26 Nov 13. With just 295 days to go before voters in Scotland are finally asked whether to stay as part of the United Kingdom or vote for eventual independence, the launch today of the Scottish National Party (SNP) policy blueprint will I hope be used as an opportunity by Whitehall to raise its game and warn the people of Scotland that a vote for independence could be a vote for uncertainty and danger.
While the Scotland referendum vote will be high on the news agenda over the next forty-eight hours am I am alone in thinking that the voice of the rest of the UK, opposed to the notion of Scotland leaving the ‘Union’, is far too low key? I wonder, do we have much of an idea of just what is going on out there; the dangers for the rest of us in Britain, not to mention for Scottish voters themselves, should the referendum vote turn out to be a ‘yes’ to independence? Do we really care? Well if not we should do and for now forget all about the promised vote on the EU and concentrate on doing what we can to ensure that a minority vote does not allow the UK to be broken up!
Over the past few days I have been asking myself where are the voices of reason that should, as far as I am concerned, be banging the drum hard against Scotland voting for independence. I am not alone in believing that a Scotland outside of the UK has far more to lose than it has to gain but I don’t see enough industrial voices singing that tune? Yes, we know well what the CBI thinks and the views of other organisations, who have not been silenced by their members, but why is it that we hear so little from industry and commerce directly? After all by virtue of need they surely realise that an independent Scotland will need to substantially raise corporate taxation if it is to survive.
That said, I do recognise that the brilliant and well respected former Chancellor of the Exchequer, Alistair Darling is doing his best to fly the flag of common sense. As a Scot he speaks for a great many that believe Scotland’s future is better within the United Kingdom than being outside it. Let me add here that I found his arguments on the ‘Today Programme’ this morning excellent as he exposed a great many flaws in the SNP’s futile economic argument. But while Mr. Darling has a compelling argument and one that will be sustainable throughout this campaign what I want to see and hear now are the same arguments and more being aired on radio and TV every day between now and the referendum!
I make no bones at all about my own personal view that Scotland should remain an integral part of the United Kingdom but I would be far happier if industry, both inside Scotland and those based outside that have interests there, stepped up to the plate and made its views apparent. I also want to hear it said that the most likely outcome of a vote for an independent Scotland would be to lead companies to disinvest in Scotland.
I venture to suggest that if the vote goes Mr. Salmond’s way many large companies and institutions would immediately decide to move their registered domain from being in Scotland back into the UK. The reasoning for doing this would be sound on the basis that, within a global economy, it is pointless burying one’s head in the sand and locking oneself into a single country – especially one that would be outside the European Union, the Euro currency, NATO and also one that has precious little in the way of any defence infrastructure?
While I may personally admire the tenacity of SNP leader Alex Salmond, and take the view that he makes an excellent leader of the Scottish National Party, I could never believe that Scotland might be better off as a nation outside the United Kingdom. Mr. Salmond’s argument that an independent Scotland will have a strong economy is, in my view, fatally flawed as are his policies for future Scottish defence both from an industrial, military and overall NATO perspective.
But importantly my real concern now is not proposed policies or the very specific issues being proposed by the SNP in its craving to see Scotland become an independent nation by July 2016 or a crass attitude to defence. It is the manner in which the rest of the United Kingdom continues to appear to be sleep walking with a belief that the people of Scotland will vote ‘no’ to an independent Scotland. It really is time that we woke up to reality and realised that the loss of Scotland would be hugely damaging for the rest of us in the UK. Forget the crass attitude and approach of people like UKIP’s Nigel Farage who believe that a United Kingdom without Scotland would be a better place and that we would save money as a result. What absolute nonsense this is and how dangerous to be spreading the notion that while he and his ilk want Britain out of Europe they also want to see Scotland out of the UK.
Back to reality, meaning that we need to realise that to succeed in his referendum mission Alex Salmond needs only 50% plus one vote of all those that will be cast to secure a mandate that would allow him to not only declare that Scotland would be independent by the summer of 2016 but also to negotiate settlement terms and many other matters with the British Government. That also means that if half the voters stayed away from the referendum poll Scotland could be driven into independence by a vote from only 25% of its population.
Opinion polls looking at the likely referendum vote vary considerably but in the main it looks to me that, based on several of those recently published, it would appear that up to 35% of potential voters might currently be backing the SNP call for independence while 50% are opposed and 15% undecided. I should point out here that the SNP is itself claiming that 44% of voters are backing its independence proposals, 13% are undecided and 43% are against. The danger clearly lies in the ‘undecided’ category and those that in the end decide or don’t bother to vote. It should also be remembered that this particular referendum vote will be the first time that 16 year-olds have been allowed to vote in any election held within the UK. The point I am trying to make is that we are kidding ourselves if we mistakenly believe that Alex Salmond with all his charisma, charm and skill will between now and the referendum date fail to draw more young voters from the undecided category to one that might back his proposals.
Another issue that we should consider here is that even if the SNP fails to achieve a 50% plus one vote, the issue of potential independence for Scotland is hardly likely to go away. Even if Salmond only receives 35% of the vote I rather suspect that he and his SNP cohorts will continue to push the independence debate further forward until another referendum is forced. In the meantime the danger for Scotland is that uncertainty and damage already caused will lead to further disinvestment in Scotland.
The launch by the SNP later today of what we are told is a 670 page ‘white paper’ policy document designed to answer the many questions posed by ‘independence doubters’ will of course be eagerly awaited by voters in Scotland and by Alistair Darling. As leader of the ‘Better together’ campaign which is battling against an independent Scotland vote the hope is that the launch of this ‘white paper’ will spark the ‘no’ campaign into much greater concerted action. I hope that it will spur industry to speak its mind too and to give Mr. Salmond and his ilk in the Scottish Parliament a very much harder time than hitherto. Industry and commerce be it in Glasgow, Edinburgh or the rest of the United Kingdom along with more in Whitehall and Westminster who believe that the loss of Scotland from the United Kingdom would be bad news for future investment in Scotland and for those that industry and commerce employ.
I suspect that the SNP ‘white paper’ will most likely centre on how Alex Salmond reckons the economy of an independent Scotland can work. My own view is that, on the basis that economic union and political union are and should be inextricably bound, the notion of an independent Scotland maintaining sterling as the national currency despite being independent is seriously flawed. By seeking to maintain ‘sterling’ as the national currency within an independent Scotland what Salmond is effectively proposing would be tantamount to Germany saying that it wanted to leave the European Union but maintain the ‘Euro’ as its primary currency!
I do not propose to delve into the economics of an independent Scotland here and now, or to debate the matters of what taxes would be required to make the SNP proposals work, other than to suggest that an independent Scotland would need to be a very highly taxed nation to afford the infrastructure, welfare, health, education, transport, communication and defence that is currently proposed by the SNP. Without turning my comments today in a specific defence paper I will however delve further into the matter of future Scotland defence again at a later date and hope to remind why it is that true defence for the people of Scotland together with the vast benefits of what the Ministry of Defence both provides and spends in Scotland together with the vast number of Scottish based jobs depend on the Ministry of Defence.
Howard Wheeldon, FRAeS
Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd.
M: 07710 779785