Dinna fash yersel — Scotland will dae juist fine!

Provning Svenska Eldvatten

Provning Svenska Eldvatten by Svenska Mässan, on Flickr.

Pick a random person from somewhere on this planet. Ask them to name an alcoholic drink from Scotland, and it’s very likely they’ll reply “Whisky”. Ask them to name one from Denmark, and they’ll probably be tongue-tied. (They could answer “Gammel Dansk” or “Akvavit”, but they’re just not nearly as famous as whisky.)

Now repeat the exercise, but ask about a food item. Again, it’s likely they’ll have heard of haggis but that they’ll be struggling to name anything from Denmark.

Now try a musical instrument. Bagpipes and … sorry, cannot think of a Danish one.

A sport? Scotland has golf, of course. Denmark can perhaps claim ownership of handball, but it’s not associated with Denmark in the way that golf makes everybody think of Scotland.

A piece of clothing? Everybody knows the kilt, but I’d be very surprised if anybody can name one from Denmark.

A monster? Everybody knows what’s lurking in Loch Ness, but is there anything scary in Denmark?

The only category where Denmark perhaps wins is toys, where Lego surely is more famous than anything from Scotland (but many people don’t know Lego is from Denmark).

Denmark is also well-known for butter and bacon, of course, but these aren’t Danish in origin or strongly associated with Denmark in people’s minds.

Several famous writers and philosophers were Danish (e.g., Hans Christian Andersen and Søren Kierkegaard), but Scotland can arguably list more names of the same calibre, and the Scottish ones wrote in English, which makes them much more accessible to the outside world.

Scottish universities are also ranked better than the Danish ones in recent World rankings.

Finally, Scotland has lots of oil and wind, water and waves. Denmark has some, but not nearly as much, and most other countries have less than Denmark.

Because of all of this, I don’t worry about the details when it comes to Scottish independence. If Denmark can be one of the richest countries on the planet, of course Scotland can be one too.

Yes, there might be a few tough years while the rUK are in a huff and before everything has been sorted out. And of course there will be occasional crises in the future, like in any other country.

However, unless you subscribe to the school that Denmark and other small countries like Norway and Switzerland are complete failures because they don’t have nuclear weapons and a permanent seat on the UN’s Security Council, there’s simply no reason to assume Scotland won’t do exceptionally well as an independent country in the longer term.

So I’m not worried. Of course there are many details to sort out, but at the end of the day everything will be fine. Scotland will be a hugely successful independent country. Dinna fash yersel!

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Posted in Denmark, postindependence | 29 Comments

Forced opportunities to work in London

BBC Television Centre

BBC Television Centre by Mike Fleming, on Flickr.

Better Together campaigners love to wax lyrically about the opportunities that are available to Scots as a result of the Union. For instance, here’s Ruth Davidson: “Why shouldn’t thousands of Scots seize opportunities to work in London, one of the world’s great cities? [...] Young people in Scotland want to make it in life – they see the opportunities their parents had, and they want those opportunities too, and more besides.”

They forget that London is a global city (37% of the population were born outside the UK), so it would be rather strange if London suddenly refused to accept people from Scotland after independence.

They also forget that for many people moving to London isn’t a choice, it’s a necessity. There simply aren’t enough opportunities in Scotland.

Iain Macwhirter provided a good example in a very interesting article in The Herald today:

Scotland has had no shortage of broadcasting talent, but it largely gets exported to London, which is why Scottish accents are so prevalent in the media village. Anyone who wants to get on in the BBC has to go to London — as I did — because that is where the jobs are, where the careers and the budgets are. I spent more than 20 years in the BBC, nearly half of it in London, and it seems to me that the present situation is the worst of all possible worlds.

In the BBC “family” Scotland is always the poor relation, and required to know its place. BBC Scotland is run by a defensive clique of managerial trusties whose main job seems to be holding the line against the Nationalist menace. [...]

Many Scots do try to come back from London, of course, but it is a big risk. I was speaking recently to one of my contemporaries, who started in the BBC when I did and became one of the best documentary film makers in Britain, with a string of Baftas and other awards to her name. She tried to come back to Scotland three years ago, and found she simply could not get any commissions from the BBC. So she had to go back to London. If you are not in the metropolitan village you are little people.

I definitely think it’s good for many young people to travel and see the world, but if the only job openings within a given field are in London, they can hardly be described as opportunities any more.

Danes would never put up with a situation where many careers forced people to move to Stockholm, Berlin or London. Why should Scots?

I want my kids to have the opportunity to have rewarding careers in Scotland if they so desire, and ideally also to be given a chance to work anywhere in the world if that’s what they want to do. However, I don’t want them to be forced to moved to London.

We need independence to create the careers at home that people need. Creating more opportunities here doesn’t mean that the jobs abroad suddenly disappear. On the contrary, they go from being forced choices to being genuine opportunities.

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Posted in consequencesofunion, media | 5 Comments

The uniqueness of the referendum will ensure a Yes victory

OUI

OUI by Hélène Villeneuve, on Flickr.

Once in a while somebody enters the independence debate to tell us it’s all futile because the Yes side can only win in a referendum if they were enjoying a huge lead in the opinion polls before the campaign started (the idea behind it is that in most referendums the No side gains ground during the campaign).

My standard reply to such people is that the Scottish independence referendum is quite a special case because it has been going on for two years. Normally referendums are discussed for a month or so, just like general elections, and it means there’s very little time to convince people and especially to refute scare stories (which are always inevitable because it’s an easy way to obtain a No vote).

When you’ve got two years and have managed to get the No side to release all their Project Fear stuff very early, you’ve had a chance to refute the stories, and the electorate has had a chance to realise the stories are just there to frighten them.

The latest person to say that Yes is doomed was Alan Renwick in The Telegraph yesterday. Interestingly, he added three more reasons why the Yes side might win in a referendum:

There are three basic reasons why support for reform may pick up steam. The first and most banal is that voters sometimes already know what they think well ahead of the vote. If opinion is already settled, scope for a drop in the Yes vote is limited. [...] Things get more interesting with the second reason. This is what is called “reversion point reversal”. The “reversion point” of a referendum is the situation that ensues following a No vote. Generally, the reversion point is the status quo: if voters opt against change, then the pre-existing situation continues. But sometimes the pre‑existing situation can successfully be painted as unsustainable. [...] The third and final mechanism is the anti-establishment bandwagon. If the establishment as a whole opposes reform and voters are in the mood to give it a kicking, a bandwagon for change can sometimes gather speed.

The first reason is not very relevant to us — it just explains why a No landslide victory is impossible. (The people who were already planning to vote Yes to independence two years ago were convinced then and thus very unlikely to be persuaded to vote No.)

The second reason is much more relevant. More and more voters are discovering that we can only protect important parts of the status quo by voting Yes (such as the NHS, free university tuition and a decent welfare state), and this is having a marked effect.

The third reason should also help Yes — the establishment is split in Scotland, but the entire Westminster establishment are united in their opposition to Scottish independence.

When all these factors are seen together, it becomes clear why Yes campaigners in general are so optimistic. This referendum is eminently winnable.

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Posted in referendum, Yes campaign | 9 Comments

Winning the argument forever

escher

escher by matt smith, on Flickr.

I’m confident the outcome of the referendum will be a clear Yes, but if it ends up a No, it clearly won’t be because Better Together won the argument.

If they win, it’ll be because many voters got trapped in the quagmire of worries and vague promises of the No campaign, e.g.: “I’m a bit worried about the plans for X after independence”, “I’m worried my job might be at risk if we vote Yes”, “Perhaps the English will get angry at us after a Yes vote” or “Those new powers the talked about sounded quite nice, let’s try them out first”. Very few people — and certainly no more than before the referendum campaign started — will feel that the UK is working well for Scotland.

This is why a No vote won’t be the end of the story. Of course the Yes side will respect the result — nobody would even dream of declaring independence after a No vote without holding a new referendum — but the Yes activists will still believe in independence. Nobody will have been convinced of the impossibility of independence like this: “I liked the idea of independence, but they clearly demonstrated that a country the size of Norway or Denmark isn’t viable”, “It’s a shame Scotland would get invaded by Russia as soon as we declared independence” or “I used to think Scotland could go it alone, but we’re clearly too wee, too poor and too stupid”.

The No side keeps talking about avoiding a ‘neverendum’, but the only way to achieve that is by winning the argument. So long as a large part of the population still believes that independence is best for Scotland, of course the issue won’t go away.

A Yes victory will be forever. Independent nations don’t ever want to give up on their independence again. (Independent countries that aren’t nations — such as East Germany — might, but that’s a completely different story.) Once you’re independent, you’ll get used to it, and you’ll never want to give it up again. Did the banking crash cause Ireland to beg for reunification with the UK? Or Iceland to ask Denmark to be readmitted into the Danish Realm? Of course not!

A Yes vote will bring an end to the current discussions about devolution and independence and make us focus on building the best Scotland possible. That in its own right is an important reason to vote Yes.

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Posted in devo-max, postindependence | 5 Comments

Plan B

An explanation of why Plan B must not be revealed by @TheRealMcGowan.

An explanation of why Plan B cannot be stated by @TheRealMcGowan.

I had actually decided not to write anything about the currency Plan B because I’ve discussed this topic at length in various posts over the past two years, but it’s probably a good time to summarise them.

First of all, the reason why there’s no Plan B in the White Paper and why Alex Salmond didn’t want to reveal a Plan B in the TV debate is because the three principles of getting the best deal, providing maximum clarity and refusing pre-negotiation are in direct conflict:

  1. If we want to get the best deal for Scotland and provide maximum clarity to the voters, we’ll have to pre-negotiate important questions such as which currency to use.
  2. If we want to provide maximum clarity and accept the veto on pre-negotiations, we’ll have to give away out negotiation strategy and accept the risk that we might not get the best deal for Scotland.
  3. If we want to get the best deal for Scotland and accept London’s veto on pre-negotiations, we have to be cagey about our negotiation strategy, thereby sacrificing a certain amount of clarity.

Given this trilemma, it’s understandable the Scottish Government has chosen the third option. They can’t force London to pre-negotiate anything, even if it would clearly be best for the voters, and of course they can’t accept not getting the best deal for Scotland.

Basically, Salmond should have told Darling the following: “Of course I have a Plan B in my drawer. And a Plan C. And a Plan D. I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t. However, if I revealed my alternative plans, I would effectively reveal my negotiation strategy, and that would inevitably lead to a worse deal for Scotland. I want the best deal for Scotland, so I can’t do that. Do you not want Scotland to get the best possible deal, Alastair?”

On top of this, there are extremely good reasons for believing that Plan B will never be needed because Plan A (a formal currency union) is actually in Westminster’s own interest:

[The Westminster politicians are] shooting themselves in the foot if they [veto Plan A], because there’s good reason to believe that a formal currency union will benefit the rUK more than Scotland because it’s good for currencies to be anchored in natural resources (such as oil) and exports (such as whisky) rather than being dependent mainly on volatile financial services.

Westminster vetoed a currency union to achieve a No vote, not because it’s in the rUK’s political and economic interest (which it isn’t):

It seems George Osborne was thinking that if he ruled out a currency union, voters would naturally vote No to independence. I’m not sure it has occurred to him that we might vote Yes in spite of his speech (or even because of it). [...] By ignoring [other] options and by failing to explain why rUK politicians would opt for a solution that might harm rUK businesses, he shows that his sole purpose is scaremongering. He didn’t make this speech to provide visibility for rUK businesses (which would have been prudent), but to bully Scottish voters into voting No.

Even if Plan A really was vetoed by the rUK, Scotland would definitely be using the pound anyway:

Using the pound informally would be possible, but it’s an option that is normally used by rather small countries, and I can’t see it being a sensible long-term option for Scotland (although it might be a good idea for a transitional period) [...]

[A] Scottish currency linked to the pound sterling isn’t scary at all. In fact, that’s exactly what’s already happening at the moment when the Bank of Scotland, the Royal Bank of Scotland and Clydesdale Bank issue their own banknotes. They basically have to store one pound from the Bank of England every time they issue one pound, and that’s exactly how a currency board (which is the technical name for a linked currency) would work.

To put it simply, the National Bank of Scotland will put one pound sterling into its vaults (or more likely, into an electronic account) for each Scottish pound it issues. In that way, a Scottish pound is exactly as safe as an rUK pound because the National Bank of Scotland has the means to replace the one with the other if needed.

Furthermore, if a currency union isn’t agreed on, Scotland will receive a lot of assets to implement one of the solutions above:

Let’s have a wee look at the BoE’s Annual Report from 2013. On page 99 it states that the total assets are worth £58,022m (58 billion pounds), and the bank has put exactly the same amount into circulation as banknotes. This means that Scotland’s 8.3% population share last year was worth £4816m. [...]

The amounts mentioned above don’t include the UK’s currency reserves (PDF), which belong to the Treasury (although they’re administered by the BoE). In August 2013 the gross currency reserves (including gold and all that) were worth $103,418m, and the net reserves had a value of $44,862m. I’m not an economist, but I presume it’s the latter that are of interest to us here. Scotland would in other words be due currency reserves (including gold) worth $3724m (or roughly £2232m).

Of course, it would hardly be great news for the stability of the Pound Sterling to lose such a great parts of the assets underpinning it from one day to the next, which is why it’s very likely the rUK politicians will start begging Scotland to accept a formal currency union soon after a Yes vote.

Finally, joining the Euro isn’t a possibility at the moment (even if we wanted to), and there’s a simple way to stay out of it so long as we want:

[The] main issues are likely to be the national debt (unless the rUK decide to keep all of it in order to safeguard their permanent membership of the UN’s Security Council) and the need to have been a member of ERM-II for at least two years. It seems unlikely Scotland would be able to introduce the euro before 2023, even if it became a political priority.

Of course, if Scotland decides not to introduce the euro, staying out of ERM-II is all it takes. This is what Sweden and many of the newer EU members are doing at the moment.

It’s therefore understandable why Salmond didn’t want to talk about a plan B, and it’s also clear that an independent Scotland will be using the Pound for the foreseeable future.

Can we now talk about something which actually matters to most voters?

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Posted in currency, independence negotiations | 15 Comments

Foreign policy priorities

As a rule of thumb, I reckon you can get a rough idea of a country’s foreign policy priorities by drawing a circle around the capital, because this is where the parliamentarians, government ministers and the foreign office staff are based, so the capital is the centre of their universe.

On the following map, I’ve drawn a 500-mile radius around Edinburgh, London, Copenhagen and Berlin to illustrate this idea:

The foreign policy priorities of Edinburgh, London, Copenhagen and Berlin.

Copenhagen’s circle includes significant parts of Norway, Sweden, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, the Czech Republic, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands. This perhaps explains why Denmark fought so hard for the independence of the Baltic countries and for their eventual membership of the EU when most other EU countries didn’t think it was that important.

London’s circle takes in most of the British Isles (but not Orkney, Shetland and the Outer Hebrides), France, the Low Countries and Germany, and bits of Denmark and Switzerland, which is probably a reasonable guide to how London-based media view Europe.

Berlin’s circle takes in a lot on Central Europe, but the exact details need not concern us here.

Perhaps the most interesting thing to do is to look at the difference between Edinburgh and London. Compared to the UK capital, the circle of Scotland’s capital includes all of the Scottish islands, the Faeroes and significant parts of Norway, but excludes large parts of France and Germany. This means we can expect Scotland’s foreign policies to focus much more on Scandinavia and the North Atlantic.

200-mile radiusWhen I posted the map above on Twitter, Statgeek posted a map showing a 200 mile radius for London and Edinburgh (reproduced on the right) as a reply, noting the connexion between this and the HS2 plans and lack of infrastructure in North, as well as the fact that Northern Ireland is included in the Edinburgh circle but not in the London one.

If my circle theory is right, we should not expect the rUK’s foreign policy priorities to be significantly different from the UK’s; on the other hand, Scotland’s are likely to revert to the situation before the Union was created.

It will be fascinating to watch.

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Posted in diplomacy, foreign policy, geography | 16 Comments

The Economist is havering again

Improved Economist front page

Improved Economist front page by Thomas Widmann, on Flickr.

In the most recent issue of The Economist, there are four articles about Scottish independence, as well as a photo of a glaikit-looking man with a bad Saltire facepaint and a Buchanan-tartan scarf (which isn’t a good way to win me over, given that I’ve married into the Buchanan clan).

There are lots of errors, omissions and tendentious vocabulary in all the articles, so a full fisk would be a massive undertaking. Instead, I’ve picked out a few bits and pieces below.

“Don’t leave us this way”

The leader sets the tone and places The Economist — yet again — firmly in the No camp.

Britain doesn’t feel like a nation on the verge of cracking up. Many have clutched patriotic flags and wept this summer — but most of them were fans of the English football team.

This might be how it felt in London, but obviously there weren’t many supporters of the English football team in Scotland, and the independence campaign is now starting to be very visible north of the border. The person who wrote this clearly hasn’t been to Scotland recently.

A democratic, peaceful, well-governed nation state is a blessing which should not be casually thrown away.

Is the UK democratic? The unelected House of Lords still plays a major role! Is the UK peaceful? There were riots in London not that long ago, and I doubt people in Iraq and Afghanistan would praise British peacefulness! Is the UK well-governed? There are new scandals all the time, showing us the level of nepotism and corruption that is commonplace in Westminster! Is the UK a nation state? Better Together campaigners keep telling us it’s a union of nations, and not a nation state at all!

Tellingly, most members of ethnic minorities describe themselves as British rather than English or Scottish.

While that’s true in England, it again shows they haven’t been to Scotland recently. Here ethnic minorities happily call themselves Italian Scots, Pakistani Scots, English Scots, and so on.

“How did it come to this”

This article is the best by far — probably because the author actually has been to Scotland. However, it’s by no means perfect:

The impression is of a party promising Scandinavian-style public services supported by taxation closer to American levels. That is fantasy, not socialism.

This is of course a complete misrepresentation of reality. Nobody has talked about American levels of taxation, but simply a slightly lower corporation tax than in the rUK in order to attract more businesses. And although Scandinavian-style public services would be great, that’s a long-term ambition. Here and now we’re talking about practical measures such as providing enough childcare to allow women to return to the labour market — something which will probably be self-financing.

“Dear Prime Minister and First Minister”

Although the idea behind this article (to discuss the independence negotiation options) is great, it’s unfortunately full of errors.

The timetable will be contentious, too. Mr Salmond claims that Scotland could become independent on March 23rd 2016 [...]. That is fanciful. [...] [S]uch breakneck negotiations will store up problems for the future. [...] A deadline of 2018 would be more sensible.

[...]

Past break-ups suggest that even after independence day, fiddly negotiations will continue. The Czechs and Slovaks only reached agreement on Czechoslovakia’s gold reserves in 1999, seven years after they had opted to break up.

As I’ve discussed many times in the past, the UK will be almost ungovernable between a Yes vote and Scottish independence day because you cannot implement anything that the Scottish Government doesn’t agree with. This means that a year and a half is probably the maximum Westminster can put up with, so negotiating until 2018 is simply not going to happen.

It’s much more likely deals will quickly be made on the really important issues, followed by further negotiations after independence day, just like the Czechs and Slovaks did.

The second [principle] should be that movable assets (such as arms) be split proportionately and that immovable ones (such as public buildings) remains with the state they are in.

This might be a fine principle, but I guess it means that Scotland gets the nuclear weapons, which Westminster might not particularly like. Also, lots of shared institutions are placed in London, so giving them all to the rUK without any compensation might be unfair.

[Y]ou will need to strike a grand bargain on defence. This may involve the RUK supporting Scotland’s NATO application and helping it assemble viable armed forces, in return for a long-term deal to postpone Trident’s move (something akin to Britain’ 99-year lease of Hong Kong from China).

This is simply not going to happen. The SNP has been very explicit that they will not accept a long-term deal that keeps Trident in Scotland. Also, NATO isn’t that important to most Scots, so it’s not an efficient threat to make people accept Trident. NATO might also not want a huge hole in the middle of their territory, so I’d be surprised if they decided to be too bloody-minded about Trident.

It would make little sense to insist on splitting the BBC, which benefits from economies of scale and could adopt a federal structure fairly easily.

They want us to keep the Westminster Propaganda Corporation?!? This is simply not going to happen. We’re going to create our own public-service broadcaster, and we’ll agree a deal (like Ireland’s) that’ll allow us to watch the BBC, too.

[A]fter independence the RUK could well opt to import cheaper green electricity from continental Europe.

Would it really be cheaper? But even if that was the case, the cables aren’t there — the existing ones are already running at full capacity. So they couldn’t do this immediately.

[Scotland will need] a dialling code (+424 is the most likely choice) and an internet domain (though the Seychelles have nabbed .sc, and Sierra Leone has .sl).

It’s good to see that The Economist reads Arc of Prosperity (this and this). I just wish they would read the newer articles, too.

“A costly solitude”

This final article deals with the economic aspects, but unfortunately they’re being unnecessarily negative.

[O]ver the next 50 years, the Scottish workforce will actually shrink (the rest of Britain’s will grow). The number of pensioners will rise.

The forecast that these numbers stem from are showing what will happen if Scotland remains part of the UK. In other words, as a British region, Scotland will grow older and poorer. This needs to change, but that requires access to some policy levers that are only available to independent countries (such as immigration policies).

Excluding oil, Scotland ran a public-sector deficit of £14 billion in 2012-13. At 11% of GDP that is a bigger gap than in crisis-stricken Greece and Ireland.

Excluding oil is crazy, given it’s there at the moment. Also, once you subtract the costs of Trident, HS2 or many other of Westminster’s white elephants, the deficit shrinks to much more reasonable levels.

Scottish productivity is 11% lower than the rest of Britain’s; anaemic exporting, together with a shortage of innovative firms and low R&D investment, helps to explain this lag.

It’s true that Scotland has problems in these areas, but that’s because it’s been impossible to fix them while part of the UK. As an independent country we can do something about this — for instance by making it worthwhile for companies to invest more in R&D.

To sum up, The Economist managed to disappoint again — although this issue wasn’t nearly as abusive as their infamous Skintland front page.

I had hoped they would finally have sent some unbiased reporters to Scotland to find out exactly what is happening up here, but I guess they’re too much a part of the Westminster bubble.

They should heed the final words of their second article: “The polls suggest they will not [form a new country]. But that is not how it feels right now on the streets of Glasgow.”

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Posted in media, Westminster | 8 Comments