Scotland – Does it have to be a binary question?

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 aligned nations?

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:

FT – US Stocks suffer sharpest first-half drop in more than 50 years

Thunderer – Chrysalis Investments slashes its valuations in “grim market”

FT – Italy issues bonds at highest borrowing costs since wake of Eurozone debt crisis

WSJ – Shiploads of Russian Grain and Good Weather Temper Wheat Crisis

BBerg – Historic Rout in EM Sows Seeds of Outperformance

Out of time, and back to the day job – have a great weekend.

Bill Blain

Strategist – Shard Capital


  1. Question: Do you think, as a Scot living in England, you should have had the ability to vote on the 1st Scottish referendum when it was held? If so, did you campaign for it at the time?

    • If the SNP really wanted independence then they would insist the English also had the vote!

      I was unable to vote in IndyRef1.
      That was annoying, but my choice to live in England.
      I argued against independence, and sincerely believe without Gordon Brown’s magnificent intervention before the vote, Scotland would have left.
      Now.. I am not so sure. I see the possibilities for Scotland, but fear the SNP and it’s successors to deliver it.

  2. First, would the vote go ahead if the cost were to be borne by Scotland alone? Second, the concept of a hard border doesn’t really work, vide Ulster. I have always felt we were wet and should say to Brussels, if you want a hard border, then you put in the barbed wire and minefields.. The same would of course have to be true north of Carlisle.

  3. Don’t you see the irony ? The same could be said about England leaving the EU. And you supported Brexit !

  4. Why Sturgeon thinks it is for Scotland alone to decide seems odd to American ears. New York, Ohio and Michigan did not let Virginia, South Carolina and Texas have the final say on their status in the America Union. They sent armies to crush the ‘rebellion’. Certainly England could decide they have a similar right but maybe its not important enough to fight over though having a small but significant portion of the British Isles ruled by a woman of the caliber and competence of Nicola Sturgeon seems alarming enough to me. As it is Scotland having its own parliament, schools and other local institutions seems adequate enough without having to get into thornier issues like its own Armed Forces, Embassies, etc. but if Scotland wants to try and undo 400 years of shared history and England allows it go on have a go at it. I think Sturgeon’s reach exceeds her grasp.

  5. The irony being that if Scotland got a deal that Northern Ireland got it would absolutely boom. It would learn from the mistakes that the ROI have made (housing) and be more competitive on salaries.
    “Scotlands greatest export was its people” so was Ireland’s, they have learned how to leverage this and maximised foreign investment from strong ties with USA and an English speaking population. Ireland’s 2nd language is officially Polish (overtaken Irish) so learning to accept other nations people might be a strong positive

  6. Did you purposefully leave out tar-MacAdam?
    If the Scots are daft enough to bite the hand that feeds them and embrace their socialist delusion then so be it. The collateral pain will be hard to watch, but seems like just another in a series of self-inflicted wounds Yoorp in general inflicts on itself trying to sort out their historic baggage. I’m sure when it fails they will whimper back and maybe end up where you suggest with a new combination. Sometimes you just have to let things go their way before people figure out the obvious.

    • I missed him… and many others…

      The Act of Union between the Crowns of England and Scotland in 1707 was broadly due to Scotland bankrupting itself following the Darien Adventure, when we reckoned a Scottish Empire on the Central American ithmus would make great strategic sense. Scottish ships were not allowed to dock or trade out of English ports without incurring extra taxes and tariffs – despite both crowns being united under the Stuarts and then William and Mary. The Scots worked out the need to compete directly with merchantile England.
      They discounted the climate, mosquitos, and the fact the Spanish were already there. Most colonists died or we sold into slavery. It is said every family in Scotland lost money. We were forced to accept English gold and the Act of Union.
      THe result was surprising – by 1780 Edinburgh was among the fastest expanding cities in Europe. Adam Smith wrote the Wealth of Nations. Scots led the empire. Despite the unpleastantness in 1715 and 1745 (the jacobite rebellions), security gave impetus to growth, wealth and a merchantile explosion. For 200 years Scots bankers, engineers and technocrats lead the world.
      THen came Maggie…

      (THe great disgrace of the age was in the Highlands – following defeat at Culloden, the tribally-led highland clans were incorporated into the British Army becoming the shock troops that won the 7-years war in Canada, defeated Napoleon before standing up to the Ruskie’s in Crimea as the Thin Red Line. Yet their cheifs sold them out, chasing their client crofters off the clan lands to replace them with Sheep and then the shooting of game. THe Highland Clearances were an afront to Humanity – but are barely remarked upon today. THe effect was a massive diaspora of Scots around the World.
      The Glens are still empty today.)

      • The clearance is all blamed on English all owned by English Aristocracy in Trusts. My Scottish council a well educated Engineer dearly believes this is how it worked.

        • Not really true.
          THe clan chiefs – who had played the father of the clan role – became detached, lost their sense of duty to the clan and acted like landowners. Following the Jacobite outings they were either executed, or persauded to conform. By the time of Victoria (80 years later) they were indistiguisable from any other Lordlings, exploiting their rights. The Duke and Duchess of Sutherland were among the worst; throwing the clans off the mountains and glens, allowing a few to become fishermen on economically useless coasts, but sending the rest to Glasgow and abroad. Try the Highland Clearances by John Prebble for the full story.
          First the people were replaced by sheep, and then the sheep by game. Eventually the estates were sold to rich southerners with no link to the people. TOday the largest landowner is Scotland is a Dutchman. The few remaining highlanders moght have earned tenure on a croft – a subsistance farm, alongside jobs in tourism. It is only changing slowly.
          The vast herds of Red Deer now roaming the highlands have no predators and their soley to amuse the landowners who consider stalking them as sport. As a result of the overly large deer herds, the landscape has been unable to reforest naturally, and is ecologically a desert. Restoring the highlands as was would be impossible, but natural reforestation, and a food chain of wolves and bears, plus beavers, could certaintly change it.
          THere was a great play by the 7:84 theatre company in the 1970s telling the story of Scotland post 1746: “The Cheviot, The Stag and the Black, Black Oil.”
          7:84 referered to the percentage of the wealthiest Scots who owned 84% of the land.

  7. Brexit has made me much more ambivalent about what happens to the UK, as enough people seem not to care about our success as a nation and especially as an economy. So even though I believe Scottish Independence would be bad for both Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom, I’m now like, whatever.

    However, I request one thing – which learns from the failings of Brexit:

    Please can any future independence vote be voting on an actual divorce agreement – with legally defined and agreed arrangements for currencies, borders, etc and all the other tricky decisions that would need to be made.

    Otherwise it will just be another vote on everyone’s differing and sometimes contradicting hopes/expectations.

  8. Would Scotland have to join the Euro? The European Commission may have made it a condition for any new member, but Sweden said it would and has managed to put it off for years and has no intention of joining.

    • THe SNP plan to join the marvellous, wonderful Euro, highlighting a dangerous misunderstanding of monetary economics and adjustment costs, or for the control its would hand to Brussels, including transferring financial sovereignty from London to Brussels. It would be a bad idea.
      Staying within Sterling has a number of advantages…

  9. The referendum question should be “Do you want your constituency to seceded from the United Kingdom?”

    Dundee and parts of the Glasgow conurbation would presumably say “yes” and the rest of the country probably “no”. Then a constitutional convention could work out how the two-part Republic of Alba could be made to function. (Or perhaps made to fuck off. I’m still working on that part of the plan.)

  10. Very interesting. There’s a lot that I don’t know about Scotland 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿

  11. Very informative. My grandfather left Elgin in the 1930’s to move to South London where I was born and lived until 2000 emigrating to Tasmania. My Scottish cousin visited me last year, an Electrical Engineers, many like him lament the leaving of EU as they funded untold alternative energy projects he worked on. Few had great ROI, but we were all in full money printer mode then.
    Sadly, I think it might me a Darien 2; socialism working so well in ageing western nations. About 2050 both England and Scotland with half their populations over 60 discuss a new Union including their old foes in various Viking lands. Reams of text about free trade and markets, where the average age is 56 and there are twice the retired population compared to under tens in all the nations.

  12. I have a romantic view of independence much like yourself. I feel like contemporary societies are overly-centralised; Brexit and Indy seemed like remedies to this (the modern calibre of politician was sadly too pathetic to actually achieve this, however).

    Ultimately my biggest issue with the SNP is that they view sovereignty as a box-ticking exercise; notions of power, sufficiency and authority are supposedly negligible. Their vision of an independent Scotland is one where we simply collect money from Brussels rather than Westminster.

    I live on one of the Scottish islands not pimped out for tourism (for better or for worse). The place is a ruin. Indy2 or not, I don’t expect prospects to change.

    • I was hoping to sail up to Scotland this year and spend the summer sailing the west coast.. but too much going on at work. May do it next year. Which island? and does it have a decent dram.. and we’ll stop over.

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