Saturday, 22 April 2017

A single transferable Pro UK preference


Over the years I have had minimal interest in council elections. I simply want whoever runs the council to do their job as cheaply and efficiently as possible. Ideally I would like as little party politics as possible involved in how local services are run. I would much prefer it, for instance, if I put all my rubbish in one bin and that bin went out once a week. I don’t want my council to try to change the world. In fact I want them to do as little as possible, do that little well and charge me the smallest amount the can.

However, in Scotland all elections are different. Every election is an expression of public opinion about the only political issue that matters to all of us. That is their importance and the reason why I intend to first write about the local election and then at a later date turn to the General Election.

So long as public support for the SNP remains high the issue of Scottish independence will always be on the agenda. The key task for Pro UK people is to gradually whittle away at that support. The goal is first to create a strong opposition and then to take power away from the SNP.


At present Theresa May has said that there will be no indyref2 any time soon (always use indyref2, the SNP don’t like it as it reminds them that they lost). The SNP will have to wait at least until Brexit is finished and we all have had a chance to see how it works in practice. This gives us some time. The ideal situation is to make the SNP go into the next Scottish Parliament elections in 2021 having to campaign explicitly for indyref2. Let all pro-independence parties make a clear, unambiguous manifesto commitment to indyref2 and see how the electorate responds. For too long the SNP have been pretending that a particular vote, in a General Election, or for the Scottish Parliament, is not about independence. They then later decide that it in fact was about independence. In fact all votes in Scotland are always only about independence.

Theresa May can only maintain her “Not yet” strategy so long as Scottish public opinion allows her. It is crucial therefore that we take every chance to demonstrate that we agree with her. This is where council elections become important. They are not about bins, they are about the future of our country.

The council elections in Scotland will take place on May 4th. The method of voting is by the Single Transferable Vote. This means that you can put a “1” in the box next to your first choice, “2” in the box next to your second choice etc. It is possible to have only one preference. Alternatively you can vote for as many or as few parties as you like.

I don’t believe in negative campaigning, nor do I believe anymore in voting tactically in a First Past the Post General Election. I think voters should always vote for the party they support. I think campaigns to vote tactically against the SNP perversely help the SNP. The reason for this is that such campaigns are inherently negative and they get SNP supporters backs up. This encourages a “we will show them” mentality. At the last General Election I supported tactical voting. I was wrong. I think it contributed to the SNP winning nearly all the seats. 

I know that some people I like and respect will disagree with me about tactical voting. To an extent it depends on where you live. If a constituency is a marginal where only one of the Pro UK parties can challenge the SNP, then voters will naturally vote tactically. But elsewhere the vast majority of voters will not vote for a party they disagree with and rightly so. There is something dismal about it. Better by far to vote for a party you believe in. At least your choice is positive.  

However in a Single Transferable Vote context it is perfectly reasonable for me to express a preference. This is, after all, what this sort of voting is designed to show. Well I will be campaigning for the Conservatives, both locally and nationally. They will be my number one choice. I hope that they will gain the maximum number of council seats in Scotland. But I will use my 2nd and 3rd preference votes. The reason for this is that I want to maximise the Pro UK vote. These two preferences will go to the Lib Dems and Labour. I would far rather see Lib Dem and Labour councillors than those who support the break-up of the UK. Obviously if you support the Lib Dems or Labour, you might consider doing something similar with your party in first place and the other Pro UK parties in second and third.

If there are any minor Pro UK mainstream parties left on my ballot paper I might put them as my 4th or 5th choice. This would depend on them being moderate and sensible. Also if I know for certain that an independent councillor is Pro UK such a person might be worthy of my vote.

But above all it is vital that Pro UK people don’t vote for independence supporting parties at all. Better by far to leave a blank rather than add the SNP, the Scottish Greens or one of the far left independence supporting socialist parties.

The Scottish Greens I think gain a certain degree of support from the fact that many voters are concerned about environmental issues. Because of this they think it won’t matter if I vote for the Greens. They won’t win power, but at least I have shown that I care about the environment. We have just seen how foolish this sort of thinking has turned out.

The Scottish Greens won six seats at the last Scottish Parliament Election. They used those seats to support the SNP demand for indyref2. I strongly suspect that many Pro UK people voted for the Scottish Greens, perhaps not even being aware that they would support independence. The Scottish Greens themselves were vague in their manifesto about indyref2. They said that indyref2 should only happen if it was clearly the “will of the people”. 

It’s time that we taught the Scottish Greens a lesson. If their Scottish Parliament seats were spread between the Conservatives, Labour and the Lib Dems, there would be a Pro UK majority in the Scottish Parliament. Pro UK people must never vote for independence supporting parties. If you do, they will use your vote to push for independence.

It baffles me frankly why the Greens should support Scottish independence. What has it to do with the environment? German Greens don’t support independence for Saxony. If the Scottish Greens could be shown that supporting independence is costing them votes, then they might change this policy. Environmentally concerned Pro UK Scots should show the Greens that supporting independence costs them votes.

Long term I think the best chance of getting rid of the SNP as the party that governs Scotland is to vote for the Conservatives. I believe the Conservatives are the strongest Pro UK party in Scotland and the most committed to maintaining the UK. It would be better in the end if there were only one Pro UK party in Scotland. We could all then unite behind it. That party has to be the Conservatives. They have the best leader, both in Scotland and in the UK. They have shown strength in opposing the SNP and not giving into SNP demands. They deserve our thanks rather than our opposition. It is for this reason above all that I do not favour artificially maintaining the Lib Dem or Labour vote in Scotland by means of tactical voting in a First Past the Post General Election. It prevents us from reaching the goal of a Pro UK party eventually supplanting the SNP. 

If the same party ruled Scotland as the UK there would no longer be the argument that Scotland votes one way while the other parts of the UK vote another. The SNP are above all else the Tory hating party and use that hate to gain support. Pro UK people must show that this hate belongs in the 1980s and with a dead prime minister who hasn’t ruled for decades. If Scottish politics could once more be about a choice between centre left and centre right, as it was some decades ago, then we would have defeated the SNP. 

Long term I want Scotland to get back to normal party politics. My goal is that independence becomes a dead issue.  But to do this we have to criticise each other. This is necessary in order to avoid being entirely negative only about the SNP. We should criticise what we disagree with across the board and be positive about the party we most support. Personally, I don’t believe that Labour can be resurrected in Scotland perhaps not in the UK either. Kezia Dugdale can't quite seem to quite make up her mind whether she really supports the UK and I've heard other Labour people claim that they would prefer independence to a "hard Brexit". Labour are too concerned with winning back their voters who defected to the SNP. Their default position is to make concessions to Scottish nationalism. It is this mindset going back 30 or 40 years that has left us vulnerable to the SNP. 

The Lib Dems have become the Remain Party. Sorry folks this is a bit like being the Communist Party in East Germany after the Wall came down.  In the end the little band waving red flags, longing for rule from the USSR, looked a little pathetic. Better by far to move on. It might in the short term bring some votes from disappointed Remain voters, but long term it is a blind alley. Campaigning to rejoin the EU, which would mean accepting Schengen, the Euro and national humiliation (Oh, please let us back, we can't manage on our own), is untenable. I also think that campaigning for a second EU referendum crucially undermines our position in Scotland. But then I have come across far too many Lib Dems who appear to prefer the EU to the UK and far too many who would like to weaken the UK's bonds still further and call it federalism. 

I think it would be far better if all Pro UK people voted Conservative. That is why they will be my number one choice. But I am willing to work with other Pro UK parties. We must agree to differ. We disagree on some issues, but for the most part still agree on the crucial issue of maintaining UK unity. I support the Conservatives, but will be pleased to see Labour or Lib Dem candidates win seats from Scottish nationalists whether of the green or yellow variety.  For this reason I hope all Pro UK people use their Single Transferable vote to vote for other Pro UK parties as 2nd, or 3rd choices. But if there is one message that we should all communicate as widely as possible, it is this. Don’t express any preference for independence supporting parties. 

Saturday, 15 April 2017

What if the SNP held indyref2 without permission?


Nicola Sturgeon loves to make threats.  How often have we seen her put on her angry face, screw up her fists and start talking in her thickest Ayrshire accent about what she will do if her demands are not met? Her colleagues follow the leader. Every few days we see a story in a newspaper involving the latest SNP threat. Perhaps they will do this. Perhaps they will do that. Many of these stories are, of course, just kite flying. They want to see how Scottish voters will react. They want to keep everyone guessing and make everyone nervous.



Don’t be nervous. Don’t be worried about what the SNP will do to us. Rather let them begin to be worried about what we might do to them. The SNP have ruled Scotland since 2007. They reached the peak of their power in 2015 when they won nearly all the seats at the General Election, but they lost their overall majority in the Scottish Parliament in 2016. Who knows, they may win it back next time round. But then again they may not. Parties rarely remain in power for ever. Eventually voters want to give the other guy a chance, if only so that they can see someone else’s face. So who knows how Scottish voters may eventually respond to Nicola Sturgeon’s threats? Most of us don’t want indyref2 anytime soon, if at all. Well we live in a democracy. We might decide to respond to her threats by voting for someone else. If enough of us do so, there will be no more threats. 

There are other ways we could respond also. If the SNP get to fly kites so too can we. Look at the following as a thought experiment. I’m not sure if it is feasible or even desirable, but it is an option.

There has been the suggestion from Scottish nationalists that they might hold an independence referendum without the permission of the UK Government. Apparently it might be possible for the Scottish Parliament to vote for this even though such a referendum is a reserved matter and therefore outwith the powers of a devolved parliament. I have no idea how serious this suggestion is. Let’s assume that some nationalists, perhaps Nicola Sturgeon herself, are considering this option. How might we respond?

Well in my view Pro UK political parties should have nothing to do with this sort of illegality. They should not turn up at the Scottish Parliament for any such vote. They should moreover suggest that if the Scottish Parliament is to be used illegally, they might decide to never turn up again. The Scottish Parliament has not passed a law in the last year. It is turning into something of a talking shop with no purpose. Well one response from sensible political parties would be to ignore its existence.

The UK Government could decide that if the Scottish Parliament is being used to do things that are illegal, indeed seditious, it would be better if it ceased to be. This could be carried out simply by repealing the Scotland Act of 1998. A simple majority of MPs at Westminster would be sufficient. This would be perfectly legal.

What if somehow the SNP succeeded in organizing an unofficial/illegal independence referendum? Well such a referendum could only be advisory. Then again aren’t all referendums only advisory? The result of the EU referendum could have been rejected by the UK Parliament. So therefore, logically,  could the result of the Scottish independence referendum of 2014. Likewise any second referendum result could be rejected. The UK Government then could promise that it would ignore the result of an illegal indyref2 on the grounds that the vote was illegitimate.

How best should Pro UK Scots react to such an unofficial/illegal referendum? My view is that we should boycott it. Imagine if there were a debate about Scottish independence, but only Nicola Sturgeon turned up. Imagine if every single person in the audience was a Scottish nationalist. Imagine if there was no equivalent of Better Together. There was no Mr Darling making the case for the UK, no Mr Murphy standing on Irn Bru crates, no nothing. Imagine if people like me and also newspaper journalists ceased to write about the Scottish independence referendum apart from to remind Pro UK people to ignore/boycott it. What would be the result of such a campaign of ignoring what the SNP wanted? Would their referendum look more or less legitimate? Would anyone think that it advised anyone about anything?

The ideal situation would be that that the SNP won 100% of the vote on a 40% turnout. If all of the Pro UK parties worked together we could achieve this for them. Sturgeon would have turned herself into Kim Jong-Nicola, the latest incarnation of “She who must be obeyed”. But she would not have achieved independence.


Democracy requires an opposition. Without an opposition it ceases to be a democracy, but rather becomes a laughing stock. So let the SNP play by the rules. The mood in Scotland has changed. We don’t want a second independence referendum. We don’t want to go through all of that division and hate any time soon, if ever. I may only be kite flying, but there are things that Pro UK people could do that would make the SNP’s position untenable. We could delegitimise Scottish politics. Push too hard and my guess is that we might do just that. 

Saturday, 8 April 2017

Indyref2 is in the long grass, we kicked it there


A short time ago it looked as if there would indyref2 within a year or so. I could feel the tension building within myself, I could sense it coming from others. If there were going to be another vote on independence next year, the campaign would begin more or less now. It would be another long and drawn out affair with the result uncertain to the end. All the old arguments would be repeated with new variants. I dreaded the prospect.

It didn’t look as if anything could be done to stop this. Somehow an idea had developed in Scotland that you just couldn’t say “No” to Nicola Sturgeon. Apparently if you did something apocalyptic would happen. If a UK Prime Minister said “No” it would lead to something like the 1745 Rebellion. The clans would rise and support for Scottish independence would go through the roof.



There is a lot of received wisdom put forward by journalists and others who apparently should be listened to. Much of it turns out to be quite wrong. Journalists often have access to sources that the rest of us don’t, but their ability to think is no better than anyone else’s. Sometimes it’s worse. They’ve been getting quite a lot of things wrong lately.

Few political commentators thought that the Conservatives could win a majority at the last General Election. Perhaps fewer still thought that it was possible that the UK could vote for Brexit. Quite a large part of the media thought that a vote to leave the EU would lead to immediate economic disaster. Instead it has led to growth. Many journalists thought support for Scottish independence would rise, because we voted Remain while the majority of the UK voted Leave. Lots of journalists were until recently writing as if indyref2 was inevitable and it was happening soon. Theresa May wouldn’t dare say “No” and anyway Ruth Davidson would advise her not to.

Now where are we? In First World War terms Nicola Sturgeon made her great push, but it got entangled in the barbed wire. Maybe Ruth Davidson was bluffing all along, but she came out in favour of blocking the latest SNP attempt to break up our country. Theresa May has stood firm. At the moment indyref2 has been kicked into the longest of grasses. Nicola Sturgeon is taking swing after swing, but she doesn’t actually even know where her ball is. Let the SNP spend the next few years looking for it. Meanwhile the rest of us can get on with our lives. The simple of tactic of telling Sturgeon that she would have to wait has proved effective. The UK Government has not said “No” rather they have said “Not yet”. Who knows when we will arrive at yet? It may be after the next Scottish Parliament elections, then again depending on the result it may be never.

Has there been an uprising in Scotland? No. Quite the reverse. Pro UK Scots demonstrated to the Theresa May that we supported her stance. Hundreds of thousands of us signed a petition saying we didn’t want our lives disrupted by indyref2. This was crucial. This made a difference. It made more of a difference than anything I have ever written.

Politics is about public opinion, which is expressed not only at elections. The SNP like to give the impression that they speak for Scotland. Pro UK people must continually show that they don’t. Each of us can contribute in different ways. But every Scot who shows that we agree with delaying, perhaps indefinitely, indyref2 helps Theresa May maintain that position.

Of course some Scottish nationalists will be angry. That is after all their default position. But contrary to some expectations a Tory Prime Minister saying “Not yet” has not led to a surge in support for the SNP, nor has it led to mass demonstrations in the street, nor has it increased support for Scottish independence. Most Scots still don’t want indyref2 anytime soon and polls suggest the result if it were to happen would be the same as last time.

Moreover I have noticed some Scottish nationalists who while maintaining their long term goal of independence have also recognised that the time is not right. This strikes me as sensible. Why not first do what we can to make Scotland more prosperous? Why not work hard to improve our schools and healthcare? Let’s see how negotiations work out between the UK and the EU. We just don’t know what sort of a trade deal we will get. Nor do we know the details with regard to a whole host of other matters that will affect all of our lives. There is enough uncertainty for the moment. I think some of the more rational Scottish nationalists are reasoning in this way and are willing to put off their goal for a few years.

The relationship the UK has with the EU affects nearly every argument for Scottish independence. To debate now is to debate on shifting sands. On all sorts of issues such as the border, the currency and trade we have no idea what an independent Scotland would look like. If, for instance, the UK gets a free trade deal with the EU, would it really be in Scotland’s interest to leave the UK in order to remain a part of the Single Market? After all a free trade deal does not look all that different from the situation we have at present. If on the other hand the UK walked away from negotiations without a trade deal, would it really be in Scotland’s interest to prioritise trade with the EU over trade with other parts of the UK? We trade much more within the UK than we do with the EU. The point really is this. How can we possibly have the debate until we know how such matters will turn out?  

It is I think for this reason that some of the more sensible SNP voices have been taking the long view. Most Scots whether they want independence or not are content to wait. It makes sense. For this reason whereas a few weeks ago it looked like we would have indyref2 soon, now it doesn’t. It’s important however, that we don’t all go to sleep though. There may not be a new campaign for the next few years, but we should do what we can to prepare for one. Pro UK Scots working together at the grassroots level is crucial. The Scottish media rarely puts forward the crucial arguments that help us to defend the UK. Too many are defeatist. Too many share the assumptions of the SNP. But by working together grassroots campaigners can get that message across.  

There are local elections coming up in May. We should think about how we can use them to show Theresa May that we welcome her decision to tell Nicola Sturgeon “not yet”. Ruth Davidson has become I think the most effective defender of Scotland’s place in the UK. Now might be the time to show our support.

I will continue to point out what I think are the disadvantages of Scottish independence. I will also, no doubt, write about the developing Brexit story. The key, I think, long term is to tell a better story about the UK than the Scottish nationalists can tell about an independent Scotland. Being positive wins. For this reason I am going to look forward with hope to how the UK will change for the better in the coming years. How we can become more prosperous and democratic. I will point out that inevitably the Scottish Parliament will gain more power because of Brexit as will every other Parliament in our country. I will tell a story about an open minded European country called the UK that will get on well with our neighbours and continue to welcome many, many people from elsewhere. If you are Pro UK like I am, I suggest that you join in with this story. It’s the one we need to persuade our fellow Scots who disagree with us.

Saturday, 1 April 2017

Scotland is not a colony, the UK is not an empire


Alex Salmond wishes to inform us that “the days of the British Empire are over, and the days of British prime ministers denying self-determination to the Scottish people are over as well.” There are all sorts of odd things about this sort of statement. Most of us who have any knowledge of history are well aware that the British Empire is over. There are a few British Overseas Territories, but they are few and far between. They could hardly be called an Empire. So Mr Salmond is informing us of something we already know. Why is he talking of the British Empire at all? Could it be that he thinks that Scotland is somehow the last remnant of that Empire?



I come across the idea every now and again from Scottish nationalists that Scotland is somehow a colony. I sometimes wonder where such ideas come from. Well obviously they come from the top. But it is a very odd idea none the less. If Scotland is a colony, who has been colonising us? From where have they come? During the British Empire people from the UK did indeed settle in parts of the Empire. Many of the descendants of those people still live in Australia, New Zealand and Canada. So who are the settlers who came to Scotland? Are they the English, the Poles or the Pakistanis? It’s fairly obvious how offensive this is likely to get quite quickly.

Scotland isn’t a colony. Rather for the past 300 years and more we have been part of a nation state called the United Kingdom where people have moved about freely. Scots have moved to England in large numbers. English people have moved to Scotland. This is not settling an Empire, but rather it is people moving within their own country. I am not colonising England if I decide to set up home there. It is ludicrous and offensive to suggest that I am.

Mr Salmond is complaining about a British Prime Minister apparently denying something to the Scottish people. What is this thing that is apparently being denied and who is denying it to whom? Firstly there is a false distinction between a “British Prime Minister” and the “Scottish people”. A British Prime Minister could well be a Scot and has been on many occasions. Moreover, the Scottish people are all British citizens. Some of them may not like this fact at the moment, but nevertheless it is a fact. Britain is not some Empire ruling over Scotland. Rather we are British. If you doubt this, I suggest you look at your passport at the point at which states British citizen.

Has anyone denied self-determination to the Scottish people? It depends what we mean by the “Scottish people”. Who are they and how do we determine who they are? Are Scots a tribe that can be distinguished from other people in the UK? If so I would very much like to know on what basis Alex Salmond thinks he is from a different tribe to Theresa May. Is it because he speaks a different language to her? Is it because his culture or religion is vastly different to hers? Does he think that his ancestry means that his tribe by necessity must diverge from her tribe? What then is this “Scottish people” that Alex Salmond belongs to but, Theresa May doesn’t? How is it defined?

No-one is denying self-determination to people in Scotland for the simple reason that we live in a democracy. The British Prime Minister was elected just as much by Scots as she was by any other British citizen. The fact that most Scots would have preferred someone else is neither here nor there. In any democracy some people are disappointed. Scotland is not ruled as if we were part of an Empire, because we each have just as much representation and just as much electoral power as any other British citizen. I as a Scot have one vote in a General Election. So too does someone in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. In addition I have a vote for the Scottish Parliament where all sorts of devolved issues are decided.

Constitutional matters are not devolved. That was the deal when we set up the Scottish Parliament. That is what people in Scotland voted for. The Scottish Parliament cannot decide UK foreign policy, nor can it decide UK macroeconomic policy and nor can it decide that Scotland ought to have a vote to become independent. For this it requires permission. This is what the majority of Scots voted for when we voted to establish a Scottish Parliament.

No-one, as far as I am aware, has denied Scotland the right to have another independence referendum. All that has been said is that the SNP will have to wait. There is nothing undemocratic about this for the simple reason that electorate in Scotland expressed their view about this matter decisively less than three years ago.

There is hardly a nation state in existence that would allow a part a vote to leave. I can think of no EU member state that would allow such a vote. The United States likewise has shown that it would prefer to fight than allow itself to break up. Yet because the UK Prime Minister has said that Scotland will have to wait, Alex Salmond has the nerve to describe her as if she were Queen Victoria and Scotland was part of Empire.
People in Scotland are a similar mix to people in other parts of the UK. Some of us can trace our ancestry back to Macbeth others of us have arrived more recently. We have a shared history, language and culture with our fellow British citizens across the UK. There is no real distinction between us.

What I find most peculiar is the contradiction in Scottish nationalist reasoning.  The SNP accept that someone can arrive from anywhere in the UK or the world and become part of the Scottish people. They can do this almost instantly. All that is required is that you live in Scotland. But how is it that this quality of being Scottish is so easily acquired that Theresa May could acquire it simply by retiring to Inverness, but that after three hundred years of living in the same nation state Scots cannot acquire the quality of being British? How is it so easy for anyone to become a Scot, but so apparently impossible for Scottish nationalists to be British. After all we Scots live in the United Kingdom. Does this not by the reasoning of civic nationalism make us British? If not, why not? If we all share the same identity by virtue of living in the same country, why on earth are they trying to split it up?

Given how easy it is to become Scottish. Given how this quality is open to anyone who arrives, on what basis does Alex Salmond speak of the Scottish people at all? This is where the real nature of his thinking peaks through. He feels that there is a real distinction between a Scot and someone from elsewhere in the UK and it isn’t a matter of where they live.


The SNP like to give the impression of how welcoming they are. All those Remain voters who are disappointed by Brexit should move to Scotland. But what if they actually took up Nicola Sturgeon’s invitation? What if the UK Government decided to help them by giving them tax breaks and grants to move to Scotland? We could set up some new towns and add half a million to the Scottish population quite quickly. But what if these new arrivals despite their wishing to remain in the EU also wished to remain British citizens and for the UK to remain intact? What if they opposed Scottish independence and by their arrival tipped the balance against the SNP? How long would it be before they were described by Scottish nationalists as settlers? After all Alex Salmond apparently already thinks that they come from an Empire. 

Saturday, 11 March 2017

What's so great about Britain?


Sometime in prehistory a group of people arrived on our island from Europe. They were Celts. We know next to nothing about them or the people who lived here before they arrived. All that is left of them are the monuments they left behind, places like Stonehenge and Scara Brae.  The Celtic speaking people of Britain, as far as we know, spoke more or less the same language up and down the country and if we’d been left alone, no doubt we would still be speaking the language of the Picts and the Iceni. But that wasn’t how history played out.  Our island has always been attractive to immigrants and they have made us what we are. We are all immigrants and we are all mongrels.




The successive waves of Romans, Angles, Saxons, Vikings and Normans were not always absorbed without a struggle. There was conflict. But the mix proved beneficial. We are all equally the children of all of these ancestors. We all have the same heritage no matter which part of the UK we come from. There is no fundamental difference between someone from Scotland, from Wales from England or from Northern Ireland, just a variant on a theme, a slight difference in the mixture.



Someone whose parents arrived on our island more recently is equally a part of our island story and an equally welcome addition to the mixture of our melting pot. We are all part of the same story of Britain, where people have arrived with hope because life here is good and always getting better. We’re good mixers the British and the mix that makes up the British people has been most fortunate for it has meant we have been at the forefront of much that is good in the world.

We gave up feudalism centuries before many parts of Europe. We developed nascent forms of democracy and human rights earlier than anyone else; we gave up absolute monarchy while most of Europe still believed in the divine right of kings.  We developed free markets and free forms of trade, while most of Europe still had serfs. We were at the forefront of nearly every development that made Europe prosper from the agricultural revolution of the 18th century to the industrial revolution of the 19th century. But all these revolutions occurred here more or less peacefully.

While Europe was rocked with revolutions in the 18th and 19th century, while they were torn apart by nationalism, we concentrated on slow, rather dull progress. Change came to Britain. We became gradually a fairer and more democratic country. We became wealthier and everyone shared in this wealth more and more. But we never revolted, we never overthrew. That was never the British way. We took our time and acted with due care gradually on our inexorable path to progress.

It is not accidental that French philosophers of the 18th century, like Voltaire admired Britain and the liberty that was to be found here.  There was something in the British character that avoided extremes. Something in the mixture means the British have always liked moderation and so we looked on when the French chopped off the heads of their nobility, we looked on in 1830 and 1848 when Europeans took to the barricades. Instead here we had dull reform bills that gradually extended the franchise. Here we developed worldwide trade that more and more brought wealth to the nation and gave us the leisure to invent the sports played by the whole world. From British prosperity and adaptability came the ability to imagine that there could be such a thing as a computer and a television. All these things happened because of our fundamental stability and the gradualness of our change.

Because we have always loved freedom and because we have always been a tolerant people, we don’t like bullies and tyrants. For this reason Britain has made some of the greatest of contributions to defeating tyranny. We did this three times in the 20th century. Our grandfathers and great grandfathers fought not only for Britain, but for others who were victims of aggression.

Without the British Army, France would have lost the First World War. In 1918 it was the British army that made the decisive contribution to preventing defeat in March and enabling victory in November. It had been a terrible conflict but our great grandfathers were proud of the contribution they had made and for the fact that they fought for Britain. Really they did all fight for Britain. They were not mercenaries.

Two miracles occurred in 1940 when this island was more in danger of invasion and defeat that at any other time since 1066. The British army should have been defeated in the fields around Dunkirk, but somehow by a miracle escaped intact. Our fighter planes later saved us again. We remained calm, though outnumbered, and the whole of Britain united to fight the common enemy. We should have been defeated in 1940, but our grandfathers stuck together. Every one of them who fought did so for Britain and of course they had no hatred for the country they were fighting for, but rather kept their hatred for the enemy. Britain’s contribution in the year 1940 made a decisive difference to the history of the world. If we had been defeated, if we had not remained united, the world would be a very different place today. It is as if this island were specifically constructed with its location and with the mix of its people for this role, as if all history was so that we could be there in that year, because the world would need us.

We stuck together too during the Cold War and made our contribution to defeating the tyranny of communism.  There were long fearful years that many of us remember with a fence dividing Europe.  We played our part by being one of the few significant military forces that underpinned NATO.  Without that unity, there is little doubt that conflict would have broken out some time between 1945 and 1991.

The fact is Britain is one of the great countries. People want to visit us.  Our history and literature are known the world over. People want to come and live here too. Thank goodness that they do. They add to our mixture and the mix just gets better and more beneficial. It’s not accidental that people want to come here. We speak everyone’s second language. The whole world learns the language we speak every day.  We are the English speaking people of this island. That is what makes us British.

Because we are British and such a mixture of peoples, we are also more welcoming and tolerant than most other countries. After all we’ve been doing it for so long. Owing to the fact that we’ve had a market economy for so long we tend not to be as restrictive in our practices as most other countries. It’s easier for someone from Poland or Pakistan to get a job here, because we don’t put up petty barriers to their finding a job. This is one reason why we prosper while other European countries flounder.  We absorb those who come here. It’s not always easy, there are challenges, but because we are welcoming and tolerant we have more harmony here than elsewhere. The British identity is inclusive available to anyone who comes here to live simply because we have been including for centuries. Brexit hasn’t changed this. We will still welcome people from other parts of Europe and the world. We will need them so that we can become the global free trade hub of Europe. We are simply returning to the time when the British people were in control and when Parliament set the rules.

We have always weathered storms together and defeated every challenge, every enemy. We stuck together in 2008 when it looked for a moment as if the world economy was in meltdown. Our economy only recovered and reached its present levels of growth because we had unity and because we are united. We were willing to share and we used the power of our Treasury to rescue those who had lost everything, including all their savings when an Icelandic bank failed. We did this even when strictly speaking we didn’t have to. There is safety in numbers and the reputation of the British economy means we can overcome any challenge together, because in our unity we have deep pockets.

Britain is a great country. The British are a great people.  Don’t expect any of this to continue if Scotland voted for independence. Even the name of our country would be something of a parody. It would be better then for us to be called the “Divided Kingdom.” Great Britain could no longer sensibly be so described if we had our head chopped off. Rather it would be better if we were to be called something like “Diminished Britain” a headless chicken that had done so much but was now left broken. What a final victory for all those who have hated Britain through the ages.   

Remember the thousands of years of history that have brought us to this point and cease attempting to divide our country because you lost an election or you were disappointed that we are leaving the EU. These things are transient and short term. If you dislike Theresa May, she will be gone soon enough. If you want a more left-wing UK Government, develop policies that win over the electorate and fight to win an election. Above all else the idea of Britain is about all our citizens being equal and with the same rights and responsibilities. It doesn’t matter where you live in the UK you are my fellow countryman and I have an obligation towards you. It is this most of all that Scottish nationalism would destroy. It would say to the poor person in Liverpool or Belfast, what have I to do with you? You are not Scottish. Why should I share what I have with you? Scottish nationalism has nothing to do with the Left and everything to do with narrow-minded selfishness.  

The story of our island home is how a Celtic speaking people became an English speaking people. That is our story, the story of each and every one of us whose ancestors have arrived here from overseas. All of us are immigrants; we are that mix of peoples, that happy mix that has formed the British people. We are the opposite of nationalists, because in us can be found all nations, the whole world. That is our birth right. It is what we would lose if Scotland chose separation as opposed to unity. Scottish nationalism would leave us all homeless. Don’t sell your birthright for a mess of nationalism. 




Saturday, 4 March 2017

A defence of the UK (summary)


My essay A defence of the UK is long and detailed. But the main arguments can be summarised as follows:

Introduction

We must present arguments that are clear and true.

Scottish politics has only one issue and is tending towards the politics of Northern Ireland. Is there a case for a single Pro UK party so that we are united against the SNP?
The aim is to persuade moderate Scots. Leave the fundamentalist nationalists alone.
Scottish independence involves long term uncertainty and potential instability. It could lead to results that none of us can guess.

The structure of the essay involves listing ten disadvantages to independence, which at the same time show the advantages of staying in the UK. For campaigning to succeed it must involve a positive story about Britain while pointing out true disadvantages of Scottish independence. It must never be negative about Scotland as Scotland is a great place to live. But we have a perfect right to point out what is wrong with Scottish nationalism.



Disadvantages

1. Deficit.

I describe what an economic deficit is and that Scotland has the largest in Europe. I explore why Scotland has a deficit and how being a part of the UK means that we don’t suffer the economic consequences.

I explore the ways in which an independent Scotland would need to act in order to reduce its deficit. It would need to massively cut public spending and raise taxes. But this would prove counterproductive as it would have the effect of inhibiting economic growth. The deficit alone makes the SNP’s desire for independence untenable at the moment.

2. Debt.

I show how having a deficit would inevitably lead to the Scottish economy being in debt. I then explain that it is likely that Scotland would have to take on a share of the former UK’s national debt. I use the word “former” as a way of pointing out that Scottish independence would mean that the UK would cease to exit.

A refusal to do take a share of the debt would mean that Scotland would have no share of the former UK’s assets and could expect no cooperation or friendly relations. I point out that whatever debt Scotland had we would have to pay a higher interest rate than the UK does at present.

3. Currency.

I make clear that the present circumstances of Brexit make it impossible for Scotland to retain pound sterling as part of a currency union. There would then be three alternatives. Scotland could use the pound unofficially, but this would make our financial services industry untenable. We could have our own Scottish pound or we could have the Euro. If Scotland were to join the EU we would have to promise to join the Euro. This would involve setting up a Scottish pound and central bank only to abolish it upon joining. If Scotland failed to join the Euro but pegged a Scottish pound against pound Sterling, it is worth remembering that pegs can break. I point out that all of these options would have potentially damaging real world consequences for ordinary Scots with mortgages which are at present denominated in pounds Sterling. The Euro would probably be the best option, but no option is better than our present arrangement, which can only be kept by our remaining a part of the UK.

4. Trade

Because the UK is leaving the EU, Scottish independence would now involve Scotland and the former UK ending up in different trade blocs. But we do the vast majority of our trade with other parts of the UK and relatively little with the EU. This means that an independent Scotland would potentially have to impose tariffs on goods and services from the other parts of the UK, which is our largest market. This is clearly economically illiterate. Moreover, if the former UK were able to come up with beneficial trade arrangements with other countries, like Australia and the USA these would not and could not apply to an independent Scotland.

5. Security

Scottish independence would involve the destruction of the British armed forces. They could no longer be called British if the UK broke up. They could no longer fly the flag that they have defended for centuries. Furthermore the UK’s nuclear deterrent would have nowhere to moor. Europe faces genuine threats from terrorism and Russian expansionism. Europeans are not going to look kindly on Scotland destroying one of the two serious armed forces in Europe. The UK has the best intelligence service in Europe, but we only fully share information with the so called “five eyes”. There is no guarantee that intelligence would be shared with an independent Scotland. Scottish independence would therefore make us less safe.

6. Border

The combination of the former UK being outside the EU while Scotland was a member makes it likely that a hard border would have to be established between England and Scotland. This is because Scotland would have to join the Schengen zone and would have to allow passport free travel between the EU and Scotland. Even if Schengen could somehow be avoided it is likely that some sort of border control would be necessary. People in the Republic of Ireland have recognised that border checks are inevitable if the UK is not in the EU’s Single Market or Customs Union.  

7. Loss of influence

Whatever happens we cannot change our geography or shared history. The other parts of the UK will always be vital to Scotland’s interest. At present we have influence as we send MPs to Westminster and Scots have often been Prime Ministers and Cabinet Ministers. Independence means the loss of all influence over the other parts of the UK.

8. Citizenship/Rights

While the UK was part of the EU it was possible to imagine that the EU would guarantee the rights of Scots in the former UK after independence. No such guarantee will exist now. The former UK would have a perfect right not to allow dual citizenship. Our rights therefore in the former UK would depend on whatever divorce agreement the former UK and Scotland could come to.

9. Partition

Nicola Sturgeon has set a dangerous precedent by arguing that Scotland should not be dragged out of the EU against its will. If parts of the Scotland voted to remain in the UK should they not be allowed to stay?  Shetland has already said that it would not wish to remain. Why can’t Aberdeenshire say the same?

10. Democracy

At present in Scotland there is no real challenge to SNP dominance. This dominance would probably continue after independence as it would leave opposition parties still weaker. Voting for independence therefore may lead to long term Sturgeon rule and she might become to Scotland what De Valera was to the Republic of Ireland or Salazar to Portugal.

Advantages

Scottish independence would involve Scotland becoming a sovereign independent nation state and would probably eventually lead to the membership of the EU.

Scottish nationalists however think that Scotland already is sovereign and that it is a nation and a country. Nicola Sturgeon acts as if she already is a leader of an independent nation state. It’s not clear therefore what in their own eyes Scottish nationalists would be gaining. Is it really worth all the trouble just for a bit of flag waving?

The Scottish Parliament would gain control over matters which are at present reserved such as defence and foreign policy. Is independence really worth it so that we have our own policy on such matters? What would a Scottish foreign policy be? Would it matter? In practical terms and beyond the flag waving, independence might therefore disappoint.

It is probable that an independent Scotland would in time be given EU membership, but the path might not be straightforward. Any present EU member, such as Spain, could object and veto it. The EU could set whatever terms it chose to Scotland. What choice would Scotland have? We’d have to accept or else reject. Where would that leave us? Neither in the UK nor in the EU. Who would we trade with then?

But the EU anyway is looking ever more unstable. Is it worth risking leaving the UK in order to join an EU that might not have a long term future? If the EU does continue to exist it is likely that it will do so by becoming ever more united. The EU is on a path to becoming federal state. The parts of the EU are becoming less and less like nation states and more and more like regions. That anyway is the goal. Scotland would then be achieving “independence” only to put itself on a path to giving up both its independence and its sovereignty. The reality is that it in practical terms the Scottish Parliament would have more power and more independence by remaining a part of the UK than by leaving the UK and instead joining the EU.


There are huge disadvantages involved in Scotland leaving the UK, but the possible advantages of Scottish independence turn out on close inspection to be largely illusory. No rational Scot should vote for this, which leaves only the irrational.

A defence of the UK


Introduction

The main feature of living in a modern democracy is that nearly everybody gets to vote. As John Donne once said in a rather different context an election “comes equally to us all, and makes us all equal when it comes”. At one point only people with a certain amount of property could vote. At another point men could vote but women couldn’t. Now every citizen over the age of eighteen can vote. A Nobel Prize winning scientist has one vote. So too does a person who left school with no qualifications. Some people follow political debates closely. Some hardly follow them at all. Some people think they understand all the issues while others vote because of intuition or because that’s the way their friends vote. None of this matters as it all evens itself out. In a large population the wise counterbalance the foolish. If you ask a million people a question, very often the majority have the correct answer. There is a wisdom in crowds. Anyway that is the system we have and there is no changing it.







There is only one issue in Scottish politics. This has been the case since the SNP were first voted into power in Holyrood. Other issues are talked about and debated, but they don’t matter. Scots do not vote according to their opinion on what to do about education or health care. The vast majority of Scottish voters vote according to whether they want Scottish independence or they don’t. This remains the case even if an election is not explicitly about Scottish independence.

In this way our politics has come to resemble the politics of Northern Ireland. People there vote according to identity. The difference is that they tend to unite behind one Pro UK party (the DUP) or one anti UK party (Sinn Féin). I suspect that many Northern Irish voters don’t particularly like either of the main parties they vote for, but they are aware that the alternative is to split the vote and thereby damage their side of the argument. There may come a time in Scotland where the Pro UK side has to unite rather than split itself into three parts. Whichever of the three turns out to be the strongest and most Pro UK may gain the vote of all Pro UK Scots. We are not there yet. But there will come a time if the Conservatives continue to increase support that sensible Labour or Lib Dem voters will reason that they can live with Ruth Davidson’s centrist politics as she has the best chance of defending our position in the UK. We still have a way to go before we shake off the tribalism of voting for red, blue or orange. But the nationalists shook it off a while back and they all now vote for one party or for parties like the Greens that are fellow travellers and will do what the SNP asks. At the very least, in the forthcoming council elections vote in such a way that we send a clear message to Sturgeon. We don’t want another independence referendum anytime soon. If the SNP do worse than expected and if the Pro UK opposition increases its support it will strengthen Theresa May’s hand.

Because there is only one issue in Scottish politics it is worth looking at the main arguments in such a way that they are comprehensible to everyone. A lot of what is written in newspapers and spoken about by politicians is very dull. People quote statistics at each other and make up stories about what would happen if we vote one way or the other. I think voters have seen through this.

Many of the threats made during the EU referendum have already been shown to be exaggerated. It is very important that a political campaign is grounded in truth. Never exaggerate and never present something that is uncertain as certain. We can’t predict the future, but politics is about presenting the best guess about what might happen. Don’t get bogged down in figures, but rather try to deal with fundamentals. The key is to develop a set of clear and relatively straightforward arguments. These can then be presented by word of mouth in ordinary conversation with other Scots. This sort of grassroots campaign is I think the best way to get our message across.

These arguments remain valid whether there is an independence referendum campaign or not. The task is to persuade moderate Scots who are tempted to vote for the SNP not to do so. Don’t bother with those who will never change their mind. The arguments that are crucial to this are all to do with independence. Anyone who votes for the SNP who doesn’t want independence is clearly confused for the SNP will use that vote to attempt to gain independence. Whatever short term benefit such a person thinks they might receive by voting for the SNP is at the expense of a longer term risk to the UK. This is like smoking. Whatever short term pleasure it gives is massively outweighed by long term risk.

I am going to list what I consider to be the main disadvantages involved in Scottish independence. I am then going to list some of what Scottish nationalists consider to be advantages. In this way it should be possible to assess the risks and the rewards of voting for the SNP in any and all elections. 

It’s crucial to realise that while I think there are disadvantages to Scottish independence, this does not mean that I am in any way being negative about Scotland. I’ve always accepted that Scotland could become independent. Long term it could do so successfully. The success of a country generally depends on the resources at its disposal, its strategic situation and the choices that its government makes. Nearly any place in the world could in theory make a success of being independent.

If history had turned out differently the borders of Europe today might contain rather fewer countries or a great deal more. Germany reunited while Yugoslavia split. This process of division and unification has been going on for centuries. But just because a place could be independent doesn’t mean that it ought to do so. California clearly could be independent. It would immediately be one of the biggest economies in the world. But there has to be a very good reason for a place to change its international borders. The reason for this is that such changes are usually associated with uncertainty and sometimes turmoil. It is very difficult to predict what happens when international boundaries are changed. Recent history in Europe shows that there can be unforeseen consequences that no-one could have guessed at the time of independence.

Who could have predicted that Belgian independence would be one of the causes of the First World War? Who could have predicted that when Nikita Khrushchev gave Crimea to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic that this would lead to war between Ukraine and Russia? Establishing international boundaries should be done with care and only rarely. Dividing people who have a shared history, who speak the same language and who have a very similar culture should not be done for short term reasons. If every people in Europe who are as similar as the citizens of the UK decided to split up we would have dozens of extra European countries. Northern Germans are much more different from Southern Germans than Scots are from the English, Welsh or Northern Irish. People in Italy speak languages that other Italians find difficult to understand. The same can be said for people in Spain and people in Belgium. If Europe as a whole went down the route of Scottish nationalism, there would be mass uncertainty, disputes about territory and most probably wars. We have a responsibility to not set an example to others that may be damaging.

There is a categorical imperative to act in such a way anyone else could do likewise.  If it is justified for Scots to seek independence then it is equally just for Bavarians, Burgundians, Sicilians and the Flemish. But if the peoples of Europe split up into tiny subsets it would set our continent back centuries. It would be to undo the progress that we have been making since medieval times. You cannot logically think that Scottish independence is justified while denying that it is justified for others in a similar situation. But Europe is made up of hundreds of formerly independent countries. There is nothing special about Scotland.

The disadvantages of Scottish independence

1. Deficit

Scotland’s deficit is the gap between what we earn and what we spend. Economics is frequently turned into a very complex subject by people swapping big numbers and long words. But the essence is usually quite easy to understand. If I earn £20,000 per year but spend £25,000, I have a deficit of £5000. I’m making a loss. Every year that I make a loss I owe someone else more and more. After the first year I owe £5000, after the second year £10,000 etc. A person or a business cannot continue in this way. To continue to make a loss for very long means I go out of business or become bankrupt. There are only two ways to reduce or eliminate a deficit. Either I have to earn more or spend less.

Scotland has the largest deficit in Europe. It’s not just me that is saying this. The SNP Government’s own figures show it. There is no need to go into percentages or to discuss big numbers involving billions. Such numbers rarely add to our understanding of an issue.

The reason Scotland is not bust is because we are a part of the UK. This means that we receive from the UK Government a lot of money every year. This money that is assigned according to the Barnett Formula allows Scotland to have on average higher public spending per head than other parts of the UK. This is perfectly reasonable as it is much more costly to provide services in sparsely populated parts of Scotland. The cost is shared between the whole UK population. Obviously if Scotland became independent it would cease to receive any money from other parts of the former UK. The cost of providing healthcare and postage to the Western Isles would not be met by the UK population as a whole, but by Scotland alone.

Why is Scotland in deficit? There are many reasons. Scotland like the North of England, Wales and Northern Ireland had an economy that depended historically on heavy industry. All of these parts of the UK are poorer than the South. Heavy industry ceased to be cost effective in most Western economies as it could be done cheaper elsewhere. It isn’t the fault of people from Detroit or Motherwell that the industry they used to be involved in closed, but it takes time for new productive and profitable jobs to appear. Economies only change slowly.

Scotland for the past thirty or forty years has been doing better economically than many of the northern parts of the UK because we had the good fortune to have North Sea oil. Unfortunately it is unlikely that the oil that is left in the North Sea will ever bring a profit again. It is expensive to drill oil from under the sea. Fracking in the United States and elsewhere undercuts North Sea oil and is the main long term factor that is likely to keep the price of oil such that it is hardly worth drilling for it near Scotland. The cost of decommissioning oil-rigs is likely to be more than they earn in the future. Oil therefore is not going to help Scotland’s deficit.

Scotland’s deficit is more than is permitted for members of the EU, much more. The EU has recent experience of member states with large deficits, living beyond their means. It would therefore be the case that if Scotland were to become independent the EU would require that Scotland reduced its deficit considerably before being allowed to join.

How do you reduce a deficit? You can earn more. This means growing the economy. Every country wants to grow its economy, but economies change slowly. I might want to earn more. Who doesn’t? But I realise that to earn more I would have to find a better job. This might mean me taking a course. It might mean me working harder. Naturally it would be possible for the Scottish economy to grow. Above all it depends on a Scottish Government making good choices. It also depends on the actions of ordinary Scots running successful businesses. But none of these things would happen overnight. For this reason one of the first things that the first Government of an independent Scotland would have to do is cut public spending. They would also have to raise taxes. Unfortunately to bring a large deficit down to a manageable level would require large cuts to public spending and large tax rises.

Would it be possible for a Scottish Government to cut its deficit down to manageable levels without wrecking the Scottish economy? This would be the dilemma. Cutting spending and raising taxes would almost certainly put the Scottish economy into recession. But it is just this that we would need to avoid in order to have a chance of growing our way out of our deficit. The answer is not to go there. No sensible people would put themselves in this position if they could avoid it.

Scotland’s deficit means that we simply cannot afford Scottish independence. It can only be because so many Scots don’t understand what this deficit is that we are even having the debate at all. It is grossly irresponsible of the SNP to suggest that independence is even a viable option. It isn’t. It would mean that the standard of living of the majority of Scots would fall massively. It would mean unemployment and poverty because we could no longer afford the level of benefits that we do at present. It would mean poorer healthcare and poorer education. I strongly suspect it would mean an exodus southwards. If you think we have had austerity in the past few years, just try the austerity that would come with Scottish independence.

2. Debt

A country’s debt must not be confused with its deficit. The debt results from the deficit. Every year I live beyond my means adds to my debt. It is normal for countries to run small deficits and equally normal for them to have large national debts. But again as we have seen in Europe recently these debts can become problematic.

Every year Scotland remained in deficit it would be adding to its debt. But this would not be the sum total of Scotland’s debt. It is likely that Scotland would have to inherit a share of the UK’s national debt. What this would involve is uncertain. It would depend on the divorce negotiations between Scotland and the former UK. I say former, because Scottish independence would involve the destruction of the UK. Some Scottish nationalists think that Scotland could avoid inheriting a share of the UK’s debt. But in this case Scotland could not expect to have any share in the UK’s assets. Nor could Scotland expect to receive any help from the former UK. I imagine they would see refusing to accept a share of debts that have been incurred together as an unfriendly act. If I shared a flat with a friend and we had shared bills, I would expect my friend to pay her share of the bills if she chose to leave the flat. If she didn’t I don’t think I would see her as a friend anymore.

We don’t know the size of Scotland’s debt. But we do know that the interest rate that Scotland would pay on this debt would be higher than the UK does at present. The amount of interest that a country pays is determined by the international bond market. This market has great confidence that the UK or Germany will repay its debts, or bonds. For this reason the UK pays a very low interest rate. It has a long track record of repaying debt. As a newly independent nation state however Scotland would have no track record at all. For this reason borrowing on the international markets, which would be necessary given our economy was in deficit, could only be done by paying significantly higher interest rates than we do at present.

It is likely that Scotland would inherit a share of the UK’s debt. Any attempt to avoid this would lead to a difficult diplomatic climate for the newly independent Scotland. But whatever debt Scotland had, we would have to pay a much higher interest rate than the UK does. This would in turn make it still harder for us to reduce our deficit.

3. Currency

The majority of Scots want to keep the pound. It is highly unlikely that this would be possible if Scotland became independent. It is the norm when countries become independent that they set up their own currency. There are exceptions however. In 2014 a lot of time and energy was spent debating whether Scotland could keep the pound after independence. The SNP said we could, while the UK Government said we couldn’t. What we have been learning over the past few years however is that it is problematic to say the least to have currency union without political union. This is the essence of the problem in the Eurozone and the reason why that currency is not working out terribly well especially for southern Europe. The UK has a political union and we also transfer money throughout the UK by means of, for example, the Barnett Formula. The reason the Poundzone works well is because of our political and transfer union. The SNP would however break the political union and stop the transfer union. This is simply to turn the Poundzone into the Eurozone. But the UK has spent the past twenty years or more precisely trying to avoid being in the Eurozone.

This in essence was the argument in 2014 for why the UK would not want to maintain a currency union with an independent Scotland. The circumstances have changed however. Now the UK is going to be outside of the EU, while the SNP want Scotland to be a member of the EU. If it was difficult in 2014 to suppose that currency union was possible after Scottish independence it is still harder now. Being in or being outside the EU is liable to involve different economic rules. Moreover, in order to join the EU Scotland would have to promise, at least theoretically, to join the Euro. This would immediately destabilise the pound. It would be similar to the risk of Greece leaving the Euro. Why would the former UK agree to this?

What are the alternatives for Scotland’s currency? Unfortunately we don’t yet know what the SNP propose. If they have a plan, they haven’t made it public yet. The options though really are these. They could use the pound unofficially like some countries use the Euro or the dollar. They could set up their own Scottish pound. Or they could join the Euro.

Using the pound unofficially would mean that Scotland had no control whatsoever over monetary policy. These things would be set by the Bank of England and Scotland could have no influence on them. Using the pound unofficially would make it difficult for Scottish financial services to continue in the way that do at present. Would you invest in a country that used someone else’s currency without permission? I certainly wouldn’t.

Given the choice between joining the Euro and setting up a Scottish pound, I would much prefer joining the Euro. The Euro has many faults and there is a risk that it might cease to exist. But it is reasonably stable and is backed by a powerful European Central Bank. I would be much more confident if my money were in Euros than in Scots pounds. The problem however is that in order to join the Euro a country first has to have its own currency. We would then have first to change pounds Sterling into Scottish pounds and then change Scottish pounds into Euros. We would have to set up a Scottish Central Bank only to abolish it when we joined the Euro. This would be expensive. It would also be difficult for Scottish businesses which would have to continually convert whichever currency Scotland was using this month so that they could do business south of the border. Every time any of us went on a visit to England we would likewise have to change our money.

The biggest problem we would all face however is this. All of our mortgages and all of our salaries are at present in UK pounds. Imagine if we set up a Scottish currency with an exchange rate of one to one. On day one a mortgage of UK pounds worth £200,000 would become a mortgage of sco200,000. But what would happen if the Scottish pound fell 10% in relation to pound Sterling. My house in relation to pound sterling would be worth 10% less. My salary in relation to pound sterling would also be worth 10% less. Some Scottish nationalists have suggested that we might peg the rate of the Scots pound to the rate of pounds sterling. But anyone who remembers the Exchange Rate mechanism will realise that pegs can break. All told there are risks involved in changing our currency. I don’t know what would happen if we had to have a new Scottish currency. But then neither do the SNP.

There is a reason why most Scots would like to keep the pound. We trust it. The alternatives also are not pleasant. Some of the best businesses in Scotland involve finance. Most of them have customers in other parts of the UK. There is no way that UK customers are going to take out insurance with a company based in a country that does not use UK pounds. I don’t go to a German company when I need financial services, why would a citizen of the former UK go to a Scottish company when he could find an equally good one in London?

The only easy way for Scots to keep the pound is if Scotland remains a part of the UK. Leaving the UK would probably involve taking on a new currency which involves considerable risk and has the potential for every one of us losing money. 10% of your house’s worth isn’t a trivial sum, nor for that matter is 20%.

4. Trade

Our wealth as a country is dependent on trade. The UK is leaving the EU. This will affect how we trade with EU countries. We do not yet know much or how little will be changed. It will depend on the negotiations that will take place over the next couple of years between the EU and the UK. What we do know however is that it is unlikely that the UK will remain a part of the EU’s Single Market.

It’s important to be aware of what the EU is and what it is not. The EU is primarily a customs union. By joining this customs union a country is able to trade freely with every other member. But this is not strictly speaking free trade, as we have to pay a large membership fee each year to join. What’s more because we are a member of the EU’s customs union we automatically have to charge a tariff when we trade with non EU countries. While we are a member of the EU we cannot make a trade deal with any other country. Only the EU can make trade deals for us.

It can be seen therefore that there are plusses and minuses to membership of the EU. For a price we can trade “freely” in the EU’s Single Market, but we cannot trade freely with any country with which the EU does not have a trade deal. Leaving the EU may involve damaging our trade with EU, but this might be offset with more beneficial trade relationships with other countries, such as the USA, Australia and New Zealand. The task for the UK Government is to minimise the damage to our trade with the EU while obtaining the best possible deals with other countries. Only time will tell how this works out for the UK economy. It’s worth remembering however that many economists think that the cost of our membership of the EU is more than we would pay in tariffs even if the EU chose to charge us at the highest possible rate. For this reason even if we walked away without any sort of deal we would still save money.

Scotland does the vast majority of its trade with other parts of the UK. The UK’s Single Market is more vital to Scotland than the EU’s Single Market. This is not least because the UK’s Single Market has been going for much longer, does not involve any sort of currency exchange, and is complete. The EU’s Single Market is somewhat limited. It does not for instance fully cover service industries, which are vital for the UK and the Scottish economy.

The UK leaving the EU is a game changer with regard to Scottish independence. If Scotland were to leave the UK and join the EU, it would mean that Scotland ended up in a different trading bloc to the former UK. If the EU chose to impose tariffs on the former UK, this would mean that Scotland as a member of the EU would have to impose them too. Different regulations would apply in the former UK to Scotland and they would each have different currencies. This would mean that the UK’s Single Market would no longer cover Scotland. If the former UK were able to develop free trade relations with countries like Australia and the USA, these deals could not apply to Scotland.

The market that is most important to Scottish business is the other parts of the UK. Scottish independence would force Scotland out of the UK’s Single Market with which we have the closest relationship based on centuries of shared law and tradition. Scotland would continue to have free access to the EU’s Single Market so long as we paid the membership fee. But this market is not nearly as important to our trade as the one we would be leaving.

If the UK had remained in the EU, then it might have been possible for Scotland to obtain independence without damaging our trade with the other parts of the UK. But this is no longer possible. Given that a country’s wealth depends on trade, and given that the vast majority of Scotland’s trade is with the other parts of the UK, then it is necessary to conclude that Scottish independence in these circumstances would make us all poorer.

5. Security

There are two main threats to security in Europe. The first is Russian expansionism, the second is terrorism. In order to contain Russia we need a strong NATO. The strength of NATO is twofold. One it has armed forces capable of reacting to a threat. Two it has nuclear weapons that act as a deterrent.

Some years ago Ukraine made a treaty involving Russia whereby it agreed to give up the nuclear weapons that were situated on its territory and Russia agreed to respect the frontiers of Ukraine. If Ukraine had kept these nuclear weapons, it would appear doubtful that Russia would have annexed part of Ukraine.

The fight against terrorism depends primarily on intelligence. The UK has one of the best intelligence services in the world. We only fully share our intelligence with countries that we completely trust. These are called the Five Eyes. These countries are the UK, USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. The security of the UK depends on this arrangement.

If Scotland became independent, it would have the consequence of destroying the British Armed forces. Scotland is an integral part of the British Army, Air Force and Navy. None of these could retain their name, nor their flag, if the United Kingdom ceased to exist. If there is no Great Britain, there can be no British anything.

It is unclear how much the USA at present is willing to defend Europe. Donald Trump has isolationist tendencies. Unfortunately in Europe there are only two serious armed forces, the British and the French. Destroying one of these is not going to make Europe safer. It will not make Scotland safer either.

There are two countries in Europe that can use nuclear weapons to deter aggression. One is France the other is the UK. The SNP do not wish to allow the UK nuclear deterrent to remain in its present harbour. There is nowhere else for it to go. If the USA decided to remove its nuclear deterrent umbrella from Europe, then we would be left with the UK deterrent and the French deterrent. Scottish independence could mean that NATO in Europe lost half of its deterrent capability.

The UK does not routinely share all intelligence with other EU countries. If Scotland caused the UK to cease to exist, it is not at all clear that the former UK would choose to share intelligence with Scotland. At least initially Scotland would have no intelligence capability whatsoever. It is hard to see how this arrangement could make us safer.

War may seem far away and we may feel that terrorism only happens to other people. But the UK went to war in 1939 to defend Poland and it is perfectly possible we might wish to defend another European country against Russian aggression. It is in the nature of security that threats are unexpected. What is clear however is that breaking up the British armed forces and getting rid of our nuclear deterrent would delight our potential enemies and dismay our friends. We might in the decades to come need the British armed forces. We have needed them quite often in the past. Future generations would not look favourably on those who decided to dismember the means by which we have kept our country safe for so long.

6. Border

So long as the UK remained in the EU it was possible to argue that Scottish independence would not involve erecting a hard border between Berwick and Gretna. This situation has now changed.  If Scotland were in the EU while the former UK was outside the EU, then it becomes ever more likely that a manned border will have to be erected between Scotland and England. 

It is a condition of membership of the EU that a country agrees to join the Schengen zone. This allows passport free travel between EU member states and also some other non EU states such as Norway and Switzerland. The Republic of Ireland is not a member of Schengen because it joined the EU prior to it being a requirement. It is this and this alone that might allow an open border between Northern Ireland and the Republic to continue after Brexit.

One of the main reasons that the UK voted to leave the EU is to control immigration. But if people were able to travel to Edinburgh from the EU without showing their passport they could get on a bus and go straight to London without showing a passport too. The only way to prevent this would be to have border controls between England and Scotland.

Even if Scotland were somehow to avoid membership of Schengen, the fact that we would be part of the EU’s Single market might necessitate some form of border control or at least some form of monitoring.  EU citizens without limit will be able to travel to Scotland if Scotland is part of the EU’s Single Market. But what will prevent them slipping over the border so as to work illegally in England? How will tariffs on goods moving from England to Scotland be collected if not at a border?

The UK’s voting to leave the EU has once more radically changed the situation with regard to Scottish independence. If Scotland joined the EU, then the border between Scotland and England would be the border between the EU and the non-EU. Nothing is certain, of course, and a way might be found to keep the border open. But it is crucial that people realise that an international border is not just a line on the map. It can have real consequences and it is sometimes necessary to show documentation when you cross. Anyone who is concerned about there not being a manned border between England and Scotland would be well advised not to make that border an international one.

7. Loss of influence

We cannot change our geography. Scotland will always be the northern part of an island we share with England and Wales.  Our relations with the people living there and in Northern Ireland will always be more important than our relations with small countries in Eastern Europe or in other parts of the world. We also cannot change the fact that we in Scotland have a small population of around five million while the other parts of the UK have a population of around sixty million. Whether we are an independent country or not what goes on in the other parts of the UK will have an effect on our lives. If there is a recession in England there will probably be a recession in Scotland. Our economies are interconnected because our families are interconnected. The question then is do we want to influence the politics of our larger neighbours or do we want to have no influence?

There have been nine Scottish Prime Ministers. There have been a large number of Chancellors of the Exchequer and Foreign Secretaries. At various points in history a UK Government has depended on Scottish MPs to give it a majority. What this means is that historically Scottish voters have been able to influence the politics of the whole of the United Kingdom, not just Scotland.

Scottish independence would mean the loss of the MPs we send to Westminster. We would no longer take part in UK General Elections. Instead we would only have members of the Scottish Parliament.

At present the UK is a fairly influential player on the world stage. We are not as important as some larger countries, but nevertheless we are one of five permanent members of the Security Council and our views on a number of issues are influential. Scottish voters by influencing and frequently choosing the UK Government have far more influence than if they were voting only for members of a Scottish Parliament. The reason for this is population. It is rare for small countries of five million people to have much influence beyond their own borders. It is still the case that international relations are dominated by “great powers”. Germany has rather more influence than Slovenia.

Scottish independence would not only mean that Scotland had less influence, it might very well mean that the former UK would have less influence too. When the British armed forces, nuclear deterrent, and UK flag ceased to exist, other countries might consider that the UK’s place at the Security Council should cease to exist also. If the former UK ever tried to influence another country, that country could justly point out that you couldn’t even keep your own country intact. Why would we listen to you? Scottish independence therefore would not only lessen Scottish influence it would lessen the influence of all of us. It would be an act of self-harm. It’s hard to imagine the citizens or Government of the former UK looking at Scotland favourably for causing this harm. Probably the biggest danger of Scottish independence is that it would damage our relations with the other parts of the UK for decades to come. No-one can predict what consequences would flow from this.

8. Citizenship/Rights

One of the crucial aspects of EU membership is that it gives EU citizens the same rights in other countries as they have in their own. It was for this reason above all that Scottish nationalists supported membership of the EU because the EU would guarantee them the rights we enjoy at present as British citizens. Now that the UK is leaving the EU the EU could no longer guarantee the rights of the Scottish in the other parts of the former UK. If a Scottish citizen was able to live and work in England it could not be because the EU said that he had that right, it could only be because the former UK agreed to give him that right. The right would be contingent on that agreement.

It might be argued that Scottish citizens of an independent Scotland would retain their British citizenship. This is perfectly possible. But again it would depend on the agreement of the Government of the former UK. This Government might decide that it did not wish to allow dual nationality with Scots. We just don’t know how citizens of the former UK might react to Scotland voting for independence. They might wish to cooperate and be as helpful as possible. Alternatively they might be rather more hostile. They might say to Scots. We are happy for you to remain British citizens, but only if you refrain from taking out Scottish citizenship. They may ask us to choose. We just don’t know. It is likely that Scots would continue to be able to live and work in England, but there are no guarantees. It would all depend on the divorce negotiations and on future relations between Scotland and the former UK.

At the moment I have all sorts of rights because I am a British citizen. I will get a pension at a certain age. I can get free medical treatment anywhere in the UK. I can get benefits. I can live and work where I please and I can travel to huge numbers of countries without a visa. Some of these rights would no doubt continue even if Scotland became independent, but there is no guarantee that all of them would. Every country in the world gives a special status to its own citizens. If you choose to cease to be one of those citizens you cannot complain if some of your former rights have been lost.

9. Partition

Nicola Sturgeon continually complains about the fact that Scotland voted to remain in the EU, but the UK as a whole voted to leave. She complained that Scotland was being dragged out against its will. The problem with this sort of argument however, is that it could equally well apply to parts of Scotland in an independence referendum. What would happen if Scotland as a whole voted to leave the UK, but parts of Scotland voted to remain? Could these parts likewise complain about being dragged out against their will?

There have already been some reports that Shetland might not wish to stay in an independent Scotland. I imagine Orkney might take a similar view. Their history is rather different from the other parts of Scotland. Why should they not be able to remain in the UK if that was their wish? The same could be said for the Scottish Borders. Who is to say that the international boundary of Scotland could not be moved up a few miles to better reflect the wishes of people living there?

Some people have argued that any part of Scotland that remained contiguous with the UK should be allowed to remain. On this basis if Pro UK territory reached as far as Aberdeen then Aberdeenshire could stay in the UK even if the majority of Scotland voted to leave. But why should territory have to be contiguous. Other countries have exclaves. Alaska is not connected to the other parts of the United States.

Nicola Sturgeon’s argument about people being dragged out against their will could be turned against her. It would be amusing if an independent Scotland amounted to Greater Glasgow and Dundee. The former could be called the West Bank, while the latter could be called “Eyeless in Gaza”.  The rest of Scotland would no doubt miss them, but we would get over it.

This may appear far-fetched. But then again Scottish independence a few years ago seemed far-fetched. There is however quite a long history in Europe of boundaries being determined by local plebiscite. The present boundary between Denmark and Germany for instance was determined by a vote in 1920.


10. Democracy

If Nicola Sturgeon became leader of an independent Scotland, how long would she continue to rule? She isn’t fifty yet. She could go on for at least another thirty to forty years. The SNP have destroyed the Labour Party in Scotland. It is fanciful to suppose that Labour would somehow be resurrected upon independence. What purpose would the Conservatives have in an independent Scotland? The essence of the Conservative Party is the Union. A Pro UK party in an independent Scotland might as well give up. The Liberal Democrats too have been destroyed by Scottish nationalism. At least they might be pleased that there number one priority of being in the EU was fulfilled. But the Lib Dems would hardly provide a challenge to the SNP who had just succeeded in fulfilling the goal that they had campaigned for over the course of many decades.

The dominance of the SNP in Scottish politics happened by surprise, but for the moment it is complete. No other party can challenge them for leadership. No other party comes close. But not only do other parties not challenge Nicola Sturgeon, neither does her own party. SNP MPs and MSPs are forbidden by SNP rules from saying or doing anything that could be considered to be critical of Sturgeon’s leadership. They must agree with each and every one of her policies. How long would this numbing conformity continue in an independent Scotland? Well so long as there is no opposition it would continue indefinitely.

Scotland has free and fair elections and there is no reason to suppose that this would not continue in an independent Scotland. But nevertheless we would be likely to face decades of one party rule.  Nicola Sturgeon could decide to give up leading her party immediately upon obtaining independence, but why would she? Who could stop her in the decades ahead? When countries become independent it is common that the party that achieves this independence becomes the natural party of government. Would Nicola Sturgeon become Éamon de Valera in skirts? She would have been the one to finally kick the Brits out both from Scotland and from Ireland. She would have succeeded where the Irish failed. She would have destroyed the UK and made the word “British” obsolete. Who could challenge Sturgeon after doing all these things?

The SNP have authoritarian centralising tendencies. They have a tendency to identify their own party with Scotland, such that any criticism of the SNP becomes a criticism of Scotland. We have already got to the stage where crowds of nationalists listen to Nicola Sturgeon with rapt attention and with tears in their eyes. SNP shops sell posters of Nicola Sturgeon and framed prints which Scottish nationalists no doubt put on their walls. Would these “dear leader” tendencies increase or decrease if she succeeded in becoming the leader of an independent Scotland?

Scotland would no doubt remain a democracy if the SNP won their battle for independence, but it would be a democracy where the leader would go on and on rather like Salazar in Portugal or Castro in Cuba. We would have elections and these would probably continue to be free and fair, but they would have little point as we would already know the result beforehand? If this sounds attractive to you then by all means vote for independence.  Statues of Sturgeon and Salmond in the streets of Scotland would delight their supporters and might even revive the Scottish steel industry, but they would be memorials to a funny sort of democracy that involved precious little choice. Careful what you vote for Scotland.


The Advantages of Scottish independence

The main advantages of a vote for Scottish independence are that Scotland would become a sovereign, independent nation state and that it might be able to join the EU.

The odd thing about arguing with Scottish nationalists is that they think that Scotland already is a country and a nation and that it already has sovereignty. I have always thought that a country or a nation in the fullest sense of that word is a sovereign independent nation state. For this reason I have long argued that while Scotland is correctly called a “country” and a “nation” it is not one in the sense in which France is. This is usually met with first astonishment and then anger. I always reply if you think that Scotland is already a nation and a country why are you campaigning that it should become one? You obviously cannot become what you already are.

But let’s be clear, whatever Scotland’s status now, if it were to become independent it would become a nation and a country in the same sense as every other such sovereign nation state.

I think sometimes this is really all that most Scottish nationalists want. They are patriotic about Scotland realise perhaps unconsciously that Scotland is not a country in the fullest sense of the word. There’s something pretendy about a country that isn’t independent.  It’s really this and this alone that motivates people like Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond to campaign for decades.

On becoming independent Scotland would have a seat at the United Nations. It would take part in all sports individually rather than as part of the UK team.

For Scottish nationalists there would be an independence day to celebrate and they would have that warm glow about Scotland joining the real nations of the world.

If that’s what you want then I really don’t have an argument. There is a logic to Scottish nationalism:

Scotland is a country,
Countries ought to be independent,
Therefore Scotland ought to be independent.

This argument doesn’t work for me because I don’t think Scotland really is a country. Rather Scotland was a country some hundreds of years ago and since then it has frequently been called a “country”. But this is just a way of speaking. The Isle of Dogs is not after all an island.

There is a flag waving side to Scottish nationalism that really just wants recognition of Scotland being an independent country. Perversely Scottish nationalists think of Scotland always as if it already was independent. In this sense they wouldn’t really gain anything from independence. They already think that Scotland is a country and a nation. Nicola Sturgeon acts as if she is the leader of an independent country. What the nationalists would gain, turns out to be rather illusive. Yet they are willing to put us all to such trouble for something they will swear blind they already have. How dare you say we’re not already a sovereign nation? Then what will you really gain? Yet this illusive something is all that they really want. They don’t want anything else. It’s all rather peculiar. Perhaps you have to be a Scottish nationalist to understand it.   

But beyond the flag waving what would Scottish independence bring us?

At present the Scottish Parliament controls all devolved issues. There are also reserved issues that are controlled by Westminster. Devolved issues include healthcare, education, agriculture and law and order. That’s quite a lot of power over ordinary life when you think about it. Upon independence the Scottish Parliament would gain control over the reserved issues. These include immigration, defence and foreign policy. How wonderful we could now have our own Scottish foreign policy. What would it be? Would anyone notice?

I suspect after the first few days of flag waving, the Scottish people might be rather indifferent to the practical reality of these new powers. In the end what most people care about are day to day issues.

The reality is that the Scottish Parliament already controls most of the issues that affect us in our ordinary lives. Beyond the fact of being independent I think many Scottish nationalists would be disappointed with the new powers that were under their control.  Do you really want to rise up and be a nation again so as to determine whether your navy will have one destroyer or two?

In the last decades the UK Government has made a number of concessions to Scotland. Firstly we were given a Parliament. Then that Parliament was given extensive new powers. All the while the UK Government has been willing to pay a substantial amount of money each year to Scotland. We have used this money to give ourselves free prescriptions, free eye tests and free tuition. We have more public spending spent on us than many poorer parts of England and Wales. But somehow it’s never enough. But still the Prime Minister has to listen to Nicola Sturgeon. It must be rather wearing. You just know going into the conversation that nothing you say will be enough. But we’re all Brits we’ve stuck together for a long time, so we’re willing to put up with people like Sturgeon.

But how do you think Sturgeon would get on if she tried these sort of tactics in the EU? How would Angela Merkel react if confronted with a fist clenching Nicola Sturgeon who appears permanently just about to blow a fuse? This is the choice that Scotland now faces.

Scotland would become a sovereign independent nation state, but immediately upon doing so it would seek to give up at least a part of this sovereignty by joining the EU. Scotland would be a proper grown up country of course. The flag waving could be indulged in frequently and with vigour. But practically speaking a devolved Scottish Parliament in a UK outside the EU would have considerably more power than an independent Scottish Parliament within the EU.

On devolved issues the UK Government does not interfere. It frankly makes much more sense as well that we have a common macroeconomic, foreign and defence policy. The EU on the other hand has any number of rules and regulations that control what the Scottish Parliament can and cannot do at present.

Long term where is the EU going? None of know. If Marine Le Pen is elected French President there may not be an EU next year. If the Euro faces another crisis who knows what will happen? What we do know however is the direction in which the EU is heading. The intention is that it will become a fully federal United States of Europe. This is happening gradually but inexorably.

Having gained its sovereignty and independence therefore Scotland would be joining an organisation whose purpose was to gradually take both away. It might not happen immediately but it would happen soon. You would still be able to wave your flags and pretend that you are a real country now, but you would look south of the border and realise that in reality the former UK was far more independent than Scotland.

A vote for independence would be a vote for huge uncertainty. If Scotland’s future depends on EU membership, it’s worth reflecting that any member of the EU could decide to veto our membership. Spain might like to send a message to Catalonia that joining the EU after independence would not be straightforward. It would be rather unfortunate to end up both outside the UK and outside the EU. But no doubt the flag wavers would still think that it was worth it.

I have outlined a number of possible disadvantages that Scottish independence would involve. The possible advantages look meagre. An independent Scotland would not be wealthier than we are at present. Nor in reality would it be more powerful. It might gain independence and sovereignty, but the SNP appear willing to trade these away so long as they have the illusion of independence and sovereignty. It amounts to this. The SNP want to put us all through the trauma of separation just so that we can have the illusion of flag waving. This would no doubt be worth it for those desperate to wave flags, but the rest of us would be left with thin gruel.

I think the UK is going to make a success of Brexit. It will involve some tricky negotiation, but in a few years it could lead to great economic success. Imagine if we in Scotland were looking southwards at their success having anchored ourselves to a declining EU which didn’t give us much prosperity, but instead took away the independence and the sovereignty the SNP had apparently fought for. Who would be to blame? Of course we Scots would be to blame. But who do you think we actually would blame. Who do we always blame?