Tag Archives: Britain

The SNP threatens unionism not only in Scotland

I realised recently how ignorant I was about the history of Northern Ireland, when 30,000 Ulstermen recently marched to commemorate the Ulster Covenant of 1912. I was barely aware that such a covenant even existed, let alone that it should be considered so important to unionists in Northern Ireland that they should gather in such numbers. It was natural to compare this turn out with the the meagre 5000 who turned out for the Scottish nationalist’s independence march in Edinburgh,  which happened a week earlier. But the apparent contrast between support for unionism and lack of support for nationalism masks what is a genuine threat to the continued existence of Northern Ireland in the Union.


Northern Ireland has fought hard to remain a part of Britain. It is interesting to speculate what might have been the result if Ulstermen had not opposed Irish Home Rule. Perhaps Ireland would then have considered that it had been given enough power and would not then have demanded full independence. It is possible that the Union of Great Britain and Ireland could have endured until today. This must be an ideal close to every unionist’s heart. On the other hand, perhaps the people of Ulster had the prescience to realise that giving in to nationalism, does not lead to a decrease of nationalism, but rather an increase. Just as Scottish devolution has fueled nationalism and given rise to a vote on independence, which was unimaginable before devolution, so Home Rule for Ireland inevitably would have led to an independent Ireland, which would have brought Ulster with it, against Ulster’s will. It was this which the unionists in Ulster were fighting against when they signed the covenant. But while 1912 is obviously an important date in the history of Northern Ireland, there are obviously more important dates to come. Northern Ireland came into being in 1921, but there must be a real question as to whether it will reach this anniversary and still remain a part of the UK.


During the troubles in Northern Ireland, there was always the threat that the rest of Britain would get sick of the bloodshed and decide to sell Ulster down the river. But in general most people in Scotland, England and Wales stood alongside our fellow Brits in Northern Ireland, and accepted the principle that so long as a majority of the population in Northern Ireland wished to remain part of Britain, they should have the right to do so. We all thought it worth fighting for that right, just as we considered that it was correct to fight armed aggression against the Falklanders’ wish to remain British. What worried me at this time most however, was the situation with regard to the demographics of Northern Ireland. If it should ever be the case that the majority of the population of Northern Ireland should not wish to be part of Britain, we could hardly thwart this will. The problem for Northern Irish unionists seemed to be the decline of Protestantism in the province and the rise of Catholicism. If Catholics wanted reunification with the Republic and if they ever became a majority in Northern Ireland, then it would appear as if a united Ireland could happen simply because of the higher Catholic birthrate.


From my relatively ignorant Scottish perspective I used to think that all Catholics were nationalists, or republicans, while all Protestants were unionists. Recent research however, suggests that an overwhelming 73% of people in Northern Ireland want to remain part of the UK. Most importantly a 52% majority of Catholics also want to remain in the Union. The future of Northern Ireland is not then at all threatened by demographics and the message to unionist parties would seem to be clear: reach out to Catholics for the majority of them are unionists too.


Strangely, the greatest threat to Northern Ireland’s future does not at all come from within, but from without. Many Ulstermen see themselves as Ulster Scots. But while these Ulster Scots almost to a man see themselves as British, this view is not shared by all of their compatriots across the Irish sea. The rejection of Britishness by a proportion of the Scottish population, which inevitably leads them to desire independence from the UK, turns out to be the greatest threat to Northern Ireland, for if Scotland were to leave the Union, it is entirely unclear that the Union could survive.


The problem with Scottish independence for Northern Ireland is that it would set a precedent. The people of Wales with their own parliament and with a significant minority speaking their own language, might well consider that they too could follow the example of Scotland. The biggest danger, however would be that the English might really discover their own nationalism. The English could well say to Northern Ireland, “we want to be independent from you.” If Scotland has the right to be independent, that right can hardly be denied to England. Northern Ireland could not force England or Wales to remain in the Union, no matter how many should march in Belfast. Could Northern Ireland survive as an independent country? Would it have to seek union with the Republic? Even to ask these questions is to see the prospect of renewed conflict.


It is vitally important therefore that unionists throughout Britain realise the danger that the Scottish Nationalists present to our country. Although people in Northern Ireland, Wales and England will not have a vote in the referendum, it is vital that they say with one voice that they want Scotland to stay. The good riddance mentality expressed by some people in England is profoundly short sighted as it is liable to increase support for independence in Scotland. It is natural to react to threats of divorce with antipathy. However, a heartfelt plea to stay and an expression of the mutual need to stay together from our fellow countrymen in all parts of Britain would make a major contribution to defeating the secessionists. All of us, wherever we live in the UK, would be profoundly affected by Scotland becoming independent. It would fling us all into constitutional and economic chaos and who knows what kind of nationalistic antagonism and conflict. It would do this moreover, at a time of economic crisis unprecedented since the thirties. Scots should think very carefully about inflicting this sort of disorder on our own countrymen for the sake of a supposed political and economic advantage which even if it turned out to be real, would be at the expense of others especially our fellow Scots in Ulster. This really is a case of brother turning against brother forgetting “how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!”


Can Scots bear to live in the same country as the English?

Although the nationalists would not like the question to be phrased in this way, the referendum on independence amounts to the following question: Can Scots bear to live in the same country as the English? Scots, who would vote for secession, are really saying we can’t bear to live with such people, but would prefer to live in a country only with our fellow Scots. It becomes obvious that this really is the case by reflecting on the fact that if a Scot were happy to live in the same country as the English, he would be happy with the present UK situation and would not vote for independence.

Let’s look at the logic of the position. Scotland is a multiracial, multicultural country. If we can’t bear to live in the same country as the English, how can we bear to live in the same country as people from Poland, Latvia, Pakistan or the Caribbean? To believe that we ought to live in harmony with people whose ancestors arrived in our country in the last fifty years or so, but that we cannot live in harmony with people whose ancestors have lived in the British Isles since the dawn of history is absurdly self-contradictory. If Scots are saying that it is intolerable for us to live in the same country as English people, how can we expect to find it tolerable living with people who differ from us to a far greater extent than the average person born in England. A typical English person speaks  the same language as a Scot, with a somewhat different accent. His culture and attitudes are broadly similar to ours. His religion, if he has one, will probably be a variant on the theme of Protestantism, just like in Scotland. His ancestors will probably be the same mixture of Anglo-Saxon, Celtic, Viking, Norman and Roman as our ancestors. Scottish Nationalists maintain that they cannot bear to live in the same country as such a  person, who differs from us to such a small degree. But how then can they expect to be able to bear to live in an independent Scotland, which will contain people born in countries far away, people with different religions, with different skin colours, indeed with people who were born in England? What are they going to do? Send them all homeward tae think again.

The SNP moreover, wants an independent Scotland to remain in the EU post independence. At present Scotland is already in a union with three other countries. If Scots are really saying that we can’t bear to be in a union with England, Wales and Northern Ireland, how can we then say we can bear to be in a another union with 27 more countries, including those we have just left? If Scots can not stand being in a union with the English, how can we expect to long endure being in an ever closer union with Germans, French, Italians and Poles?

At present it’s as if Scotland, England Wales and Northern Ireland, like old friends, live in a house together. We’ve lived that way for a long time. We all speak the same language and have broadly similar attitudes and cultures. However, friction has developed in our house, primarily over bills, how to share our money and how to run the house. Scotland wants  to leave. Does Scotland want to live on its own? No, Scotland wants to live in a large dormitory, containing not only our former housemates, but people from whom we are very different in terms of language and culture. The residents of this dormitory, i.e. the EU, might well wonder whether they really want such a fractious new dormitory member. If Scotland could not bear to live in the same house as the English speaking people of the UK, would we not be a source of trouble and disharmony in the EU dormitory? Would we not set a bad example to other residents, such as, for example, the Spanish speakers. The EU might well see the wisdom of the proverb  “He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind.”

Failing to face up to the logic of independence

There’s an interesting undercurrent to the debate about whether an independent Scotland would automatically be a part of the European Union. Unionists are generally delighted by the idea that Scotland would have to apply for membership, while nationalists either deny vehemently that such a scenario could occur, or are dismayed when European politicians appear to suggest that indeed an independent Scotland would have to apply to join the club. Yet in the last two or three years, since the crisis in the Eurozone began, the EU has become less and less popular in the UK as a whole and in Scotland as well. Something quite strange is going on in this debate. Huge numbers of unionists are also Eurosceptics. I imagine quite a large number of nationalists are too. Why then do unionists react with delight at the idea that an independent Scotland would have to leave the EU, when it is is exactly this that they would like the UK to do? Why do nationalists react with fury to the idea that Scotland would have to leave the EU, when this is exactly the policy of the other independence party in Britain, UKIP? Scotland would certainly be more independent if it was both independent from the rest of the UK (rUK) and from the EU. Why then does the prospect not delight nationalists?


The two sides of this debate have tended to concern themselves with involved and complex ideas about international law, treaties about the succession of states, secession theory, EU law and other arcane matters such as the Treaty of Union of 1707. None of this really matters. The possible scenarios are as follows. Both rUK and Scotland would have to apply for membership. rUK would retain membership, but Scotland would not. Both rUK and Scotland would retain membership. Each of these scenarios is perfectly possible and the one that occurs will be the one which the rest of the EU deems to be in its best interest. The EU clearly makes the rules up as it goes along. If it were to want to retain rUK in the EU there is zero chance that it would make rUK reapply for membership, as under that scenario there is zero chance of rUK voting to join. If, on the other hand, rUK were still part of the EU and an independent Scotland were outside, there is a great likelihood that an independent Scotland would want to join the EU as quickly as possible. Why the difference when Euroscepticism is probably as strong in Scotland as in rUK? This is where we come to the undercurrent in the debate.


The debate is not really about the EU at all. The reason that membership of the EU is so vital to nationalists is not because they love the EU, its because this membership guarantees Scots the same rights that they have at present in rUK. If it could be shown that Scottish independence would mean that Scots would need a passport or visa to live and work in England, there would be very few Scots who would vote for independence. It is for this reason that nationalists react with fury when unionists point out the possible disadvantages of independence, accusing unionists of scaremongering at the least suggestion that Scots would lose something if we became independent. The logic of this position is to make unionism as a political position impossible. If unionists are not allowed to point out what they consider to be disadvantages, if the suggestion that Scots would lose anything at all is to be dismissed as scaremongering, then any unionist argument is ruled out from the start as illegitimate. This is to accuse unionists of suffering from some sort of false consciousness and is the tactic of someone who does not wish to debate, but to assert.


Fundamentally nationalists are unwilling to face up to the logic of independence. They want freedom from England, but want to retain all the rights of being a citizen there. This means that logically they want to be both independent and not independent. Nationalists react with rage if it is suggested that England would treat Scots as foreigners. But what is a foreigner other than someone who lives in an independent state. Independent states have the right to treat foreign citizens differently from their own citizens, so why do nationalists react with such anger at the suggestion that England could treat them differently post independence?


What is it to be dependent? My right to live and work in England depends on my being a citizen there. If I renounce my citizenship in England, I have become independent of England. Being an independent Scot requires that I no longer retain the rights, which depended on my being a citizen of the UK. To expect to retain such rights, while being independent is to wish to be both dependent and independent. Nationalists, when they accuse unionists of scaremongering, really show they they want to have the rights of a Scot who has achieved independence, while retaining the same rights as an Englishman. What they want is to be both Scottish and English.


This really is a classic example of what Sartre called “mauvaise foi” (bad faith). Unless nationalists are willing to give up the rights they have at present as UK citizens they have no right to demand independence from the UK. To do so would be craven, dishonest and selfish.


This is then the undercurrent of the debate about the EU. The reason for the SNP developing the slogan “Independence in Europe” was not so much so that Scots could live and work in France, Germany or Poland. Few of us do. The reason was so that Scots could continue to live, work and receive all manner of benefits in rUK. Hundreds of thousands of us do.


When Eurosceptics say that they want UK independence from the EU, they accept that this may entail losing certain rights. It may afterwards be no longer possible for them to live and work in France or Germany and to receive free healthcare and other benefits there. However, they think this loss of rights would be worth it. Imagine however, if the debate was phrased in such a way that the UK expected to be able to leave the EU, but to retain all the rights of a citizen of a state which was still a member? The EU could rightly respond if you wish to retain these rights, it is only fair that you remain in the club. To wish to leave the EU, while being unwilling to lose any rights of membership, is to be a hypocrite. What nationalists show when they react with annoyance to suggestions that Scots would lose the rights of membership of the UK if we became independent, is exactly this same sort of hypocrisy. If they are so concerned about their rights in the rest of the UK, they should not vote for independence.


The UK can be likened to a marriage. If a husband leaves his wife and gets a divorce, he cannot very well expect to retain the right to sleep with her. But this is exactly what nationalists expect if Scotland divorces England. Nationalists are unwilling to face up to the logic of independence and they are treating the rest of the UK with contempt. At present we are members of a club called the UK. This gives us certain rights and responsibilities. To expect to leave the club, to give up the responsibilities of being a member, while retaining all the rights of membership is to behave without honour. The SNP would make Scots behave like someone who leaves a golf club, but still expects to play there. They would make us all scoundrels.

What if Scotland had voted for independence in 1997?

Scotland voted for its own parliament in 1997. But what if we had instead voted for independence? This is, of course, what the SNP wanted at the time. How would Scotland’s history up until the present day be different if we had made such a choice back then?

Some things might have turned out for the better for both Scotland and the rest of the UK (rUK). it is hardly likely that rUK would have accepted two Scots as Prime Ministers, if Scotland had become  an independent state. Both Scotland and rUK might thus have avoided Tony Blair’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and rUK might have avoided Gordon Brown’s attempts to wreck the economy. In attempts at counterfactual history however, it is generally better to focus on fundamentals rather than the details of what this or that leader might or might not have done.

An independent Scotland in 1997 would have faced many of the same choices as it would in 2014. The most important choice would have been about its currency. Scotland would have had really three options in 1997. It could have tried to remain in a currency union with rUK, it could have created its own currency, or it could have decided to join the Euro.

It is almost certain that Scotland would have chosen to join the Euro in 1997. For example, In 1999 Alex Salmond said:

“I think that being outside the euro area is already penalising the Scottish economy. In the medium-term, the longer we stay out, the more damage will accumulate. The euro is an example of why Scotland needs membership status so that it can take a decision on entry into the single currency” (10 November 1999 in the Scottish Parliament (Official Report))

It is worth investigating however, the alternative scenarios of Scotland setting up its own currency and remaining in a currency union with rUK.

One of the most important events in post-war history began on September 15th 2008. The trouble had been brewing for some time, but on that date, with the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers, began the present economic crisis, with which we are still living. This crisis would have affected Scotland whether we had been independent or not. But let’s imagine how an independent Scotland would have coped under the three possible currency scenarios.

If an independent Scotland had been part of the Euro in 2008, our position would have been very similar to that of Ireland. The bankruptcy of Halifax/Bank of Scotland (HBOS) and Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS)  would have been for an independent Scotland, the same sort of situation which Ireland faced when it had to bail out the Anglo Irish Bank and Bank of Ireland. The problem for Ireland was that its banks were too big to be bailed out by a country of its size and in attempting to bail out its own banks Ireland soon found itself bankrupt too and itself in need of a bailout. This happened in November 2010 and led to the Irish economy effectively being run by the European Central Bank and the IMF. The terms for this bailout were onerous and led to a massive loss of sovereignty on Ireland’s part. Scotland’s position if it had been in the Euro would almost certainly have been like Ireland’s. Scotland could not have bailed out HBOS and RBS on its own and so would have had to turn to funding from other members of the Eurozone and the IMF. As we have found with the examples of Greece and Portugal. These fellow European countries have not been particularly generous. They have set terms for the bailout which amount to never ending austerity and recession with little possibility for growth. The interest rates on any bailout loans have been high. Each country, which has been bailed out has lost a great deal of sovereignty and control of its own affairs. Electorates have faced a gun to their heads and threats from abroad when deciding how to vote and so they have really lost their democratic rights as well.

If Scotland had remained in a currency union with rUK after becoming independent in 1997, the Bank of England would have been forced to bail out the Scottish banks. This, of course, is one reason why rUK might not consider it to be in its own interest to maintain a currency union with an independent sovereign state called Scotland. However, just as the European Central Bank imposed onerous conditions on Ireland, when Ireland was forced to seek help, so the Bank of England could have imposed whatever conditions it chose on an independent  Scotland. If Scotland had refused these conditions, the resulting bankruptcy  would have forced Scotland out of the pound zone and led to Scotland defaulting on its debts.

One of the main advantages Scotland gained from being part of the UK in 2008, was that the bailout of the Scottish banks occurred without conditions. No austerity was imposed on Scotland, no conditions, no rules, no control over Scotland’s economy or parliament. No foreign bank would have been so lenient. We were incredibly lucky that the Bank of England at that time was not a foreign bank, it was our bank. Because we were part of the UK.

If Scotland had chosen to have its own currency in 1997, Scotland’s position in 2008 would have been similar to Iceland’s. When faced with the bankruptcy of its banks and its inability to bail them out, Iceland chose the route of default and devaluation. In the short term, of course, this was disastrous for the Icelandic people. The value of savings and salaries was drastically reduced. The cost of living rose. However, one of the main advantages of being a sovereign state is the ability to have one’s own currency. By defaulting and devaluing, Iceland went through a traumatic operation, but it came out the other side with an economy far more healthy and with much greater potential than either Ireland or Greece.

The best option for an independent Scotland in 1997, with the benefit of  hindsight,  would have been to set up its own currency.  The lesson that we have learned from the Eurozone crisis is that monetary union without fiscal union and political union is a recipe for disaster. Either you end up in the position of Greece, dependent on subsidy, enduring permanent austerity and recession, or you end up in the position of Germany, having to permanently transfer money to your poorer neighbours. The problem with setting up your own currency is that it is something of a risky business. New currencies are liable to fall at least initially, while markets assess their strength.  Thus if Scotland had announced that it was setting up its own currency,  Scots would be liable to wake up the day after independence to find that their salaries and savings were worth much less than they had been previously.

The financial crisis would have been a disaster for an independent Scotland. In a storm it is always better to be sailing in a battleship than a yacht. Likewise, when the economic storm hit Scotland and the Scottish banks in 2008, we were fortunate that we were part of a large economy which could deal with the crisis effectively and protect the UK economy from much of what has happened in the Eurozone. The help that Scots gained from their fellow countrymen was without conditions, we would not have gained such help from foreigners.

The unfulfilled promises of independence

One of the most important things to realise about the referendum on independence is that no one really knows what would happen if Scotland chose to secede from the UK. Both unionists and nationalists speculate, each striving to gain some advantage from these speculations, but in the absence of a working crystal ball, everyone must finally accept that the future is unknown. The past, on the other hand, at least the recent past, is both known and well documented. History is an imperfect guide to the future, but however flawed, it is the only guide we have. It is worthwhile therefore looking at recent instances of independence in Europe and, as it were, ask ourselves how did secession work out for these countries.


The boundaries of European countries had changed hardly at all from the post-war settlement until 1990, but this all began to change with the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. This was probably the most dangerous moment of the Cold War. It has always struck me as something of a miracle that the collapse of the USSR did not lead to World War 3, but it did lead to a number of quite serious conflicts and territorial disputes. Armenia and Azerbaijan fought each other over the enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh. This conflict is as yet unresolved. Georgia seceded from the USSR and then fought two wars when the regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia chose to secede from Georgia. Moldova fought a war with separatists in Transnistria, who succeeded in setting up a tiny strip of a country, which is de facto independent even if unrecognised by the rest of the world. Russia, of course, fought two very bloody wars with separatists in Chechnya.


Even when there have not been wars there have been conflicts. Ukraine is a potential future flash point owing to the fact that there are Russian majorities in the eastern and southern parts of the country, some of whom would prefer to be part of Russia now. The Baltic states likewise have sizable Russian minorities, many of whom are denied the rights of citizenship owing to the various nationality tests administered in these states.


During the Olympics, I came across a nationalist MSP writing about how glad he was to see all the former Soviet Republics competing on their own. No doubt, he could plead ignorance as the reason for this remark, but he not only showed ignorance of history, he also showed ignorance of the present. How has independence in Europe worked out for all these newly formed states? According to the well respected Democracy Index 2011, not one former Soviet Republic is a full democracy. Some are categorized as flawed democracies, some as hybrid regimes and a number as authoritarian regimes.




Prior to independence in each of these countries there were nationalists, who promised the people living there that all manner of good things would be theirs if only their country was independent. Such nationalists promised their supporters that they would gain freedom. But this promise turned out to be an illusion. No doubt, many people now who expected freedom wonder if these nationalists were lying.


Not only are these countries lacking in political freedom, they are also corrupt. According to the well respected Corruption index, each former Soviet Republic remains highly corrupt.




What about wealth? Well, according to the following index, each of the former Soviet Republics remains by western standards poor. Sometimes extremely so.  




The reason for this is that each of these countries remains fundamentally uncompetitive.




Separatists in all these countries promised the people living there, that if only they could achieve independence they would soon be living in a wealthy, honest and economically competitive society. But again this all turned out to be an illusion. So how is independence in Europe working out for these former Soviet states? They gained war, partition, lack of political rights and freedom, corruption, poverty and uncompetitiveness. They also gained independence.


Perhaps, this is all the fault of the Soviet Union. Perhaps, there are other examples of European independence movements, which have been more successful.


Take the example of Yugoslavia. The growth of Serbian Nationalism was answered by nationalisms in each of the republics which made up that country. The result was war, ethnic cleansing, crimes against humanity, partition and where once there had been one small country now there are eight tiny ones. Not one of these countries is a full democracy, each is highly corrupt and each by western standards is poor and uncompetitive. So how did independence in Europe work out for Serbs and Croats?


One last example of a recent European independence movement remains. It could be described as poster child of secession movements. Scottish nationalists frequently cite the breakup of Czechoslovakia as a favourable example for Scotland. Soon after the fall of communism in Czechoslovakia, known as the Velvet Revolution, nationalists in Slovakia began to seek independence and soon there followed the Velvet Divorce. One reason why Scottish Nationalists see this as such an ideal example an independence movement is that Czechs and Slovaks get on very well and the two states have excellent relations. Why couldn’t the same sort of Velvet Divorce occur in the UK?


But let’s look at how independence in Europe has worked out for Slovaks. While the Czech Republic is a full democracy, Slovakia is a flawed democracy. Both the Czech Republic and Slovakia are corrupt, but Slovakia is somewhat more corrupt. Both countries are poor by Western European standards, but Slovakia is poorer the Czech Republic, probably for the reason that it is much less competitive. Worst of all however, while the Czech Republic retained its own currency, Slovakia had the misfortune to join the Euro. This  means that it is liable for a share of  the debts of countries richer than it, such as Greece. No doubt, the separatists in Slovakia promised their people that if only they would vote for independence they would soon be rich and free. Nationalists tend to promise that independence will turn a country into something resembling the promised land. People who are foolish enough to believe these promises however, quickly find they did not get what was promised. A nationalist’s promise is at best a pipe dream, at worst a lie.


Scotland is very different from all these European countries, which recently gained independence. The point to take however, from these examples of independence movements, is that nationalism frequently promises much, but delivers little. As an ideology, which appeals to the selfish side of human nature, emphasising the differences between peoples, it frequently leads to unintended and unplanned consequences and conflicts. What really matters to most people is their standard of living and the fact that they live in a free, fair and honest society. Scotland already is a full democracy, because we are part of one one of the oldest and most democratic countries in the world. Neither Scotland nor England were especially democratic countries when we joined together to create the Union. Rather, through a gradual political process, we became the democracy that we are today. It is the UK which created our democratic traditions and which granted us the rights, which we now enjoy. Scotland is lucky enough  to be part of a very wealthy country. We are free and we don’t have to fear corruption in our daily lives. The UK is the 8th most competitive country in the world, which means that we have a much better chance than many countries to retain our living standards in the face of the present economic depression. We should rejoice that we live in such a country. The majority of the world’s population lack what we have. Nationalists everywhere promise the earth, but it is obvious from a glance at recent history, that such promises amount to very little. They don’t amount to what we in Scotland already have. If Scotland were part of an undemocratic, corrupt, poor and uncompetitive Great Britain, it might just be possible to argue that independence would bring vast improvements. Such promises, would probably turn out to be false, for these fundamentals change slowly if at all. But when a country is already close to the peak of democracy, freedom, wealth, lack of corruption and competitiveness, the idea that nationalists can suddenly massively change everything for the better by waving a magic wand called independence is scarcely credible. The UK has given us peace, freedom, wealth, honesty and competitiveness. Why would we exchange that for an uncertain future leading in who knows what direction?

What Scots could lose with independence

Being a citizen of a state provides that person with certain rights and responsibilities. The rights may involve, for example, the right to live and work anywhere in that country, to receive certain benefits such as diplomatic representation and protection, or on a more everyday level, social security and healthcare benefits. A person does not automatically have these rights unless he is a citizen. Thus as a British citizen, I do not have the right to live and work in the United States or in Australia, nor can I expect to obtain many of the benefits, which are given to citizens of those countries.

Of course, reciprocal arrangements can be made by which I may receive certain rights in a foreign country. A good example of this is the European Union. As Britain is a member of the EU, a British citizen has many of the rights given to citizens of other member countries. In principle, I can live and work anywhere in the EU and receive whatever benefits a citizen of that country receives. When Poland  joined the EU in 2004, I gained a right which up until then I did not have. I could now live and work in Poland and Poles could live and work in the UK. We each could receive benefits in each other’s country. My rights in Britain and Poland, however stem from different sources. I have the right to live and work in London, or Cardiff by virtue of the fact that I am a British citizen. I have the right to live and work in Warsaw, by virtue of the fact that Britain and Poland are members of the EU. My rights in Poland are contingent on both Poland and Britain retaining that membership.

It is not necessary to be a member of an organisation such as the EU, or EFTA in order to have rights in another country. Citizens of New Zealand and Australia have the right to live and work in each other’s country, simply because these countries came to that agreement. In a similar way, there was a reciprocal arrangement between Britain and Ireland prior to both countries joining the EU. It is important to realise however, that such reciprocal arrangements are contingent. They depend on both sides of the bargain continuing to agree that the arrangement is in their interest. New Zealand could decide to require Australians to have a visa in order to live and work there and vice versa. A country has the right to do so, because it is sovereign and independent. Treaties and acts of parliament can be amended and changed or revoked. Thus the right of a Scot to live and work in Dublin is contingent in a way that his right to live and work in London is not. Either Ireland or the UK could leave the EU or the parliament of one or other of these countries could decide to revoke any reciprocal arrangement. A sovereign independent country has the right to do this. That is what being sovereign and independent means.

This has important consequences for Scotland if it became independent. At present a Scot has the rights of a British citizen inalienably, so long as the British state continues. If Scotland became independent however, these inalienable rights would be lost and would be replaced by contingent rights. The rights which a Scottish citizen would have would depend on both Scotland and the rest of the UK (rUK) remaining in the EU and on any reciprocal arrangements which the rUK and Scottish parliaments decided to make.

The EU at present has entered into a very uncertain and unpredictable period. Its future development may reach a point where countries have to give up so much sovereignty that a number of them will choose to leave. It is highly likely that there will be a referendum on UK membership at some point in the near future. The demand for this is becoming so great that a politician eventually will realise that it is politically expedient to offer the British people the chance to settle this matter once and for all. Would the UK leave the EU? Polls at present suggest that it would. Where would this leave an independent Scotland? Whatever rights Scots had to live and work and receive benefits in rUK, by virtue of both countries being members of the EU would be lost. It is possible, indeed likely, that a reciprocal arrangement would be agreed between rUK and Scotland,  but it is important to realise that these rights would be contingent and could be changed at any time if it was the wish of either country’s parliament. No independent country has to give such rights to another independent country. That’s what being independent means.

If divorce occurs between Scotland and rUK, it may go well and be entirely amicable. But divorce is not always friendly and whatever reciprocal arrangements could be obtained would depend on negotiations between the two sides. It is for this reason that SNP claims that the decision with regard to independence is a matter for Scotland alone, that it has nothing to do with Westminster, is potentially very short-sighted. For example, the Scottish Parliament could decide, on its own, that it had competence with regard to a constitutional matter, which the UK government considered was reserved to Westminster. The Scottish Parliament could arrange a   referendum, which Westminster considered to be unauthorised and Scotland could gain independence on that basis. But under these circumstances rUK would be perfectly within its rights to treat this as a case of a Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) and simply refuse to cooperate with the newly formed state. There would thus be no negotiations and no reciprocal arrangements for the citizens of the two states. The SNP have to accept that obtaining the relationship they would like between an independent Scotland and rUK requires consent and agreement and is not simply a matter for Scotland alone. Beggar-thy-neighbour nationalism can invite the same response.

No doubt, this is all highly unlikely. It is hard to imagine that if Scotland became independent, that Scots would lose their right to live and work in England and receive free healthcare and other benefits there.  But then, no one living in the Soviet Union thought that they would lose the right to live and work in Moscow, but many did. When Russia became independent, owing to the breakup of the Soviet Union, it decided to use that independence in ways which had unfortunate consequences for its neighbours. Thus it chose to erect borders and impose trade tariffs on former members of the USSR. Ukrainians suddenly found that gas cost a great deal more than it did previously. It is highly unlikely that an independent rUK would act like this. Free trade is in everyone’s best interest. But independent countries do sometimes act out of spite and do act contrary to their own best interests, especially in the case of a bitter divorce. Such independent countries have the right to act as they please. That’s what independence means.

The SNP would like Scots to believe that nothing would change post independence. They would like us to believe that we would have exactly the same rights as we do at present by virtue of being British citizens. What they fail to explain is that these rights would then become contingent rather than inalienable. It is in no way scaremongering to point this out. Whereas at present every Scot has the inalienable right to live, work and receive social benefits in England, a citizen of an independent Scotland would have those rights contingently only on the basis of both countries remaining in the EU or of their developing reciprocal arrangements. It is highly likely, in the event of Scottish independence, that Scots would continue to be able to live and work in England, but it is vital to realise that the SNP want us to give up something. They want us to exchange an inalienable right for a contingent one. When a sovereign, independent country grants a right to the citizens of another sovereign, independent country it can equally take it away. If it could not, it would be neither sovereign nor independent.

The argument for independence depends on a linguistic anomaly

The historical process which led to Scotland being part of the United Kingdom is not unusual in a European context, nearly all European countries are made up of formerly independent states. What is unusual is that while the constituent parts of, for example, Germany or Italy are not normally described in English as countries, the parts which make up the UK nearly always are described as countries.


There are, of course, many linguistic anomalies in English, but this one is worth investigating in the present context of a referendum on Scottish independence, as Scotland being a country forms one of the fundamental justifications for the nationalist argument for independence. Commonly nationalists complain that unionists would have it that Scotland is the only country in the world incapable of being independent. They argue that being a country, it is only right and proper that Scotland should take its place in the world of nation states. But what if the description of Scotland being a country is really a linguistic anomaly? Would that not be to base the case for independence on something as tenuous as an irregular feature of English usage?


Of course it would still be possible to argue for independence even if Scotland were not described as a country. An area does not at present have to be a country in order to want independence, as the example of Quebec shows. Quebec is a province of Canada, many of the people living there however, want it to become an independent country and form a new nation state. It would likewise be possible for a federated state to seek independence. An example of such a state might be South Carolina, or New South Wales or Bavaria. But none of these places are described as countries. If they were to want independence, they would be wanting to become a country.


Being a country normally implies that a place is already independent. Why is it that Scotland is already described as a country, when in reality that is what nationalists wish it to become? Is there something in Scotland’s history, which sets it apart from the European historical context, where so many countries are formed from formerly independent states?


If you go back far enough, nearly all European countries of any size were made up of formerly independent states. Most of what we now call regions in a European context were formerly states. Britanny, for example, was an independent state until 1547, while the Kingdom of Navarre was independent until 1620. English speaking people do not now describe Navarre or Britanny as countries. It would be strange if asked, which countries did you visit on your holiday to answer Britanny and Navarre. Rather it  would be correct to answer France and Spain.


Perhaps Scotland has a special status as a country because it was independent until relatively recently. The date when the UK really began is normally taken to be 1707. In historical terms this is relatively recent, but it is easy to find present day regions in Europe which were independent states long after this. Germany was formally made up of literally hundreds of independent states. Bavaria was a fully independent state until 1871 and in some ways retained a large degree of sovereign independence, such as a separate diplomatic service and military, until 1918. Italy likewise was made up of independent states until unification in the 1860s. Thus the Kingdom of Sardinia remained independent until 1861, while the Kingdom of the two Sicilies remained independent until 1860.


Scotland has been a part of the UK far longer than  the constituent parts of Italy or Germany, but if someone asked me which countries I visited in Europe, it would be considered a simple mistake if I answered Bavaria, Saxony, Sicily and Sardinia. These places simply are no longer countries, even though formerly they once were.


What makes Scotland so special? Why is Scotland still considered to be a country when Bavaria is not? There is no really rational explanation, but it is this difference in how these places are named that explains why nationalism has a strong minority following in Scotland, while it is almost non existent in Bavaria.


Imagine if each formerly independent state in Europe were described in the way that Scotland is described. Scotland is described as being a country, sometimes even a nation. Moreover, it has a Parliament and a Government, it has a flag, which many Scots prefer to the Union flag, it has its own banknotes. What’s in a name? Quite a lot actually. Imagine if Sardinia called itself a country,  refused to fly the Italian flag, issued its own banknotes, called its regional council the Parliament of Sardinia, which formed the Government of Sardinia and continually complained about the wicked Roman government. Would this aid Italian unity or harm it?


Some Scots say that they only feel Scottish. But this is really the equivalent of a Bavian denying that he is a German, of a Sicilian denying that he is an Italian. If I seriously suggested such a thing, it would imply that I simply did not understand the words “German” and “Italian”. Yet highly educated Scots routinely give the impression that they do not understand the word “British”.


Linguistic anomalies exist for the most accidental of reasons. Formerly, especially in the 18th and 19th centuries,  there was a move towards using the term North Britain instead of Scotland and Scottish nationalism or the desire for independence was, practically speaking, non-existent. Now the term North Britain is considered hopelessly archaic. What changed this? The answer perversely enough, I believe, is football.


Owing to the UK being at the forefront in the development of football, each part of the UK remains in the anomalous position of having its own international  team. There is absolutely no rational justification for this irregularity continuing, but it does and continues to feed nationalistic feelings. As we have seen with the Olympics, when the UK competes as a single team the tendency is for everyone in Scotland to cheer on members of the British team, no matter where they are from. The Olympic team thus acts as a unifying force and for this reason is damaging to the aspirations of Scottish nationalists. By the same token the existence of separate football teams is a dividing force, which aids the nationalists. Imagine if Bavaria had its own football team. Would this make it more or less likely that Bavaria would desire independence? The answer is obvious.


There are two main sides to the debate about independence. The economic/political side and the identity side. The latter is the more powerful. But it is my contention that this identity side of the argument depends on a linguistic anomaly, which describes Scotland as a country, underpinned by Scotland continuing to compete internationally as if it really were a country. Do we really wish to make the the most important decision of our lives, in the forthcoming referendum, on the basis of an anomaly?

Why Scottish unionists should be concerned about English nationalism

Whenever there is an article in the Daily Telegraph about Scottish politics and the independence referendum, the comment section is commonly dominated by Cybernats, who seem most concerned about insulting personally the author of the piece. There are usually few Scottish unionists commenting, no doubt because most Scots are too sensible to enjoy being insulted for expressing their opinions. There are usually still fewer obviously English people making comments, but occasionally this changes. Sometimes an article in the Telegraph goes mainstream and leaves its Scottish niche and then something quite interesting happens. When the English begin to comment on the independence referendum, the most popular posts are those which say good riddance to Scotland.

Logically, if Scotland can have a referendum on independence, so can England, but what if England were to want Scottish independence more than the Scots do? What if they were so sick of the rise of Scottish nationalism, so sick of the unfair devolution settlement, that they decided to divorce us? Looking at the way the independence campaign in Scotland is going, and trying to avoid complacency as much as possible, it is looking ever more likely that Scots will never actually vote for independence. But Mr Salmond would achieve his dream equally well if England were to vote for independence, for it seems hardly likely that the rest of the UK minus England,  consisting of an unconnected Celtic fringe could possibly last. It is England that binds the union together. The English people traditionally identified themselves with Britain in a way that could only be matched in some parts of Ulster. But now this is beginning to change.

Of course, Mr Cameron has no intention of giving the English a referendum on independence, nor it would appear has he any intention of giving the UK a referendum on EU membership. The main reason that he won’t give such referendums is that he thinks he would have every chance of losing them. But eventually in a democracy there comes a politician who realises that there are votes in giving the people what they want. If English nationalism continues to rise, it will be addressed politically.

Of course, this all must be put into perspective. At the moment, when push came to shove, it is likely that the English would still vote for the union. A few angry comments in the Telegraph, do not make an independence movement and no serious political party in England is proposing independence. But this is because, in my view, English nationalism is still just beginning.

My first real experience of England was during my studies in Cambridge, back before devolution. I never once came across anti Scottish sentiment. I used to do the Burns supper in Doric every year, dressed in a kilt, no one understanding a word I said and the English loved it. There were some jokes about my accent, which I had to considerably tone down, there was a lot of ignorance about Scotland, but there was huge amounts of goodwill towards Scotland. The English had a love of their country, which included a love of Scotland. The contrast with my own experience in Scotland was huge, where even unionists seemed barely able to utter a kind word about England and the English. To be honest, it made me a bit ashamed about some of the things my Scottish friends and I would sometimes say about England, how we were so ready to find insult when they described us as British, how we could be so chippy about some trivial misunderstanding of Scotland or Scottish history.

English nationalism did not exist until devolution, but since devolution and especially since the rise of Scottish nationalism, it has been growing. Devolution was completely unfair to England. It created division where it could have created unity. The reason for this is obvious. The devolution settlement should never have been applied only to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. It should have been applied across the whole country. The Scottish constitutional convention thought it was a matter only for Scots and the Labour government agreed and thought that it was a matter that could be determined by a referendum of the Scottish people alone. But devolution should never have been a matter only for Scots as it affected everyone who lives in the United Kingdom. Perhaps, this was not entirely clear at the time, but it is becoming ever clearer as devolution continues.

Suddenly the English looked north and saw that, although Scotland paid the same level of tax as England did, the Scottish people gained free this and free that, while the English did not. The English saw a Scottish chancellor and a Scottish Prime Minister ruling in Westminster, they saw Scottish MPs pushing through laws for England, while English MPs and even the government in Westminster had no say about such matters in the constituency of the Prime Minister. This led to ever increasing levels of English resentment and ever increasing levels of English nationalism.

What finally led to an explosion of anti-Scottishness was Alex Salmond continually proposing to have a referendum on independence and his achieving a majority in the Scottish parliament. Look at this from the point of view of England. Scotland and England have been in a marriage for over 300 years. Suddenly Scotland says it’s thinking about a divorce. How do most married couples react when one party says I want a divorce? If a husband comes to his wife and says I’m sick of this marriage, I could do better on my own, would you expect the wife to continue loving him? No, her reaction would be first hurt, then most likely an expression of good riddance. Eventually so much damage is done to the marriage that even if the husband were to say I’ve decided to stay, the wife would say, no, now I want the divorce. This is what has happened in England. The English were first hurt by Scots apparently petitioning for divorce by electing Alex Salmond. They looked on the whole process of the independence referendum as profoundly insulting, and they are beginning to think if that’s how they feel we’d be better off rid of them.

What can be done? Firstly, Scottish unionists have to emphasis to their English friends that Scottish nationalism is a fringe movement. Then we have to overwhelmingly defeat the nationalists in the independence referendum, so that the issue is defeated once and for all. Next, we cannot keep adding to the unfairness of the devolution settlement by adding still further layers of unfairness, devo-plus and devo max. Rather, we must find a fair devolution settlement for the whole UK, perhaps by devolving real power to local councils across the UK. Finally, we must show England and the English that we care about the union, that we want to be in this marriage with them, that we each have our identities as Scots or English, Welsh or Northern Irish, but that we are all and above all, British.

Why monetary union may not survive independence

The SNP have said that they wish to maintain monetary union with the Rest of the UK (rUK) post independence. But although it might have been possible to maintain such a monetary union in the past, when a number of countries, albeit most often with a colonial relationship to the UK used the pound as their currency, it is looking less and less likely that this model of monetary union is possible given modern economic conditions.

The experience of the breakup of Czechoslovakia is especially illustrative of why a currency union between rUK and Scotland would not necessarily last, even if there were good will on both sides. The Slovak Parliament declared independence on 17th July 1992 and after negotiations with the Czech side of the union it was agreed that Czechoslovakia would be dissolved on 31st December 1992.

The intention of both sides was to mitigate against the economic consequences of break-up by maintaining the currency union of the Koruna for at least six months with the possibility of extending this union if both governments agreed. However, this currency union lasted just six weeks.

What were the causes of the failure of monetary union in the newly independent Czech Republic and Slovakia? The answer is capital flight. From the moment independence was announced, money began flowing out of the Slovak half of Czechoslovakia into the Czech half and this flow became a torrent once Slovakia actually became independent.

The Slovak half of Czechoslovakia had developed somewhat differently from the Czech half during communism. It was dominated by heavy industry that had become obsolete. The Czech half of the union was up to 20 % richer per capita and was perceived to dominate the union of the two peoples. With the introduction of democracy in 1989, the Slovaks began to voice their resentment and started to vote for nationalist parties. Mutual resentment continued until the June 1992 elections, when Czechs voted for Czech parties and Slovaks voted for Slovak parties. At this point divorce became inevitable.

What caused the capital flight? The same thing that is causing capital flight in the Eurozone. If a person has 100,000 euros in his Greek bank account and Greece were to leave the Euro and these Greek Euros were  then to be converted into new Drachmas, which were then to depreciate against the Euro by 50 percent,  the 100,000 Euros, which were in the Greek bank account, would now only buy 50,000 Euros. It is therefore rational for a Greek fearing that Greece will leave the Euro to send his money either into a German bank account, or perhaps better still into a US dollar, Swiss, or Sterling bank account. This can now be done almost at the touch of a button.

Slovaks thus fearing that their money would soon be denominated in a new Slovak Koruna, chose to move their money into Czech banks, supposing that a new Czech currency would be stronger than a new Slovak currency.

In the end, it was the Czech authorities which broke up the currency union between the two countries. The capital flight from Slovakia, was such that it was unnerving the Czech authorities, who then imposed capital controls. The run on the Slovak banks, of course, unnerved and destabilised  the fledgling Slovakia too and they agreed to the breakup of the currency union, on February 2nd 1993, just over a month into independence. The border was briefly closed. The physical  notes of each country were stamped so as to mark them as Czech or Slovak. And as predicted the Slovak Koruna depreciated against the Czech Koruna.

The lessons for Scotland are obvious. Even if both Scotland and rUK  wished to maintain the present currency union, it might not be possible to do so. Capital flight from Scotland could be such that  the Bank of England would be forced to introduce capital controls and overnight all banknotes in Scotland could be stamped as new Scottish pounds which could either appreciate or depreciate against rUK pounds. Would this happen? Who knows. Could it happen? Absolutely. It is happening in the Eurozone at present and it happened a few years ago in Czechoslovakia.

Ask yourself if independence was announced today what would you do with your money? Personally, I would instantly move all my money into an English bank account or if I was sufficiently worried I would move it into a dollar account or a Swiss account. Why would I do this? Because I would be worried that the currency union with rUK would not last and if a new Scottish pound were created, that it would fall relative to the rUK pound. This would mean the value of my savings would fall and I would lose money. This does not, of course, mean that the currency union would fail. But my knowledge of economics and the recent experience of the Eurozone tells me that modern currency unions require fiscal and political union. They require one government. Without these things, which is the inevitable consequence of Scottish independence, currency break up is always a possibility, always a risk. It is this risk which caused capital flight in Slovakia, which created a self fulfilling prophecy. It is the same risk, which could create a self-fulfilling prophecy in Scotland post independence. The mere fact that the pound zone could break up might make it inevitable that it would break up leaving all Scots poorer.

We have enough economic troubles at the moment without the question of independence adding to them. Canny Scots would be well to look at their pocket books when they contemplate breaking up the union. How would you like to see your savings, your house, your salary paid in devalued new Scottish pounds?