Today is Thursday 18th September 2014. Those people aged 16 or above who live in Scotland are voting on whether to become an independent country or not. I am anticipating my two views tomorrow morning depending on how the vote goes. Delete one as appropriate tomorrow morning.
So the Scots have voted for independence. You have to admire the way Alex Salmond handled the campaign. I don’t know how he did it but he completely bamboozled Alastair Darling. He somehow rallied the protest vote – we won’t be told what to do – and completely avoided any detail by branding it as scare tactics. I have no doubt that Scotland can make a go of it as an independent nation and I wish them the best of luck. There will be a real energy and enthusiasm which will overcome any short term hurdles. My immediate concern now is that the fallout for the remainder of the ‘United Kingdom’ is managed well. As of today Scotland is independent in my mind and we need to protect our own interests in the negotiations to float them off. A fair settlement but not a generous settlement. Alex Salmond will moan and whine and think that everything should be his – all the oil. He will want the nuclear missiles removed within 6 months which will be a challenge because we don’t have the facilities. What we don’t want is all the debt, all the military strength, all the foreign policy commitments and allow Scotland to slough it off like a dead skin. There mustn’t be any monetary union (we suffered in silence with Scottish bank notes for long enough) and they will have to make their own decision over EU membership. If they don’t get membership then the barriers need to go up along the border and there needs to be a visa system for working in the EU. This is no different than the position we have with Ireland.
We need the Scots to face the reality – all those things which Alex Salmond conveniently described as scaremongering – not so that we want to change their mind but that they lie firmly in the situation they created. We can then turn to how on earth we manage the situation left behind. The argument in the final stages was all about Boston Tea Party arguments – no taxation without representation. There are a lot of people on the same boat. The Welsh and the North in particular have exactly the same gripes. For years at least we have been able to see that someone had it worse (“it may be grim but at least we are not in Scotland”). When the devolution argument happened Scotland was very swiftly followed by Wales and Northern Ireland in having their own Assemblies. I am expecting that the Welsh Nationalists, the Republic of Ireland, Cornwall, and Basque separatists will be similarly challenging. In many ways I think a smart-thinking politician could have grasped the nettle years ago and realised the solution was actually to declare independence for London and create it as a Monaco-style country. Lots of us have been fed up for many years with London-centricity. Even in the Scottish debate, the banks declared that due to the problems of operating over two countries they would be forced to move their Headquarters to London – not to England. There will need to be a fast change to the constitution in parallel with the negotiations over Scotland to create a fairer place to live for the rest of us. On a positive side hopefully we can use the upheaval as an excuse to retreat into the background a little and enjoy being a country without the spotlight on us. We can happily lose our place on the UN Security Council and stop trying to run NATO. Time to let some other nations take the reins and carry some of the financial burden while we use the money saved to pay for lawyers and consultants.
Well at least in the end sanity prevailed. We live in a world where we should be uniting not fracturing. The global problems we will face going forward are much bigger than national borders. There is undoubtedly an enormous problem which has been ignored for far too long and it isn’t a Scottish problem. Scotland is merely a symptom of the malaise. Their anger is shared by the North of England and parts of Wales. We are fed up with the ridiculous bias towards the South East and the wealth being generated and kept there. We must find a way to never return to the situation where a single unconstitutional vote can determine everyone’s destiny. In England we currently have a position where Scottish MPs can vote on issues which don’t affect them. We allowed an independence vote which affects the economic future of all of us to be determined only by people living in Scotland (10 out of 11 members of the Scottish football team can’t vote) and for 16 year-olds to vote. Let’s try them in a general election first – not in something so irreversible and requiring some historical perspective. In my mind the minimum threshold for independence would be the requirement for five successive yes votes by at least 50% of the voting population spaced at least five years apart, not just the of the vote on a single day which can be influenced by an unpopular Government. There should also be a vote required from the rest of the UK to sanction them leaving maybe with 40% of the turnout needed. We need a real drains-up on how we got to the position where Alex Salmond so completely out-manoeuvred the Government in this regard. It’s almost as if the committees looking at the question either didn’t take it seriously or didn’t read the national mood.
What Alex Salmond has underestimated though is the backlash that there will be from the rest of the population. In his head we will see them as unlucky bravehearts whereas I suspect the response will be that we caught the Scots red-handed trying to do a moonlit flit. We won’t be happy with rewarding them for their impertinence in leaving us all behind.
There is no doubt that the presence of a National Assembly which has been reasonably well run by the SNP has made the leap to independence seem much shorter and safer. Alex Salmond has steered a canny ship in this regard. Of course he should resign having failed and we need to find a way that we can demonstrate so clearly how badly the Scottish economy would have played if the vote had gone the other way. We should find a way of legislating the ownership of the oil and gas fields – and apply the same rules over the fracking rights so that this isn’t a big unknown any more. We also need to remember just how much independence for Scotland would have cost us too. Not through any reliance on them but the loss of economies of scale and the billions which would be spent uncoupling them from the Mother Ship. How the coverage was allowed to be solely on the Scottish question without informing the English, Welsh and Northern Irish population of the consequences was disingenuous.
There are lots of lessons for all sorts of people regardless of the outcome. Part of the Edinburgh agreement was that both sides would “respect the result”. I suspect the interpretation of that wording alone will be open to debate for years to come. Mark my words, it is close enough that we will have at least a decade of costly legacy from today’s vote.