Great changes are taking place in the United Kingdom. Scotland and the rest of the UK are increasingly coming to the conclusion that the current political set up is no longer suitable, and it would not be unreasonable to suggest that this is largely to due to the rise and rise of the Scottish National Party (SNP). The changes taking place of course have the most practical relevance to those living there but , there are number of important implication that the Scottish drive for independence, or at least home rule, throws up for the outside world.
Allow me now to announce my interest in this. I am a support of the SNP and proudly, passionately and I must admit sometimes blindly Scottish, so there is no doubt going to be some bias in what I say. I think however what I have prepared can be said to be truthful. That settled, where to begin?
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
Britain! Land of tea and crumpets. Land of red post boxes and black cabs. Land of hope and Glory. Well at least that the impression I get of how foreigners see it. In truth it is simply impossible to think of Britain as a single, unitary state, or even a federal one. Within the UK there are 4 nations, England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. In that respect it is very difficult to say that Britain is a Nation-State. And although it has all the characteristics of a state, it is a very strange state. With no written constitution, various levels or devolved government and enough feudal anachronisms to waste the lives of dozens of historians (not to mention research grants, which it does, see David Starky. Ten points if you got that); the UK is a complicated machine.
So there is good news and bad news. Bad news: it’s getting more and more complicated. Good news: I don’t have time to go into most of it. Time to move in a little closer.
Scotland. Ouch aye the noo! Whiskey and Shortbread. FREEDOM!. Another caricature. Scotland’s not much easier to get a grip with. I’m from there and I still find it baffling at times. Like why no one on the bus will ever open the window, even in the middle of summer, it stinks!. The story of Scotland, or rather you might say the rebirth, or to be a little less romantic re-emergence of Scotland as a state is long. And I say state quite explicitly, it has been, is, and shall for some time to come, a nation.
After the treaty of Union with England virtually all major decision relating to Scotland took place at Westminster and Whitehall. In 1885 the Scotland Office took over administrative responsibility for Scotland, out of UK hands. It would take over a century until legislative control, and then only on certain devolved matters, would return to Edinburgh in the form of the Scottish parliament. There is of course a great deal of history left out. The Wars, de-industrialisation, emigration, Thatcher, but that is a story for another time. It what is happening now and what it may mean this is important.
In the most recent 2011 election the Scottish National Party won an almighty victory, performing the near impossible task of winning a majority in a parliament where majorities were supposed to be impossible. Never the less, on the 25th of January this year it released a white paper on its plans to hold a referendum on Scottish independence. The party hopes to hold this referendum in late November 2014, and if successful, have negotiation rapped up by 2016. That means of course that in just for years’ time we may all be in the position of needing new maps, with a new colour sprayed of the northern third of what is now Great Britain. Wishful thinking on my part perhaps, but so far it has been better than expected.
What is the likely possibility you may ask of new State appearing off the Atlantic sore? Well that depends on whose opinion polls your read. The UK, I suspect like much of the rest of western democracy, loves to speculate that the opinions of 1000 people on their way to work, are in fact a definite indication of what the whole population feels. Ignorance is bliss. As someone who longs for a Scottish passport I would love to say we are winning but we are not. I think however it would be sensible to suggest that independence consistently pulls about a quarter to a third, and sometimes more of the Scottish electorate. Unionism usually manages about two fifths, sometimes more. That of course means a lot of undecided, and what sort of union we mean brings us on to the next point.
The great debate now is between Separation, Scotland taking on all the responsibilities of an Independent state. Or between what is called Devolution max (Devomax), essentially home rule, where Scotland decides most things for herself, bar foreign and defence policy and pays for shared services. The latter can get a whopping seventy per cent in some polls, making it comfortable more popular than alcohol abuse… but not by much. Either option, I am certain means the end of the United Kingdom, at least as we now it. Either a new confederated state of the British Isles (including Ireland?) or three separate states (Scotland, Ireland and the Rump United Kingdom) sharing a single discussion forum, the British and Irish Council: the British Isles answer to the Nordic Council. This will have profound implications for the wider political discussion, to start with, economics.
Research done by the OECD has shown that an independent Scotland would have the eighth highest GDP per capita income of member countries, the UK incidentally would stay at 15th. This in and of itself might not seems significant. However when you consider that 91% of UK north sea oil and gas lies in Scottish waters this may have implication for Europe. The result would be that Scotland and Norway, two nations with similar populations, similar political cultures and probably similarly modest ambitions would be in a position to control North Sea oil. I am not advocating or suggesting that monopoly of cartel is likely or desirable, however it is surely incumbent on the rest of Europe to at least pay attention. The decision after all is this; while our economies still rely on oil, you can buy it from us. Or, you can buy it from the Russians and the Algerians, choose your poison. This would be combined with the SNP’s and Scottish government own estimates (I am usually slightly suspicious of these) that say that Scotland could (as there is that word again) have a third of Europe’s total off shores wind and tidal potential. Norway again has great interest in this area and it seems likely that two would cooperate, transforming themselves in the green energy power houses of Europe.
Secondly a Scotland with an independent voice in Europe is likely to seek major changes to the Common Fisheries Policy. I am not necessarily on the side of fishermen who regularly plunder the oceans in an unsustainable way, but the absurdity of that is matched on by the anachronisms of CFP and CAP. The Norwegians, I would wager, would likely back us on this as well, and despite they not being EU members, we would carry more weight together.
Finally there is finance. Edinburgh is one of Europe leading financial centres, behind London, Paris and Frankfurt, a respectable place for such a small nation. However as we all know from recent events finance is a much likely to inflict economic chaos on a country as it is to enrich it. With that in mind what Scotland’s views on the regulation of finance within the EU at least, is likely to have relevance somewhat beyond her size. I wouldn’t be surprised in fact in majority Scottish opinions turns out to agree with the rest of Europe however, in opposition to London. It is however very much in Europe’s interest that Edinburgh does not become Dublin 2.0, and open a dangerous door for showdown banking, hedge funds and debt to flow into and infect the EU’s financial systems.
European identity and the EU consistently does better in Scotland than in England, Scots and very comfortable with the idea of shared sovereignty, we’ve been doing it for 300 year with England. It’s unlikely that in any event the Scots would hold gun the Europe’s head and demand money or threaten to load the oil on tankers bound for shanghai, but it is likely to figure in considerations, and probably mentioned when EU grants for infrastructure projects are divided up.
The area I would like to turn to is that of defence and the military. The UK is currently has the second largest military and defence budget in the EU after France. It is nuclear armed, has a blue water navy and significant long standing military relationship with the United States. Having said that most is only half truth. The nuclear deterrent or Trident as it is called, is in reality an American proxy, paid for by UK tax payers; and based under protest in Scotland and HMNB Faslane. The idea that UK can deploy a blue water navy having decided, quite inexplicably, scrap its aircraft carriers is madness. And let’s not get started on that homage to sycophancy, the special relationship. Barf!
There are some important points amongst this. The SNP, likely to be the first post-Independence government has said that it wants the Trident to be removed from Scottish waters, following in the vein of New Zealand which banned Nuclear Weapons from its waters. A recent article by a William Walker, an expert on defence matters, stated that such a transfer, likely to southern England would be hugely expensive and probably not worth it. In effect Scottish independence would likely mean the end of Britain as a nuclear power. Though this would largely be a matter of prestige, a disarmed Britain and a newly armed, let’s say Iran, would certain be a sea change in world geopolitics.
The Ring of Power
Secondly while, their will likely remain some British military presence in Scotland for a long time to come, the loss of several thousands of potential recruits as well as army barracks and naval construction capacity would only compound the loss of prestige and signal, I hope, the final end of British Imperial ambitions; Which of late have led to the foolish marching of armies of too Mesopotamia and the Hindu Kush, as if following in the steps of Alexander. Scottish independence would make such vain glorious distractions a lot more expensive for the UK, and probably beyond her reach. Insallah.
The last and in my view most important, and global implication of Scottish independence is its manner. Peaceful. Indeed it has been remarked that in the 100 year debate over Scotland future, has produced not even a bloody nose. In stark contrast to many other struggles for national independence Scotland’s has been characterised by its singular lack of violence. There are many reasons for that. Despite Scotland’s appallingly poor health and inequality no one would suggest we are ‘oppressed’, except Mel Gibson, Freedom! Even the separation of Norway and Sweden required troops being sent to the border before they decided it wasn’t worth fighting over (not sure if that an insult or compliment to Norway). It is often said that and an independent Scotland would mean that England would lose a surly neighbour and gain a friend. Showing that it is possible for a country to achieve independence without resort to violence would have invaluable imaginative power. I don’t believe that and independent Scotland will mean the resolution of the Kurdish question, but I could at least provide a blue print for those whole want to follow.. We’ll be wait for you Catalunya and Euskal Herria, see you when you get there!
Well I hope that I have at least showed that Scotland’s independence would have consequences beyond a few ripples in the north Atlantic. There are something I could cover in this, for example whether a the rest of the UK would be allowed to keep its UNSC seat. There was also a lot about modern Scotland that I couldn’t put in that would have put in much better context, but another time maybe. Much of this of course is speculation. I may be totally wrong. How knows, if the Euro goes under maybe Germany will invade and we’ll become the province of Schottland or Viskeyland? That last one has a ring to it, think about it Germany. At the very least Scotland can show that hard work, reasoned debate and patience can change things. I’ll end with an extract from a speech made by our first minster recently, I think I should provide an antidote to all this realpolitik.
“We offer malice towards nobody, we offer friendship towards all…we seek only the power to make a positive contribution to the world, and to improve the wellbeing of our people”
First Minister Alex Salmond MSP, Jan 2012
Amen to that