Some Thoughts from a Scottish Unionist

My friend, the Las Vegas political player and former Griffin editor-in-chief Ken Kraft, recently sent me a succinct, restrained, and fairly convincing article on “Why Scottish independence is a bad idea.”  In it, Amanda Taub (from what I gather, some kind of quasi-Scot, linked by bonds of family, education, and gastronomy) breaks uncertainties about Scottish into two categories: those that would cause trouble during the process of separation, and those that would hit Scotland after the separation.

Taub touches on one issue that hasn’t gotten much press lately, but which comes up in just about every referendum conversation I’ve had at the University of Edinburgh: research funding.

Scottish universities are worried that they wouldn’t be able to obtain research funding from their current sources and that their best scholars would leave.

I.E. all the anxious little one-year Masters students like myself and my friends from the UK, who could shortly become “international students.”

This, of course, is bundled up with a bevy of other financial challenges:

The Royal Bank of Scotland says that it would relocate its headquarters to London in the event of a “yes” vote on independence. (No word yet on whether it would change its name to the Royal Bank of We Sure Are Grateful for that Bailout.) The green energy sector says that investment in wind power could stagnate for years due to uncertainty over the future of the current subsidy scheme. … It’s unclear how much of the UK’s national debt Scotland would be saddled with, or whether independence would lead to costly litigation over the North Sea oil fields. It’s true that all of those things might work out in Scotland’s favor — but then again, they might not.

Then there are there are the challenges that would arise after independence.  As I’ve mentioned before, the issue of an independent Scotland’s currency is such a glaringly overlooked question mark that it ought to overshadow even the recent controversy surrounding the NHS.

The Scottish independence movement has made clear that it wants to keep using the pound, which would mean that Scotland would be at the mercy of the UK’s monetary policy. Even setting aside the lessons of the Eurozone’s recent history on whether it’s a good idea for small countries to rely on a currency union they don’t control (it’s not) this is an astonishing plan in the context of the broader arguments for independence. If the pro-independence crowd thinks that the UK is screwing Scotland now, why would it be a good idea for the UK to have control over Scotland’s currency, but no democratic accountability or responsibility for its economy at all whatsoever?

The second option would be for Scotland to join the euro — as Vox’s Matt Yglesias points out, that may turn out to be mandatory if Scotland joins the EU — but joining the Eurozone would risk even more severe problems, because the Eurozone has already proven itself to be an economic calamity.

And of course, let us not neglect to mention that “the UK’s major political parties have all pledged to grant Scotland greater control over its own affairs if it stays in the UK.”

These aren’t new ideas, and for the record, I’m not endorsing the Better Together campaign, the Orange Order, or Westminster’s Labour government.  The article also steers clear of the identity question – and understandably, as touching on it would have muddied the otherwise crystalline waters of a lucid piece of writing.

Taub has written one of the most concise summations of the unionist arguments currently available on the web; with the vote less than 24 hours away, you might want to read it.


Aye, Nay, and Devo-Max: Growing Pains and the Scottish Independence Referendum

I’ve not been able to update my blog since I landed in Edinburgh on Saturday, being too busy dancing Ceilidhs, downing pints, visiting Tom Riddle’s grave, and decorating my flat.  I have several backlogged posts from Germany to put up, so keep a vigilant eye on my RSS feed for posts on Dortmund pilsners and a day trip to Köln.  But in Edinburgh at least, everything seems eclipsed by the Scottish independence referendum.

Thursday, 18 Sept., Scots will vote on whether to split from the UK, a controversy that reaches down to the very mechanism of the referendum: Scots who live abroad will not be able to vote (like the vocally ‘No’ former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson), while 16 year old Scottish residents will be able to cast their ballot.

From the highlands to the lowlands, a stimulated sense of Anglo-Scottish history is colliding with the wave of nationalism currently sweeping across Europe; Thursday’s vote will be an emotional one, something Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond, of the Scottish National Party, was likely relying upon in his push to lower the voting age.  In Edinburgh, from the Royal Mile to the airport’s arrival gate, you can’t escape the low murmurs: the polls have changed again; the ‘Yes’ votes leads for the first time, by a slim margin.

Walking around Scotland, locals and newcomers alike will notice the ‘Yes’ vote’s footprint first: you can find at least of their modest ‘Yes’ window signs on every block.  The ‘No’ vote is less vocal, which should come as little surprise – one can’t exactly wave a flag to the tune of “I’m-proud-of Scotland-but-given-the-uncertainties-of-an-independent-state-and-semi-divested-economy-as-well-as-a-dual-national-identity-I-can’t-in-good-conscience-vote-for-a-split” – which seems to be the tune most ‘No’ voters are singing, quietly, to themselves.  To put it more simply, I talked with a priest this afternoon who said, “I’d like to vote ‘Yes’, but I don’t think I can.”

As for the polls, savvy Scotts scoff: as my first Edinburgh cab driver said, “Have you ever actually met anyone who was polled?  Course they take polls: everyone in the office, hands up if you want to split: lookit that, ‘Yes’ gains three points.  There’s your news of the day.”

So, Scotland’s future won’t get any clearer until Thursday’s votes are counted – and no matter what way it all shakes out, there will be a great deal of uncertainty for some time to come.  To address some of those issues, the University of Edinburgh on Monday night hosted a referendum debate, as part of Fresher’s Week – a brief, two hour break from the dancing and the drinking.  The Teviot Row Debate Hall was packed – standing room only – as four partisans tapped their fingers at two tables on the stage.

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