Ill be in Ireland during the vote and it has to be said that the balance of probability is a narrow no vote. However, listen to Cameron or Darling Alastair and youd swear a crack of doom was about to open up under Edinburgh on Friday.
So it would be worth again going through the propaganda from both sides and unpicking the reality from myth in the (unlikely) event of Scottish independence.
Some of the tabloids have been suggesting that the announcement of a royal baby might somehow convenience scots into voting No. Inevitably the tin-foil hat wearing brigade (the sort who think MH17 and MH370 were both shot down by the CIA) have then jumped to the conclusion that the pregnancy might be being faked just to save the union.
Let us be clear, the fact that a pampered toff totty is about to fire out a sprog will have zero impact on anyone in Scotlands voting intentions. If youd ever wanted a good example as to how divorced from reality and out of touch the tabloids are, this would be a perfect example.
Similarly, as the Queen has herself pointed out, the Royal family isnt going to get involved in this referendum.
2015 election poker time
Labour are fearful that a Scottish exit and the loss of the Scottish votes, would hand victory to the Tories in the 2015 election. Some Tories even think that they can somehow exclude the Scottish seats from the 2015 election outright. Neither are correct.
Until the day Scotland leaves its citizens are entitled to representation at Westminster, either by extending the term of office of the sitting Scottish MPs (who technically will remain MPs until they are unseated in an election) right up till independence day, or by the election of new MPs in the 2015 general election.
As far as the 2015 election, I suspect that if Scotland voted Yes, its almost certainly going to be a labour victory, with or without the Scottish MPs. While the opinion polls dont reflect this, Im factored in that Cameron will be going into the election with the label the man who lost Scotland. Keep in mind the last person to gain that label, Edward II, earned himself a red hot poker inserted where the sun dont shine (well according to legend anyway!). I suspect if he lost Scotland the UKIP wing of the Tory party would be calling it poker time for Cameron.
Thus with UKIP and the Tories knocking chucks out of each other, its likely Labour would get in, much as the left wing took control in Sweden recently as the centre right and far right were too busy fighting each other and split the vote.
Certainly, it will become harder longer term for labour and the left to form majority governments in England. Although its worth remembering the weakness of the Tories is their tendency to breed labour voters by screwing over communities, who then promptly start voting labour. Scotland recall, was traditionally a very conservative region until the wicked witch of Finckley came along.
Also in the event of a No vote labour needs to realise that the pressure will be on them to deliver on Devo Max, even if they lose in 2015. They will face annihilation in Scotland if Devo Max was promised and then reneged on.
This referendum will be forever according to Cameron. There will be no going back. Alex Salmond seems to be pitching that the SNP will be in no hurry to hold another referendum, even if its a close no vote.
I would note however that any agreement between Edinburgh and London on the terms of independence would have to be ratified, presumably by another referendum. Scotland would also have to have a constitution and that would need to be approved, presumably via the same referendum or a further separate one.
So were looking at least another referendum, if not two down the line. In theory if either failed to be passed, then Scotland would still technically be part of the UK. So while in practical terms Salmond and Cameron are correct, strictly legally speaking, they arent correct although going back from a Yes vote wont be easy.
And if its a No I would read between the lines of what Salmond says and suspect that if for example Cameron set the UK on a course to leave the EU or if Devo Max having been promised is reneged on, then I suspect a double jeopardy for the Tories is very likely.
The period between the 18th of September and the supposed independence day in March 2016 involves two major processes. Negotiation and then a transition period to implement this agreement. Im doubtful either can be achieved within this time.
The speed of the negotiations depends a lot on whats happening in Westminster, as this will determine whether it will be a smooth or messy divorce. If Cameron is at war with his own party, or indeed his government folds before the 2015 elections, any negotiations will stall straight away. If the SNP end up facing a UKIP/Tory coalition who try and drive a hard bargain, negotiations could easily go the full term of the next parliament. By contrast I suspect that labour would be keen to get shot of the Scots so they could focus on matters down south, although even here talks stalling cant be ruled out. So even completing negotiations by 2016 is going to be tricky.
The implementation phase is going to be even harder to achieve. Youd want a good few years to apply it, particularly as there will concurrent negotiations with Brussels to conclude (and the UN for that matter) and, as discussed a referendum or two more to be held first. My estimation is that 2018 or perhaps even 2020 is a more realistic date for independence day.
The way some in the media are going on youd swear border posts were about to go up along Hadrians wall. This would be highly unusual. Most European borders do not have border posts. The only sign youll have of crossing from the Republic into Northern Ireland is a sign indicating a change in speed limits and a line in the tarmac between different council areas.
The only reason for border posts or a fence would be if there was some sort of distrust (i.e. the English fear invasion by angry raiding parties of highlanders :##) or very different economic conditions either side.
One assumes that a priority for the Scots would be to negotiate with Westminster, and Brussels, an agreement recognising Scotland as part of the EEA (European Economic Area) with no major trade barriers and an immigration and border control policy into Scotland that meets acceptable standards. With such an agreement, there would be no need for any border posts.
This doesnt mean (as I suspect the Daily Mail will imply) that the border will be left unguarded. The Irish border is protected, on both sides, by roving teams of border police and customs officials. Who for example, carry out raids on suspected smugglers, drug gangs or people traffickers. They will also occasionally stop vehicles or board trains heading for the border and conduct spot checks (the general advice is therefore to always carry photo ID if crossing the border). Other EU states have similar arrangements. The big Festina drug scandal in the 1998 Tour de France was sparked by a routine stop and search at the Belgian border by French police.
Of course if the negotiations were to go badly or in the longer term something dramatic happened then this might change. For example, given that UKIPs economic and immigration policies would essentially turn England into North Korea, then yes border posts are a possibility, as the Scots (and probably the Welsh too) seek to keep hordes of English fence jumpers from swimming the Tweed :)).
Alex Salmond seems to think that he can negotiate an entry into the EU within 18 months. To be realistic if hes even gotten the EU to recognise Scotland as a candidate country within that time hell be doing well!
Then again, Cameron has committed to going through a tricky renegotiation with the EU within a similar time table. In reality if hes even gotten the EU to agree a timetable for such a renegotiation within the lifetime of the next parliament (which pushes his cherished in or out referendum into the 2020s) hell be doing well.
But I digress, if theres one thing the EU doesnt do its work in a hurry. A more sensible strategy for Alex Salmond would be to focus on getting Scotland admitted to the EEA and agreeing with the EU the sort of trade and immigration policy that will apply while Scotlands application is processed. That is doable within about 2 years. If he doesnt do what most UK politicians do when they go to Brussels – blunder in and make a tit of themselves by failing to understand how the EU works. If Salmond commits the same mistakes as many past UK politicians he could be in for a nasty shock.
While I suspect that some states such as Spain or Belgium, worried about their own independence movements, might try to obstruct Scottish membership of the EU and slow the process down with procedure, I doubt they would openly veto Scotlands membership. This would play very badly in the capitals of the smaller EU states, in particular those in Eastern Europe and Scandinavia (not to mention Ireland), who will see this as an attempt by the big boys of Europe to do a Putin and bully a smaller state just to solve an internal problem in their own country…an internal problem caused by the ineptitude and incompetence of politicians in Madrid, or since were talking about politicians in London.
The danger for countries like Spain would be that such bully boy tactics might encourage the vetoing of things they want (such as future bank bailouts). And its very likely bullying Scotland would just encourage independence movements not discourage them. Hence when I was in Spain recently, the message I got from Spanish was that Scottish independence had nothing to do with them or the situation in Catalonia.
Of course if the SNP commit some major faux paus and give the Spanish an opportunity to lodge a veto, theyll have only themselves to blame. Similarly if they put forward a proposal thats obviously unworkable (see anything written by Farage or Cameron recently as regards EU legislation!) then its going to be rejected.
And as I keep on mentioning, a No vote could well be a vote to leave the EU. The media have suggested that euroscepticism is as prevalent in Scotland as in England. Well actually no, there are distinct differences it would be a much closer run thing in Scotland, particularly once people realise the economic implications of leaving the EU.
Hence if Scotland was ultimately dragged out of the EU by England, then the English would have to be prepared to pay a substantial price to Scotland for the economic damage that would result to Scotlands energy, farming, fisheries, industrial and export businesses. Ultimately England would have to be prepared to subsidise Scotland to keep the union together. In the absence of that I dont see how Scotland and England could remain united and another referendum on independence is probable. And this time it would almost certainly be a yes, plus probably one in Northern Ireland too.
I have to confess that I suspect that Alex Salmond is pulling a fast one here. I think his plan is to appear wedded to the idea of keeping the pound in part because it would make the transition easier, but also it gives him the option, if Westminster get stubborn, to refuse to take on Scotlands share of the UKs debt.
There is no reason why Scotland could not have its own currency. Plenty of other EU nations, many smaller with a lower GDP have their own currency and they dont have Europes second largest oil reserves and a valuable export industry (notably Whisky) to back that up.
Longer term it would certainly be sensible to do what Ireland did with the punt and link its value to sterling. Alternatively if that turns out to be a bad idea (give Farage or Boris Johnson a year in office!), then joining the euro might be another option. It will probably be a condition of EU membership, but recall that many EU states such as Poland, Hungary and the Czechs have similar conditions on their membership. A good decade and a half later, theres little sign of them joining. Poland is offering to hold (or perhaps one should say threatening!) to have a referendum on joining the Euro in 2015…which will probably be rejected!
So similarly, Scotland can join the EU, promise to join the euro (scouts honour!), make sure the Scottish constitution has sufficient clauses in it to ensure a referendum will be needed to join the euro. Meaning it will probably be the 2030s before theyll come under any major pressure. And then they just offer to have a referendum, possibly reject it and keep the Scottish pound at a fixed exchange rate to the euro, as Denmark has done.
And besides, its hard enough trying to use Scottish notes in England as things stand, so even if Scotland got a new currency I doubt it would make much of a difference in practice.
There is I would argue a failure by the SNP to recognise that there will be something of an economic correction, as Ive described before in a prior post. Anyone in the SNP who believes that leaving the UK will result in no job losses is living in cloud cuckoo land. There will be winners and losers both sides of the border as a result of independence.
Exactly how disruptive the transition is depends on the nature of the negotiations. As Ive said before a messy divorce would be very damaging, both to trade in England and Scotland with the markets likely punishing both by reducing the UKs credit rating to junk and running away to set up base in Ireland or the channel islands.
This is why I feel the negotiations and transition need to be handled tactfully. For example, theres the issue of the oil. Its not been clearly established how much of the North Sea oil is actually Scottish. Existing agreements between the UK and its neighbours leave little room for any disputes. But much of the future oil fields are in deeper water, often where the border is less well established. And while the land border between rUK and Scotland is pretty well established, the sea border hasnt been firmly set out.
Citizenship: The Argyle Street Question
Much has been made about the West Lothian Question, however I would raise what I term the Argyle Street Question. Who in the event of Scottish independence counts as a Scot and who is a Brit?
Given that an English student on Argyle Street Glasgow will be getting a vote in the referendum, even though hes about as Scottish as Mel Gibson, would he therefore qualify for a Scottish passport? And what about a Scottish person living on Argyle Street London? Hes been out of Scotland for 25 years, yet still celebrates burns night, plays the bag pipes, wears a kilt to weddings and comes up to Scotland every year for Christmas and Hogmanay. Does he get a passport? Indeed I an Irish person have spent many years living in Scotland, although with several large gaps, would I qualify for Scottish citizenship?
When Ireland got independence this problem was solved by essentially making the rules for Irish citizenship so broad that practically anyone who drank Guinness or owned an Irish Setter could qualify (and visa versa for British citizens living in Ireland). I mean Obama could probably get an Irish passport if he tried!
Of course that was all well and good at a time when Irelands principle export was people, mostly to Britain. Nowadays, I doubt it would work, else youd have every jackass asylum seeker chancing his arm to get into either Britain or Scotland. Also lax rules of citizenship can cause major problems.
Take the situation in Ukraine. Many of the so-called Russians in Ukraine, or other disputed regions, are the result of the fact that as the Soviet Union broke up the Kremlin handed out Russian passports like Halloween candy. Again the definition of who was Russian and who was Ukrainian (or Georgian, Moldovan, Chechen, etc.) was so broad anyone born in the former USSR could qualify. Many ex-communists, convinced that this whole democracy thing would fail took up the offer to make sure they could get back into Russia when everything went pear shaped. But as weve seen, its turned large parts of the ex-soviet union into a melting pot under which no fire was ever lit.
So there are good reasons to hammer out who qualifies for a passport and why. And incidentally, one of the people Id argue shouldnt get a passport is any tax exile faux-Scot.
Moving the Trident nuclear system from Faslane would be a major undertaking. Its not a case of sailing a few subs down the coast to Devon. Theres the facilities and infrastructure to consider, including the facilities at Coulport to handle the missiles and warheads, as well as secure bunkers to store it all in.
So awkward would it be to move Trident I have heard it mentioned several times in newspapers, almost as a given they the UK can hold onto Faslane in return for granting the nationalists some concessions during the negotiations. Or failing that the RN can simply squat and refuse to move. Im afraid neither position is likely.
The nationalists are squarely anti-nuclear. Remember its not just the SNP we are talking about, but the left wing elements of the labour party, socialists and green party types who make up the Yes camp. To them removal of Trident is a red line issue. If I was a RN sailor living in Helensburgh and its a Yes on Thursday, Id start checking out property down south.
And as for squatting, there would be no point in doing that. As Putin is about to find out as regards the Crimea (once American jets move into their new airbases a few minutes flight time away) a port over which you cannot guarantee air cover, is useless. The trident fleet would be little more than a fleet in being, a paper tiger, without the air cover provided from Scottish airbases.
That said, it would not (as discussed) be practical nor safe to move Trident immediately. There is also the clean-up of the base, which is likely to be time consuming and expensive. A timeline of the 2020s to move the subs and the 2030s to complete the hand over seems to me to be more realistic. However Im not sure how keen the SNP will be to accept the reality that there will still be subs on the Clyde come independence day. This could therefore turn into a major sticking point.
And speaking of which there is defence. Im not entirely sure the military force the SNP propose are up to the job. It depends on what youre trying to do. If, like Ireland, youre looking for a force who can deal with a few extremists or armed robbers, stop Spanish trawlers or drug smugglers and someone who can collect bins when the bin men go on strike, the forces the SNP suggest are adequate. However, if youre planning to be an active member of NATO and thus potentially take on the Russians and defend the North sea, then not by a long shot!
By my reckoning, the Scottish navy would need at least double the number of ships the SNP propose. Theyll also need a few smaller patrol boats (for coast guard duties) and perhaps a couple of diesel coastal subs. The Scottish airforce would also need a lot more than the 12 typhoon jets the SNP talk about. Air to air refuelling aircraft would be essential (given the ranges involved in a typical mission) as well a few maritime patrol aircraft (which even the Irish Air Corps has in its fleet).
And the SNP propose a ground force of just 3,500 would be half the strength of the Irish army who have to protect an area of land half the size of Scotland. Im no military expert but those numbers dont seem to add up.
Now the problem is that the UK armed forces cant really spare any of the kit I mentioned, theyre stretched as it is! And some of the stuff isnt even in the UKs inventory (e.g. the RN doesnt need diesel subs when its got nuclear ones!) so its not just a case of calling dibs on kit on the 19th. Much of this stuff will have to be ordered, and thats not a case of simply going on e-bay. Not least because theres the thorny question of who is going to pay for all of this.
An alternative of course, aside from abandoning the plan to join NATO, would be to allow NATO aircraft and ships to use Scottish ports and airfields. But again, Im not sure how popular that will be with the ban-the-bomb brigade, particularly when the likely provider of said services is of course rUK!
United Kingdom Part Deux
One idea Ive heard floated from time to time is Scotland leaving and then joining up with Ireland (north and south) and possibly Wales to form a sort of New United Kingdom of Caledonia (it would use the same flag as England only on fire! ;D). Certainly the Celts and Ulster Scots have more in common with Ireland than England. I mean Ive had conversations in Irish with people in Northern Scotland, limited only by my limited knowledge of Irish rather than theirs.
In would be inevitable that an independent Scotland would forge links with Ireland who would be a crucial ally and economic trading partner. Indeed the view over here in Eire is that Scottish independence would be in the best interest of Ireland.
However, I doubt wed see a post-independence Scotland giving up that independence to join with Ireland. Assuming both were members of the EU theres no clear reason in our globalised world for such a union…other than an alternative way into the EU which the Spanish cant object too (e.g. the Irish army invades yes both of them :))…occupy Edinburgh…well the pub down the road anyway, and then Ireland annexes Scotland, which therefore becomes part of the EU!).
In any event there would be lots of awkward issues to sort out such what is the correct spelling for the word whiskey.
As you can probably tell by such a long post, the dilemma facing scots is significant. Theres no reason why Scotland cant have independence, nor way an Independent Scotland cant function. Any arguments framed on that basis are clearly false.
But opting for independence will probably involve a lengthy period of transition. There will be some sort of economic correction, with both benefits and downsides and there are significant unknowns as to how the transition process will go, largely because it depends of factors we cant predict (such as who is doing the negotiating in Westminster).
Equally however, the staying in the Union is not the safer option. One sentence for anyone thinking of voting no to mull over:
Prime Minster Boris Johnson and his deputy PM Nigel Farage
One thing is clear, things are unlikely to stay the same.