Now that we’re past the preliminaries in the independence debate and most parties have accepted that Scotland has both the right to call a referendum and to decide when it should take place, we move on to the more substantive stuff. This weekend of the SNP Spring Conference, the Herald is printing a whole series of articles on the issue, one of which asks what kind of Scotland we want.
This is a very fair question.
Why should anyone want to change the status quo unless they had some clear advantage from taking a risk on something new and unknown. While the SNP may believe that independence is a priori desirable, apolitical people (i.e. the bulk of the population) need something more than party members’ boundless enthusiasm. As a starting point, it’s hard to beat Norman Macaig, wrestling with his beloved Assynt:
Who possesses this landscape?
The man who bought it or I who am possessed by it?
False questions. For this landscape is masterless
and intractable in any terms that are human.
Those who love Scotland are driven by their own version of this mystique—the almost primitive sense of belonging without entirely understanding why and the bafflement with those who see land only in measures of possession. My own version is steeped in the Lothian coast’s sandy inlets and rugged islands, so I hope city types will forgive me if I identify more with Macaig than with Morgan as my Makar.
My kind of Scotland celebrates its past, but with a realism that includes Clearances, Gallows Herd brutality and stupidities like Flodden, as well as Prince Charlie or Wallace or the romance of Somerled. It is proud of shipyards and smelters, proud of helping build a globe-spanning empire, proud of standing alone with our English cousins against the dark tide of Nazism.
But it also looks to its future, seeing how Ireland has bloomed since finding its own feet almost a century ago, how Norway or Denmark have earned their affluence and respect as forces for stability and peace by working together as partners in the Nordic Council and beyond. It looks to multicultural Singapore for cross-racial co-operation that drives their affluence, to Costa Rica and Finland for classless societies, to Canada for its open doors and a multilingual society.
2014: After the referendum decides we will go our own way, there will be a year or two while negotiations are conducted between Edinburgh and London. With the exception of some sourpusses who have a vested interest in keeping the two countries together there is little expectation that the English will wish to be anything other than fair in negotiation if the Scots accept their 8.4% share of liabilities as well as assets. As well as retaining the £sterling and the monarchy, there may well be other things (foreign embassies, BBC, etc) that will not change status immediately.
There is an appreciable lobby in England who already understand just how important Scots contributions to the Union have been. Whether it is a stay of execution on Coulport and their nuclear subs or provision of 20% of our electricity or export of water to a drought-stricken East Anglia secure supply of local oil or lease of the exercise range at Cape Wrath, the Scots have anything but a weak hand at the bargaining table.
2015: Until negotiations are completed, the Scottish Government will continue with its plans to secure the NHS, education and local government funding in Scotland and avoid the pseudo-privatisation being pursued in England. The time will be used to secure Scotland’s place as a successor state within the EU and open negotiations to become a member of the Nordic Union, as well as find an amicable arrangement whereby we can work with NATO without being a nuclear power.
Internally, there will not be much to notice in those first years. Life in Scotland will continue pretty much as before—trains will run to London or Penzance, business will be conducted as before in £sterling and the only difference at the border is likely to be the addition of “Independent” to the “Welcome to Scotland” signs. The biggest changes will be a flurry of activity in Edinburgh as embassies are established or upgraded from Consulates and an increase in reciprocal trade missions, especially with the BRICs, with our focus being on oil technology, high-grade engineering, renewables equipment, whisky and quality produce, especially seafood.
2016: The first years of actual independence are likely to be dominated by legislation to undo much of the current welfare ‘reform’ and a series of acts that would lower corporation tax to boost business and develop renewables further into tidal and wave, as well as offshore wind. The burden of our share of debt still being accumulated will take a number of years to pay off . This will burden such innovation and the creation of an oil fund like Norway’s until it is paid off.
As an independent country, Scotland will be able to promote itself on the world stage and enhance its already high profile as the home of golf to boost international tourism and cater better to the English ‘staycation’ market. Having our own armed forces will allow us to use them on ceremonial duties at Edinburgh, Stirling and other castles to become tourist attractions in their own right, much as the Brigade of Guards does in London already. The Scottish Defence Force marine arm will need fast patrol boats which will boost shipbuilding (or secure it in the unlikely event of England changing its mind in mid-project and having its carriers built elsewhere).
2020: Just as Edinburgh saw an economic boost post 1999 with the establishment of the Parliament, the greater activity around independence and the new focus on business export described above will lift Scotland’s economy and engage places like Dundee and Glasgow that only partly felt that 1999 boost. Putting people back to work in the new businesses will revive both cities and give them back the pride they once had in all they produced. This, in turn becomes a virtuous cycle that makes less demands on social welfare and benefits, not to mention health. The comparison with Dublin in the nineties and noughties when it boomed will be strong.
So the morale lift accompanying independence can be made to go much further with an economic lift that will pay off the UK debt and allow us to start our oil fund. This will allow us to forego the lease charge for Coulport from England as we persuade them of the folly of nuclear weapons they can no longer afford. Once the oil fund is established, it can act as a fiscal flywheel to cushion changes in the global price of oil and allow us to run the business-driven, community-oriented, centre-left society that most Scots have hankered after all along.
2025: With the Clyde ringing again to engineering as it builds tidal turbines for export to the Straits of Gibraltar and beyond, with Edinburgh property booming as firms in the renewables business set up their headquarters near key embassies, with the Highlands overrun by tourists as record summers roll by, we will earn our place in the Nordic Council (who will have guided us in these ventures) by finally achieving their level of GDP per head and thereby leaving our now-envious English cousins behind.
Richard III turns in his grave as Berwick, realising where its future lies, secedes and comes home as county town of Berwickshire after half a milennium of English rule.