Two cheers for Scottish independence

by Chris Bertram on February 13, 2014

Britain’s Tory Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, is today threatening pro-independence Scots that if they secede then they can’t have the pound sterling as their currency any more. This is a problem for SNP leader Alec Salmond because he’s been peddling the idea that an independent Scotland will continue to enjoy a common currency, a notion that appeals to risk-averse Scots. A few years ago, the euro might have looked an appealing alternative to sterling, but now it looks much less so. But though Salmond has rather painted himself into a corner on this one, I’m struggling to see why an independent Scotland having its own money would be such a bad idea. After all, the various Scandinavian countries seem to get by perfectly well with their different kroner, so why not Scotland? Scotland’s economy is significantly different from England’s anyway, with natural resources playing a bigger part in one, and financial services in other. Better for everyone to have separate currencies, with different interest rates and floating exchange rates so as to adjust to circumstances. (Having a different currency for the north of England and Wales might be nice too … or alternatively grant independence to London as a new Singapore.)

The other major worry about independence from the official Great British point of view is that “we” would have far less weight and influence in the world. The UK already has less influence that its political elites delude themselves that it has, but at least an independent Scotland would end that delusion. Facing up to reality probably means that the UK would be less tempted to waste billions on the post-imperial accoutrements of military power (new fighters, nuclear weapons and the like). And then not having that stuff would make the UK less able, and therefore less willing, to join in with rash invasions and interventions, and to to send task forces to recapture distant outposts. Further, without the delusion that the UK is a great power, its politicians would be forced to adopt a more co-operative relationship with neighbouring countries, both in the EU and the various states that would compose our Atlantic archipelago. No longer able to go it alone: the UK would have to work with others.

So Scottish independence, what’s is there not to like about it? Well, nationalism, I suppose. But having more and smaller democratic nations, forced to rub along with their neighbours for pragmatic reasons of mutual-self interest. Sounds good to me. Of course the English left worry about the prospect of permanent Tory government if Scotland secedes. This concern is probably exaggerated. The political dynamics of a weakened Anglo-Welsh rump would be different over time and the demographics probably favour the left, as younger voter are considerably more liberal and cosmopolitan in their attitudes than the over 55s. So here’s hoping for the end of the UK and its replacement by a post-imperial patchwork of smaller countries.

{ 101 comments }

1

Peter Hylton 02.13.14 at 4:29 pm

‘the demographics probably favour the left, as younger voter are considerably more liberal and cosmopolitan in their attitudes than the over 55s.’
—I’d be interested to know the evidence for this and, in particular, whether the ‘favour the left’ claim holds on issues of economics/ redistribution as well as on social issues. (I’m a Brit who has lived in the USA for most of the last forty years. Here the leftward trend of the young seems to be much more marked if you judge by the issues of gay marriage and mariujana legalization than if you judge by economic issues. So the question really is: does that hold also in the UK?)

2

William Burns 02.13.14 at 4:45 pm

You need to deal with the possible EU ramifications here–how likely is it that a Scotland with its own currency will be allowed to stay a member? How enthusiastic are other countries with national separatist groups (Spain, Catalonia and the Basque country; Belgium; France, Corsica) going to be for admitting a split-off into the EU? How viable is a non-EU Scotland?

3

Enzo Rossi 02.13.14 at 5:00 pm

Well said, Chris. And if the Anglo press hadn’t engaged in an exaggerated campaign of Euro scare-mongering Salmond wouldn’t have this problem at all.

But the most interesting point is what would happen to England. Much as I’d like London to become independent, the English elite won’t have it, as they like the use the rest of the UK as a sort of grotesque fig leaf for the activities of City spivs and bloodied billionaires from the ‘second’ world.

In any case I agree that the projected rightward shift of England is exaggerated, at least in the medium term. The English would pretty quickly realise that the influence of Scottish MPs was for the good, and so Labour would regain seats.

4

Scott P. 02.13.14 at 5:08 pm

Well, I’m an advocate for a world government, so I tend to look at most dissolutions with dismay.

What’s not to like? For one, you end up with a lot of useless duplication. Two militaries, two command structures, two navies. Heck, the UK is already building a new aircraft carrier, Scotland will probably want one also. Two embassies in every country, two central banks. Surely there’s a point where it becomes pointless — should the Hebrides become their own country? After Scotland, you’ve set up a precedent for Wales, Northern Ireland, the Isle of Man, Islington … etc. The current geopolitical structure is relatively kind to small countries, but I think it would be the height of foolishness to expect that to continue indefinitely.

Further, there’s the point that after 300 years of unity, England and Wales have a property interest in Scotland. Their men and ships and treasure helped defend it over the years, British money in one form or another contributed to Scottish infrastructure. Scotland can’t just wave that away. England and Wales can, if they wish, but if they don’t, Scotland has no inherent right to secession, any more than the Confederacy did.

5

Enzo Rossi 02.13.14 at 5:20 pm

Dissolutions could be a way towards world government, actually. Small places will still want to coordinate. Big powerful countries are the largest obstacle for world government. Thinking that one of those could one day take over strikes me as counter-inductive. Also, bipolar geopolitical orders are quite stable (except in the periphery).

6

Dan Hardie 02.13.14 at 5:21 pm

Enzo Rossi: ‘And if the Anglo press hadn’t engaged in an exaggerated campaign of Euro scare-mongering Salmond wouldn’t have this problem at all.’

Of course, because the Eurozone’s member nations, particularly the smaller ones, have had *no problems at all* since 2008. Any claims to the contrary are fabrications of the Anglo press, as any Greek or Cypriot can tell you.

7

Alex 02.13.14 at 5:33 pm

The UK already has less influence that its political elites delude themselves that it has, but at least an independent Scotland would end that delusion. Facing up to reality probably means that the UK would be less tempted to waste billions on the post-imperial accoutrements of military power (new fighters, nuclear weapons and the like)

Denmark deployed its army to Iraq.

8

Dan Hardie 02.13.14 at 5:34 pm

‘Scotland’s economy is significantly different from England’s anyway, with natural resources playing a bigger part in one, and financial services in other. ‘

Please. Scottish reserves of oil and gas are dwindling rapidly: the UK’s oil and gas output is currently lower than at any time since 1977, ie at the start of the North Sea oil boom. Everyone in the industry expects Scottish oil and gas production to carry on falling rapidly in the coming years.

By contrast, Scotland, and particularly Edinburgh, does have a very large financial sector. An independent Scotland’s central bank could simply not have funded the rescue which the British financial authorities mounted for RBS in 2008. Which means, as Salmond has realised, that either:

i) Scotland joins the Euro- which would be a long-drawn-out process, to judge by the history of every other Eurozone member- and which is also not attractive, perhaps, to anyone who has been watching what has happened to the Eurozone since its creation;

ii) Scotland re-negotiates use of sterling with the rump British state, which Salmond has been claiming will prove to be an entirely painless process, not something that sits well with his argument that London has always neglected or damaged Scotland’s economy;

iii) Scotland adopts its own currency, and much or most its financial sector immediately decamps south of the border to where there is an adequate lender of last resort.

That last would not be a big vote-winner in many of Scotland’s cities, which is why Salmond is currently arguing for option ii). If he wants to argue for that, fine, but it would rather improve matters if he didn’t pretend that a currency and banking union with rump Great Britain would take place painlessly.

It is also rather important for Salmond to explain why an ‘independent’ Scotland dependent upon London for its currency, its central bank and its lender of last resort would have a rosier economic future than Scotland as part of the United Kingdom. He isn’t saying, which rather creates the impression that he doesn’t know.

9

Pasha 02.13.14 at 5:42 pm

@4.

Small-scale democracy results in far more policy convergence than polyarchal democracy. Further, economic and military considerations should not make a difference when assessing to a people’s right to self-determination. Is having a large number of small countries inefficient? Yes, but it’s also more democratic.

I would suggest that unless there’s a minority group at risk of persecution, all ethnic/cultural groups should be free to self-govern.

10

Metatone 02.13.14 at 5:45 pm

@Dan Hardie

There’s something a little odd about claiming the bailout of RBS as a success for the UK model.

11

Richard J 02.13.14 at 5:53 pm

Metatone> That’s a fair pushback, but the SNP finds itself in the uncomfortable position of having been a big cheerleader for RBS’s large-scale expansion prior to 2008. There’s a rather infamous sign-off on a letter from Alex Salmond to Fred Goodwin on this point.

12

Francis Spufford 02.13.14 at 5:54 pm

One thing not to like about it is what it would do to the relationship between citizenship and ethnicity. At the moment we have a civic citizenship – to be a British citizen is to be a citizen of the Union rather than of any of its parts. Such a citizenship is not explicitly ideological, implying loyalty to an idea of government, like an American citizenship, but it is also not entirely reducible to the Burkean or Herder-ish stuff to do with place, familiarity, human terroir etc. England dominates the Union, yes, and the definition of Britishness is vaporous to the extent that it can lazily be used to write Englishness large; but again, not without a remainder, which has given both a necessary way in (‘Black British’, ‘British Muslim’, ‘British-Chinese’) to those who don’t share any of the Welsh/English/Scots ancestral connections to place, and simultaneously a kind of elbow room for everyone to think of ourselves politically. I like this. Selfishly, I like being able to be both an Englishman and a British citizen, a citizen of an 18th century project to do with representative government. Obviously, if Scotland goes, then ‘English’ has to move up to being the political word, the citizenship word. Leaving me nothing to be ethnically but ‘white’. Oh joy.

13

Dan Hardie 02.13.14 at 5:55 pm

Chris Bertram: ‘And then not having that stuff would make the UK less able, and therefore less willing, to join in with rash invasions and interventions, and to to send task forces to recapture distant outposts.’

Not to get into the rights and wrongs of the Falklands war, but ‘sending task forces to recapture distant outposts’ has happened precisely once since 1945. ‘No more Falklands wars’ is not exactly a strong argument, as we are not about to fight any.

Iraq is rather more relevant. But, as Alex notes, all sorts of countries with much lower defence spending (Denmark, Italy, Spain) jumped on board the mad Iraq bandwagon. Sending troops into foolish interventions is not a function of defence spending, but it does have rather a lot to do with clear thinking on foreign policy. I’d agree we could and should cut defence spending as a nation, but that doesn’t mean we wouldn’t get into any wrong wars.

I think Chris might perhaps mention, when speaking of ‘rash interventions’, that he was very pro-military-intervention at the time of the Bosnia and Kosovo wars. One can argue, as Chris certainly did back in the day, that not all interventions are necessarily rash. Cutting defence spending is not going to magically absolve voters and politicians of the need to sometimes consider going to war, and to spend money if they do go to war.

14

Dan Hardie 02.13.14 at 6:00 pm

Metatone: ‘There’s something a little odd about claiming the bailout of RBS as a success for the UK model.’

It’s not a success ‘for the UK model’: it’s simply something that an economy the size of the UK, or of the Eurozone, can manage, but that an independent Scotland couldn’t manage- absent a currency and banking union with rump Britain, in which case, Scotland is not independent but ‘independent’.

If you were to argue that the circumstances that led to RBS needing a bailout were a failure of Westminster’s financial regulation policies, I’d agree with you.

But, alas, a great many politicians joined in the mindless pre-2008 boosterism for RBS, including one Alex Salmond, First Minister of Scotland. And several of the most senior, and most questionable former RBS executives are now vocal supporters of the SNP and independence. Read Iain Martin’s ‘Making it happen’ for details.

15

Neville Morley 02.13.14 at 6:16 pm

You don’t think it’s actually *more* likely that a diminished UK would spend extra billions on post-imperial military hardware in a desperate attempt to cling on to its ‘rightful’ status in the world?

16

Philip 02.13.14 at 6:30 pm

Personally, I’d like the UK to be less militaristic, more realistic, and still include Scotland while also being less London-centric so that most Scots feel that they are fully included in the union. We are just a small island and I’d like a more participative and inclusive democracy, for all parts of England and the UK not just Scotland. As this isn’t going to happen anytime soon I can’t argue against the referendum and good luck to the Scots if they do vote to secede.

17

Adrian Kelleher 02.13.14 at 6:30 pm

Salmond must have made some efforts to calculate the responses to his inclusion of monetary union in his proposals. It’s entirely possible that he regards this referendum as unwinnable in itself but still useful as a stepping stone to his final goals. George Osborne, who is less than universally beloved, insisting to an Edinburgh audience that monetary union is impossible (when he really means undesirable) will certainly help the SNP in the longer run whatever the result of the vote.

Additionally, Salmond may choose to assume the issue in question is dissolution rather than secession in order to force his adversaries to clarify their positions on this. The assumption of monetary union is compatible with that, and it would force the same dilemma on the major parties: enrage the Scots by making secession to hard or risk losing the referendum by making it too easy. Win-win for Salmond.

18

CJColucci 02.13.14 at 6:31 pm

I was in Scotland about a year ago. As an outsider, I thought it presumptuous to have a view on independence, and tried to get a sense of what the Scots themselves wanted. I found it hard. Is there any reliable information on the subject?

19

Dan Hardie 02.13.14 at 6:41 pm

CJC- I’m an outsider who is very likely to be wrong, but you could try http://whatscotlandthinks.org/ . Any other suggestions welcome.

Adrian Kelleher: ‘George Osborne, who is less than universally beloved, insisting to an Edinburgh audience that monetary union is impossible (when he really means undesirable) will certainly help the SNP in the longer run whatever the result of the vote.’

I would have thought so, and David Cameron having one token Cabinet meeting in Edinburgh is likely to have the same effect. Until the last couple of weeks, the Tories were just keeping quiet about Scotland, which was the best thing they could have done. Now, alas…

20

mud man 02.13.14 at 6:47 pm

Scott P. #4: England and Wales have a property interest in Scotland

There’s the problem right there, they stole it fair and square and feel that they should get to keep it or spend it, whichever. Scotland for the Scots, and Oregon for Oregonians. A patchwork of local communities. None of us are really “independent”.

21

dsquared 02.13.14 at 6:50 pm

I’m on the road and have missed this, but has nobody suggested that Scotland could operate a currency board – ie, have a nominally distinct Scots Pound, but not operate an independent central bank and just back the Scots Pound monetary supply one for one with Sterling reserves? Hong Kong does this with the HK$/US$ and it more or less seems to work.

22

TheSophist 02.13.14 at 7:04 pm

A true story – I was at an Ian Rankin book signing a few years ago, and while he was signing the large stack of books I’d bought we were chatting about independence. A few months later the next Rebus book comes out, and our conversation is reproduced, virtually verbatim, between tow minor characters in the police station cafeteria.

I’m a Scot, but have lived in the US all my adult life, and I must admit I feel terribly torn on independence. I’ve also wondered if I’m actually eligible to vote in September – I’m still a British citizen. Anyone know, or know how I can find out?

23

The Temporary Name 02.13.14 at 7:09 pm

For one, you end up with a lot of useless duplication.

Of jobs? That might be some very useful duplication.

24

Nine 02.13.14 at 7:15 pm

“(Having a different currency for the north of England and Wales might be nice too … or alternatively grant independence to London as a new Singapore.)”

No opinions on the referendum but that’s a gem. Force the toffs to go galt ! lol

25

Igor Belanov 02.13.14 at 7:31 pm

I think that the SNP’s desire for currency union has always been one of the weakest aspects of their independence campaign. It seems unlikely to inspire people to back separation if a large part of Scotland’s economic sovereignty still remains within the control of the country the SNP is desperate to escape from, and offers little more power than the present devolved administration. I get the impression that the ‘independence’ the SNP wants to see is based less on the formation of a distinct political project, and more the desire of the leaders to appear at international conferences and get the full VIP treatment. A rather ‘post-modern’ take on national self-determination.

26

pretendous 02.13.14 at 7:47 pm

This currency issue reminds me of a strange encounter I had about seven years ago while studying in Edinburgh. While visiting a friend in Manchester, I withdrew some money from an ATM. I returned to Edinburgh and attempted to pay for some gewgaw at a non-descript shop; the clerk rejected my tenner saying, “We don’t take English pounds here, only Scottish pounds.” I wasn’t even aware of such a distinction and had assumed that the entire UK was under one currency. Since then I’ve wondered whether this rejection reflected a regional policy, a store policy, or some idiosyncrasy of the clerk’s.

27

Igor Belanov 02.13.14 at 7:50 pm

Sounds like a contender for most crazily nationalistic retail outlet.

28

Philip 02.13.14 at 7:54 pm

@dsquared, that seemed the most obvious solution to me once they dropped the idea of going with the Euro. However it will be a hard sell to basically peg a Scottish pound at 1:1 with a British pound and have no consideration of Scotland’s economy when setting interest rates.

29

Barry 02.13.14 at 8:00 pm

Alex 02.13.14 at 5:33 pm
” Denmark deployed its army to Iraq.”

From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Multi-National_Force_%E2%80%93_Iraq

The peak was 545.

Denmark deployed a light battalion to Iraq. Pretty much a token force, sufficient to guard their flag, and to put another flag in the Green Zone.

30

Igor Belanov 02.13.14 at 8:05 pm

They wouldn’t have needed 545 people to guard the flag if it had remained in Copenhagen.

31

RosencrantzisDead 02.13.14 at 8:07 pm

@26, 27

Not that uncommon, actually. I think it is because certain private banks were given a charter to print their own notes.

Northern Ireland banknotes (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Banknotes_of_Northern_Ireland#Ulster_Bank_notes) for example are often not accepted in England and Wales. Regions are sometimes reluctant to accept notes from another region because of the danger of forged or counterfeit notes.

32

MPAVictoria 02.13.14 at 8:30 pm

Heck if Guernsey can have its own bank notes….
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guernsey_pound

33

TheSophist 02.13.14 at 8:32 pm

Pretendous @26: I’ve never heard before of this happening in Edinburgh before, but the reverse used to be (and maybe still is) not unheard of. During my childhood in Edinburgh adults I knew would frequently return from sojourns among the Sassenachs with tales of having their Scottish banknotes rejected. It’s not legal (at least I don’t think it is) but it would certainly serve as a reason for me to take my trade elsewhere.

Oh, and completely OT, but seeing that Francis Spufford has dropped in on this thread, I’d like to take this opportunity to tell him (and everybody else) how much I enjoyed Red Plenty. It was the book I gave to friends last Christmas.

34

P O'Neill 02.13.14 at 8:45 pm

@dsquared

There was an earlier Treasury report that looked at the currency board option in the historical context of the Irish Free State which used a currency board for its first post-1922 decades. Of course that analogy raises other issues such as what kind of autonomy you’d want or expect to have in monetary policy, and whether the arrangement itself is stable over time, since Ireland eventually moved away from it.

While the own currency is always an option (the EMS is still there if an anchor was needed), it’s hard to see how it wouldn’t result in major visible transfers of wealth in the initial phases as it adjusted against sterling.

35

Matt McKeon 02.13.14 at 8:45 pm

Denmark also has troops in Afghanistan. In fact Denmark is reorganizing its army from its traditional role of defense against invasion to being capable of interventions such as Kosovo and Afghanistan.

As an American, I have difficulty understanding these tiny nationalisms. What is the point of a Scottish state?

36

djr 02.13.14 at 8:58 pm

The status of Scottish and NI banknotes is explained here:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Banknotes_of_the_pound_sterling#The_question_of_legal_tender

Scottish notes aren’t legal tender in England (or, indeed, in Scotland) but then neither are debit cards. Shops in the rest of the UK can take Scottish notes if they want, and not take them if they don’t want. If a shop takes a forged banknote then they bear the loss, and it’s harder to judge whether an unfamiliar currency is real or not. (The difficulty is compounded by there being 3 different types of Scottish notes in each denomination and 4 Northern Irish ones.)

(In the case of Scottish shops refusing English notes, it’s perfectly legal but probably only done to irritate. It’s unlikely that anyone working in retail in Edinburgh is unfamiliar with Bank of England notes.)

37

TheSophist 02.13.14 at 9:39 pm

djr – thanks for taking the time to go to wiki – I didn’t know that.

38

Kindred Winecoff 02.13.14 at 11:08 pm

“After all, the various Scandinavian countries seem to get by perfectly well with their different kroner, so why not Scotland?”

There’s a difference between having a centuries-old currency that is credible internationally and creating one from scratch. I’m not an expert on the particulars of Scotland’s economy, but here are a few potential problems that many small open economies face:

1. Massive pre-emptive transfers of financial capital out of the country and into London to protect against the possibility (I would say likelihood) of eventual devaluation.

2. If they peg and keep an open capital account, the loss of monetary independence. This would force internal adjustments (i.e. austerity) whenever global conditions worsen. As many others have noted, this is usually inconsistent with democracy. In other times they would be importing inflation.

3. If they don’t peg, external debt (private or public) increases whenever there’s a devaluation. This is a major concern for small open economies that import many goods and export few. (I’m guessing Scotland’s economy would be in this category.) Domestic competitiveness suffers when there’s an appreciation. Balancing these pressures is not trivial from a policy perspective.

4. If they close the capital account then Edinburgh will lose status as a mid-level financial hub and the economy will be forced to undergo a structural transformation. These are never enjoyable and not infrequently fail. That may be desirable anyway so as to avoid becoming Ireland, but then again Ireland before the financial boom seems like a strange aspiration.

5. The need to boost foreign currency reserves in large quantities almost immediately. This is a near-complete waste of resources, in that it is not productive, but it is an increasingly important insurance mechanism.

So there are some of your potential downsides. Doesn’t mean it’s not a good idea on balance, but better to be realistic about the challenges rather than naive.

39

Phil 02.13.14 at 11:10 pm

Francis Spufford:

Obviously, if Scotland goes, then ‘English’ has to move up to being the political word, the citizenship word

…and we’ll start talking about “Black English” identity and the “English Muslim” community. There’s nothing inherently white about England the place – and the more England seems like a present-day political unit, the less usable ‘England’ is as a reactionary green-and-pleasant fantasy.

40

hix 02.13.14 at 11:13 pm

Right, whats not to like about our future in neoliberal paradise. Why stop at 5 million units? Lets go down to 10k units with floating curencies and no fiscal transfers to outside units. The Euro and further EU integration in general would be the only serious option for an independent Scotland.

The mikro states had a good run enabling tax evasion and the like for a while. On the long run, its pretty inefficient.

41

sherparick 02.13.14 at 11:13 pm

Alternatively, the England could grant Wales independence, pension off its royals and nobility, and decide to apply to join the United States (perhaps as 6 states with London, old Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of Wessex, Kent, Essex, Mercia, and Northumbria) , if the English elite feels that they must still play some imperial role.

Issuing a Scottish pound, especially with a prompt devaluation against the pound and Euro , would be a great gift to local industry in Scotland and would attract investment. Unfortunately, I expect Scotland would be tempted to imitate the Irish on being a tax haven for U.S. and European companies.

Another advantage of having its own currency and controlling interest rates is it would give Scotland the ability to prevent the housing bubble that afflicted Ireland, Portugal, and Spain as they became the play things for German banks.

42

dsquared 02.14.14 at 12:08 am

Actually the note issuing privileges of the Scottish banks are pretty much a de facto currency board. So independent Scotland could be exactly like Hong Kong, which has private sector bank notes backed by USD.

43

stevenjohnson 02.14.14 at 12:10 am

The English are still in Ireland. Why does anyone think they will leave Scotland?

44

Dan Hardie 02.14.14 at 12:22 am

Dsquared, correct me if I’m wrong, but does Hong Kong’s arrangement work because everyone in the financial markets knows that if HK has a serious crisis, the Chinese central bank is not just going to shrug its shoulders and pass on by?

If this is right, who plays the role of the Chinese central bank for Scotland? The two candidates seem to be the ECB and the BoE.

Which, surely, brings us back to where we started: Salmond has ruled out the ECB, and not only the Tory Chancellor, but also the Labour Shadow Chancellor, the leading Lib Dem economic spokesmen and the Governor of the BoE have all made it plain that they are not going to simply give an independent Scotland whatever it asks for.

45

UserGoogol 02.14.14 at 12:38 am

stevenjohnson: Well, Northern Ireland hasn’t voted to leave. (And splitting off a Southern Scotland doesn’t seem to be on the table.)

46

Jakey 02.14.14 at 12:49 am

The Treasury has already said publicly that it will assume responsibility for all existing UK Government Sterling debt. In the event of independence, this clearly means that there’s going to be some horse trading. “You want to use Sterling, you need to take some of the debt”. Personally, I think the optimum solution is an independent currency, but that’s trying to win two referenda at the same time – it’s almost undoable.
I think this is a big mistake from Osborne. The “Better Together” campaign is already popularly known as “Project Fear” here in Scotland, and this is just another play in the same vein. For many “don’t knows” and weak noes, it’s almost a dare to say you cannot do it. I really think the Unionists are shooting themselves in the foot over and over by following this plan.

47

Salazar 02.14.14 at 12:59 am

Chris, do British elites really still believe their country is a “great power? It was The Times, an establishment newspaper, that remarked Anthony Eden “was the last prime minister to believe Britain was a great power and the first to confront a crisis which proved she was not.” (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/5199392.stm)

And Eden died in 1977.

48

ambzone 02.14.14 at 2:16 am

Dissolve all historically shady and politically imbalanced federations, I say. If Scots do it, a few Canadian provinces are right next.

49

Bruce Wilder 02.14.14 at 2:28 am

What is the point of a Scottish state?

Golf. Bagpipes. Kilts. Haggis. Are you seeing a pattern, yet?

50

Jeremy Fox 02.14.14 at 3:15 am

@ambzone and others:

Discussion of the possibilities for Scottish currency, and the analogy to Quebec & Canada, from some Canadian economists: http://worthwhile.typepad.com/worthwhile_canadian_initi/2014/02/scotland-quebec-and-currency-union.html

Short version: Hard to see any feasible and desirable option for an independent or quasi-independent Scottish currency.

51

Colin 02.14.14 at 3:59 am

The Scandinavian ‘crown’ currencies are a good analogy, since they are all descended from a defunct Scandinavian monetary union.

It is a bit strange how the north of England continues to allow itself to be run from Westminster, by a regime that is generally geared towards the interests of London and the South-East (especially when the Conservatives are in power). For me this is a bigger issue for the UK than the West Lothian question or Scottish/Welsh nationalism, not least because the north of England alone is more populous than all the non-English parts of the UK combined. England (with the partial exception of London) has remarkably weak local and regional government for a country of over 50 million people, and you have to wonder how much this comes down to an exaggerated sense of English national unity. As a not very nationalistic Englishman, I get the feeling that the Scots and Welsh have done the right thing with devolution, but for the wrong reasons (cultural differences, nationalist mythos and so on, rather than the general need for regional government in a country as large as the UK).

52

Glen Tomkins 02.14.14 at 5:20 am

@9
“…unless there’s a minority group at risk of persecution, all ethnic/cultural groups should be free to self-govern.”

This is the reason that the relatively sane parts of the US cannot, in good conscience, just expel the red states

53

Pasha 02.14.14 at 6:36 am

@51.

Agreed.

54

Bruce Baugh 02.14.14 at 7:11 am

Matt@35: This is what I hear from British friends. The further north you go, the less sympathy there is among the voting public for the fucked-up evil bullshit that drives both of the major parties these days, and more interest in returning to a society in which the state aims to play an active, constructive part in the life of the society. But it looks like getting from here to there is more or less impossible for the indefinite future, given the reactionary and neo-liberal stranglehold all around. There’s a point where one sensibly says, “Coming up on half a century is long enough to wait for decency and sanity to return.” At this point, one starts looking at independence for the parts of the union that can still/again maybe muster a majority to toss out the central power.

Twenty years ago, nobody I know in or from Scotland was at all enthusiastic for independence and nearly all were against it strongly. Now a solid majority of my Scottish friends are for independence and none of the minority are really particularly hostile to it, and it’s quite common to hear my English and Welsh friends say things like “Yeah, if we could do that in our part, we’d probably be on it as well.”

Geographically, the Tories are strongest in southern England and weaker the farther you go from that. Class and sectional hostilities get rolled up with other kinds of political agenda, and the north is very often disproportionately screwed by the central agenda. As the central authority keeps degenerating, then, its most favored victims tend more to thinking about just leaving. In a lot of ways, I think, British conservative/neoliberal rule has been harsher on the non-rich than its American counterpart.

The major reservation I hear from my English and Welsh friends is the one Chris touches on in the last paragraph of his post, about whether removing 1 Tory and 58 other seats from Parliament would lead to a permanent Tory majority. I’m inclined to agree with Chris that it isn’t so, but I really seriously have nothing like an adequate foundation for any opinion firmer than that.

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dax 02.14.14 at 8:39 am

“The Euro and further EU integration in general would be the only serious option for an independent Scotland.”

Ironically, an independent Scotland would find itself outside the EU and in need of making an application to join. With said application, it would have to agree, like all new members, to the euro. If Scotland wants the pound, then it will not be a member of the EU.

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otto 02.14.14 at 10:40 am

“In a lot of ways, I think, British conservative/neoliberal rule has been harsher on the non-rich than its American counterpart.”

That seems hard to believe, comparing the size and scope of the welfare state in UK and the US.

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hix 02.14.14 at 11:13 am

On a practical level Scotland would have no problem to join the EU and avoid the euro. One just has to take the Euro alignment process really slow and fail to fulfill one tough criteria or another by a small margin. Even if the political side of the EU wanted to force the Euro, there is just too much bureaucratic logic in the process to do so. Only an outright formal Euro exception from the start would be a challenge in accession negotiation.

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Pete 02.14.14 at 11:14 am

In re Euro: http://wingsoverscotland.com/joining-the-euro-for-idiots/

Scotland cannot join the Euro until the convergence criteria are met. EU membership would only require a commitment to join it some time after the criteria are met. So on day 1, Scotland would have to use another currency. This will most likely be either the pound, or the currency board solution mentioned by dsquared above, or something derived from the existing private banknote issue system.

Meanwhile I’m going to read up on the Bank Notes (Scotland) Act 1845.

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Pete 02.14.14 at 11:17 am

(edit) I’ve just realised I’ve fallen into a common trap: Scotland would not be able to be a Eurozone member, but that does not of itself stop Scotland from declaring the Euro legal tender and using the currently circulating notes and coins.

One of the points of being an independent country is that other countries cannot prevent you using their currency. They can interdict you printing it, but not stop you accepting it as payment.

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dax 02.14.14 at 12:42 pm

“On a practical level Scotland would have no problem to join the EU and avoid the euro. One just has to take the Euro alignment process really slow and fail to fulfill one tough criteria or another by a small margin.”

And do you think the EU hasn’t thought of that? Perfidious Albion or whatever. The EU doesn’t want Scotland, and it’s going to be very very hard in any negotiations, presumably basically going to a take-over of the economy to ensure Scotland will fulfill the criteria. If the Scots don’t like it, tough. But the EU has to discourage Catalonia and other break-away regions, and it’s going to be very very tough.

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Barry 02.14.14 at 1:00 pm

BTW, using the Euro might bring about the same problems experienced by other countries; the monetary policy is set by Germany.

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Chris Armstrong 02.14.14 at 1:43 pm

Chris, I think I’m a lot more worried by the potential Westminster repercussions of a possible separation than you are. The simple fact is, Labour currently has 41 MPs in Scotland, and the Conservatives have 1. Labour have only ever had 4 periods of parliamentary majority, and if you subtracted Scottish seats I *think* you end up with 2 (I wouldn’t put my house on that figure, but I think Attlee and Blair alone would still have had majorities). On balance, I think the two Labour governments we would have missed out on were better than the alternatives. So of course things can change demographically, but how fast? How many more years of Tory government do we have in the meantime?

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Ciaran 02.14.14 at 1:58 pm

An independent Scotland would be almost entirely dependant on oil and gas ( but I guess we knew that !)

http://gradualis.blogspot.ie/2014/02/a-tale-of-two-countries-sectoral.html

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Pete 02.14.14 at 2:11 pm

“The EU doesn’t want Scotland”

[citation needed]

It has been previously pointed out that there is no existing treaty mechanism for a country to leave the EU, or be evicted from it. “Ever closer union” is a founding principle. If serious obstacles were raised to Scotland remaining in the EU after independence, I would expect a challenge at the ECJ that Scots were being deprived of fundamental rights if Scotland was not deemed to inherit EU membership.

The bluffing will continue until the independence referendum, but I expect it to collapse shortly afterwards if there is a “yes”.

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dax 02.14.14 at 2:49 pm

“It has been previously pointed out that there is no existing treaty mechanism for a country to leave the EU, or be evicted from it. “

“‘Scenarios such as the separation of one part of a member state or the creation of a new state, as we have recall on numerous occasions, would not be neutral as regards to the EU treaties. I think what vice-president Almunia said is entirely in line with what I have just said (…) So in other words, an independent state, because of tis independence, would become a third country vis a vis the EU and as of the day of the independence the EU treaties will no longer apply’, said European Commission spokesperson Pia Ahrenkilde Hansen.”

This should be obvious in the EU’s federal system. Many decisions are voted on by national governments; so a devious method to get more influence would be to divide one’s country into little pieces. For instance, if the UK wanted to take over the EU, it would just have to splinter into 100 smaller countries. This doesn’t work.

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TM 02.14.14 at 4:39 pm

Re EU membership, there is no precedent for that but I find it hard to imagine that if Scotland gains independence, the EU would not invite them to join. Remember how eager they were to admit Slovenia or Estonia. And surely, quite a few members will be delighted to see Britain diminished.

Otoh, I also find it hard to imagine that Westminster would stand by its NO to a monetary union. What would they prefer, civil war?

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Jake 02.14.14 at 5:19 pm

If Scotland is independent, who would be the parties in said civil war?

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dax 02.14.14 at 5:19 pm

@TM. Most of the EU would *love* for Scotland to secede from the UK, because as you said they’d love to see the UK get a good kick up the backside. But that doesn’t imply they would make it easy for Scotland to join the EU. In a federalist system, where states are given votes, you can’t have states dividing from other states and thinking they get all the former rights; that creates an incentive for chaos. Sure, Scotland would be allowed to join, but only after a suitable pound of flesh were taken, to discourage others (e.g. Catalonia) from thinking it would be easy. And the pound of flesh most easily available would be the euro.

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JohnTh 02.14.14 at 5:36 pm

Further to the reponse to TM’s comment, it would be a little bit over the top for Scotland to declare war in order to force their way into the pound.

The argument being made by the UK parties as I understand it is that they don’t want a currency union because

A) in a currency union the central bank (in this case the Bank of England) is obliged to support all banks that get into trouble within that currency union. The problem is that while rest of UK/England could just about support the Scottish banks if the Scottish economy went down the toilet, there is simply no way the Scots could return the favor if needed because Scotland is 10 times smaller – therefore it would in practice be an unfair, one way commitment.

B) as both theory and recent EU experience suggest, currency unions need a heavy measure of fiscal union. However the SNP in particular has always been vocal in its insistence that adherence to English fiscal is one of the thing which makes them so unhappy about the present situation. Given that, it doesn’t seem likely that they’ll want to be ‘independent’, but fully locked in to English fiscal and monetary policy. For comparison, Germany is much less than 90% of the Eurozone, but many of the Eurozone economies only barely tolerate the resulting German influence on their economies

The chief civil servant in the UK Treasury goes through this in this letter: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/279455/Sir_Nicholas_Macpherson_-_Scotland_and_a_currency_union.pdf

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TM 02.14.14 at 5:45 pm

EU expansion has massively diluted the voting power of the older members yet they went along with it. I just can’t imagine they would be comfortable with the idea to lose territory. After all, Scotland IS EU territory right now. Of course I’m just speculating.

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kenny mactavish 02.14.14 at 6:46 pm

Well I’m enthralled by all the interest shown in comments on this blog about a country with so little “weight and influence in the world”. I’m slightly less enthralled with the quality and depth of subject knowledge, tickled by some of the pseudo-intellectual and amateurish political theorising, but I’m ultimately really rather dismayed at the sweeping, arrogant and condescending conclusions that abound.

As someone who lives in a very small Scotland [in a rather small UK], it feels really nice that so many great people around the world care enough to have such grandiose opinions about so insignificant a peoples as us, but not so nice any such conclusions are drawn from those so woefully ignorant of the complexities and of the facts at hand (or perhaps they really do know far more [about] British people than me).

As for the author, I could be almost offended that you choose to pigeon-hole the people of Scotland as a conduit for your own political frustrations… or at least I might be if the piece showed any real depth or was remotely erudite.

Really, very poor.

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stevenjohnson 02.14.14 at 6:50 pm

Expansion of the EU into enemy territory like the Ukraine is one thing. Scotland is already fully integrated into the European economy. Recognizing the independence of Slovenia was a key step in breaking up socialist Yugoslavia, but recognizing the independence of Scotland isn’t.

Northern Ireland is not Northern Ireland because the English were kept from leaving Ireland by popular demand. Again, why does anyone think the English will accept Scottish independence?

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dsquared 02.14.14 at 7:00 pm

Hong Kong works because there is no independent monetary policy and there is no possibility of a speculative attack because the currency reserves are equal to the money supply. I’m not sure how it would work with Scotland; they’re about the same size, and I’d have thought that SCP/GBP would be more of an optimal currency area than HK$/US$

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Richard J 02.14.14 at 7:00 pm

Again, why does anyone think the English will accept Scottish independence?

A binding committment from both sides’ governments (the Edinburgh agreement) to respect the result of the referendum (whether yes or no) and to act in the best interests of the people of both Scotland and the remainder of the UK.

(From the Unionist perspective, I’d note that a lot of the bluster this week comes from the current Scottish government, for elementary political reasons, chosing to disregard the last clause in the sentence above.)

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kenny mactavish 02.14.14 at 7:01 pm

After a quick re-read of both the piece and my retort, I’m going to make a small apology to the author… the piece is remotely erudite. Comment is worth nothing if it’s not accurate.

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Igor Belanov 02.14.14 at 8:30 pm

A binding committment from both sides’ governments (the Edinburgh agreement) to respect the result of the referendum (whether yes or no) and to act in the best interests of the people of both Scotland and the remainder of the UK.

The first part of the sentence is the applicable bit. Even if both sides were utterly unselfish or neutral (and they’re far from) it seems highly utopian to think they could act with everyone’s best interests in mind. For one thing, they are not interested in discerning what the interests are of the wider populace except in order to exploit them politically. And if Scotland votes to become independent then the ‘best interests’ of the people of Scotland and the remainder of the UK could immediately come into conflict. What happens then, the Scottish government says ‘oh sorry, independence isn’t in England’s best interests, we’ll maintain the union’?

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Pete 02.14.14 at 8:51 pm

kenny: I’m looking for your erudition, but I can’t even work out whether you’re for Yes or No, just that you don’t like this discussion?

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kenny mactavish 02.14.14 at 10:01 pm

Pete: That’s because I didn’t say whether I was a yes or a no. I saw nothing in this discussion that warranted worthwhile engagement, so of course your perception is correct. The piece was loaded with incidental, even irrelevant agenda, the following discussion poor and yes, I didn’t like it… no erudition to behold; simply venting my disapproval (and my own pent up frustrations) and hinting as to why. Apologies if my reasons were not at all clear.

FWIW I am a confirmed and unmovable exponent for one side of the argument, but all too often in this supremely important [momentous around these parts] debate there is much that obfuscates, twists and downright misleads to pervert/advance one cause or the other and that’s before we even consider the pervasive and ugly nationalist dimension in the issues. Every day I meet ordinary [clever] people who are genuinely confused by much of this rubbish. Trust me, the very last thing we need in this debate is barely relevant polemic from displaced and disgruntled PPE academics with a whole load of other bees in their bonnets.

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The Temporary Name 02.14.14 at 10:08 pm

That is a large number of uncaring syllables.

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kenny mactavish 02.15.14 at 12:00 am

Yes, it’s my “disparagingly pompous”, it felt apt in the circumstances.

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Graham Day 02.15.14 at 12:42 am

“the various Scandinavian countries seem to get by perfectly well with their different kroner, so why not Scotland?”

Finland and Sweden are in the Euro, the Danish Kroner is pegged to the Euro. Which leaves Norway, whose main exports are oil , gas, timber and fish – not at all comparable to Scotland.

“Scotland’s economy is significantly different from England’s anyway, with natural resources playing a bigger part in one, and financial services in other.”

Other than the oil/gas sector, I’m not sure it is. It would certainly become so if the political & currency union was broken up, though.

“Better for everyone to have separate currencies, with different interest rates and floating exchange rates so as to adjust to circumstances.

Not necessarily. In this case, the high oil price may lead an independent Scottish currency to appreciate compared to Sterling, which would make Scottish exports uncompetitive in our main export market – the rest of the UK. This doesn’t seem likely to work out well for Scottish manufacturing, for example.

” And then not having that stuff would make the UK less able, and therefore less willing, to join in with rash invasions and interventions”

Well, the most recent example we have is where a vote by the UK Parliament basically prevented a rash intervention in Syria. I don’t think your suggestion that the UK would lack weight in the international arena holds water (Scotland is roughly 10% of population & GDP), but either way it’s a fact that Scottish voters would be spectators. And Scottish troops would go wherever NATO sent them.

“So here’s hoping for the end of the UK and its replacement by a post-imperial patchwork of smaller countries

No, here’s hoping for something else.

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stevenjohnson 02.15.14 at 2:36 am

Richard J and Igor Belanov, thanks for the answer. The “everyone” in “a result that everyone will respect” is ambiguous. It could mean the English as well, as pointed out. Or, it could be interpreted as meaning a supermajority of Scots in the total vote, or an absence of local majorities against independence.

“Fair and decisive representation of the views of the people in Scotland” and “highest standards of fairness, transparency and propriety” can be interpreted as demanding a wording of the question to spell out such issues as EU membership and what currency to use. The agreement specifies that the Scottish government writes the plebiscite but doesn’t say a word about who decides that all these rather high standards be met.

But most of all, I have to point out that the text merely commits the English to respecting the results. The proper word should be “accept.” This may sound like a lawyer’s quibble but then, we are talking law.

I don’t think there’s any doubt that the plan is for the plebiscite’s failure to gut the SNP. And that the Conservative’s think practical political engineering will ensure the proper results, a no vote used to dismiss all nationalists indefinitely.

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P O'Neill 02.15.14 at 3:44 am

Sweden is not in the Euro. By treaty it should be, but it has a self-granted opt-out by not maintaining the ERM band.

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Tim Worstall 02.15.14 at 12:34 pm

“It has been previously pointed out that there is no existing treaty mechanism for a country to leave the EU, or be evicted from it.”

Article 50 I think you’ll find. From wiki:

“Withdrawal from the European Union is a right of European Union (EU) member states under Treaty on European Union (Article 50): “Any Member State may decide to withdraw from the Union in accordance with its own constitutional requirements.” No state has ever withdrawn, though some dependent territories or semi-autonomous areas have left.”

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kenny mactavish 02.15.14 at 1:07 pm

Graham (81). Had I been less annoyed and more inclined, that’s more or less the post I would have written.

Your point on the Syria vote in August has been pet hobbyhorse of mine since it occurred. It indicated on so many levels how the dynamics of the UK’s political Zeitgeist interacts with its political system and where/how the whole entity currently fits within global politics. It even raises interesting questions on the nature of democracy itself; but that’s a whole other story.

Thank you for raising my tone and of course the level of the bar with regards to the quality of the discussion.

steven (82): “I don’t think there’s any doubt that the plan is for the plebiscite’s failure to gut the SNP. And that the Conservative’s think practical political engineering will ensure the proper results, a no vote used to dismiss all nationalists indefinitely.”

While there’s little doubt that thought exists in the minds of certain individual unionist politicians, I’m confident there is no doubt among those who are “engineering” proper results, that the aftermath of a no vote will entail many hard miles of quality diplomacy and conciliation. I eagerly await (with an element of reasonably placed hope) the visions of the main parties for a post “no” political agenda. Get it right and convince the electorate of their combined integrity and they have another serious game-changing opportunity before the referendum. Any such propositions must hold a robust cross-party element with cast iron commitments to settlements of divisive issues. Crucial starting points would be consensus on a) finding a final and complete solution to the West Lothian Question, (b) ensuring a form of political mechanism that fully addresses the thorny issue of Tory main government with so few returned Scottish seats* and (c) a commitment from a devolved Scottish government to its own de-centralisation. (The current SNP’s vision and indeed actions for big, centralist government make Westminster look positively benign and loose-handed in this respect and this is particularly acute where I live (in the north). This is right now causing much concern and resentment among ordinary people.)

Another crucial aspect of the aftermath of a “no” is the Nationalists’ position. It’s entirely reasonable for Nationalists to get angry trying to pin down commitments from rUK parties to make things as comfortable as possible for a new foreign country in the event of a “yes”, but what will Scottish Nationalists do after “no”? Will they continue to agitate and not engage in a never-ending strategy to show Westminster in poor light to Scotland as they have always done? I’ve not heard a single peep [ever] as to whether they will calm nationalistic voices and put their heads down in preparation for the hard miles to the common good of a progressive union. I hope this will change.

What is sure is that genuine, pragmatic political engagement must be the creed of all parties after a “no” and people deserve to be given the confidence beforehand that this will occur.

After a “yes”, in many respects, issues for politicians are simpler… for better or worse, there will be no such commitments and Nationalism and Nationalistic intent on both sides will inform huge elements of everyday politics and economics. Equally sure, of course the two countries will “rub along” under this outcome, just as separate democratic countries do and people must decide if that sounds like a good long term plan for the people of Britain in today’s modern world, with its incumbent (not to mention impending) problems.

I’ll finish by returning to what seems to be the crux in the Author’s piece; I’m personally not convinced that some form of pre-Roman [dys]utopia is credible this day and age. More success trying to uninvent fire IMHO.

*This really can’t be beyond the wit of man when it might surprise many people that in terms of PR the Tory vote in Scotland is already surprisingly high in some quarters and the Ruth Davidson brand of Conservatism is refreshingly progressive and already breaking down barriers. [A pertinent time to stress I am not a Tory.]

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Graham Day 02.15.14 at 2:52 pm

P O’Neill (83), you’re right, Sweden isn’t in the Euro, and it isn’t pegged to it either. My mistake.

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Randy McDonald 02.15.14 at 9:13 pm

Jane Jacobs in 1980 (_The Question of Separatism_) made the argument that an independent Quebec with its own currency would at least provide Quebec with the space to experiment, to try to avoid becoming a branch-plant office of Toronto and develop in a way more to the liking of Quebecers.

http://spacing.ca/…/24/jane-jacobs-quebec-sovereigntist/

In that a good deal of the push for Scottish independence seems to be from people who don’t want Scotland to follow the path of the rest of Britain, a Scottish currency would make sense.

How would a currency union between the United Kingdom and an independent Scotland make sense if economic structures and political priorities are so different, anyway?

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Ronan(rf) 02.15.14 at 9:21 pm

Jane Jacobs knew, man. All of you want reasons, Jane Jacobs wanted processes. So long as George Osborne isn’t runnin’ guns into Falkirk everything’s goin’ well, no? (ps I dont know what Jane Jacobs wanted)

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Randy McDonald 02.15.14 at 9:24 pm

Writing on Quebec, she looked particularly to the separation of Norway from Sweden as encouraging. Small nations could be successful in an age of imperialism.

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Ronan(rf) 02.15.14 at 9:27 pm

I have no idea what I’m talkin’ about.

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Randy McDonald 02.16.14 at 12:56 am

She thought that small nations could be successful in an age of imperialism, particularly in developing promising new models for living. Scandinavian social democracy appealed particularly to her, at least at the time she wrote the book.

Why would an independent state want to keep the currency of the country that it left? Her argument, speaking about Quebec and the desire for separatists there to maintain a monetary union with Canada, was that if the whole point of separation was to change things, why adopt the currency (and the economic policy, etc) of the prior polity? The old political union had failed; why take it up again in a new form.

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Tom Hurka 02.16.14 at 3:25 am

Re the OP’s point about demographics:

1. The amazing thing about young people is that they get older and even get to be over 55. When they do, they often end up with political views like those of the people who were 55 when they were young. May even Chris be less radical now than when he was at 25?

2. Tomorrow’s young people may not be like today’s. After the 1980 referendum Quebec nationalists were confident that demographics were on their side, since the young favoured independence and the old didn’t. But (surprise!) the next generation of young people weren’t that interested in independence; many had different priorities and thought sovereignty was their parents’ project.

Optimistic predictions about demographics are just that — optimistic.

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Igor Belanov 02.16.14 at 10:08 am

What also needs to be remembered is that, while Scotland has a very different political profile to England at the moment, it hasn’t always been the case. Scotland actually returned a majority of Conservative MPs in the 1955 General Election, and hasn’t always been a radical stronghold outside Glasgow and the steel/mining districts. If anything it has been Wales that has had a consistent radical tradition, but with cultural and infrastructural divisions that have reduced the desire for independence.

I suspect that a ‘no’ vote could well stop the SNP in its tracks, much as the failure of the 1979 referendum set it back for 10 years.

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kenny mactavish 02.16.14 at 10:44 am

Igor (93). “I suspect that a ‘no’ vote could well stop the SNP in its tracks, much as the failure of the 1979 referendum set it back for 10 years.”

That is quite possible if the “no” vote is decisive (+70% ought to do it). Problem is, it’s looking likely it won’t be… Nationalist fervour is running higher than I can ever remember and if a “no” comes in below 60% as is looking likely, I can’t see that diminishing any time soon unless British politics gets a little more creative and nationalist politicians finally grasp the nettle.

FWIW I think British politics will evolve positively post “no”. 400 years of a posteriori suggests we don’t shy away from the hard miles in the difficult, slow terrain of democratic politics. We usually get to a better place in most respects and I trust the British people always will.

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Igor Belanov 02.16.14 at 11:05 am

The problem for the SNP is that I don’t think it can really offer an alternative that will convince people to choose independence. Devolution currently allows the Scottish Government to shape slight differences in spending priorities and even small tax rises if they see fit, as well as providing Scotland with a political outlet for its identity.
From the 1970s through to the 1990s the SNP tended to advocate a roughly social-democratic vision that featured industrial redevelopment, high public spending and neutralism/unilateralism in foreign policy. By the early 2000s they were fixated on the example of Ireland and focused on the potentialities of Scotland’s financial/services sector. Since the crash, they seem to have very little to put forward, and I think the fuss about retaining the pound is evidence of the bankruptcy of their vision. If the vote goes against them and they can’t even provide the baubles of independent nation-statehood, then I think they will have to try really hard to find a raison d’etre.

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kenny mactavish 02.16.14 at 11:43 am

Would I be right in thinking you don’t live in Scotland Igor?

You outline what has often been referred to as the “settled will of the Scottish people” and of course it’s the sensible, pragmatic conclusion to the situation a vast majority of dispassionate outsiders looking in would draw. Unfortunately we have ever-present background secessionist nationalism (historically <20%) being cynically manipulated into a very significant spanner in the works right now.

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Igor Belanov 02.16.14 at 7:56 pm

I don’t live in Scotland, no.

I’m effectively arguing that the ‘spanner in the works’, as you put it, is in fact a substantial gamble by the ‘secessionist nationalists’, who have run out of other strategies. I’m not suggesting that the independence movement will totally collapse following a potential ‘no’ vote, but I do think that the SNP will lose its Holyrood majority and separatism will fall further towards that historical <20% figure.

Naturally, feel free to enlighten me if I've underestimated the strength of feeling in Scotland.

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frabjous 02.16.14 at 11:33 pm

I lived in Scotland many years ago, at the end of the Thatcher prime ministership, which was enough to turn anyone into a Scottish nationalist. I would imagine that many of the over-55s in Scotland, who have those years as important memories, are still pretty anti-Westminster.

(Sidenote – I was quite useful to my Scottish friends because when we would travel to London, they would give me all their Scottish banknotes. The cashiers would take them from me, an American, while they’d refuse them from Scottish customers. Fun with ethnic prejudice!)

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Pete 02.17.14 at 12:06 pm

I don’t think that a “no” vote necessarily leads to a collapse in SNP votes, although a lot depends on what happens to the leadership and whether talent abandons the party after that event.

A large driver of the whole thing is the homogenity and closed ears of Westminster politics. In England this turns into UKIP votes (despite the bonkersness) or non-voting (Russel Brand passim).

As for “put their heads down in preparation for the hard miles to the common good of a progressive union”, this would be more convincing if there was evidence of any sign of this from Westminster. The only obvious piece of progressive legislation has been equal marriage. Everything else has been disastrous, regressive or incoherent. The bedroom tax makes an already strained housing system unworkable in a lot of areas, and has forced councils (and the Scottish government!) to cover the hole from emergency funds. Universal credit has sunk into the IT swamp. Gove is engaged in an ongoing struggle to replace the history curriculum with 1066 and All That. Osborne is taking credit for the business cycle, which is a bit like taking credit for the incoming tide.

Pretty much everywhere in the UK has either a housing shortage/affordability crisis, a jobs shortage, or is flooded. There’s no real plan for dealing with any of these problems.

Long-term problems will include energy supply and climate change. The government departments responsible are sabotaged by climate change deniers and people who don’t understand electricity generation.

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Pete 02.17.14 at 1:38 pm

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Alex 02.18.14 at 9:13 am

If they peg and keep an open capital account, the loss of monetary independence. This would force internal adjustments (i.e. austerity) whenever global conditions worsen. As many others have noted, this is usually inconsistent with democracy.

And the whole point of Scottish nationalism since 1977 (date advisedly, because it’s the publication of Nairn’s “The Breakup of Britain”) is independence of monetary policy. The whole left-SNP critique of the UK as an ideological construct designed to legitimise the City influence on economic policy, the whole ball of wax, is about fucking off the Bank of England.

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