Friday, February 14, 2014


No, I haven't left my job thanks to a sudden windfall, nor am I exactly celebrating the rather saddening end of my marriage. Rather, I am thinking of a certain woad-encrusted Antipodean actor screaming that at the serried ranks of Edward I's army in the movie Braveheart.
The issue of Scottish independence is rising up the (English) news agenda at the moment, with the vote on whether Alba will break away from the Union coming in September. Predictably, the political divide is becoming more entrenched, with PoshBoy Osborne (backed by an unlikely cross-party chorus) stating that there is no way that Scotland will be allowed to keep the pound, and Alec Salmond getting very huffy about it all.
Where do I stand on it? Well, being part-Scots, I think it's entirely appropriate that I should feel entirely agnostic about the whole thing, even if it means my old friend Johnny Mellon will be miffed at me. But why? It's not as if I have a thing against independence; on the contrary, national (and regional) self-determination are important features of a civilised world, to my mind.
It's these two things that disturb me and gives me pause for thought: firstly, the sums and secondly, the assumptions, on both sides of the debate.
Dealing with the first, the figures being bandied about simply don't look right. In particular, the figures on North Sea Oil Revenue. I'm worried that the SNP are being wildly optimistic here, and forgetting a simple fact: The Oil Will Run Out Eventually. What then? Are they planning to invest oil revenue in the same way that the Norwegians have? That would be the sensible route, but it also entails having far more pragmatic plans in place for a) taxation, b) future revenue streams and c) thinking about what they can actually spend post-independence. It strikes me that configuring the new nation along a Scandinavian model in terms of its finances would be no bad thing, but I don't really get the sense that this is being discussed. On this side of the border, the impression given is that somehow it will all continue as normal after the divorce.
The truth is, of course, that divorces are rarely easy.
And this is where the worry about the assumptions cuts in: it strikes me that the SNP seem to think that currency union, membership of the EU and NATO etc will just happen overnight in a single smooth transition. I very much doubt that. It would be lovely if it did, but the blunt truth is that there would be little or no strategic interest in the Big Boys of Europe allowing a brand shiny new independent nation straight in through the front door. Instead, a hiatus of several years should be expected - after all, how long did it take the Eastern European countries to get into the EU? There's no point Alec Salmond jumping up and down and saying, either 'la la la, I can't hear you', or 'It's not fair!', these are issues that need to be addressed seriously. Likewise, English politicians doing their best to put everything in a negative light, or Anti-SNP Scottish Politicians trying to even old scores don't help matters.
And there's my point: Scottish Independence would be a fine thing, just as long as it's done clearly, soberly and with an understanding of the risks it may entail, and at the moment that's exactly the debate that is needed, not a load of grandstanding. Saying 'No!' or 'You can't do that' isn't the way to run one side of teh campaign; but equally, yelling 'Freedom!' is all very romantic, but romance doesn't put bread on the table.

update, 17.2.14: Here's a link to BBC Scotland's Documentary on the issues surrounding the referendum.

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