Scottish Independence

5 Jun

Matt Webb

Having entered into a brief and accidental conversation on the subject of Scottish Independence with the delightful Jacq Kelly, it occurred to me that I didn’t really know much about what independence would mean. I’m not just talking about what it would mean for Scotland. I’m talking about what it would mean for the entire United Kingdom and how it would effect me as a member of (and I’m trying not to retch as I say this) “Alarm clock Britain.”

I don’t get on the news much. As a white, middle class, unmarried, childless, 28 year old, straight English man, in full time employment and renting a very reasonably priced one bedroom flat in the suburbs of London, it’s pretty much assumed that old Dave Cameron has got my back. Before Dave, it was Gordon and before Gordon it was Tony and so on. Try watching The Big Questions on BBC1 on a Sunday morning. That show hasn’t yet featured a section where blokes like me are arguing about how the latest decisions in parliament are going to limit our ability to buy a Playstation 3. It would make us all look pretty ridiculous.

This being the case, it’s easy to fall into the trap of assuming that your opinion doesn’t count for anything. Just look at my previous posts on this website. I am capable of expressing very strong opinions so long as it involves pets, television shows and advertising. Nothing particularly meaty there, although I expect my opinions on Doctor Who are probably somewhat divisive.

However, I do actually have opinions on serious issues. I just tend to avoid thinking about it too much because sometimes they make me really angry and I don’t want to have to worry too much about my blood pressure while I’m still in my twenties. So, I took my new found curiosity on the subject of Scottish independence online and tried to make up my mind what I really thought of it.

First of all, it’s seems to me that the creation of a Scottish Parliament is a pretty big step away from a genuine union. For all that there are various constraints placed upon the Scottish Parliament by the act that created it, the fact remains that there is a Scottish Parliament making decisions on specific Scottish matters and Alex Salmond is currently negotiating a bill to allow the Scottish Parliament more power. If I were a Scottish resident, I would be strongly in favour of such a parliament. I’m English, so I find myself torn.

We now have a difficult situation where MSPs in the Scottish Parliament are voting on specific Scottish matters and can also vote on similar issues for the rest of the UK at Westminster. So we have this so called unified nation where, for example, only English residents are paying for prescriptions. Alex Salmond wants to be able to have independent control over Scottish Income Tax. I have to say, this makes me pretty angry, and I’m not the only one. However, the Scottish Parliament does good work for Scotland and if I’m honest, the anger has more of a root in jealousy than is does in any major sense of injustice.

If there were a similar English Parliament to perform the same function, that would seem to be a pretty fair system. That would also seem to be a pretty separate pair of nations and so we may as well go ahead and plump for independence if we’re going to go down that line. Also, it’s hard to drum up much enthusiasm for the creation of an English Parliament without sounding like some kind of National Front spokesman. English people tend to feel a bit sheepish about displaying the same level of national pride that the Scots, Welsh and Irish display on a regular basis. Can this all be put down to guilt because of the likes of Edward I and Oliver Cromwell? Mainly it’s because of Mel Gibson, who likes to remind everyone that some English people used to be bastards. Well I’ll tell you what, Mel; you’re no prize yourself. There are a lot of bastards in the world, and only some of them are English.

I digress. In creating a Scottish Parliament (as well and the Welsh and Northern Irish Assemblies) the UK Government has more or less acknowledged that there are significant differences between the needs of the Scottish people and those of the rest of the United Kingdom. I don’t personally believe that there are many differences between us beyond geography and a certain amount of ingrained historical hatred, but the cat is out of the bag now.

The UK is not a large country, but we’re relatively well off and you would expect that, with the right people making the decisions, we would be able to provide a decent standard of living for the 55-60 million people that live here. Everyone in the country, from Land’s End to John O’Groats has the same basic needs. I don’t really believe that the UK government is incapable of dealing with the needs of the nation from Westminster. Of course, getting the right people in charge is one of the main difficulties involved in any form of government, especially when most politicians are such self serving, money grabbing nitwits.

Having spoken to a whole two people on the matter, it seems that the Scottish Parliament is pretty popular up there. According to one of my mysterious and confidential sources (who is probably the only person still reading, and only because they have to) Scotland is currently well ahead of the rest of the UK when it comes to social justice issues. Would this have been possible without devolution? Probably not. However, the Scottish Government is still passing off a lot of decisions onto the local authorities, which seems like the kind of buck-passing that could be easily managed from Westminster.

Here is the main problem, as I see it. Running a country successfully is HARD. I can’t think of anyone that’s done it right in my lifetime. I don’t think it’s really possible. You just have to do as good a job as you can until someone kicks you out (while lining your pockets with as many alleged kickbacks as possible without getting caught.)

At the moment I think the government in Westminster is a useful tool for Scottish Nationalists in gaining popularity for the idea of secession, ie. things would be better if Scotland was governed solely from Scotland and by Scots. This may well be the case. The trouble comes when you remember that the Scottish politicians that will be running the country are still politicians, prone to the same greed, vanity and stupidity as the British politicians that used to make the decisions in Westminster. Politicians are human, and humans piss us off. I find it hard to believe that an independent Scottish government wouldn’t end up pissing off the Scottish people just as much as the current mob does.

An independent Scotland will instantly be hit by one major problem. Scotland currently uses more public money than it generates through taxation. How do you make up this shortfall? You can cut public spending – a very unpopular move, as we all know from recent experience. You can increase income tax, VAT, corporation tax etc. This is also a very unpopular move which would be likely to see people and companies leaving the country in order to find themselves a more favourable rate, landing the country in even more financial difficulty. The most likely course of action would seem to be a lowering of income/corporation tax in order to encourage businesses to set up in Scotland, thus increasing tax revenue.

This is where the major impact on the rest of the UK really comes into the picture. If businesses start leaving the UK to reap the benefits of a lower rate of corporation tax in Scotland then the UK will have to make their rates similarly competitive and you’re suddenly in a whole confusing mess of to and fro-ing. It’s going to get complicated and, in my opinion, can only result in difficulties for all involved.

Of course, there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that an independent Scotland in charge of North Sea oil would actually have an incredibly strong economy. Some estimates have the share of North Sea oil within Scottish waters as high as 98%. I think we’re all pretty clear on the kind of things that nations are willing to do in order to gain control of oil, am I right? It’s highly likely that things would get ugly. I don’t know the exact mechanics involved, but I’m picturing something similar to the drill Mr Burns rigged in that episode of The Simpsons where oil was discovered beneath Springfield Elementary.

This is the prospect that I find the most worrying about the whole business. Countries just don’t give up significant resources like this. Oil is such a vital industrial and financial resource that the UK would be fools not to fight tooth and nail to retain at least some control over North Sea oil. I think negotiation for a share of control would become long, expensive and probably result in both countries making compromises that they’re not happy with. A brand new reason to hate each other! Just what we’d need!

Having considered it for a whole two days (with occasional sandwich breaks and the odd hour spent actually working) I think an independent Scotland would be a shame for Britain. I think a united Britain is one of those cases of something being greater than the sum of its parts. I don’t think the union would have lasted for as long as it has if it wasn’t of mutual benefit to all concerned.

We are British. I am English, Sean Connery is Scottish (or Russian, Irish, Indiana Jones’ dad, whatever you need him to be really) but we all point the finger guns of respect toward the old lady with the pastel shade cake on her head. The Queen, I mean. So some Scottish people hate the English. So what? We hate them too! In Europe, most countries have good reasons to hate their neighbours. It’s called history. Why let it ruin things?

We are British. As Britons, we have achieved great things. We had an empire. It was not the English empire, it was British. Scotsmen and Englishmen, shoulder to shoulder, killing Frenchmen. Incredible. Together as Britons we have invented penicillin, the telephone, the theory of evolution. We have created beautiful architecture, broken world records, won European  football championships and recorded the song “Shout.” At a time when the whole of Europe is beginning to unite under the EU, is this really a time for Scotland to turn it’s back on a partnership that has achieved so much?

If the issue of Scottish independence comes down to a referendum, as a patriotic Briton, I hope I get to have my say.

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