With only a few days left to go in the Scottish Referendum campaign, there are a lot of unanswered questions that still surround the one crucial question: what happens if Scotland does actually vote for independence?
As such I thought I would put forward my opinion of the only 5 questions that really matter and which as yet have not really been answered:
1. Who is Scottish and who is British (and would anyone choose not to be both)?
Possibly a very simple question, yet one that hasn’t been answered. If an individual defines themselves as Scottish but not British, not only will they no longer be eligible for automatic entry into the UK and EU, as they fall outside of the agreed terms of the EU’s Schengen treaty on borders, but they would also be unable to benefit from free access to UK schools and hospitals as well. This may all sound ridiculous, but if Scotland becomes independent the European Union has already told Scotland that they would join the back of the queue for membership (partly to deter other European separatist movements). As a result, what happens to all those in Scotland who currently use and rely on these essential rights of being a British citizen?
Following from this problem though, if every member of an independent Scotland becomes a “dual – citizen”, would it necessarily be in the UK interest to allow everyone in Scotland to be a dual national? Such a deal could in theory encourage Scots to receive all the benefits of being British but without the UK receiving any of their tax receipts for providing those services. Another interesting thought to consider would be whether Scots would then be allowed to have dual nationality and vote in the UK as well (including standing for seats in parliament if they hold dual nationality).
2. How would Scotland create a “wealth fund” from the North Sea?
A key piece of the nationalist campaign has been the creation of a Norwegian-esque sovereign wealth fund, but few in Scotland have actually asked how this would happen. Firstly it is forgotten that the North Sea tax revenues are already used by the UK government to fund social services and so to create a wealth fund would either require the Scottish government to spend less money for a few years (in order to save) or to raise more money from the North Sea itself.
Considering that the North Sea revenues have continued to decline, as production levels have fallen, development costs have risen and international oil prices have started to stabilise over the last 5 years, it appears that “spending less” is not exactly the top choice for an independent Scotland. However raising taxes is unlikely to help either. In fact the current Chancellor of the Exchequer already learned the folly of raising North Sea taxes, after the North Sea recorded its two largest production declines in history (in 2012 and then 2013) when the government raised taxes by 2.5% and North Sea investment crashed (the tax was then abandoned less than 2 years later).
3. How would Scotland defend itself as an independent nation?
There are two immediate issues unanswered here currently: If the UK does not formally “share the pound” with Scotland and the SNP repudiates their share of the UK’s current national debt, would Scotland be entitled to any UK government assets? If they are not, then theoretically Scotland would start its life as a nation with no army, navy or airforce or any military assets. If Scotland does share assets with the UK how would this be divided? If by a hybrid of their economic and population proportions of the UK, then Scotland would receive less than 10 Tornadoes, 4 Apache helicopter, 2 Type 23 frigates, 5-10 Eurofighters, less than 20 Challenger 2 tanks, less than 40 APC’s of various forms and maybe a handful of mobile artillery pieces. For a nation which by land mass is well over 20% of the UK currently, this would essentially render Scotland incapable of acting in any global capacity at all.
In addition, if Scotland became an avowedly anti-nuclear weapon nation (with perhaps a clause in its new constitution?) then it would also be ineligible to join NATO which is an avowedly “Nuclear Alliance”. Interestingly Scottish airspace is also the most common air of contention between the UK and Russia, which under an independent Scotland may mean that Scotland would have to invite the UK to protects its own airspace or acknowledge that it would be unable to do so. Both of which seem highly embarrassing to a newly (and supposedly sovereign) nation.
4. What happens to all the UK Government supported jobs?
Across Scotland there are 100’s of 1,000’s of workers employed directly and indirectly through the UK public sector including personnel on Armed Forces bases, BAE shipworker’s building the UK’s new aircraft carriers, HMRC staff, NHS staff, Civil Service support staff, Teachers, Police, Firemen and more. All of these currently have UK Public sector pension schemes, job contracts and are monitored and regulated by departments predominantly based in Whitehall (though a notable number are also controlled by Holyrood under the devolved powers signed by New labour).
Many of these jobs would stay, but a large number would also go, with employment in the Defence sector and civil servants employed in UK wide roles (such as tax or back-office support) being the clearest examples. This in turn may lead either to large job losses or relocating these staff out of Scotland back into the UK. Not only have the consequences of such actions not been discussed for the individuals directly involved and their families, but the consequences for their communities have also been unexplored.
5. Would Scotland have a constitution?
No newly independent state for nearly 100 years has begun life without first seeking to establish a Constitution of some form. But for Scotland the process of how such a document would be developed and what it would incorporate has not been discussed at all.
For example would Scotland incorporate the European Human rights act into its constitution? Would Scotland devolve power to each region of Scotland or maintain control centrally? Would Scotland place the Queen as the Head of State guaranteed within the constitution (and does this then mean the UK would need a governor general for Scotland)?
On none of these issues are there any clear answers and returning perhaps to the first of my five questions: who would be entitled to decide and vote on a “Scottish constitution” anyway? Would a vote on a Scottish constitution be under the same rules as the referendum, which would allow every over 16 to vote and prevent Scots living outside of Scotland form voting, or would it be different? Regardless of the decision made, would the answer inevitably be subject to legal challenges anyway and how would these then be resolved?
Ultimately there are many unanswered questions around Scotland’s referendum this week, but to my mind one answer we do know is that Scotland will not vote to leave the Union. The pledges from Westminster this week on further devolved powers for Scotland and the profile that the SNP have been given by this referendum has already given Alex Salmond and his party everything they could want, without the risk of actually having to answer the fundamental questions about what an independent Scotland would really look like.
The economic factors alone are coming clearly to the fore, with major announcements and actions from banks, retailers, the IMF and global investors acting as a stark illustration of the economic destruction that an independent Scotland would face. No country that has banks which have an exposure valued at over 13 times the country’s GDP can be considered as safe and reliable as an investment choice and neither can an ageing population rely exclusively on declining North Sea revenues to fund increasingly expensive medical and clinical care.
So while this has been an interesting period to muse on what challenges a mythical “independent Scotland” would face, it remains a myth and Scotland this week will vote No to independence.