Thursday, 4 September 2014

Reasons to oppose Scottish independence, #1: it's not just Scotland's Union

So we said yesterday that we'd start getting up to speed on this decisive autumn, and we mean to be as good as our word. First up is the Scottish independence referendum, which appears hour-by-hour, statistic-by-statistic, poll-by-poll, to be slipping away from the 'No' camp. Energy and morale is fizzzing into the 'Yessers' as their poll deficit shrinks. They might well just do it now, and even if they don't, no doubt they'll feel that they've laid solid groundwork for one more heave next time. If there is a next time.

'Public Policy and the Past' is here to tell you that the Yes camp's prospectus is a bad one as it stands. Independence on some model is well within Scotland's ambit, of course, and might even be desirable in the long run. But in these circumstances, knowing what we know now? Well, the case has not been made. And how. Over the next two weeks, running up to polling day, we'll be taking a look at ten reasons why this is so, ranging from the currency, to oil revenues, to Scotland's armed forces and place in the world, and all the way through to immigration and citizenship policy.

Let's start outside Scotland though, shall we? The first reason this is such a bad idea is the effect on Wales and Northern Ireland - and on great swathes of England.

Let's take Wales first. The Welsh First Minister has made quite clear his opposition to the idea of Scottish independence, and even threatened to block any currency deal (not that he's got the power to do so, but still). Why? Because Scotland's exit from the UK will leave Wales nearly alone with England, that big brother in the bed, with even fewer sympathetic MPs in the Commons to boost its people's interests. And the much-discussed funding formulae may suffer too, if Scotland does go it alone: with a smaller UK budget, its slice might be smaller.

The situation in Northern Ireland might be even more serious. Now, no-one seriously expects a return to large-scale violence any time soon, if ever. That poison may have been drawn. But the effect on the Province of the break-up of the British state is highly unpredictable. Will Loyalists feel pushed into a corner, or a trap? Will the power-sharing Executive be disrupted, for instance over its budget, or over any travel and citizenship implications of Scottish statehood? Maybe not, but does anyone really want to push it?

And then there's the effect on 'British' identity in England itself. The UK has been pretty successful in integrating minority immigrant communities via the idea of 'Britishness' instead of 'Englishness', since the former concept seems so much more general, welcoming, overarching and above all non-ethnic than the latter. Now it's perfectly possible, as the singer and political activist Billy Bragg has argued, that there might be an upsurge in more radical grass-roots 'Englishness' after a Scottish 'yes' vote, but do you want to bet on it? Years of divisive negotiations would lie ahead, and there would be lots of reasons to blame the 'other side' for their difficulties or even failure. Not much of an environment to foster a more inclusive Englishness in, really.

So, Scottish voters: the decision is, quite rightly, yours. But the first reason to be sceptical about independence is having a thought and a care for your fellow citizens in Wales, Northern Ireland and England.

Next: Scotland's place in the world.

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