So, the great date is set: 24th of March, 2016. That’s when Scotland might become an independent country.
I like Scotland. I always enjoy being there. I was born in Cumbria, the county next door, and I have many happy childhood holidays of Dumfries and Galloway, and enjoyed many holidays and business trips there since. We even stayed in the Loch Rannoch Hotel for our honeymoon, a poor example of Scottish hospitality but in a pretty enough location to compensate. A lot of Scotland is physically pretty if you keep away from the midges and the rain and can therefore raise your gaze above the ground. The wild blueberries and raspberries are delicious. Some of the people are very nice. I love watching films like Braveheart or Rob Roy (though I recognise they probably have scant overlap with actual reality). The Scots have a wonderful reputation. Sure, they cost a bit. Us poor English have to subsidise the Scots a lot, but so what; they’re worth it.
That’s the collection of impressions that spring immediately into my consciousness when the debates on Scottish Independence are mentioned. I suspect it is a fairly typical mix for an Englishman. My wallet wants them to get lost, my heart wants them to stay.
The romantic part of me that likes the Braveheart image wants them to vote for independence. Many Scots would love to tell us English where to go and I can’t help feel some empathy with that. If I were a Scot, I would probably vote for independence. But if I did so, I’d be casting that vote knowing that tomorrow would be a bleak day. A proud day, but a bleak day.
An independent Scotland will struggle financially. There is no doubt at all of that. The vast majority of Scots receive from the state overall rather than contributing to it. Without subsidy from the English, the people and companies who pay the country’s bills will have to fork out even more, and many will be tempted to emigrate south, resulting in a harsh spiral. My daughter has to pay £9000 per year for her university education, but I am helping to pay for some Scot to go to uni for free. I pay £100 per year for prescriptions, but my taxes help mean that Scots get them for free. The full costs of these sorts of benefits are easy to ignore when someone else pays, but when the bill has your own name on it, reality strikes painfully. Benefits subsidised by English taxes will vanish or taxes there will rise. Since they are already suggesting cutting taxes, it is very hard to see how their sums add up. Something’s gotta give. Unless some magical source of new income appears. Ah yes…
Scotland has quite a few wind turbines, and those in favour of independence point to them as if they can finance the whole economy. In a previous blog I calculated that even if every hectare of Scotland was covered in wind farms, it would barely equate to all the coal fired power stations in England. Not all of Scotland is suited to turbines, the costs are extremely high, the environmental damage they cause is huge, and there is no reason whatsoever why a foreign country would buy energy at six times the cost of using their own shale gas.
North Sea oil won’t pay for long either, even if they are allowed to keep it. The demand for oil will shrink into the foreseeable future as shale gas and coal picks up.
Tourism is a good income source and in some places there, the people are friendly and hospitable. So there is scope for tourism growth, but no real reason to expect it will be any more than today. Scotch is a rapidly growing sector, and I could probably drink a lot more than I currently do, but a few extra bottles of Glenlivet a year won’t make Scotland rich. I can’t drink enough to contribute as much profit as I currently pay in Scottish tax subsidy.
The Scots could start a tax price war with the remaining UK to encourage business to flock there. That might work a bit, but actually, a lot of people don’t want to work in Scotland because the weather is terrible. So even if tax is a bit lower, I simply can’t imagine a sudden enormous queue of economic migrants heading north.
So I am heavily sceptical about the economic wisdom of separation. I may be missing some big factors, but I doubt it. An independent Scotland will be poorer that one that stays part of the UK.
But I want Scotland to stay. I feel proud to be part of the same country as the Scots. Scottish engineers and scientists have made enormous contributions to our quality of life. They still do. Scotland is culturally rich and vibrant too, and they probably contribute more than their share to British sporting prowess. I like most Scottish accents. I’d be far more likely to celebrate Burns Night than any English festival.
Scottish independence would be a bad thing for the Scots. Being independent might make them proud, but only in a huddled-in-the-corner-pretending-it-isn’t all-that-cold sort of way. They’d simply be poorer. We’d all miss them if they went, and I for one would rather they stayed warm and well-subsidised and happy and part of the UK.
They would still slag us off and we would still moan about having to pay their bills, but I’d rather stay together.