Friday, August 28, 2009

The Independence Impact - On Everyone Else

SI column time again... this time, considering the impact that Scottish Independence would have on the rest of the UK - the theme of a foray I made down to London last weekend, to address the SNP's London branch alongside some august intellectual company...

We all have our own arguments about what Independence would mean for Scotland. In the SNP, it's rare to find a point of view falling short of it being a good thing in every conceivable respect. However, there's one rather significant side-effect of independence which we often overlook – the impact it would have on our nearest neighbours.

Scotland going her own way requires us to establish the identity of a Scottish state and to obtain international recognition. It's often forgotten amidst the spurious claims of isolation which arise from this that the rest of the UK, or rUK, would find itself in a completely new position as well, with the idea that all continues as before left open to serious challenge.

First of all, let's follow the money, or perhaps even the lack of it. The UK national debt is set to reach £1.4tr over the next five years – something which Scotland will have to take its share of. However, with independence, what remains of the UK will have lost 8.5% of its population and nearly 10% of its tax revenues. It will also lose a large proportion of one of the UK's most obvious economic assets – North Sea oil and gas

Potentially, that is eyebrow raising stuff for the markets, leading to the prospect that rUK credit status may be downgraded. There's no reason why, handled sensibly, this should of itself be a huge problem. However, it carries with it the hint of the prisoners' dilemma – the optimum position is for Scotland and rUK to co-operate and emphasise continuity, but it one side 'defaults', for example, by rehashing previous spats about who subsidises who, it potentially leaves both sides in a poorer position in the eyes of the markets.

The creation of a new tax regime north of the border also creates a dilemma for the rUK Chancellor. As an English speaking country with a well educated population, fully integrated into EU law with good transport links and a well developed market in professional and legal services, Scotland is an attractive place to do business. Every change in the Scottish tax code which gives Scotland a potential advantage will, as with the Irish Government guaranteeing savers deposits in the early days of the banking crisis, put great pressure on the UK Government to follow suit.

But if the economic impact is potentially significant, the military impact is huge. Trident is the UK's main expression of military geo-political power and rUK could certainly afford to maintain son of Trident if it chose. Indeed, it might feel that doing so was necessary to maintain status as a world, rather than a mere regional power. However, rUK would face an immediate difficulty in the event of independence, since the deep water submarine base and armaments depot necessary for its operation would henceforth be based in a foreign country hostile to their presence.

A lack of access to these facilities would be even more debilitating to the integrity of the Trident 'deterrent' than any withdrawal of US support for the system. The facilities at Faslane and Coulport would take years to replace elsewhere, but even then, where could they go? And where would they be welcome? As such, it's not beyond the realms of possibility that independence would also mean the end of an independent UK nuclear deterrent.

Then there is the loss of Scottish service personnel to UK forces. While Scottish Defence Forces would undoubtedly find themselves serving alongside those of rUK from time to time, it is inconceivable that they would be used, as they have been in the recent past, in operations such as those in Iraq. With the UK already stretched, if Scotland's conventional military capabilities were to be lost, rUK would find it impossible to fulfill its present commitments.

All of this would have a diplomatic impact. Nuclear weapons or not, the inevitable consequence of a reduced military capability and ability to deploy it would be a diminished status internationally. At the UN Security Council, it would become increasingly hard to justify continued rUK presence in the permanent 5, particularly when a nuclear armed Indian democracy of 800m sits outside. Although it would be fiercely resisted by the French, pressure may build to have a single European seat, or at the very least expand the number of permanent members.

Then we come to Europe, and votes in the European Parliament and Council of Ministers (CoM). Scotland would see an increase in her number of MEPs, and would for the first time gain representation at CoM level. The impact is on rUK, which given a population loss of 5m, would snap into sharp focus the fact that Germany with a population of 80m would still have the same number of votes as rUK, on 55m.

One solution might be to increase the weight of German votes, although this would likely be unacceptable to the French. Accordingly, the most likely option would be to see a reduction in rUK voting power to the same number of CoM votes as Spain – something which, strange but true, would see Scotland and rUK with a stronger combined influence than the UK at presence.

But how much does this really affect England, Wales and Northern Ireland, rather than a British political class which boasts endlessly of 'special relationships' and 'punching above our weight'? Without Scotland, many of the traditional ties for Northern Irish unionists to the UK become less meaningful. Wales, which frequently looks to Scotland politically, would see that the British state was not indivisible, and may perhaps decide that the 'full national status' accorded to Scotland and advocated by Plaid Cymru is something both attainable and desirable after all.

So whither England, when so much of English identity has been tied up in 'Britishness' for the last 3 centuries? If we Scots seem further down the road to resolving outstanding issues of politics and identity in the world, it's probably because we've been obsessing about it for far longer. England, once de-colonised from the British State, can see a progressive, civic identity emerge, which is able to reflect itself politically and sit comfortably alongside the emerging independence of Scotland and Wales. A nation, hopefully, at ease with itself and its inhabitants, and able to look confidently to the future, without feeling diminished by contrasts with the past.


Anonymous said...

US hypocrisy

CrazyDaisy said...

A good read and well balanced, my English wife tires of my rantings but she knows how passionate I am about Scotland determining her own future, I have faith that it will happen on my watch.


Richard Thomson said...

Cheers, CD.

Anonymous said...

Why do you assume that Scotland will be allowed to join the EU?


P.S. You also still have to have ageement from the Scots to dismantle the act of union.
That isn't a forgone conclusion especially as a lot, like me, are what you might call multi-ethnic (mix of Irish/Welsh/English/Scots ancestry) or British even though we reside in Scotland.

Richard Thomson said...


Why do I assume that Scotland will be allowed to join the EU? Well, mainly on the basis of her being a democracy, a likely net budget contributor, being a major supplier of energy, having implemented EU law for four decades, the EU having no basis for the expulsion of a state or territory, the fact that it would be manifestly in every other member state's interests for Scotland to be inside rather than out... those sorts of things, really. Why would anyone assume otherwise?

I know that consent has to be won before Scotland can become independent. This was intended as a look at how things might be post-independence.

Anonymous said...

when were we asked for our consent to to become the uk !!!!!!!!!!!!!