Sunday, 20 March 2016

Independence Day

Last week, Alex Salmond gave an interview to the Aberdeen Evening Express about his departure from the Scottish Parliament.

Amongst other things he said this: "There would be no black hole in an independent Scotland’s finances because we would not be paying out billions on Trident, high speed rail projects for England and nuclear power stations at Hinkley Point."

This is simply nonsense. I am not remotely interested in the merits or otherwise of the three projects named (although even Eck, I suspect, concedes that an independent Scotland would need electricity from somewhere)  but the idea that Scotland avoiding our share of these costs would somehow cover the annual £15bn hole in an independent Scotland's finances revealed by the latest Scottish Government produced GERS figures is farcical. And yet Mr Salmond said this, not as some angry cybernat engaged in a late night twitter argument, who might genuinely know no better, but in cold sobriety as one of the best informed people in Scotland as to the true potential state of an independent Scotland's balance sheet. He was, to put it simply, lying.

And yet it didn't really matter he was lying. Because in September 2014 we decided Scotland was not going to be independent.

But suppose that vote had gone differently?

On 23rd June we are having another referendum. About leaving an economic a political union we have been in for (only) forty three years. 

If there is an out vote, even the most rabid 'Kipper accepts that we  won't be able to leave immediately. Indeed to the best of my knowledge no-one seriously objects to the minimum two year period set out in the Lisbon Treaty and indeed most "Leavers" are relaxed at the suggestion that in reality it might take a bit longer. The UK and the EU have become significantly integrated since 1972, not just in relation to trade, but in the field of commercial law, environmental policy, farming and fishery regulation and countless others. So disentangling all this will take time. As I say, an accepted minimum of two years.

Yet the UK is already a mature sovereign state. We collect, already, all of our own taxes; we already have our own currency, our own armed forces, our own overseas establishments; our own welfare state, our own provision for issuing every form of official document of citizenship. Indeed we already have our own established independent citizenry.

Yet despite all this, leaving an economic and political union of only forty three years will, it is accepted, take a minimum of two years. 

If Scotland had voted Yes then we were expected to leave a much more integrated union, one that had existed for more than three hundred years, in a period of one year, six months and six days. And not only that, within the same period, set up all the essential apparatus of a modern sovereign state that I list above..

Now some Yessers, most notably Patrick Harvie, suggested before the referendum that this timescale was unrealistic.

But for the SNP hard core it was essential. 

Because it would have been vital for them that Independence was a fait accompli before there was another test of Scottish public opinion.

The Yes vote of 45% had two elements. There are those for whom Independence is a vital task in itself. They do not care what economic devastation it might bring to others, indeed they don't even mind if it brings economic devastation to themselves. They would be nationalists if there had never been a drop of oil in the North Sea and they'll remain nationalists if we never see another penny of oil revenues. They would literally starve for their own flag.

Fair enough.

But that is nothing like 45% of the electorate.

The second element were people who were simply lied to by the first. Those, often those in straightened personal circumstance, who were lead to believe, quite dishonestly, that an independent Scotland would be a land of milk and honey. And who, far from wanting to starve for a flag, felt that they were long overdue some milk and honey. In many cases with some justification. Those who, far from wanting the austerity that independence would have brought, far greater austerity than George Osborne at his worst, were lead to believe that in voting Yes they were getting not just a flag but an "end to austerity".

Now lying in this way doesn't matter if what you have said is not put to the test. That's the obvious conclusion Mr Salmond has reached in his remarks in the Evening Express. But had there been a Yes vote that would have been put to the test. As would the various other consequences of that vote that the Yessers simply dismissed as scaremongering: that the UK Government genuinely wouldn't build warships in a "foreign" shipyard; that the Edinburgh financial institutions would indeed relocate  to be with the vast majority of their customers; that Spain, for internal reasons, would be far from willing to fast track our EU membership; that the USA would not take the loss of their Western Atlantic submarine base with equanimity; that you couldn't have both an open border and a different immigration policy; that in proposing to use a currency issued by the Bank of England, the key was in the name.

So you might expect this second element, nineteen months on, to be pretty pissed off and disinclined to vote for the Party that had so blatantly misled them. Indeed as they contemplated the cuts to their pensions and benefits, soaring unemployment, higher taxes and payment of their public sector wages in a Scottish currency of indeterminate value, you suspect they would have been inclined to take pretty spectacular electoral revenge.

The White Paper solution was to deny that electoral opportunity until it was too late but there is I suspect a fatal flaw in that strategy.. The pace of negotiations wouldn't have been in the sole province of the Scottish Government and Westminster stretching them out a mere six weeks would have left Holyrood high and dry. Bar the nuclear option of cancelling the forthcoming election, which you suspect would just have brought any negotiation about anything to a complete stop.

So here's the irony. A Yes vote would have done immense damage to Scotland: once the warship orders were placed elsewhere they couldn't come back, any more than would have RBS or Standard Life. And any future Scottish Government, in negotiating with the Treasury would have already played their trump card and yet still lost the trick. So I'm glad we got the right result. 

But, even then, if the yessers had won? Nothing would have woken people up more to the economic consequences of independence more than the same people actually voting for it. Once. And Scotland would not have been becoming independent on Thursday.


  1. True story: shortly before the referendum, an acquaintance of mine who is fairly high up in the Civil Service was waxing lyrical to me about how brilliant an independent Scotland was going to be. I, basically, told him to wake up and smell the coffee, and painted this scenario:

    In the event of a ‘Yes’ vote, independence simply would not stick, because the promises made by the SNP would unravel almost immediately, and by the time the Scottish Parliamentary elections came along in 2016, the SNP would be wiped out, and, regardless of whether or not independence had already been declared, Scotland would remain in the Union, probably via another referendum, to be held on the basis that the Scottish people had been lied to in the first one.

    I’m afraid my acquaintance was rather unhappy at this! And he has not yet congratulated me for having been, in all likelihood, correct in my prediction, so I guess he is still living in the fantasy world he had constructed for himself prior to the vote. Pretty scary that at least one of our high public officials could be so easily fooled. But, it takes all sorts, I suppose.

    Incidentally, it never ceases to amaze me why journalists don’t challenge Salmond et al when they bang on about Trident etc being enough to plug the £15bn gap. It’s completely insane, yet they are allowed to get away with it by journalists who are evidently of an extremely poor quality. I, personally, blame the university system we’ve got now – there are simply too many universities for our small population, and this has led to an inevitable dilution in the general standard of both students and lecturers. I would, seriously, scrap all but the oldest five, and revert the others to polytechnics or shut them down altogether – and I’m saying this as someone who has degrees from both Herriot Watt and Robert Gordon – neither of which I attach any great value to.

  2. The more we support the SNP, the bigger the GERS deficit, methinks. That the data largely originates from HM Govt may have something to do with that.

    Unionism is empty and the UK is going down the plughole. Hollowed out.

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