Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Scottish independence

Let us recap: just over three hundred years ago the Scots looked at the success England was making of its colonies in North America and said to themselves, "We should do that."

So they started a colony on the isthmus of Panama in South America and sunk most of the Scottish nation's GDP into it. Just about every Scottish person with any cash bought shares. But it was a complete failure. The colonists suffered from disease and famine, and when their trading business failed they took to piracy of Spanish shipping, with the inevitable result that the Spanish navy came in and wiped them out.

Thus the then-independent Scottish nation was bankrupted and in the early eighteenth century a delegation from the Scottish government came south to London to negotiate with the English for the mother of all bail-outs. They got the prize they wanted: access to the English colonies (known as "the plantations" back then) and in return they gave up Scottish independence and England and Scotland became one nation - the United Kingdom - ruled from London.

Now, three centuries later, they want out. Or do they? The Scots have elected themselves an SNP government for their devolved administration. In theory the SNP wants Scottish independence. But that's just in theory. The realpolitik of the situation is that the SNP's raison d'ĂȘtre is to dangle the threat of Scottish independence to extract ever more concessions from the English. The Scots have loads of good things the English don't. They have free University education; free nursing home care for old people; free medical prescriptions; and a slew of small things such as much more free parking. This all comes thanks to the fact that the UK government spends about £5,000 a head on English people and £7,000 a head on Scots people.

The Scottish tactic is to continually threaten independence but never actually take the final step.

Of course, it's not really clear why the English should care if the Scots decide to leave the union. Anyway, UK PM Cameron has had enough and has decided to play hardball. He's going to make the Scots decide once and for all: in or out. And Cameron really has nothing to lose here. If the Scots say "out" (which they probably won't. Ironically far more English people favour Scottish independence than Scottish people) then Cameron gets shot of a big drain on the budget; and without the Scottish Labour MPs coming to Westminster the Conservatives will be in power pretty much permanently. Alternatively, if the Scots say "in" (the likely answer) the whole issue gets kicked far into the future and the SNP will be obliged to shut up for a generation and the fiscal blackmail will have to stop.

Of course the SNP is desperate to insert a third option into the in/out choice. They want a "more-devolution-but-not-complete-independence" option. Of course they do. They want the gravy train to roll on and on forever. They claim they won't themselves be supporting this third option, but privately they'll be praying for it.

Anyway, Cameron has brought the whole issue to a head. He's insisting on an in/out referendum by 2013 and to put it mildly, whatever the outcome, the future will be interesting.

British Nationalists do not favour Scottish independence. We believe the British Isles are naturally, based on geography, history and language, one nation. For that matter we support the Republic of Ireland rejoining the United Kingdom - not that that will happen anytime soon.

An independent Scottish nation doesn't make any kind of sense at the moment. What would they use for money? Join the euro? They wouldn't qualify to start with. Even the possibility of Scotland going it alone is damaging their business sector. Anyone planning a big investment, a new factory or power plant, is already choosing England - just in case. If Scotland actually declared independence its finance industry would evaporate since it's majorly dependent on English money. Not many English people would want to keep their savings or pensions in a foreign country with all the currency risk that could entail.

It's doubtful whether an independent Scotland could even afford to service their share of the UK's national debt. (Say £100 billion, annual cost around £3.5 billion. This would have to be found on top of making up for the lack of an English subsidy.) They could end up issuing new debt to service their old debt. That's a nasty place to be.

And an independent Scotland would still leech off the English. They would likely decide not to bother with much in the way of armed forces. Defence of the island would have to be assured by the English, with the added inconvenience that the Scots would probably deny English forces access to Scottish territorial waters and land bases.

So the ideal outcome of a referendum is certainly "in". Although the English do have quite a lot of gain by an "out".

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