With the referendum for Scottish independence now set to happen in 2014, the possibility of an independent Scotland is within reach. Would Scotland be built on nationalism and hot air, or is there more to the calls for complete sovereignty?
Many Scots feel hard done by at the hands of the English. This is mainly historical, but, more recently, the sting of being the guinea pigs for Margaret Thatcher’s wildly unpopular poll tax added fuel to the fire. However, not many people know of the McCrone report. In the 1970s, when agitation for independence was peaking and the North Sea oil had just been discovered, Westminster commissioned a report to investigate the effects of Scotland breaking away, and to speculate about how much black gold was up there. The report, written before the full effects of OPEC’s oil price shocks, asserted that Scotland would be very, very rich- embarrassingly rich:
‘The country would tend to be in chronic surplus to a quite embarrassing degree and its currency would become the hardest in Europe, with the exception perhaps of the Norwegian kroner.’
Why didn’t the Scots go for independence? Because the report was immediately classified (until 2005) and the people were told they’d become like Bangladesh.
Remembering that it’s no longer the 1970s and much of the oil is gone, the McCrone report can only be cited as an example of dubious government behavior, and not valid economic predictions. However, despite popular and media portrayals as Scotland being addicted to subsidies from England, various reports show that Scotland still pays its own way. The Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland (Gers) report similarly shows that Scotland is paying more to the union than its counterparts, even in these economically difficult times.
In fact, a former Inland Revenue (tax office) senior civil servant cites examples to show that Scotland, with high exports and gas deposits and a low population, would be in a very strong position.
This low population combined with its infamous weather makes Scotland a potential competitor in the renewable energy market, a growing global sector. At present, its forward thinking Edinburgh government is pushing hydroelectricity, wave turbines and wind power. Some scientist say that Scotland has the capacity to power a significant portion of Europe with its wind power alone, having 25% of Europe’s total wind resource. At the moment, renewable energy makes up 35% of their power, and this is set to expand rapidly.
Politically, Scotland is very much a separate entity to England. Even before the poll tax experiment, Scotland leaned to the left. For example, Scotland has passed a bill to legalize gay marriage, believes more strongly in social democracy than England and its universities and prescriptions are free. Over the past 20 years, Scotland has voted in a total of 3 Conservative MPs. At the same time, England generally goes right, having had Tory or Tory-led governments for over 40 of the last 60 years. Not only does this mean that Scotland is ultimately governed by a party without popular mandate, it also makes the motives of Westminster’s campaign to keep Scotland quite suspect. Without Scotland’s votes, the Tories would have a much, much stronger majority in parliament, losing 59 of their opposition, out of a total of 650 seats. Also, bear in mind that the Conservative Party is doctrinally against subsidies. If popular portrayals of Scotland as heavily subsidized, for which Scots are regularly denigrated, were true, why should pro-cuts, anti-subsidy party wish to keep them so badly? Especially when this party would gain significant power from their severance. Yet Scottish secession would affect the rest of the UK: it could possibly fuel other independence movements, and no doubt will affect its global standing, having hacked off a significant chunk of its population and economy.
On the whole, excepting nationalism, there are many reasons for Scots to want independence, not least due to cases of mistreatment from a government for which it has little support. The current British anti-independence campaign of fear-mongering and belittlement of ‘subsidy junky’ Scotland needs to recognize that Scotland has more to gain than national identity and the UK has more to lose than a dependent. It is time to engage with Scotland as a valued part of a union, and not as an inferior.