Clem Sunter

Will Scotland become an independent country again?

2014-09-15 14:27

Clem Sunter

As we enter this week, the Scots will vote on whether they want to be an independent country again or remain part of the UK. What better time to define what a country is and whether the Scots qualify to recapture their former status after 307 years of union with their neighbours to the south. Scotland has a population of 5.3 million which puts it between Norway at 5.1 million and Finland at 5.4 million. Denmark is 5.6 million while New Zealand is 4.5 million.

I mention these countries because they have a similar size of population to Scotland and are genuine nations by any criteria that people use to judge a nation - from having ones own government to language, culture, history and territorial integrity. It is interesting that European countries like Germany, France, Spain and Italy with much bigger populations were not prepared to sacrifice their independent status as nations when they got together to form the European Union. Brussels is not Washington and there is no United States of Europe. For that matter, Britain is considering quitting Europe just as the issue of Scotland quitting Britain has come up. On the other hand, America is a single nation although one must remember that they did have a civil war in the 19th Century which determined the issue of single nationhood once and for all.  Africa, Canada, Australia and South America have all made the journey from dominions and colonies to nation states. So why not Scotland, especially as it has been there before?

It would appear that economic reasons will play a large role in how the Scottish people may vote. The UK is now a two-speed economy with London and the South-East growing on the one hand and the rest of the British Isles in relative stagnation or decline on the other. There are a few exceptions, but property prices reflect this reality. The fear is of mass migration by business from an independent Scotland to the more prosperous locations in the South East. Certainly the ‘no’ campaigners have wheeled out the big guns stretching from the banking industry to the retailers to say that head offices will be moved south of the border and prices of goods and services will rise north of the border.

Membership of the European Union is not assured for Scotland as a stand-alone nation, and the Bank of England is on record as saying the idea of sharing the pound sterling is not guaranteed. The welfare grants coming out of London would become the responsibility of a government in Edinburgh, and the question is whether it would have the money to continue to fund them at the same level.

In other words, a ‘yes’ majority for Scottish independence will create all kinds of economic uncertainties, to which must be added the political headaches of disengagement from Westminster. The Queen will probably remain the Queen of both countries; but the Labour Party is unlikely to win the next general election since the Scots have always been to the left of the English and a Disunited Kingdom to the south would have a more conservative complexion.

I guess the real factor that makes this an interesting referendum is the emotional aspect. Scots are very proud people. The Roman Emperor Hadrian, unable to defeat the Scots, built the famous Hadrian’s Wall. They have had more than their fair share of world-class philosophers, scientists and inventors, entrepreneurs, politicians and, most recently, Andy Murray. Many Scots dislike the English for historical reasons, since the latter in the old days used to march into Scotland to sort out the clans who were fighting among themselves interminably. Moreover, they have the most beautiful landscape imaginable full of mountains and lochs which would become their very own country along with the trout and the salmon. Even now they possess their own soccer premier league. So a successful vote for independence would just universalise this concept and put them in a league of their own.

To use a Scottish expression, the polls show that the result of the referendum may be a wee bit too close to call. It is a case of fear of the unknown versus national pride, the pocket versus the heart. Whichever way it goes, let’s toast the Scots for producing the best whisky in the world. They deserve a better future with or without England.

Send your comments to Clem


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