By Brendan Storer
Scotland out from Britain. From The River Tweed to the Outer Hebrides, Alex Salmond and Scottish National Party (SNP) wants to see the White and Blue Saltire flag of an independent Scotland flying. This is a nice dream of patriotism but it is a woefully short sighted one that will see the Scots robbed of comfort and stability in the name of independence. The vote in 2014 on Scottish Independence has already bolstered the SNP to begin planning the way sovereignty and powers will be handed from the United Kingdom’s government to the Scottish one. Prime Minister David Cameron has dismissed any talk of hypothetical transfer but even if he did entertain it at the moment it is a colossal task facing the Scottish parliament to prepare for independence. As it stands present Scotland faces three problems with any independence bid; money, bureaucracy and the international community. There is a potential solution to provide what much of what Scotland wants while retaining the integrity of a United Kingdom.
Money is a key problem for Scotland. The UK’s finances are not what they once were, and it is laden with the burden of the EU. This is the situation that a united Britain, a major economic player and home to the world’s financial heart London, is struggling with. An independent Scotland would necessarily inherit a share of these maladies in the form of inherited sovereign debt and independent exposure to the conditions. History has taught us that state building is an expensive undertaking with new countries being almost universally in a worse economic condition than established ones because of a lack of experience, infrastructure and international credit history to judge worthiness off of.
The Scots might be known in England for their penny pinching ways, but it will be an expensive undertaking that the Scottish parliament will be facing on a back foot. This is thus-far ignoring the currency issue. A new country means that the Great British Pound might no longer be the official Scottish currency. If the pound remains, Scotland will still be in de facto currency union with the rest of the United Kingdom. Alex Salmond has spoken in the past of Scotland joining the Euro but in the current climate that would be jumping from a leaky ship onto a sinking one. There is no guarantee of the stability or even survivability of the Euro at the moment.
A currency union with the UK would be far more stable with the Scottish economy already heavily integrated and 60% of Scottish exports going to the rest of the UK at present. Even between two countries a currency Union is a tricky thing to get right; it would need a single Monetary authority between them and a united effort for Fiscal stability curbing the tax/spend ability of a fledgling Scottish Government. The third option, a unique currency for sovereign Scotland, is only possible in a long game. If a new currency was developed it would have to be pegged to a stable currency (almost certainly the Pound but conceivably the US Dollar or Euro) or else the financial frailty inherent to any new regime would play havoc with the new Scottish Economy.
Economic maladies will not be the only thing Edinburgh will inherit from London. Scotland and England have been joined at the head for 400 years, since Elizabeth I died and the Scottish King James VI gained the English Throne as James I. This joined monarchy preluded the existing joint state of Great Britain in 1707, but since James I Scotland has been partner to an effective single state on the Isle of Great Britain. This joining continues to have impact on the running of Scotland. Centuries of bureaucracy have subsided into Whitehall and untangling such a structure will be a huge task for not just Scotland but the London Civil Service as well. Scotland must also choose the fate of its Queen. Elizabeth II may be Queen of the United Kingdom but this title is derived from her predecessors being King of Scotland and England united.
Scotland may choose to retain the monarchy and join the other nations where Elizabeth reigns: Canada, Australia, Jamaica amongst the 16 Royal States or Scotland may choose to join India, Pakistan and Ireland as a Republic. Currently a decoupling of Scotland and Britain would, despite what some in Scotland believe, have the UK inherit everything and Scotland is required to reapply to everything despite. Scotland would easily get into most clubs worth joining. The Commonwealth is a given while the United Nations and its various sub-bodies would also be a guarantee once the paperwork was filled out. Truthfully some of the work disengaging Scotland from London has already been done. Devolution to not just Scotland but Northern Ireland and Wales has shown foresight for the needs of the distinct countries. Independent Scotland must also contend with the anarchy of the global system by itself.
It is in this line of thought that a solution to Britain’s country problems may lie. John Major, PM in the 1990s, has commented that devolution did not gone far enough and that everything bar Foreign affairs, Defence and Economic Management should be devolved leaving only these three things to London. What Major is talking about is closer to Federalism of the British Isles. Federalism makes a lot of sense when you look at the disparate British state and the history that colours the relationships of England and the other British countries. Federalism would allow Scotland, and the other constituent states to conduct their internal affairs as they see fit whilst retaining as a whole the strength that the UK enjoys and can continue to enjoy.
Under Federalism the UK will also solve the West Lothian question of no devolved legislature for England by granting ‘state’ legislatures, as it were, to the countries individually. The UK would be able to look to Germany and Australia as states that have dissimilar regions economically and culturally but remain a united enterprise. It is arguable that it is only because of the cautious evolution of the British political system that never had enough of a turbulent break with what had come before to sensibly lay out a cohesive system, even under Civil war, that Federalism hasn’t be adopted to codify the relationship between Britain’s constituent parts.
In Federal Britain it would make sense to split into England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland as the federated parts given the convenience of no having to redraw boundaries. It would even make sense to divide England into composite parts given the population advantage it holds with 10 times the 5 million people of Scotland living in England’s green and pleasant land. To this end there might be North and South England or East and West or perhaps the counties centring on Manchester, Birmingham or Leeds to provide an urban focal point. It might be better if London itself was separate from the State of England. Such a global city is decreasingly England’s alone. Its character is more cosmopolitan and many in the rest of Britain have a allegiance to it as the capital and would find it strange for London to become a foreign city. In creating Federal Britain however a caveat; it would be important to stress the importance of a defined relationship between the Federal Government and constituent countries and mechanisms to ensure that there is no legal conflict between a Scottish Law and a British one much Like Australia does or else suffer from the deadlock seen in the United States system where States open fight for power and jealously guard prerogatives from Washington.
Federal Britain is an option that Scotland should consider availing itself of. It would spare them the worst of independence; bankruptcy and bureaucracy, whilst allowing the specialisation of laws to Scotland’s own needs by the Scottish themselves. It would also let Scotland continue to reap the benefits of the British place in the world such as the Security Council Veto. It would also be beneficial to the UK as a whole. The pooling of abilities and resources has always yielded results and Britain’s achievements in the past cannot be attributed solely or even predominantly to one of the nations. England may reap much of the kudos but Scotland, Wales and Ireland have doggedly thwarted subsumption into the English Leviathan by consistently punching above their weight class as peoples. Scotland leaving, as the second largest puzzle piece of Britain, would wound the UK more than the others, not fatally but it would begin a quasi-balkanisation of Britain.
If Scotland votes yes for independence in 2014 it will have shown that it is prepared to make its own way but it may martyr itself to achieve independence when there is alternative that Britain can decide unified. Headstrong devotion by the SNP to put the Scottish first is good but blindly detaching Scotland because you think it’s the only way is missing out on an opportunity.