I went for a back packing trip in the Grampians last week, climbing some of Scotlands more remote hills .and it was a pleasure to be in place where nobody was talking about the independence referendum (I did attempt to conduct a poll with a herd of deer but they ran off at the mere mention of the word independence :oops:).
Jokes aside, referendum day is nearly upon us, with the No camp in the lead, but with the margin between them narrowing to just 6%. It might therefore be a good time to try to separate some of the facts from fiction.
Closing the deal
The Yes camp are still behind in the polls and I would argue this is due to a credibility gap that the SNP face. While Im not suggesting that Scotland cant leave the UK without any long term difficulty, obviously there will be a transition period and that will require some delicate negotiations, both with Westminster and (to a lesser extent) with Brussels. Ultimately how disruptive this proves depends on the attitude of the parties involved.
Its a bit like getting a divorce, if both parties work towards an amicable solution everything could be completed quickly and smoothly, but if they both act irrationally and waste time trying to score points with each other and fight over who owns the sofa the result is likely to be a lengthy, drawn out, expensive and very disruptive process. What worries me is that both parties do seem to indicate that Scottish independence might be something of a messy divorce.
While Salmond is correct in saying that Scotland can choose to keep the pound regardless of whether or not Westminster agrees to that, he fails to address the facts that 1) why would Scotland want to keep the pound? Wont they be better off with their own currency? And 2) how could the SNP be in anyway surprised that Westminster wouldnt be in favour of sharing the pound?
Also as regards the EU, inevitably there would have to be some negotiation as regards Scotlands membership, which the SNP did not seem to recognise, until the EU pointed this out. Both these measures dont exactly inspire confidence that the SNP have properly thought the process through sufficiently.
And speaking of EU membership, Cameron was in Glasgow (and somehow survived the experience!) taking about the benefits for Scotland of being part of the same single market as the rest of the UK…oblivious to the irony that hes proposing to risk that same single market with an in/out referendum on the UKs EU membership just to placate the Daily Mail brigade within his own party and UKIP.
As I highlighted before if anyone can outdo the SNP for naivety it is UKIP and the Tories and their blindness to the consequences of pulling out of the EU. They seem to be unaware of just how long that would take, nor how economically disruptive it would be, nor that it would fail to address any of the major issues they highlight the EU as being responsible for (largely because such things are a fabrication of the over active imagination of Daily Mail editors).
But certainly as noted, there would be some period when an independent Scotland would be outside the EU and have to negotiate entry. Certain countries, such as Spain and Belgium might try and slow this process down, but ultimately they would be forced to stop once they realise that all this would likely do is encourage the independence movements in their own countries and the opposition they would face from the rest of the EU. The one thing the EU isnt going to do is vote to make itself smaller.
However, by voting No there is also a chance that Scotland might be dragged kicking and screaming out of the EU by the rest of the UK if the Tories/UKIP have their way…although my suspicion is that the infighting within the Tory party that has recently started to break out over Europe will rob them of the next election, and Ed Miliband will get into Down street and kick the whole thing into the long grass for the next 5 years.
But certainly anyone voting No this month and you could be inadvertently voting to leave the EU.
The No campaign has been focusing on a combination of scare tactics and promises of great riches and rewards if Scotland votes no. They promise that if Scotland votes No, then theyll get Devo Max (which polls have consistently shown is actually what most Scots want), a spaceport and presumably a free whisky bottle each! If Scotland votes Yes, then the gates of hell will open, Scots will be using shiny stones for currency and there will be a guy at the border waiting to shoot the dog then smash your mobile phone.
I would note, being Irish and used to referendum scare tactics that I know better to ignore such antics and would advise anyone in Scotland to do the same.
All change please
Also there is an obvious contradiction in the No camp promising everything will stay the same, but also promising Devo Max. And as noted if Scotland is ultimately dragged out of the EU by England, then thats going to be very disruptive to business in Scotland.
Also as regards Devo Max, we have only the word of politicians in Westminster that they will pass such legislation after the next election. No offence but Id trust the strength of most politicians promises before an election, about as much as Id trust the strength of the 1st Tay Bridge. Whether this goes ahead will depend on the outcome of the next election and the likely coalition negotiations that result. There is no chance of Devo Max if for example the next Westminster government is some sort of Tory/UKIP Frankenstein (which will probably last about as long as the 1st Tay bridge! particularly when the impracticalities of both parties EU policy becomes evident).
So Devo Max cannot be guaranteed, not unless we see some actual legislation passed down in Westminster between now and referendum day.
Anyone scared of change, would be advised that voting No is not necessarily the safe option as it largely depends on whether or not you trust the Tories.
Another thing that Scots need to realise is the scale of cuts that they have applied down in England. While the SNP have perhaps spun the level of these cuts somewhat, certainly it is true that in England many councils are living hand to mouth. Within Universities weve been more or less told that any research project we are thinking of that involves asking a council for money, even if its the sort of thing that could save them money in the long term (e.g. energy efficiency), is a non-starter, as most English councils are as poor as church mice at the moment.
As Ive highlighted in past posts, such cut backs include closing old peoples homes and day care centres, libraries and art galleries as well as for example sacking firemen and other essential staff. There is also a serious shortage of social housing in many parts of England. Councils in England are also getting increasingly mercenary and money grabbing by for example pushing up rents to shops and stall owners as well as more aggressively pursuing parking fines.
Birmingham City council is a particularly bad example, given that they are essentially bankrupt as a consequence of these cuts and the unfortunate timing of a large pay-out resulting from a lawsuit.
So needless to say voting No could well mean facing the same (or worse) if the Tories win the next election, as Tory governments have rarely been kind to Scotland.
Worse case scenario
There is I would argue an urgent need for clarification, particularly from the No campaign. Will Scotland be forced to leave the EU if England votes to leave? Will England redress the imbalances this action will create in the economies of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland? As regards Devo Max, what assurances does Westminster give that it will proceed with this, regardless of what happens in the next election?
All in all this is a campaign where nobody will have won, but one side lost, as neither camp has done a terribly good job .other than the No camps success in stopping Farage putting his oar in and handing victory to the SNP (he managed to convince Ireland to vote in favour of our last EU referendum simply by showing up and opening his mouth and last time he was in Scotland he ended up barricaded inside a pub).
To me the worst case scenarios are either a Yes by a narrow margin or No by a wide one. The former would leave considerable doubt and questions about the SNPs mandate to negotiate independence while a No by a wide margin would just encourage Westminster to renege on all their referendum campaign promises.
Unfortunately it seems that either of these is the more likely outcome.