As details begin to emerge about Alex Salmond’s long promised referendum on Scottish Independence, the political debate has started to heat up. Faced with the break-up of a union that stretches back to 1707, politicians have begun to argue over everything from the site of Britain’s nuclear submarines to the division of the UK national debt.
Perhaps they shouldn’t worry. According to a YouGov poll conducted in May 2007, Scottish support for Independence remains low, at 28% – with 57% against the idea. Votes for the SNP in Holyrood elections don’t seem to have translated into votes for Independence. Recent polls suggest that enthusiasm for the proposal is actually higher in England, with support reaching as high as 43%.
Critics of the SNP argue that this is because Scots know what a good deal they get from the current system; free university education, free personal care for the elderly and free NHS prescriptions all come at the expense of English taxpayers. Salmond argues that an independent Scotland could sustain this high public spending using income from their North Sea oil, but this would not be sustainable. Revenue and production are set to fall over the coming years, leaving the Scottish economy dangerously reliant on the financial services sector.
An independent Scotland would obviously inherit their fair share of the UK’s budget deficit. According to the Scottish administration’s own Government Expenditure and Revenue Exercise, in 2009-10, this would be around £14.9 billion, 13.4 per cent of GDP. When the oil runs out, Scotland will be left with a giant financial black hole.
After Independence, Scotland would be forced to reapply for EU membership. Would they keep the Pound, or join the Euro? Neither looks like a good option. Keeping the Pound would surely undermine Scotland’s claim to economic independence. And you only have to look to Portugal, Ireland and Greece to see the dangers of being a small, peripheral Eurozone country.
The SNP’s promise that an independent Scottish nation would be a “beacon of fairness” rings hollow if you look at the economics. But the more emotive arguments are no more compelling – crude nationalism isn’t going to rally the Scottish people behind the cause of independence. Nor is the historical argument convincing; events that happened over 300 years ago have little relevance to modern politics. And whilst no one can deny that Scotland has an independent, unique and vibrant culture, that won’t help them pay their way in the world.
Scottish independence is neither likely, nor a good idea. It’s no wonder Alex Salmond wants the referendum delayed until 2014.