Thursday, October 24, 2013

FINANCIAL TIMES: When Britain leaves Europe, Scotland will leave Britain

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Scots who support the union will have second thoughts if England heads for the door
Ingram Pinn illustration©Ingram Pinn
The other day Alex Salmond set out his stall for an independent Scotland. It was a bravura performance. Had the Scottish people been asked straight afterwards they would surely have voted to break with the UK. Europe teems with politicians hiding from the storms. Scotland’s first minister is that rare thing – a leader intent on changing the political weather.
Britain’s Conservative-led coalition government is in trouble. Popular anger with ever-rising household energy prices has marked a shift in the political mood. Capitalism survived the great crash of 2008, but years of falling living standards have left voters attuned to the flaws of liberal economics. They have spotted that, as in banking so in energy, the market can be rigged to favour the few. They have noticed that senior executives have been unscathed by austerity. They are fed up with politicians who wring their hands. Scotland has long stood to the left of England. Mr Salmond hopes to catch a rising social democratic tide.


On this story

On this topic

Philip Stephens

Scotland will vote on independence in September next year. If David Cameron’s Conservatives win the UK-wide election in 2015, Britons will then be offered a referendum on whether to stay in the EU. The polls would be separated by time, but the two sets of relationships are intimately connected. Were Britain to fall out of Europe – and it might – Scotland sooner or later would wave goodbye to Britain.
Received wisdom has it that Mr Salmond’s Scottish National party will fail in its first bid for separation. A pro-union alliance of Labour, Conservatives and Liberal Democrats has notched up successes in challenging the SNP’s prospectus. Alistair Darling, the former chancellor leading the unionist side, has proved a formidable interrogator of the nationalists’ claims.
Mr Salmond has been put on the defensive about how an independent Scotland would manage the economy. He wants to keep sterling, but is embarrassed by the implication that interest rates would continue to be set by the Bank of England in London. The SNP case that control of North Sea oil and gas would more than compensate for the loss of hefty tax transfers from Westminster is less than watertight. The SNP is hazy about how it would run foreign and defence policy.
The calculation in the unionist camp is that such arguments will carry the day. When the moment arrives, the canny Scots will vote with their pocketbooks. Sticking with the union is safe. Better to press for a new transfer of power from Westminster to the Holyrood parliament. Devolution has already given Scotland a fair measure of control over its own affairs.
Mr Salmond might argue that this week’s threat of closure by Ineos of its large petrochemical plant at Grangemouth underscores why Scotland must take control of its destiny. Opponents could counter that the union with England provides a cushion against inevitable economic setbacks.
The arithmetic is on the side of the unionists. Opinion polls show that a substantial majority of Scots are unconvinced of the case to scrap the 300-year old Act of Union with England. They suggest barely a third of Scots favour full independence, while about twice that number would favour more devolution. Yet to think the battle is won is to make two grave mistakes.
The first underestimates the force of Mr Salmond’s personality. When the Scottish parliament was set up in 1999, its electoral system was designed to remove all possibility of an outright SNP victory. Mr Salmond smashed the system in 2011 when he swept back to power with an overall majority. Weeks before polling day, unionists had judged such a victory impossible.
There is no mystery to the SNP’s success. Mr Salmond has discarded a separatism once rooted in grievance against the English for a nationalism that promises cordial relations with the rest of the UK. Queen Elizabeth can keep her palace at Balmoral and remain titular head of state. Citizens of an independent Scotland would be at once Scottish and British.
Reassurance is twinned with confidence. In Mr Salmond’s words, independence would be “an act of national self-confidence and national self-belief”. The argument is thus framed as one between hope and despair – between those who are optimistic about Scotland’s future and the pessimists who think it must forever be shackled to England.
The second mistake is to assume that a No to independence in the 2014 referendum would be the last word. It would be followed by an argument about the transfer of more powers and then, possibly, by a plebiscite on the EU. Assuming the SNP had won a decent share of the vote, eventual independence would remain an option.
This is where Britain’s relationship with Europe is critical. A referendum that took the UK out of the EU would transform the argument in Scotland. Pro-union Scots would think again were England to detach itself from its own continent.
The case for Scotland staying in the UK is much the same as that for Britain remaining in the EU. Globalisation has eroded the capacity of nations to exercise sovereignty. Sharing sovereignty is a way to reclaim power. Nationalism is escapism that ends in a cul-de-sac.
Were England to cut itself off from its own continent the intelligent response of Scots would be to swap union with a diminished England for independent membership of the EU. There lies an irony. Eurosceptics say they are marching in defence of a sovereign UK. Nothing could be more calculated to shatter the union of England with Scotland than Britain’s withdrawal from Europe.
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  1. Report paultbgannon | October 24 9:56pm | Permalink
    To pursue the line of thought, if Britain leaves the EU & Scotland then leaves the UK, might opinion in Wales also follow the Scottish lead? Then, how long would England & Northern Ireland remain united?
  2. Report marmora | October 24 9:49pm | Permalink
    Nice final paragraph: vote to leave the EU and a sovereign UK and Scotland will secede.

    Preying on people's fears and trying to kill two birds with one stone is unworthy. Besides which it would be interesting to know what moral or political justification the author might find for it, other than the fact that it is the general line coming out of Fleet Street.

    A pity since up to the last paragraph, one might have thought one was being to a fairly impartial and rational critique.

    Scotland is a better run country than England. In almost all areas it scores higher. It is also more socially cohesive. By contrast England is a mess as demonstrated by any number of examples of maladministration.The irresponsible press, the unresolved House of Lords, the poor provision of affordable justice, the BSkyB bid, Plebgate, the voluntary regulation of the Press, the woeful condition of the education and exam system, the botched NHS computer ( £10bn loss ), the botched ID card ( loss £100 ), the disgusting abuse of the tax system by multi-national companies and household names, the underfunding of HMRC and inability to recruit and prosecute tax evasion, the disastrous loss of control of national borders, and abuses of immigration and social benefits. The list goes on and on.

    When the Scots look south of the border, they have reason to wish to have greater control over their own country. However, perhaps the greatest loss England has suffered apart from the gross mismanagement listed above, is that England has destroyed in all significant quarters the social democratic model which used to unify ordinary people in their Britishness and sense of practical fairness. Scotland still has this and Alex Salmond knows this very well. The two countries are no qualitatively and philosophically different.

    For a more apt exposition this article fills in the details at the webpage referred to below.


    One suspects also that if there were a no vote in the slated 2017 referendum, then perhaps some of the egregiously un-British modes of government, then perhaps with time control could taken back of proper law-making and consultation. It might then mean that Scotland might happily choose to remain in an independent United Kingdom.
  3. Report Burtonshaw | October 24 9:45pm | Permalink
    Looking at the UK from a considerable distance, I must say that the idea of Scottish independence has a number of mystifying aspects. Just two for now::

    It is very hard with a straight face to describe Scots as a separate nationality - it was once upon a time (when nationality often did not matter), but these days? No separate language, no separate religion, no separate ethnicity, no very separate location (such as e.g. Iceland), a strong common set of experiences with other parts of the UK (various revolutions, empire, litterature etc) - so what is left apart from a unique affectation for grievances - which certainly Salmond's party is peddling strongly?

    And how can Salmond be so popular with his own crowd - from a distance he seems to be about the oiliest politician around - and the various contradictions presented by PS underpin such an impression.

    Finally, I wonder to what extent this article by PS is really about Scotland, and to what extent it is yet another article peddling the eu to the English?
  4. Report Brit in Biarritz | October 24 9:23pm | Permalink
    He is quite the best 'old hack'. Sure, disagree with his arguments, but in a reasoned way, but don't go for the man.
  5. Report Do What You Wanna Do | October 24 9:19pm | Permalink
    So many ifs...

    Time for Lionel to clear out some of his old hacks and get in some fresh blood.
  6. Report jay but | October 24 9:16pm | Permalink
    Mixed terminology in the headlines here. England &Wales plus Scotland is Britain. Britain plus the northern counties of Ireland is the United Kingdom. Britain is the bigger island to the east, Ireland the smaller island to the west. How then can Scotland leave Britain? And If Scotland chooses separation before 2015, then any referendum in the UK of E, W and NI would not involve voters in Scotland.

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