With the opinion polls narrowing and the likelihood that a momentous decision for Scotland and England will be determined by the smallest margin thoughts must turn to what happens afterwards, whatever the result.
Because the structure of this referendum fails to ensure that a clear majority would be needed to grant independence it seems clear now that either result will leave virtually half the ‘qualified’ voters in Scotland opposed to the outcome. Were the result to be ‘no’ then can we expect serial referenda until the SNP gets the answer it wants and should the result be ‘yes’ will we see an exodus of business and people from the new nationalistic state?
With about 450,000 non Scots voting in this referendum and over 800,000 Scottish nationals living and working in the rest of the UK not voting the irony is created that Scotland may well become an independent nation by virtue of the foreigners vote. Were it to be a very close run thing a nation could well change forever because of a counting error or the electoral fraud made so much easier by postal voting?
So far the debate about Scottish independence has focussed upon emotional rhetoric and wishful thinking but it was always going to be that way. There are so many unanswered questions remaining for which answers will only be found once the mould is cast. Were the yes camp to win the day it will quickly become time to consider what our part of the world might look like with a sovereign nation just the other side of a land border?
Since the referendum became a reality I’ve taken the view that it would be better for Scotland to remain in the union. However, would that create even more anomalies and an even more unequal allocation of UK resources in order to keep the SNP happy? In a single nation the Scottish parliament was always going to be a waste of time and money and as it happens its formation, a political stunt of epic proportions, has backfired spectacularly. Of all the things our two nations might be in need of, more politicians would be at the bottom of the list, but it’s what we got. Simply speaking, the Scottish parliament satisfies only one group of people and they are Scottish politicians.
I’m very concerned that to avoid repeating the same referendum over again any UK government (UKIP excepted I hope) will feel obligated to cow tow to a future majority SNP government for fear of repeating this uncertainty. That’s not a future I would welcome so, in a way, Scottish independence makes sense. In fact, it makes much more sense for England than it could ever do for Scotland. They would control their own affairs entirely with a population of 4 million whilst England gets on with its economic successes with the remaining 62 million. We get rid of awkward political compromises like the Midlothian question and the application of the Barnett formula and life becomes much more egalitarian for the English. Whilst, as I’ve already indicated, I’ve supported the union I can’t really put my finger on any substantive reason why. The more one thinks about it the better it could be for England whilst being a huge and really scary leap in the dark for the Scots. The politicians, of course, will get what they want which is power and influence but satisfying ambition and hugely inflating already enormous egos doesn’t seem worth the risk.
In the, now more likely, event of a divorce thoughts have to turn to proportionally dividing up the ‘marital home’ after a wedded ‘bliss’ of more than 300 years. I suspect this will be no simple matter with masses of unforeseen consequences. Even if the referendum result favours an independent Scotland it will not become so until the UK parliament frames and passes legislation to make it happen. This is the time when all the questions so far dodged will have to be addressed and, I suspect, many that have not yet even been thought of. It is critical that the remainder of the United Kingdom, as Great Britain will no longer exist after the formal separation, ensures a proportional and fair distribution of assets and liabilities. After all, the UK parliament still holds the whip hand.
So far the UK government has been kindly and accommodating to the SNP despite the frequent hostile utterances from the latter. The First Minister has been allowed to get away with a protectionist stance and anti-English rhetoric and has even been aided in this by having the mildly uninteresting and definitely uninspiring Alistair Darling leading the opposition argument. I suspect responding in kind was seen as counter productive so the non confrontational approach was adopted. If, though, the divorce is to happen would it then be time for the UK parliament to fight for the interests of the English as opposed to the seemingly incessant appeasement of the Scots?
For example, as Scotland would rightly share its proportion of the national debt should that be paid back immediately after separation has occurred? How quickly would MPs representing Scotland stand down? Will the UK initiate the undoubtedly complex legal battle over UK assets that happen to be based in Scotland? And so on ad-infinitum.
My fear is that this hotchpotch of a lame duck government may not have the wherewithal to look after the interests of the English nation as we have already surrendered so much control to the European Union. I also wonder if the UK government can actually call all of its own shots in this period of difficult negotiation.
I’m sure we can live and work with an independent Scotland just as we would with any other country but getting to that position is going to be traumatic. At some point I expect the gloves to come off but once the dust has settled I suspect the relationship will function well enough and most likely to the long term benefit of England, Wales and Northern Ireland though we may have to find an alternative name to describe the new arrangement.
Will the Welsh be next?
Photo by Ben Cooper