A couple of months ago I withdrew some money from a Tesco cashpoint. The screen came up with a little message. “All our call centres are in the UK. Because all our customers are in the UK“. It made me chuckle. I wondered how that would read in a year or two if the Scots choose to go their own way. In less than one week’s time the Scots will get to cast their vote and the decision will be made.
I’ve plenty of thoughts on the subject. But let’s look at that message on the cashpoint machine. The fact of the matter is, Scotland is host to quite a number of giant financial institutions and in the event of Scotland gaining their independence, they are all heading south of the border to London. RBS, Halifax, Lloyds and even little old Tesco. They have no choice. They need to be where their customers are. They need to have the backing of the Bank of England.
There’s the rub. That’s why Alex Salmond, the figurehead of the Yes campaign is so eager to ‘keep the pound’. His desire to retain sterling is not because of any historical link to the currency. Not because of any fondness for it. It’s because he wants Scotland to be underwritten by the Bank of England, for that inevitable day when everything goes economically pear shaped.
So when Mr Salmond boasts that Scotland is strong enough, confident enough and big enough to be its own master, he’s not quite telling the whole truth. He’s clearly not confident that Scotland is either strong enough or big enough to weather the financial storms without England backing them up. What Salmond really wants is devolution, but with a throne upon which he can sit.
Independence comes down to two real issues. The first is, to state the obvious, economics based. So what sort of ‘independence’ is he peddling with his insistence on a currency union? Just how independent have Greece, Ireland, Portugal and Spain been these last five years? They’ve been effectively annexed into provinces of Germany.
It’s highly unlikely that Scotland will get to keep the pound. As an English person, I would not want them sharing our currency. If they want independence, that’s fine. But don’t cherry pick the good bits for yourselves and leave the rotten parts for us all to share. Do independence properly. Set up your own currency, or <suppresses giggle> join the Euro.
Only the most delusional Scot believes that they will be more prosperous in the short and medium term after independence. They will have extra oil revenues. And they will need them. To pay the costs of the unemployed. All the finance workers. The shipbuilders. The military bases. The industries currently based in Scotland which are dependent on being part of a United Kingdom. Plus all the basic set up costs of forming your own country. There will come a day when the Tesco cashpoints in Edinburgh and Glasgow might as well read, ‘All our call centres are in England. Because that’s where the money is. Bad luck’.
Then there’s the second issue that I referred to. It’s an emotional choice. It’s the chord that the nationalists are fine tuning to pull at the heart strings of the undecided voter. Cry freedom! Bad Westminster, Good Holyrood. It’s an unquantifiable argument that cannot be made with reason or logic. But it is effective. Mr Salmond is essentially pleading with voters to cast their ballot based on their heart, not their head. And the gap between the Yes and No campaigns has closed in the run up to the referendum, with some pollsters making it a neck and neck battle.
There are other consequences to a Yes vote that are worth touching upon. In the last General Election, we had a hung parliament. The Conservatives failed to gain a majority of seats in Westminster. Their inability to woo voters in Scotland was a key part of this. They have just one of the 59 available Scottish seats. Without Scotland, David Cameron would have had a comfortable majority. Next year it is likely he will win a majority in the 2015 General Election if Scottish seats are removed from Westminster. Which means we will have another referendum. To be in the EU or out? (Caveat: the Scottish seats won’t be removed in time for the next election, but a year after which may prompt another General Election.)
Without Scotland it is more likely (though not necessarily likely) that the vote will lead to England’s exit from the EU. So many of the benefits that the Scots may assume will come from being in the EU with the rest of the UK may not materialise. It’s worthy of consideration.
My own feeling is that we are better together. The politicians are going to great lengths to predict the futures of our country/countries relative to the success of their own campaigns. But I look to the past, to the last 300 years. I am fairly certain that both England nor Scotland are be better off for having joined in union. I am equally certain that the future holds the same sort of story.
So what will happen? What would be the best result? If you’re interested in this story, I can point you in the right direction. The Yes campaign’s website is here. The No campaign website, Better Together, is here. The BBC poll tracker is here. And my preferred economics commentator, Robert Peston of the BBC can be read here. He has been posting plenty of interesting thoughts this last couple of weeks.
Finally, perhaps the soundest predictors of the future of them all. The bookmakers. They don’t like losing money. They don’t always get it right, but when it comes to uncertain outcomes, they have a better track record than most. What do they say? The bookies are convinced that this time next week, the United Kingdom will be intact. The No vote will triumph.
But the result is not entirely a foregone conclusion. Could Scotland have their independence? No, not if Alex Salmond gets his way. Ironically. But he might find in victory that the English force it upon them anyway. The Bank of England is for those inside of the UK. Not on the outside.