Independent Scotland? Och Aye the Noo

 

Today is the 297th anniversary of the Act of Union which created the United Kingdom of Great Britain from the formerly separate kingdoms of England and Scotland. In a few months the people of Scotland will go to the polls to vote in a national referendum on whether Scotland should leave the United Kingdom and become an independent and sovereign state.

I’ve a great fondness for Scotland. I did part of my undergraduate studies at University of Edinburgh and I have a number of close Scottish friends. I’m also an Anglophile and I want the best for both England and Scotland. As a result, I am conflicted on the subject of Scottish independence.

Were I a Scot I would undoubtedly vote against independence, both for political and sentimental reasons. The prospect of living in an independent (to the extent that can be said of any EU members state) Scotland dominated by the socialist Scottish National Party is unappealing to say the least. I seriously doubt the fiscal viability of an independent Scotland in any case, but particularly so under its likely leadership. Beyond that, it seems a shame to break up a centuries old union between two very similar peoples, particularly when that union was responsible for an empire which was one of the greatest forces for the spread of freedom and civilization in human history.

That said, I can understand why the prospect of independence is appealing to many Scots, both on the basis of national pride and as a matter of practical politics and perceived self-interest. Furthermore, as a lover of liberty, I think the principle of self-determination is one that should be accorded great deference, and if Scotland does end up voting for independence I think it entirely appropriate that that decision be respected.

Were I an Englishman I think my attitude toward Scottish independence would be much more ambivalent. While all of the sentimental and traditionalist arguments against independence would still appeal to me, and my respect for the right of self-determination would remain, there are a number of practical and political considerations which would cause me to view dissolution of the Union in a somewhat favorable light.

On the fiscal side of things it’s worth noting that the United Kingdom subsidizes Scotland to the tune of several thousand pounds per capita annually. Scottish independence would also solve the Constitutional problem posed by the West Lothian question, whereby Scottish members of Parliament are able to vote on matters solely concerning affairs in England while the Parliament in Westminster does not legislate on strictly Scottish affairs. Finally, on a more partisan note, it can’t be ignored that the Scottish electorate is substantially to the left of its English counterpart. As a result, Scottish independence would have the practical effect of removing large numbers of left-wing MPs from Westminster and consequently increasing the chances of a genuinely conservative English government.

As things stand today the probable result of the referendum is that Scotland will remain in the United Kingdom, but pulling on the issue shows that opinion is much more narrowly divided than one with perhaps expect, and a narrow no vote will likely result in Scottish Independence remaining a significant political issue for years to come.

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  1. EPG Inactive
    EPG
    @EPG

    I do not have any direct experience with Scotland. But I found Arthur Herman’s book about Scotland in the century or so after the Act of Union fascinating. It struck me that the Union provided a venue for Scottish talent that talented Scots took advantage of, benefitting themselves, their country, the United Kingdom, and ultimately, the larger world.

    http://www.amazon.com/How-Scots-Invented-Modern-World/dp/0609809997

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  2. user_240173 Contributor
    user_240173
    @FrankSoto

    Salvatore Padula:

    Were I an Englishman I think my attitude toward Scottish independence would be much more ambivalent. While all of the sentimental and traditionalist arguments against independence would still appeal to me, and my respect for the right of self-determination would remain, there are a number of practical and political considerations which would cause me to view dissolution of the Union in a somewhat favorable light.

    On the fiscal side of things it’s worth noting that the United Kingdom subsidizes Scotland to the tune of several thousand pounds per capita annually. Scottish independence would also solve the Constitutional problem posed by the West Lothian question, whereby Scottish members of Parliament are able to vote on matters solely concerning affairs in England while the parliament in Westminster does not legislate on strictly Scottish affairs. Finally, on a more partisan note, it can’t be ignored that the Scottish electorate is substantially to the left of its English counterpart. As a result, Scottish independence with half the practical effect of removing large numbers of left-wing MPs from Westminster and consequently increasing the chances of a genuinely conservative English government.

    Hadn’t thought of this from the British side. Interesting.

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  3. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    The United Kingdom should become a true federal country, with equal parliaments for all four nations. England’s parliament could be based in York.

    • #3
  4. Fredösphere Member
    Fredösphere
    @Fredosphere

    I recall reading the claim that the Labor party could not possibly have won any of the elections during the Blair era with an England-only electorate. Yes, Wales would still be in the mix, but Scottish independence would leave the “U”K substantially more conservative. That’s an outcome I’d be very tempted to see.

    It’s so ironic that the Tories benefit from Independence, but are the most opposed. Who says politicians are never principled! Of course, Blair quite typically devised the present system where the Scots get a phony independence and keep their seats in Westminster.

    • #4
  5. kmtanner Inactive
    kmtanner
    @kmtanner

    I can understand the Scots, sorry to say but Limeys are not that cooperative with anyone.

    • #5
  6. Fredösphere Member
    Fredösphere
    @Fredosphere

    Misthiocracy:

    The United Kingdom should become a true federal country, with equal parliaments for all four nations. England’s parliament could be based in York.

     Yes, this being the home of Tolkien, it’s about time the MPs represented all four nations properly: elves, dwarves, ents, and men.

    It’s fine to continue to exclude the hobbits though. They’re insignificant, so screw ’em.

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  7. Umbra Fractus Inactive
    Umbra Fractus
    @UmbraFractus

    The Scots are not voting for independence. They’re voting over whether they want to remain under London’s thumb or voluntarily place themselves under Brussels’s thumb. The radical idea that decisions regarding Scotland’s future should be made in Edinburgh is not currently being considered.

    • #7
  8. BJRR Inactive
    BJRR
    @BJRR

    Federalism wouldn’t really work in the UK. All of the policy entrepreneurship arguments are essentially nullified by EU membership. If Mercia or Wessex (I would personally go for federalising into the ancient kingdoms) wanted to deregulate significantly, they wouldn’t be able to. Again, London is such a huge part of the UK economy that federalism would be a bit lop-sided.

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  9. BJRR Inactive
    BJRR
    @BJRR

    Also, it will get really interesting if the Scots vote for independence (which would take effect in 2016), then return a whole load of MPs to Westminster in the 2015 election.

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  10. 1967mustangman Inactive
    1967mustangman
    @1967mustangman

    . One of the really fascinating unsolved questions here is what currency will they will be using. From what I understand they will not be able to use the Euro (or at least not right away) and the Brits are saying to a “Sterling Currency Union”.

    • #10
  11. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    1967mustangman: One of the really fascinating unsolved questions here is what currency will they will be using. From what I understand they will not be able to use the Euro (or at least not right away) and the Brits are saying to a “Sterling Currency Union”.

    It’s not like the UK can stop an independent Scotland from using the Pound, just like Canada wouldn’t be able to stop an independent Quebec from using the Canadian Dollar. Any country can use any other country’s currency if it really wants to. They simply won’t have any say in how that currency is managed.

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  12. BJRR Inactive
    BJRR
    @BJRR

    It’s also worth noting that Scottish accession to the EU is not a foregone conclusion. The Spanish in particular have reason to treat separatist nations very circumspectly. Since an independent Scotland would have to apply to join the EU and have its application approved by all Member States, it is far from inconceivable that they would not be allowed to join. If they weren’t members, they would then be subject to all of the external tariffs and would have to renegotiate a whole load of trade deals without having an established diplomatic corps. All very interesting.

    • #12
  13. 1967mustangman Inactive
    1967mustangman
    @1967mustangman

    Misthiocracy:

    1967mustangman: One of the really fascinating unsolved questions here is what currency will they will be using. From what I understand they will not be able to use the Euro (or at least not right away) and the Brits are saying to a “Sterling Currency Union”.

    It’s not like the UK can stop an independent Scotland from using the Pound, just like Canada wouldn’t be able to stop an independent Quebec from using the Canadian Dollar. Any country can use any other country’s currency if it really wants to. They simply won’t have any say in how that currency is managed.

     True, but it is more than that. They wouldn’t have access to the central bank as the lender of last resort (some might argue that is a good thing) and their interest rates would be set by the UK. Also, they wouldn’t be able to join the EU (at least under current rules) without a functioning central bank.

    • #13
  14. Umbra Fractus Inactive
    Umbra Fractus
    @UmbraFractus

    BJRR:

    It’s also worth noting that Scottish accession to the EU is not a foregone conclusion. The Spanish in particular have reason to treat separatist nations very circumspectly. Since an independent Scotland would have to apply to join the EU and have its application approved by all Member States, it is far from inconceivable that they would not be allowed to join. If they weren’t members, they would then be subject to all of the external tariffs and would have to renegotiate a whole load of trade deals without having an established diplomatic corps. All very interesting.

     I can just imagine it:
    -The Scots leave the UK and try to join the EU.
    -The Spanish say no.
    -The Scots go crawling back to the UK.
    -The Brits tell the Scots, “Nope. You wanted independence; you got it.”

    Then again, one of the reasons a pro-secession poster gave for leaving the UK was, “The English want to take away your benefits,” which would make a truly independent Scotland a disaster.

    • #14
  15. user_653084 Inactive
    user_653084
    @SalvatorePadula

    anonymous:

     

    Exactly. Panama calls its currency the Balboa, but it has been pegged to the US$ since independence in 1903; only US banknotes circulate there. Belize (the former British Honduras), uses the Belizean dollar, which has been defined as US$ 0.50 since 1978. The Isle of Man issues its own Isle of Man pounds, but they are defined as interchangeable with British pounds, and any bank on the Island will convert them without a fee.

    When your economy is strongly dominated by a trading partner, fixing your currency to the larger partner via a currency board makes sense. It avoids disruptions in trade due to currency fluctuations while retaining the flexibility to devalue in times of economic hardship.

     I agree that there is no practical impediment to an independent Scotland remaining on sterling; however, there is a legal one. All new EU members are obligated to join the Euro. Now the SNP’s answer to this is that Scotland wouldn’t be a new member because the UK is already in the EU. This is not the position most scholars of the subject have taken, nor the other EU member states.

    • #15
  16. James Of England Moderator
    James Of England
    @JamesOfEngland

    Misthiocracy:

    The United Kingdom should become a true federal country, with equal parliaments for all four nations. England’s parliament could be based in York.

     Labour tried something like this (but with with England broken up into regions). It wasn’t terribly popular, so it got shelved.
    It’s worth noting that although sentiment and history and such feature greatly in Sal’s account, it doesn’t feature much in the Scottish debates. The only serious question is whether Scots would get more benefits under one system than the other, with the most prominent secondary question being the degree to which Scotland would avoid military commitments. It is a debate unlike any other independence debate with which I am familiar, entirely shorn of history.

    Sal, if you were English and voting (the English don’t get a vote, because the unionist parties know how they’d vote and the SNP has some pride), what arguments would you see in favor of union?

    • #16
  17. user_653084 Inactive
    user_653084
    @SalvatorePadula

    James Of England:

    Sal, if you were English and voting (the English don’t get a vote, because the unionist parties know how they’d vote and the SNP has some pride), what arguments would you see in favor of union?

    That’s a good question. As I mentioned, I find the sentimental, cultural, and historical arguments to be fairly compelling, but I agree with you that they have less appeal with the British electorate. I’m honestly not sure that I would oppose Scottish independence if I were English and purely self-interested. I’d be interested to know your views on the subject.

    • #17
  18. James Of England Moderator
    James Of England
    @JamesOfEngland

    Salvatore Padula:

    James Of England:

    That’s a good question. As I mentioned, I find the sentimental, cultural, and historical arguments to be fairly compelling, but I agree with you that they have less appeal with the British electorate. I’m honestly not sure that I would oppose Scottish independence if I were English and purely self-interested. I’d be interested to know your views on the subject.

     I think it’d be good for both, making both countries more conservative (although that shift would be a J curve for Scotland). It might be a shame for the military, but my guess is that Scots would continue to fight, in the way Irishmen do. It’d increase whining about Security Council membership and such, but that doesn’t seem super serious. For all the poll froth, I don’t think it’ll happen, but I think the historical constitution is long dead and gone, so think it good for the country (and, if she ends up staying a bit, perhaps briefly professionally good for my wife).

    • #18
  19. user_653084 Inactive
    user_653084
    @SalvatorePadula

    James Of England: It might be a shame for the military, but my guess is that Scots would continue to fight, in the way Irishmen do.

    Do you mean that Scots would continue to serve in the British Army, the way many Irish do, or that an indepebdent scotland would have a similar role to Ireland in military affairs, or both?

    • #19
  20. James Of England Moderator
    James Of England
    @JamesOfEngland

    Salvatore Padula:

    James Of England: It might be a shame for the military, but my guess is that Scots would continue to fight, in the way Irishmen do.

    Do you mean that Scots would continue to serve in the British Army, the way many Irish do, or that an indepebdent scotland would have a similar role to Ireland in military affairs, or both?

     I meant that Scotland would get the same deal as Ireland, with military minded youths being given the option to join an active military or a local military with occasional politically correct and non-violent tours to support, eg., Hezbollah. Except that I hope that Scotland’s foreign policy would be less catastrophically terrible than Ireland’s. I think it would be similarly pacifistic.

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  21. Zafar Member
    Zafar
    @Zafar

    Who would get the North Sea Oil field?

    • #21
  22. James Of England Moderator
    James Of England
    @JamesOfEngland

    Zafar:

    Who would get the North Sea Oil field?

     How it gets split is set for future negotiation, but it would be split somehow. One important question is whether the Shetland and/ or Orkney Islands would leave for Norway, taking with them large chunks of field and receiving substantial bribes in return.

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  23. Boisfeuras Inactive
    Boisfeuras
    @Boisfeuras

    As a tax-paying Londoner, I’d be delighted if the Scots voted for independence. This is the UK, not the Ukraine. Nobody south of Hadrian’s Wall (long overdue for re-building b.t.w.) will do anything to stop them. Indeed, they can take their share of the national debt, and the vast welfare-dependent, state-supported client state Labour and the Scottish Nationalists have created between them in West Scotland away with pleasure and my blessing. (No need to write though chaps.) In fact, if it were up to me, I might even let them keep most of the North Sea oil just to keep their porridge-stained fingers out of the wallets of the rest of us in perpetuity.

    • #23
  24. Umbra Fractus Inactive
    Umbra Fractus
    @UmbraFractus

    Zafar:

    Who would get the North Sea Oil field?

     Given how left wing the Yes movement has been in their advertising, I wouldn’t be surprised if Holyrood tried to shut it down. Because global warming.

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  25. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    Zafar:

    Who would get the North Sea Oil field?

    Not to mention the Royal Navy’s submarine base.

    • #25
  26. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    James Of England: Labour tried something like this (but with with England broken up into regions).

    Well, there’s your problem. If Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland and indivisible then why should England be divisible?

    • #26
  27. user_96427 Contributor
    user_96427
    @tommeyer

    Salvatore Padula: Were I a Scot I would undoubtedly vote against independence…

    Were I an Englishman I think my attitude toward Scottish independence would be much more ambivalent.

    That’s been my thinking on the subject ever since I learned just how culturally sad modern Scotland has become. Who’d have thought, 200 years ago, that a lack of industriousness and prodigality would one day be accurate Scottish stereotypes?

    James Of England: The only serious question is whether Scots would get more benefits under one system than the other, with the most prominent secondary question being the degree to which Scotland would avoid military commitments.

    My comment above didn’t prepare me for the impact of that sentence. Excuse me while I go find some hemlock to drink.

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  28. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    Tom Meyer: Who’d have thought, 200 years ago, that a lack of industriousness and prodigality would one day be accurate Scottish stereotypes?

    The industrious ones moved to Canada. ;-)

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  29. Umbra Fractus Inactive
    Umbra Fractus
    @UmbraFractus

    Misthiocracy:

    Tom Meyer: Who’d have thought, 200 years ago, that a lack of industriousness and prodigality would one day be accurate Scottish stereotypes?

    The industrious ones moved to Canada. ;-)

     Sort of like how everything good about France moved to Louisiana. ;-)

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  30. James Of England Moderator
    James Of England
    @JamesOfEngland

    Tom Meyer:That’s been my thinking on the subject ever since I learned just how culturally sad modern Scotland has become. Who’d have thought, 200 years ago, that a lack of industriousness and prodigality would one day be accurate Scottish stereotypes?

    Excuse me while I go find some hemlock to drink.

    It’s amazingly depressing. Ask any foreigner or classically educated local (pre-1950s education, or at a conservative private school since) what the national characteristics of Scotland are and they’ll tell you that they are Christian piety, thriftiness, hardiness, bravery and militancy, and a love of freedom. Both sides of the campaign (both Yes and No) take as presumptions that the present national character desires less of all of these . Both sides promise more multiculturalism, more spending, more of a safety net, less military activity, and more regulation.
    I spent my time at university in Scotland hearing belligerence against the English and/ or the opposing side of the Catholic/ Protestant divide condemned and worried about constantly. Braveheart’s stupidity/ ahistoricity were despised, since Scots had achieved so many genuine and useful victories for freedom. I never thought I’d want the second best nationalist myths back.

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