, and there’s currently no replacement in Scotland, and certainly little legal precedent to follow. The Scottish Parliament would have a mammoth task on its hands deciding which Westminster Acts to keep and which they want to alter in Scotland. Additionally, what kind of military strength would Scotland have? Could they afford a navy or air-force at all? And would many of the current Scottish battalions have to be disbanded, making hundreds or thousands of men and women redundant?

All of these questions and more would need to be addressed if Scotland was to become independent. It’s more than just signing a piece of paper and sticking it to the hated English. Perhaps, the Scottish electorate see this anyway, and perhaps they’ll wait a little while before pursuing independence again. One thing’s for sure, every time they do try it, confidence in Scotland’s stability gets a little bit shakier.

1 comment:

  1. Good article, Chris. There would be a massive shift, economically and socially, in Scotland if they were to obtain independence. Perhaps you've missed a few other important points- such as energy and military?