Independence or Bust?

The issue of Scottish Independence has been increasingly found time in the news recently. From whether the nation would stay apart of the EU, to would 16 year old get the vote, the potential break-up of the union remains at the heart of British politics. What makes this issue so interesting is that the answer is ambiguous. It will either go one way, or the other. But as of yet no one really knows.

The first argument for Scotland to become an independent state is the core principle in politics that a nation should control its own political and legal destiny. The nation state has been at the heart of modern Western politics, with revolutions being fought for national self-determination and liberation since the 18th century. As a proud and distinct community with a shared sense of culture, history and identity, the Scots have a clear political right to be independent of Britain. There is nothing strange or unreasonable in this demand- it is the bedrock of democracy.

Moreover, there are obvious historical grounds for independence. It was only in 1707 that England and Scotland were legally united. Before that there was a long history of conflict and tension between the two nations dating back at least as far as Edward I and William Wallace. Indeed, Scots have often identified themselves in opposition to the English. Furthermore, Scotland has always had a degree of independence with its own legal and educational system and this saw an increase following devolution in 1997. The move to give nations in Britain more political freedom has only given legitimacy to the independence movement, allowing it to grow and become highly prolific. Since the devolved elections in 1999, no party had won a majority in the Scottish Parliament but in 2011 the Scottish people gave a resounding victory to the Scottish National Party. Led by Alex Salmond, the SNP can rightly claim not only a powerful mandate to govern but also the authority to begin the process of making Scotland an independent country. The SNP is now proving its fitness to govern Scotland. Running a devolved government with powers to change tax rates and pass primary legislation makes the case for independence even stronger; independence is the logical extension of devolution.

Furthermore, many nationalists argue that Scotland is ‘infantilised’ by its domination by England. Scotland has always been the patronised junior partner in the relationship with England. Westminster is too distant and remote from Scottish concerns and a London-centric government has damaged Scots. This feeling reached its peak during the Thatcher era when a clear majority of Scots felt that Scotland was economically and politically harmed by conservative policies. To make matters even wore, today Scotland is governed from London by a Conservative-led administration that has only 1 Tory MP in Scotland; Scotland is ultimately governed by a party that has all but died north of the border.

On the other hand, an independent Scotland would either have to launch its own currency or enter a currency union with partners. An independent Scottish pounds would be unviable. Borrowing costs would be punitive due to the small and liquid nature of a Scottish bond market. Exports and overseas business would be damaged. A currency union is scarcely more palatable, however. Even SNP enthusiasm for joining the euro has dimmed recently, leaving a nominally independent Scotland sticking with the pound. However, this would leave Scotland in the same mess that Greece finds itself in today: the victim of a currency union. An independent Scotland sticking with the pound would have to accept the consequences of interest rate decisions taken by the Bank of England with the English economy and market in mind; hardly a reassuring prospect for Scottish business.

Appeals to Scotland’s history and separate tradition are at the heart of the independence campaign. The myth and legend that Scottish nationalists weave around the 1314 victory over the English at Bannockburn meant that 2014 was the irresistible choice of a referendum date. Alex Salmon declared in 2010 that 2014 would be the ‘Year of Homecoming.’ More pragmatic Scots however look at history through less rose tined glasses. For them Bannockburn stands out as the exception in a line of defeats and misadventures that confirm that historically Scotland was no more viable as an independent competitor to England than it is now.

The Scottish nationalists offering the ‘infantilising’ argument sneer that London is out of touch with Scotland, and that Westminster is too distant. Yet Scotland has provided disproportionately large share of the Westminster political leadership over the last few years. Claims that Scotland is marginalised and ignored in Westminster would be more convincing and realistic were it not for the fact that two of the last three prime ministers and chancellors have either been Scottish or Scottish-educated!

Although it would be churlish to deny the very real achievement of the SNP in forming a government in Scotland, it is still important to emphasise that independence is still a minority view. In the 2010 general election, 19.9% of Scots voted for the SNP while 77.6% voted for parties opposed to independence. In polls, support for independence generally hovers around the one-third mark.

Finally, the simple fact is that the union is arguably good for Scotland and its people. As part of the UK’s 60 million people, 5 million Scots get a place at the worlds top diplomatic tables such as the UN and NATO that they could not possibly hope for if they went their own way. As a potential trading partner in a competitive global market, Scottish business benefit from the stability and clout that comes through being part of a large entity.

There is also the issue of oil. Who does the oil belong to? If Scotland did become independent of England would we ever benefit from the oil or would the Scots be greedy and keep it to themselves? I’ve never understood the economics of this issue. However, I can conclude that my strongest argument against Scottish independence is the thought of having to re-new my passport. Imagine how long that would take. For further information about the referendum in 2014 visit http://www.scotreferendum.com.

Aysegul, A2 Politics Student

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