Scottish Independence: head over heart

I once believed that independence for Scotland was a head versus heart decision.  Years before this impending referendum, I told myself that the heart said yes and set about addressing the needs of the head.  I should have dug deeper.

The fact is that I will be no more or less Scots five years from now than I was five years ago, regardless of what happens in five days’ time.  I am a Scot by birth and birth-right; a result of that mix of history, geography, culture, folklore, language and belief that builds a nation.  A vote will not change that.  A saltire on a passport will not change that.  And rendering unto Salmond “the Ruritanian trappings of statehood[1] will not change that.

Nation and State are different things.  The Scottish nation is never in doubt and that is the true heart’s concern.  By contrast, the “independence” referendum is a vote for a change (or not) of landlord.  That is not to diminish its importance – while it’s plausible that a No vote could bring a further attempt in ten years’ time, a Yes vote would be irrevocable, an attempted re-union is almost inconceivable – but the decision deserves to be made rationally, by the head.

My head has a problem.  The Scottish National Party, formed 80 years ago, still has no good answers to the important issues.  The independence campaign has been built on what you want to hear.  Whatever concerns you, don’t worry.  Yes, you can keep the pound.  Of course, you’ll still have Queen.  And the BBC, too.  Scotland will be in NATO and the EU with all the benefits that accrue to those things.  In effect, they say, nothing will change except for the bad stuff.  No more austerity.  No nasty nuclear weapons. No Tory government.

But reality drags an inconvenient knife through the political fudge.

The world’s capital markets don’t care about Scotland, they care about risk.  An unproven government of an independent Scotland could only expect to pay more than the UK for borrowing.  Casual threats to refuse a share of debt on separation don’t help.

The European Union doesn’t care about Scotland.  Its bureaucrats and the governments of countries with their own separatist stirrings (like Spain) would prefer to avoid the issue altogether.  Common sense and pragmatism suggest that Scotland would become a member, eventually, but not without significant concession.  Inheriting the UK’s opt-outs on joining the euro or on open borders cannot be casually assumed.  Applying for membership can only be a protracted and painful process.

Currency puzzles me most.  In trying to give the people what they want to hear, Salmond (an economist by profession) seems cynically to ignore the inevitable.  He promises a currency union but all the UK’s major parties and the Governor of the Bank of England (UK’s central bank) have said no.  Imagine, however, that an accommodation is reached and, against all current advice and assertions, the UK says yes.  Economic policy will be driven by a central bank taking account of 91% UK and 9% Scotland.  The best possible case would be that Scotland is no worse off; in all likelihood it would have less influence over its economic policy than it has today.  Greece, Spain and the rest of the Euro-zone are perfect examples of why currency union without political union can’t work.  How can a movement driven to seek greater political and economic independence also argue for the constraints of a currency union?

There are no good arguments coming from the Yes camp.  As pressure mounts, what Alex Salmond cloyingly calls Team Scotland seems increasingly to blame the “Westminster Elite”.  Such shrill, pointy-fingered populism makes me most nervous of all.

If this disenfranchised Scot had a vote, he would vote with his canny Scots head, having settled his Gaelic heart.  Billy Connolly said, “I am a citizen of the world.”  Many Scots feel this way and statehood delivers nothing to improve on that.  A successful independent Scotland is a generation of pain away and these are not the navigators to take it there.

[1] A beautifully eloquent phrase from the Economist, in an article on Catalonian independence, November 2012:

About Andrew Munro

An independent business consultant, interim manager and writer, Andrew operates through his company, Burning Pine Ltd (
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