Blain’s Morning Porridge – July 1 2022: Scotland – Does it have to be a binary question?
“Should I stay or should I go now….”
This morning – 9 years after Scotland voted to stay in the United Kingdom, the neferendum continues as Sturgeon demands a recount. But does it have to be this way? Independence looks like economic suicide, but Scotland is a nation rich in inventive people. Maybe we need something different: a new Union of proud, independent but culturally linked nations?
There is one thing the City of London’s financial industry is not short of: Scotsmen. We have long seen the High Road South to fame and riches down south as opportunity. (And why not… the English appear to actually like us!)
Who knows… London might be getting many more… 9 years ago the SNP lost the “once in a generation” independence referendum by 10%. Now they want to re-run the neferendum vote. It’s going to be bitter and divisive. More than a few of my mates back home say they will leave if the Scottish Nationalist Party wins.
Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of the Peoples’ Democratic Republic of Caledonia, has picked her moment well, exploiting the deepening unpopularity of Boris Johnson north of the border. The old Etonian’s antics, entitlement and chumocracy are repellent to Scots – even Scottish Conservatives won’t vote for him.
I must admit to a greater degree of grudging respect for Ms Sturgeon than I have most politicians. Do not underestimate her. If she believed in the Union – the United Kingdom, she’d be a very electable leader of the Labour Party and would annihilate Boris at the dispatch box and polls. But she is not. She is leader of a single purpose party, while trying to run a small nation as side gig.
Over the last 50 years a yawning cultural chasm has widened between Scotland and Westminster. In the 1950 and 60s Scottish Nationalists were a fringe party of irrelevant right-wing kilt-wearing romantics.
That changed in the 1970s, as the SNP found it’s political edge as Conservative governments brushed aside Scotland’s unique industrial heritage – manufacturing, defence, heavy engineering, steel, coal and Clydeside shipping. Margaret Thatcher put the UK on a sound financial footing by shuttering it all, making Scotland redundant, and paying for it with the revenues from North Sea Oil.
Myth or not, the resentment at the destruction of the Scottish economy in favour of London has been effectively stoked by the SNP. They have gone from a handful of seats in Westminster to 45 out of 59. They hold nearly half the seats in the Edinburgh Scottish Parliament – and hold power, supported by the Greens. They have taken hold of Scotland because successive Westminster governments have done little to address the genuine sense of grievance among Scots.
That failure has fuelled the narrative about how Scotland will do better free of London’s disinterested control. Its increasingly strong among younger Scots voters. It’s a lesson Labour voters in the English Red Wall seats should learn. Levelling up means nothing North of the Border. UK Politics is, and will remain, London centric.
Sturgeon has announced her plan for a second referendum on Scottish Independence on October 19th 2023 with absolutely zero legal backing to do so. It’s a gallus move. It’s entirely political. She will please her supporters and peeve her detractors. It will force Boris to either ban the plebiscite – in which case she wins, promising to fight the next election as a proxy referendum. And if the vote is allowed to happen, then she might just win outright… although the polls suggest otherwise.
A year of campaigning will also distract from the increasing criticism of the SNP as a failing one-party state in Scotland. The Scottish Government taxes its people more, and spends more than the rest of the UK, but the quality of state services is tumbling and failure across its key competencies is widespread. That may be because, as a single purpose party (devoted solely to independence), they just don’t focus on running the country.
More than one wag has joked the best thing for Scotland would be independence simply to get rid of the SNP and allow real politicians to run the place!
It would be a mistake to equilibrate IndyRef2 with Brexit. Remember; the Scots voted to stay in Europe. Brexit was all about the opportunities that would open by shaking off the shackles of European bureaucracy. IndyRef2 will be about the Scottish economy being freed from the indifference of Westminster, by stressing the opportunities for Scotland. So… completely different then?
The conventional wisdom is an independent Scotland would be a massive mistake. 60% of Scottish Goods are exported directly to English markets, and the 18% sent to Europe mostly travels through England first. If Scotland was to join the EU, then hard borders to protect Europe from the taint of English produce would be required. Economically, it just would not make sense. The friction would be immense.
If the Scots were to join the EU they’d be forced to close their markets to English goods – meaning starvation and disaster. They’d also have to adopt the Euro – putting the nation from being a vassal of London to one of an even more indifferent Brussels.
Yet, small nations within Europe do fairly well. Scotland’s population is approaching 5.5 million. That puts it alongside:
- Sweden 10mm
- Denmark 5.8 mm
- Finland 5.5 mm
- Norway 5.5 mm
- Ireland 5 mmm
These are all successful nations. Why isn’t Scotland? Could Scotland stand with them?
Scotland’s greatest export has always been people. We have a proud record as the shock troops and explorers of the British Empire, happy to tramp out into unknown lands – an easy call when the apex predator back home is the Midge, an infinitesimally small mosquito with great big sharp pointy teeth. Tigers don’t scare us.
We invented most of the modern world including Tyres, TV, Penicillin, Anaesthetics, Telephones, Cloning, Fridges, Toasters and Contact Lenses. We founded the Bank of England and established Geology and Modern Medicine as proper things. I’m sorry about Golf – at best a good walk spoilt. But we make up for that one mistake with Whisky, the Tunnocks’ Caramel Wafer, Haggis and the Deep-Fried Mars Bar.
When it comes to finance, we box well above our weight. Maybe it’s because we’re naturally mean and attracted to money, or the fact our delightful Scot’s brogue is among the most financially trusted accents globally. It might be our long succession of successful bankers from Jingling Georgie Heriot to our very own offshore Bank; The Home for Scottish Bank Clerks (also known as HSBC). (We try not to mention RBOS.) Or it might be our famous economists like Adam Smith, John Law (who bankrupted France – respect) and my chum Mark Blyth (who will bankrupt everyone given half a chance).
Or maybe we flock to London’s money pits because we are natural Communists with a flair for making dosh.
When you look at Scotland’s universities there is an incredible amount of hi-tech, hi-value innovation going on. My old uni, Heriot-Watt, is home to the UK’s Robotarium, a world-leading centre for Robotics and AI, moving research rapidly to industrial innovation. It’s impressive! Dundee, once a decaying east-coast post is now the global centre of the gaming industry. The University of Strathclyde’s Aerospace Centre of Excellence has become a leader in satellite tech.
Right across Scotland I am struck by the confidence and talent of my people. There is budding tree of art, design, culture, smarts, invention and innovation. All it needs to prosper is proper nurturing.
My Heart says Scotland could succeed.
My Head says Independence would by a disaster – pulling apart not just Scotland, but nullifying the soft-power of the UK, removing it as a balance to Brussels within Europe, and giving succour to Russia and China. It would make us all irrelevant on the global stage. Scotland would sink, dragging England and Wales with it.
But does it have to be binary? Scotland in or out?
Why not something stronger and better, but separate?
Maybe it’s time Scotland and England negotiated a new relationship, a new union of two independent states yet still closely aligned and linked through our shared culture, our shared monarchy, and a shared currency (a critical element we need to think more about.) It could be something that maintains and strengthens the links between us, and enables us both to prosper and find our way in the world.
Get rid of the divisive populist politics of Independence and let’s see how Scotland and England work together in the future. There would be much to negotiate – including Westminster subsidies to Scotland and defence. There would be much to compromise over.
The thing is – we don’t get to choose our neighbours. We used to joke that God gave Scotland the most beautiful land, the strongest people, and Scotch Whisky, but as balance we got the English as Neighbours. We could have got much, much worse.
Five things to Read Today:
Out of time, and back to the day job – have a great weekend.
Strategist – Shard Capital