Monday, 8 September 2014

Politics: Scottish Independence

On September 18th Scotland vote whether to remain as part of the United Kingdom, or 'go it alone' as an independent country. The two sides themselves tell a story, the progressive SNP who hypothetically have Scotland's best interest at heart, and the Westminster elite who tend to neglect those north of the border.

I think a key reason for the formation of an independent Scottish state can be found in this very idea alone. The Scottish people feel out of touch with a government located, geographically at the very least, at the other end of the country. Of course this was one of the reasons for Holyrood in the first place, and has somewhat helped - Those in Scotland don't pay tuition fees, or prescription charges for example. However on national policy it still feels like the Scottish electorate, overwhelmingly on the centre-left, aren't catered for by centre-right governments. The traditional option of voting for the left - Labour - have blurred the lines with Tony Blair's New Labour, and even Ed Miliband's tenure often sees him on the wrong side of the line for Scottish voters. 

The Better Together campaign have come out with a slapped together plan for 'Devolution Max', essentially creating a federalised system where Scotland have much greater powers, but that would seemingly increase the degree of separation between the two, and keep Scotland on track for independence somewhere further down the line. That is, of course, if you believe that Devolution Max will actually be offered at all in the event of a No vote. It does seem like this is a last ditch effort to keep the status quo after The Sunday Times/YouGov poll showed the narrowest of leads for the Yes campaign. As many have said, if the Westminster parties were serious about Devo-Max then it would have been a campaign point long before the postal votes have already been submitted. Equally Devo-Max would negate a Scottish seat at the EU table, which is a key goal of the SNP.

Politically therefore it makes complete sense for a Yes vote. The people of Scotland have the right to choose who they're governed by, and this principle covers a couple of other contentious points. The reason why other parts of the UK aren't allowed to vote, for instance - forcing the Scots to be ruled by a government they no longer want is completely undemocratic. Equally why people living north of the border, who are not Scottish citizens, can cast their ballot - as it affects them as well if Scotland is their home. (Of course The Mail had the most to day on such an issue.) Whether being ruled by the SNP in practice is as appealing as the idea remains to be seen, but personally I'd be all for trying. 

Equally I think national identity north on the border backs their own country. The recent Commonwealth games highlighted Scotland, and Scottish values - rather than the broader, and slightly more ambiguous notion of 'Britishness'. As with all home nations the Scots have their own sports teams, with self-contained Scottish leagues - and we've seen in history how much sport has a part to play in a wider role. It can only help the Yes campaign that the Scottish football team put in a battling display against World Champions Germany this week, and that during the aforementioned Commonweak Games 'Oh Flower of Scotland' frequently rang round the arenas. Of course there's also the darling of 'British' tennis, Andy Murray, who almost didn't bow to the queen - apparently. It all adds to a narrative.

Outside of sport there's far more. Music, somewhat removed from the rest of the British scene - The Proclaimers, Texas, Travis, Biffy Clyro, Twin Atlantic. The list is endless, and they're wholeheartedly championed within their native country. Comedy, the world famous Edinburgh Festival is unrivalled. Scotland has its own newspapers, bank notes, food, art, history. While there are obviously links with rUK, there's a very separate Scottish culture also.

So all that's really left to question is whether the country can afford to go it alone. With businesses threatening to pull back into the rest of the UK and already removing some of their [cash] assets it would seem as if it's going to be an uphill struggle. Of course the majority of the North Sea Oil is within Scottish waters, but production has been decreasing for over a decade, and will probably continue to do so. Can it sustain what is bound to be an incredibly fragile economy? All this coupled with the markets probably inducing at least short term pain - even after one poll indicating a possible Yes vote the pound and Scottish shares have both fallen.

Then where does the currency situation end up? A currency union with the rUK would seem an obvious choice, the two economies are so interconnected anyway that maintaining the status quo would seem natural, but Westminster politicians are concerned, no doubt, over having to bail out banks in a foreign country. That would leave the choice of using the pound without consent - Sterlingisation - which could be used for a while, but would likely leave Scotch banks at risk with no help from the BoE, a wholly new currency - which economists seem to be divided on, or the choice to join the Euro. Joining the Euro is a prerequisite of EU membership, but as I'm reliably informed on twitter that requirement has no time limit - effectively negating it. Good for Scotland, as the UK is quite a long way off the convergence criteria, and if Scotland had to abide by it then it could hurt trade with rUK.

Plus, on EU membership, it's almost certain that Scotland would have to fully reapply for membership based on the noises coming out of the Union. Barroso himself said that, "it's going to be extremely difficult... if not impossible" for Scotland to join the EU as a sovereign state, mainly down to other countries fearing it would encourage other regions to go for independence. EU membership is a big part of the SNP plan, so that they can negotiate positions as best for the Scottish people rather than the English as its seen the UK government does - especially with regards to such things as fishing quotas. To be denied it would be an incredible blow, but it would also be detrimental to the EU to be seen denying entry to a nation who was so keen to join. I'm intrigued to see how it unfolds if it occurs.

All said and done I'd back a yes vote if I was a Scottish resident, mainly due to the fact that the Westminster Elite don't represent the wants and needs of their nation. However it's key to remember that a Yes vote won't bring instant gratification, it'll be a process that takes years, but hopefully it'll be worth it.

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