In Defence of the Union
It is the responsibility of any academic or author to clearly lay out one’s biases, be they the products of conscious deliberation, or a consequence of one’s birth. I am a Scot, born in Aberdeen, but have lived in England for the past 12 years. What results from this is a sentiment within me; I am most certainly proud to be Scottish. As so many Scots have said before me though, I am also proud to be British. Perhaps that is partly down to my time spent living in England, the euphoria of Team GB Olympic spirit that envelops the country as I write this or the friends I have the pleasure of mixing with from all corners of Britain. From a sentimental point of view, the breakup of the union of the United Kingdom is a prospect that fills me with concern. I realise though, that the sentiment of many Scottish people is the exact opposite. What worries me the most is that the Scottish independence campaign seems purely based on these patriotic feelings. I will demonstrate throughout the course of this article the practical arguments as to why Scottish independence is unwise. What one must beware, and a trap that I am very close to falling into, is viewing the independence debate as purely based on feelings of attachment, be it to Britain, or Scotland as an independent country. Whilst these feelings are important, and I will begin by exploring them, they should not take primary consideration when referendum time arrives. I believe that it can be demonstrated why Scottish independence is the wrong path through practical economic and political consideration.
There is no doubt that Scotland has a culture truly independent from the rest of Britain, represented in history, culture and society. Robbie Burns will never be a “British poet”, no, he will always be known as a Scot, The Bard. The bagpipes that inspire feelings of patriotism, the industrial symbols of Scotland that are the rail and road Forth Bridges, these are things that can only be described as Scottish. It’s not surprising that many Scots feel proud of their nation; there is plenty to be proud of. It is easy to understand the resentment of many when they see English politicians and civil servants based in Westminster “meddling” in their affairs, who have little knowledge of the culture of Scotland. This is an issue that does not require independence to remedy however. Further devolution would lead to less interference from Westminster, allowing politicians in Holyrood greater autonomy, whilst avoiding the economic and political problems associated with independence.
The economic consequences of independence are going to be what ultimately decide the result of this referendum. If people feel they as individuals will be better off as a result of independence, they’ll vote yes, if not, it’s more than likely that the result will swing the other way. It’s easy to put a price on patriotism.
It’s true that Scotland has a large amount of natural resources in the form of North Sea oil and gas; these provide large amounts of revenue, up to £12bn a year. However, these resources, as valuable as they are now, are finite. The economic prosperity that will arise from the utilisation of these resources is temporary; whilst it could result in some increased affluence for the current generation I hope that people will think of future generations when they come to cast their votes. The current economic advantages that the Scottish people have, such as vastly reduced university tuition fees, will not be available without Westminster funding. The average Scot will suffer economically if an independent Scotland becomes a reality.
Another economic concern for an independent Scotland surrounds what currency they would use. Stick with the British pound and they have the problem of a foreign central bank setting interest rates to Britain’s advantage, leaving Scotland with no influence over their monetary policy. They could join the Euro, but I credit Alex Salmond with enough intelligence to not even entertain this as a possibility whilst the Euro is so toxic. Their final option is to create their own currency. In this current era of financial instability, to create a new currency is fraught with risk however. Either way, Scotland would face huge problems whichever currency option it chose to pursue.
There are notable political disadvantages if Scotland was to cede from Britain, it goes without saying that the international influence of Britain would decline among regional bodies such as the EU and security alliances such as NATO. In an increasingly globalised world, where co-operation is required on matters ranging from international crime to environmental issues, it is vital that Britain maintains its diplomatic clout. A divided Britain will not have the same amount of influence as it currently possesses. Also, those Scots that think they will instantly be able to enter onto the world stage with the same amount of influence on the world stage as they currently have as part of Britain are sadly deluded. Furthermore, it is necessary for the security of Britain that we stay united as a country. Whilst nationalists may not like Trident nuclear weapons being stationed on the Clyde, they are necessary for the security of Britain. For an independent Scotland to remove these, as nationalists wish, they would be jeopardising the security of not just Scotland, but also other surrounding countries.
The Scottish National Party (SNP) has stated that Scotland would be a part of Europe automatically, as it already is a member as part of the UK. However, a letter from the EU Commission shows that the SNP has never even asked what their status would be if they achieved independence. This brings me back to a point I made before about the Euro. It is evident that the Euro is extremely toxic, and Scotland would do well to avoid joining it. However, as Ruth Davidson, the Scottish Conservative leader has stated, “One of the rules for applying to join the EU is that you have to adopt the Euro. That is the law…” This puts Scotland in an extremely difficult position if they are not granted automatic membership to the EU.
Further devolution would allow Scotland more independence on certain issues but would not compromise the influence that Britain holds on the international stage. Most importantly, it would not risk the security of innocent people.
These problems make it clear to me that an independent Scotland is simply not a realistic option. There is a pervasive feeling of nationalism in Scotland, that much is obvious from repeated SNP victories, achieving majorities in the Scottish Parliament in 2007 and 2011. Alex Salmond has proved to be an effective leader, and has such charisma I worry that he will be able to generate enough patriotic fervour to win the upcoming referendum. It is crucial that the economic and political problems that would arise from independence are demonstrated to the public. The patriotism of those of us that feel attached to the Union will not be enough to win this referendum. The practical disadvantages of independence must be demonstrated otherwise nationalist sound bites will win the day. Devolution must be shown to be the realistic option, it allows Scotland more independence from Westminster, giving some lenience to nationalist attitudes, but also avoids the issues that arise from full independence.