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Scottish Independence

As I write this article in Feb 2014, Scotland is part of the United Kingdom, and has been for the last 300 years. But later this year, in September, there will be a referendum on Scottish Independence. It could be that Scotland votes to become a separate country from the U.K.

The independence movement has been driven by the Scottish Nationalist Party, which is the biggest party by seats in Scotland. Alex Salmond (the leader of the SNP) and his cronies have been campaigning on the matter for years, and finally Westminster (ie the UK government) has agreed to permit the referendum to take place. By implication Westminster will also accept the result, so if a majority of votes are in favour of splitting off from the UK, then that is what will happen.

There are a number of things about this which I find disturbing.

The Independence campaign has generated a lot of nationalist sentiment, which often manifests itself as anti-English rhetoric. This is not just within the political parties, but seems to have extended to the general population as a whole. A prominent British sportsman (Scottish), who I won’t name here to spare his embarrassment, was asked in an interview a few years ago who he was hoping to win some international football tournament after Scotland had been eliminated. His response was “Anyone but England”. He was quite young at the time, so I am sure he was just repeating the sorts of comments he may have heard people making in the pub or his local community. I would certainly like to think this is not his current opinion. But there can be no doubt that there is a lot of anti-English sentiment in Scotland these days. Very recently in a message read out at the Brit awards, David Bowie expressed a hope that Scotland would not break away from the UK. This was met by some appalling and insulting comments on twitter from some of the pro-independence lobby.

It cuts both ways, of course, and I often hear equivalent anti-Scottish sentiment comments being made down here. This never used to be the case – there never used to be this “them and us” attitude between Scotland and England that there seems to prevail these days. How much worse will this get if the Scots do get their independence? I can only imagine it will get far worse, and this is not a good situation for the inhabitants of a small island such as ours.

A large part of the argument being put forward by the SNP is that Scotland would fare better economically as an independent country. There is a lot of detail on their website giving statistics such as GDP per capita and Tax revenues per capita. All the information presented seems to back up the claims that an independent Scotland could be better off, even without taking North Sea oil revenues into account.

The problem is, to use an expression my mother is rather fond of, they want to have their cake and eat it. The independence campaigners seem to be quite happy to separate themselves from the UK where it is to their advantage. However, they still expect to retain the connections to England and the rest of the UK where it suits them.

For one thing, they are expecting to be able to retain the Pound as their currency after independence. The 3 main parties in Westminster have indicated that this will definitely NOT be possible, and yet the SNP are still campaigning on the notion that when it comes to it Westminster will back down. I somehow doubt it. The SNP argue that currency exchange will cost English businesses £500 million a year. This is what they state, but of course the only thing they really have any interest in is their own narrow self-interest and how this might impact on the new found wealth they were hoping for by splitting off from the rest of the UK.

Defence is another issue. I cannot imagine that Scotland would be large enough a country to finance its own Army, Navy and Air Force. Maybe it could muster a small capability. The implication is clear - Westminster is expected to provide this; in times of war Scotland would be protected by UK forces. Maybe there would be some financial agreement covering some of the costs, but even so the arrogance of this is astonishing. Scotland wish to split away from the UK and yet they still want to be protected by UK defence forces. They want to have their cake and eat it again.

It is also worth mentioning the National Health Service. In Britain, unlike many parts of the world, health care is available free-of-charge, no matter what the health requirements up to and including expensive operations. There are many hospitals around the country (by which I mean the UK) fully funded by government and each providing their own specialisms. Depending on your particular treatment needs you are sent to a hospital that can provide the appropriate specialist care.

Now I am sure that an independent Scotland would wish to retain a National Health Service – they would have a riot on their hands if they tried to abolish it. And of course there are already many hospitals in Scotalnd. But what will happen if a Scottish patient needs care best provided by English hospital, or vice versa for that matter (English patient needing treatment in a Scottish hospital). The SNP are stating that everything will carry on as normal, with these sorts of arrangement continuing to be possible.

So it seems to me that the SNP are looking to cherry pick the aspects of independence that suit them, rather than full blown independence in all matters. The main area they are interested in seems to be in accumulating wealth in Scotland, and this is one of their main campaigning arguments. “Every taxpayer will be £500 better off in an independent Scotland” is the claim. Notice they are saying £500 even though Westminster has informed them they will not be able to keep the pound.

The logical consequence of wealth accumulation in Scotland is that it wealth will be removed from the rest of the UK – this does not seem to bother them one jot. They expect to take this wealth away from the UK as a whole and yet the rest of the UK does not get any say in the matter. The referendum is for Scottish voters only – the views in England, Wales and Northern Ireland are not being going to be taken into account.

As of today, the United Kingdom consists of 4 countries (England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland) but they are truly united, and in reality no more than separate regions within a single country. There is a common language spoken throughout (true, in Wales there are many Welsh speakers, some of whom have Welsh as their first language, but these people do all also speak English). So as these “countries” are just regions, like counties, there is completely free movement between them. Many people that are native to Scotland will be living in other parts of the UK and vice versa. Many of these people will own property.

So what will happen if Scotland decide to split away? What is the criteria for deciding if you are Scottish or English? Does it depend on your birthplace, where you currently live, where you own property, or simply where you have been resident for a certain time? Or can you just decide if you want to be considered a particular nationality? It seems likely that many people will find themselves living and owning property in a country in which they are considered a foreigner – this is certainly not a situation I would wish to find myself in.

And what of the Union Jack, that proud and instantly recognisable symbol of Britishness? It is formed from the superposition of the Scottish St. Andrews cross with the English cross of St. George. Obviously this will have to change. I have always thought it iniquitous that Wales and Northern Ireland do not have representation on the Union Jack. For Wales we could take the Welsh Dragon (and let’s face it, the Welsh flag is the best in the world). For Northern Ireland, I don’t know. Maybe the dragon should be enjoying a pint of Guinness.

Society | Politics | United Kingdom


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