Whither Scotland?

In the New York Review of Books there was an excellent article by Jonathan Freedland (March 20 2014 http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2014/mar/20/will-scotland-go-independent/?insrc=toc) about the coming September 18 election in Scotland in which the issue is whether Scotland should become an independent country.  The article makes it very clear that the background to the question is not the long-standing antipathy of Scots toward the English, but the effects of Margaret Thatcher’s breaking of British labor – and the continuation of those Thatcherite policies by subsequent British governments (even Tony Blair’s so-called Labor government.) I asked a friend, a Scots economist, what he thought of the Freedland article and of the desirability of Scotland becoming an independent country for the first time in 300 years. His letter in reply is below.

Hi Merrill,

On the article I have to say that I agree with most of it, really for three broad reasons.

First, the idea of a nation state is comparatively recent. There was no "Germany" before Bismarck and no "Italy" pre-Garibaldi (both mid 19th century figures). International events were managed by large empires under groups like the Ottoman Turks, the Austro-Hungarian Hapsburgs and the British empire itself. Scotland in the 18th century (outside the main centres) was a rural backwater riven by tribal feuds.

It's true that traditional ways of life were destroyed by English landed interests after Culloden (often brutally) but that is now in the past. In a globalised world the main issues are international (terrorism, water stress, climate change, growing inequality, youth unemployment, etc) and I cannot see how creating yet one more level of bureaucracy in Edinburgh under the hand of people like Salmond can make any contribution at all beyond the devolved powers Scotland already has.

My second set of reasons is economic. Much of traditional Scottish industry has gone and we are left with oil (depleting significantly in revenue terms), tourism and financial services. The risks of job loss for young Scots are considerable in my view. If, for example a large firm like Standard Life decided to move its HQ to Newcastle (100 miles down the road) the knock-on employment effects would be large. And there are many similar firms who might well consider the financial risks of staying in Scotland too great, given issues of a defunct banking system, costs of a separate fiscal system and a potentially dodgy European currency.

My third reason is that as a Scot I resent not having a vote while many non-Scots are allowed to vote. And there are many of us. A lot of this simply summarises what Freedland says in more detail. The article is well written.

Finally I should say that I understand why many of my friends are in the "yes" camp since for many years we have had to put up with rule from Westminster that has not been of the highest quality, to say the least. But time moves on etc-----.

All the best

Norman