This is a legal blog, written by an English solicitor with an interest in landlord and tenant law, and so I haven’t thought it appropriate to comment on what is probably the most important decision for the United Kingdom that has been made in my lifetime, and possibly since WW2 or earlier – should Scotland go off on its own?
However, with the referendum date approaching rapidly I just can’t avoid saying a few things. I will do my best to be non-political, and not provoke anyone unduly, although I will probably be found wanting in both respects. But there are a number of crucial points that everybody seems to be skirting around, and they just need to be said.
- Can Scotland do it? Yes it can. That isn’t the question. Of course Scotland, a sophisticated modern nation with a population much like Norway, or Ireland, or New Zealand could be an independent country. The question is whether it ought to go that way.
- This is not just an economic question. It is interesting and persuasive if one solution or the other produces economic benefits, but that isn’t what it is about. It is a political question of the first order. So whether Scotland will be marginally better, or worse, off if independent shouldn’t be allowed to detract from the bigger questions. And the estimates about how much better or worse off it would be can only be guesses, and are sure to be proved seriously incorrect as times goes on.
- Couldn’t the referendum have been better organised? Undoubtedly: with all the fuss about giving votes for 16 and 17 year-olds, tying in the dates with the Bannockburn celebrations and with the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, the failure to get clear indications on the future status of an independent Scotland in the EU, and the £ or € (or Scot Mark) problem, you can see many areas for improvement. But at the end of the day the decision is made on the day and on the evidence you are given – however inadequate the evidence a decision still has to be made.
- Shouldn’t the rest of Britain have been involved in the decision too? Many think so. 90% of the population won’t have any say on a vote what will undoubtedly have the possibility of significantly changing their lives for generations to come. Although I hear that the majority for independence is higher in England than in Scotland at present, if a number of polls are to be believed. But for better or worse the choice is being restricted to the population of Scotland, so it is too late to fight that battle.
So how should it go?
I’m not going to say, as this isn’t that sort of piece. However it is often a good idea to write down the benefits on both sides of a decision and see which look better, and this is the way things appear to me.
The Benefits of Independence
- National independence for the first time since the 17th century.
- Freedom to run things in the way that you want, subject to all the constraints that necessarily exist if you are a small country in a big world.
- Not having to be ruled by parties in Westminster that you didn’t elect, and with whom you disagree. And the SNP will never form a majority in Westminster, so you can’t win with that ballot box.
- A chance to take your own place in international affairs, the UN, the EU, and elsewhere.
- Free use of oil, water, wind and other natural resources, subject of course to market forces, and political constraints imposed by the EU and others, whether or not you manage to join.
- A nuclear-free country. If you want that.
- No need to pay for expensive armies navies and air-forces – you can rely on the NATO umbrella, whether or not you join, or at the last resort, the British forces to protect you. And no expensive foreign adventures.
- Your own Queen (whom you will graciously share with the rest of us).
- Possibly a small but significant financial advantage. Although this is unclear.
- Loss in the future of a joint business and academic community, and a culture that has existed since the 17th century.
- Less influence in the world politically, and economically, because of your smaller size.
- No say in how things are run in Westminster – your 50 labour MPs will go, so you are more likely to have a government in England that you oppose.
- Your place in international affairs is unclear – especially in the EU.
- The likelihood of the almost total loss of your banking, financial and legal sectors, which a country of your size will be unable to manage and support. Look at Iceland. Or indeed Ireland.
- Serious reliance on oil, as your main source of foreign earnings. This may be lucrative, or a millstone – it will certainly be unpredictable.
- Losses on both sides of any border of what until now was regarded as a home market in many industries, and possibilities of barriers for future trading.
- Likely loss of substantial employment possibilities in UK armed forces, government offices and the like.
- Possibly a small but significant financial disadvantage. Although this is also unclear.
A large part of the effect of independence will depend on the negotiations and arrangements made between a new Scottish government, and the government in Westminster. A friendly and amicable arrangement may result in very little change. The arrangements made by a strongly nationalist UK government, either now or at any time in the future, would be another matter.
Not my call. Although remember that a vote for independence is for ever. Which is a long time.
The title is the name of a song. Or Sir Humphrey’s comment in Yes Minister. Take your pick.