With the referendum too close to call, here’s a few thoughts on what needs to happen next if Scotland does vote to leave the UK
We should part as friends
The referendum has been heated and ill tempered – anti-English sentiment – as wrong headed as I believe that to be – has played a huge part in this but the last 307 years have seen
Scotland and the rest of the UK work together in partnership and achieve great things for a tiny rainy Island to the North West of Europe.
Scotland can stand on its own two feet and what remains of the United Kingdom should always try to be friends with Scotland as it does with Ireland. We may become separate, we may be foreigners to each other but that doesn’t mean civility has to go – but this works both ways.
That doesn’t mean we owe the Scots anything
Scotland and England as it was entered into Union on equal terms despite the disparity of power and wealth between the two Kingdoms – this was a rare act of self-enlightenment after centuries of bloodshed and war but that doesn’t mean Britian owes Scotland anything.
Alex Salmond makes great play about what the rest of the UK will have to do to accomadate Scotland after a Yes Vote. Bluntly, we don’t have to do anything. If Scotland decides it needs to look after it’s own and casts solidarity on these Isles aside then so should we.
Negotiations will be tough, but the British should approach them with firmness about whats best for the people of Britian, not what the people of Scotland need.
We should be proud to continue to call ourselves British
You’ll note I’ve not referred to the English in this piece – what happens to the rest of the UK, her flag, her anthem, her name, is a matter for debate if Scotland goes, but our instance on calling ourselves British should remain.
The residual country will be made up of territories in England, Wales and Northern Ireland – the peoples of each of these Home Nations are so intermarried, mixed and jumbled that it makes little sense to pretend anything other than the truth – we are one people with many traditions and cultures.
We should avoid the Nationalism some Scots seem to hang on to – Britain is better because we are welcoming of other creeds, faiths and peoples. A resurgence in English Nationalism would be tragic in the wake of a Yes vote, a re-focus on what it means to be British, with our proud heritage and rejection of nationalist dogma, is something to nurture, not abandon.
If Scotland goes Britain should remain.
A recall of Parliament is vital. So is an extension of this Parliament.
We will need to get on the front foot immediately. A recall on the Monday, despite the opening of Labour Party Conference I’m afraid, is necessary to show Westminster is seen to be responding to this and to address the constitutional crisis which would be immediate and pressing.
The general election in 2015 should also be cancelled, a Government of National Unity involving all residual UK MPs set up and a rump Parliament operated until May 2016 when Scotland is due to leave.
There is no sense having an election for 1 year of the last year of Union. If a Governing Party or Coalition was in place with the support of Scottish MP’s this would cause a constitutional crisis in the rest of Britain – decisions made for England, Wales and Northern Ireland by newly elected members of a soon to be foreign country would be untenable. A continuation of the current coalition post a general election would be untenable if it relied on Scot’s Lib Dem and Tory MPs as much as a Labour Government reliant on Scottish MPs.
It would also be necessary to exclude Scottish MPs from voting on matters relating to the Breakup of the UK – the Scottish Parliament should be the sole vehicle and voice of the people of Scotland in these circumstances.
The Prime Minister should resign as leader of the Conservative Party – but not as Prime Minister – in this eventuality as long as he can command the support of British MPs in the House of Commons so that he can form a nonpartisan government of Conservatives, Liberals, Labour, Green, DUP, Alliance, SDLP and Plaid and lead negotiations.
No Currency Union and Scottish access to assets is dependent on Scottish acceptance of debts
I said earlier that Britain should be firm with its new northern border. Salmond may wish a currency union in the event of a Yes vote but this is manifestly not in the interest of Britain. British Taxpayers should not act as lender of last resort to a foreign government when it has no control over tax and spend or policy. Independence means just that and neither Scotland nor the British can be independent of one another if Scotland must bend to British interests or vice versa.
Ireland, Portugal, Greece and Spain are in currency union with the Euro – the European central bank puts political demands on these countries for fiscal support and they have no control over money supply or fiscal policy to suit their needs – this is part of the reason why they are still in crisis and the UK is not.
Britain should not bail out a Scottish bank if it fails, it should not increase or decrease interest rates to suit Scotland’s needs alone. Our economies are entwined but The Bank of England should look out for British needs and the Scots should look to set up their own central bank and currency.
The SNP have also threatened not to take their share of debt without currency union. Let them. Any share of the UK’s assets must be dependent on Scotland taking on her liabilities as well. No share of embassies or property abroad, no share of military equipment, no share of government gold and holdings.
As sad as I would be to see the effects of a Scottish Default on Scotland’s cost of borrowing, domestic interest rates, higher taxes, lower growth and fewer jobs, it would have little impact on Britain’s credit rating and as long as assets are kept in Britain it could afford to take on the extra debt.
A new British Constitutional Settlement needs to be reached
Actually this applies whether Scotland stays or goes – our political system is simply not fit for today’s politics. The voting system means the Conservatives can poll 410,000 votes in Scotland, the SNP 490,000 votes and the Tories get 1 seat and the SNP 6. The Lib Dems won 11 seats in Scotland with 465,000 votes. It makes zero sense.
As does the lack of an English Parliament or assembly. The Great mistake with devolution was that it was piecemeal and unequal – if Scotland votes No today it will get more powers to her Parliament. Powers the North of England and Midlands would love to have, powers far outstripping the Welsh or Northern Irish Assemblies. This is untenable.
We will need a constitutional settlement in the round – does an unelected Lords larger than the commons make sense in a modern democracy? Is a first past the post system which causes disengagement and undemocratic results really in our democracies best interests? Does a system of funding the regions and nations need urgent reform? Would Britain work better as a federation? This needs to be the focus.
Britain will be richer for it
Blunt but true. Both London and British Banks benefit from a Scotland which is more risky and has higher borrowing costs. Banking sector Jobs and money will move south.
British Military manufacturing, particularly shipbuilding will move south, Portsmouth and Plymouth will benefit, perhaps in time Cardiff, Liverpool and Hull, it will make no sense for the British to build warships on the Clyde or in Rosyth – the type 26 Frigates will be built in England instead and the local economy will benefit at the cost of Scottish Jobs.
Oil might make up the shortfall in Scottish social spending in the short term but in a decade it will have declined massively as a share of Scottish GDP unless major new fields are found (and if Shetland leaves Scotland much of that oil is no longer Scotland’s to have) In the rest of the UK Shale will be coming online soon and renewables are a key growth industry and we always have clean coal to fall back on if necessary – in 50 years’ time Britain will be energy rich and diverse and Scotland reliant solely on wind and hydro. In a United Kingdom this prosperity would be shared.
Breaking up the UK is, to my mind, petty, insular and short-sighted. The UK, England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland together have done great things and made this tiny corner of the world prosperous, envied, feared and respected. It makes no sense to me to break this partnership up when we’ve done so much bringing people together.
Scotland can govern its own affairs – although it will neither be the Celtic tiger nor the socialist utopia Yes supporters think it automatically must be and Britain can work well without her – but we would be diminished in so many ways and for the first time in 300 years, less than the sum of our parts.
Separation means lost growth, lost jobs, uncertainty and market upheaval. It could mean passports at the border – it could mean Scotland loses access to the EU and it would accelerate British withdrawal from it as well and we would become a truly second rate power – Scotland not even that. We would be smaller, not just literally in terms of geography but in terms of international prestige, our economy our clout – as well as feel a little shorter in this world.
But it is a credit to our democracy that we can have this debate and we can manage a divorce in a respectful way. If we stay together we could sort out the problems we think we face, if we don’t we can remain respectful friends – if acting in self interest, nor our interests as a whole.
If you’re Scottish and you’re reading this. All I ask is that you vote today, whichever way you see fit. Whatever happens, don’t realise in hindsight you were a passenger on this journey.