In a little over 48 hours, the polls will close across Scotland and we will have an answer to the question “Should Scotland be an independent country?” If the majority votes yes, then a union lasting over 300 years and spawning the greatest empire the world has ever seen will come crashing to an undignified and messy end. The problem is that even if the majority vote no, then both Scotland and the rest of the UK will find itself in an uncomfortable position.
By any logical measure, the rest of the UK should be praying for Scotland to sod off. An independent Scotland means a more prosperous UK, with jobs, companies and money moving south of the border. Fortunately (or otherwise depending on your viewpoint) logic is accompanied by emotion in this decision. The emotional argument says that Scotland shouldn’t leave the union; that we’ve accomplished great things together, and even though Scotland sponges off the rest of the UK, it’s worth it.
Devolution is a dirty word. It stinks of inefficiency for the sake of political expedience. The United in UK is important, it means together as one. Yet, politicians felt that it was a good idea to stop running a United Kingdom from London and instead duplicate the efforts by sending power to Scotland and Wales, but not England. When it comes to building park benches, fine. Nobody in London cares about local issues, that’s what regional governments are actually for. What isn’t right is that the way healthcare or education is run, with England and Scotland is allowed to be different. There is no need for devolution of these powers. A child in Scotland should receive exactly the same education as a child in Cornwall.
Cameron, Clegg, and Miliband have all promised Scotland additional powers if they vote no to independence. Let’s be clear on this, which would be a mistake. What is needed is a consolidation of power, back towards London where it belongs. Hopefully then, in the event of a no vote, this promise will quietly be swept under a carpet at replaced by a series of non-answers as to how change is difficult and takes time. Should Scotland vote no and receive extra control, then we’re likely to see a situation where Scotland contributes very little to the UK but takes a disproportionately large amount. This is not going to be good for anybody.
The scariest thing however is listening to Alex Salmond. This is a man who seems to honestly believe that the sun will never set on an independent Scotland. It’s also a man who the likes of Alan Greenspan have said should be ignored. Salmond’s problem is that he likes to talk about Social issues, how he’ll make life better for Scotland, without giving the impression of any serious thought on how it’ll be paid for. The debate around Scotland using the pound is a perfect example of this. Other issues that have yet to be answered include how Scotland will be directly and indirectly taxed. How the police, military, borders, and other state functions will operate. How their economy will be structured and who will provide the central bank. Those are just the big issues before getting down to things such as who will issue driving licenses and deliver mail; things currently taken for granted. As for Salmond’s threat that Scotland will not take a share of the UK’s national debt if they do not get the use of the Bank of England means they run the risk of beginning their existence as an independent country in default. This will make it extremely difficult to build a stable economy, just look at Greece and Argentina for that.
The message to Scotland is this. The politicians are not thinking about the next 300 years, most of the time they’re not actually thinking past the next election. If Scotland leaves then it’s a one way journey, there will be no way back into the union if it goes wrong. Additionally, Alex Salmond, while a useful propaganda master is so far out of his depth as an international head of state that it’s laughable. He simply has no answer to the big issues beyond that of “It’s ok, It’s ok.” Finally, Scotland needs to be careful of falling into the trap of the grass being greener on the other side. Salmond has made no attempt to hide the fact that he wants to take Scotland into the EU. This means accepting the Euro and control of major issues from Brussels. In effect what Alex Salmond and the SNP are proposing is exchanging one master for another in the hope that things become a little nicer. If they decide to go down this path, Scotland shouldn’t expect a warm welcome with open arms from the EU. A lot of countries within Europe have their heads buried in the sand over independence demands from their regions. Recognising an independent Scotland may mean having to face up to those same challenges at home.
If Scotland votes No on Thursday then things still need to change. Serious questions need to be asked about how much autonomy the regions such as Scotland deserve. Yes, a degree of devolution is good for efficiency where it allows local or regional issues to be targeted. For national priorities on the other hand such as Health and Education, there is no excuse for devolution since the needs of a patient or student in Scotland are not going to be materially different from those in any other part of the UK.
So, in short: Scotland. Don’t go, but don’t expect us to bend over backwards for you.