Thursday, 11 September 2014

Scottish independence - one week to go

Rather than discuss in detail Scottish independence, which this blog continues to consider a bad idea and unlikely to happen, here is a list of issues, most of which are not being debated by the public and media but will suddenly become rather important should the Union be broken up.
  • Transfer of £100bn to £150bn of national debt.
  • Transfer of £8.6bn of public works debt which Scottish local authorities have borrowed from HM Treasury.
  • Student loans.
  • Transfer of Premium Bonds and other NS&I investments; does Scotland "buy" these from the UK?
  • Unfunded pension liabilities; who pays? Consider a retired diplomat living in Edinburgh who spent his entire career in Azerbaijan. Where does his pension come from? There is no fund for "Whitehall" pensions, only local authority and teachers. Also police pensions are unfunded.
  • Transfer of tax records, UK might withhold these as a negotiating tactic.
  • Feasibility of using sterling informally; Scot government will be borrowing in a currency they don't control; euro crisis all over again.
  • Transfer of motor vehicle records.
  • Transfer of criminal records.
  • Extradition treaty between Scotland and UK.
  • Will Scotland honour all international treaties signed by the UK?
  • Membership of NATO.
  • Membership of Commonwealth
  • Membership of UN; security council seat?
  • MI5, MI6 and other intel agencies in Scotland; transfer of classified documents.
  • Defence of airspace with no fighters; Russians attempt an intrusion about once a week and are sent away by RAF; Mig-35s seen over Edinburgh.
  • Maritime defence; Scotland plans to have two frigates only; defence of oil fields.
  • Border control; free movement of people and goods to England?
  • Allocation of Scottish nationality; based on location of birth? Immigrants?
  • Scottish lords; still sit at Westminster? New house of lords in Scotland?
  • Will Scots be allowed to work in England without work permits?
  • Same for English in Scotland.
  • Disposition of national assets held in London? British Museum; British Library; do 8% of books have to be sent north?
  • Supreme court
  • Crown commissioners; income from the royal estates.
  • All laws and legal precedents adopted by Scotland?
  • Domicile of commercial contracts; disputes heard in England or Scotland?
  • Who pays separation costs; eg cost of shipping things north?
  • Changing the union flag to remove Scottish saltire.
  • What effect on other Commonwealth nations; Australia, New Zealand change their flags or just decide to become republics; effect on Canada, including renewed Quebec separatism.
  • Effect on EU; Catalan separatism; Basque separatism.
The ramifications of Scottish independence seem to be endless. Nothing is insoluble but the work load would be enormous. A couple of interesting documents available are:

The SNP's manifesto for independence.
The Whitehall list of affected departments.

A few things are clear. Without a seamless transition to EU membership Scottish independence is non-starter, and Scottish independence will rely heavily on English goodwill. Scotland is not self-sufficient in some important things; for example  they do not generate enough electricty. The SNP manifesto says blandly that the existing national grid arrangements will continue. Nice try! They will continue if England says yes, otherwise the lights go out.

It is likely an independent Scotland will immediately be strapped for cash. The manifesto says they may forgo assets in return for not adopting debt. They may try something like England can keep Buckingham palace provided they keep paying certain pensions and benefits.

Ironically Scotland may be in a very strong negotiating position after May 2015. If a Labour government is returned in the UK general election which only has a majority thanks its Scottish MPs then those MPs will be able write their own cheques as there would effectively be Scots on both sides of the negotiating table.

This could sit badly with the English.

However there will be a eight month window after the referendum during which the Tory-led UK government could legislate to remove the rights of Scottish MPs in Westminster. Maybe even legislate so that there is no voting in Scotland in May next year and no MPs are sent south, since they would only be in Westminster for a year anyway. A Tory government would probably do the necessary but they are in coalition with the Lib-Dems who may demur. The coalition could crack and we could even see a UK general election much sooner than planned.


Anonymous said...

Nice post, though I'm pretty sure that most of the points you raise will be easy enough to work out.

A couple of things, I'm actually surprised that the Yes campaign's answer on EU membership is that "Scotland is a member now (as part of the UK) and so there is no reason why Scotland should not CONTINUE to be a member - no accession or even change of currency needed".

The other thing that surprises me is that no one has used this as an excuse to demand a "united Ireland" again, after all you would think of the Scotch got a vote, the Irish would as well. Oh wait the Northern Irish are all Scots anyway :-)

Nationalist said...

Yes, "continue to be an EU member" doesn't work. For example, the UK currently has 29 out of 345 votes in the EU council based on qualified majority voting. Scotland would need to be assigned a number of votes and the rUK appropriately downgraded.

As for Northern Ireland, any vote is a foregone conclusion, there are nearly twice as many Unionists as Republicans.