The SNP's huge victory in the General Election saw some truly incredible swings. It made me wonder what would have happened if the SNP had been standing in England and Wales, too.
To find out, I first calculated the changes in each party's support in Scotland between 2010 and 2015. I measured this in terms of the electorate, so because the turnout went up, the figures don't add up to zero.
I also decided to calculate the changes separately for each incumbent party, because the swings weren't exactly the same (to be honest, the swings were actually more similar than I had expected, but they differences were still significant):
In Labour-held seats:
In LD-held seats:
In SNP-held seats:
In the Tory-held seat:
I then applied these changes to the 2010 results from England and Wales (treating Plaid Cymru as the equivalent of the SNP given they're sister parties), and the results are truly astonishing: Cons 309, SNP/PC 221, LD 34, Lab 7, others 2.
When we add these figures to the actual results from Scotland, the 2015 election results would have looked as follows for Great Britain: Cons 310, SNP/PC 277, LD 35, Lab 8, others 2. This means it would probably have been possible to form a minority SNP government with support from the other non-Tory parties.
(In case anybody is interested, the seven surviving Labour MPs would have been elected in these constituencies: Bootle, Ealing Southall, East Ham, Knowsley, Liverpool Walton, Liverpool West Derby and Mitcham & Morden.)
Of course the SNP wouldn't have achieved these results simply by standing in England, but it shows the potential for an English party that tries to emulate the SNP.
The Scottish MPs from the Unionist parties are finding themselves in an increasingly difficult position as a Yes vote seems more and more likely.
Firstly, it seems their mere presence is preventing the UK government from preparing for a Yes vote, as stated by Alistair Carmichael:
I won’t be able to influence what people in England, Wales and Northern Ireland want out of their constitutional future – that would be entirely improper. It would be improper on the other side of the referendum, just as it would be improper for me to try to change it now. That’s why there will be no contingency planning.
I might be reading too much into his words, but it seems that Westminster is stuck between a rock and a hard place: On the one hand, if they don't plan for Scottish independence, they'll look like ill-prepared amateurs to the entire world, and the financial markets will punish them harshly for it. On the other hand, if they do start planning, they'll either need to include the Scottish MPs and government ministers (who would presumably swap sides after 18/09 and give away London's negotiating position), or they'll need to create an rUK government inside the UK government, which would make the Scottish members feel second-rate and break the basic principles of government.
Secondly, the future prospects are rather bleak for the Scottish MPs after a Yes vote. I have a feeling many of them consider themselves superior to the MSPs in Holyrood, and so they'll probably expect to play a key role in the independence negotiations and in building the new Scotland. For instance, in an otherwise rather insignificant piece in The Telegraph, Iain Martin asked: "How soon do Scottish Westminster politicians go home to stop Salmond taking one man control of designing Scotland's constitution?" It sounds like people in the London bubble tend to forget that the Scottish Parliament exists and is full of capable politicians, and I doubt they'll take kindly to sage advice from newly-unemployed ex-MPs.
In this connexion, it's interesting to note that Scottish Labour's candidate selection process for the 2016 Holyrood election is more or less complete already, so unless they suddenly rip everything up again, many current MPs will have nowhere to go after a Yes vote. They won't be able to become MSPs 2016 -- they'd have to wait till 2020 (and that's a long time if you're used to a Westminster salary and expenses), and of course the House of Lords will not be open to Scottish ex-MPs after independence.
It's no wonder what the Scottish Unionist MPs are the fiercest No campaigners. They have the most to lose, and the narrowing of the gap between Yes and No is already undermining their position at Westminster.
During his brief visit to Edinburgh, George Osborne said that the pound is not a CD collection that can be divided up.
It was a bit misleading to talk about the pound when what he really meant was the Bank of England -- what people commonly refer to as the pound is just the name of the currency it issues.
But why exactly can't we divide up the Bank of England like a CD collection?
Let's have a wee look at the BoE's Annual Report from 2013 (PDF). 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.
Now, obviously we can't magically turn £4816m worth of banknotes into Scottish ones, so I guess what would happen is that the BoE would withdraw this amount of money from circulation and transfer the corresponding assets to a brand new Central Bank of Scotland, which would then be able to issue a corresponding amount of Pound Scots.
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.
If the rUK politicians veto both a currency union and an asset transfer of Scotland's share of the Bank of England's assets and the currency reserves, then Scotland will definitely be entitled to refuse to accept any liabilities (in other words, Scotland will start out life as an independent country without a national debt).
It's an excellent article, and I highly recommend reading it if you have any French (Google Translate will help you to a certain extent, but it will get confused in some places).
I decided to provide a summary of my own, maintaining the author's section headings, and focusing on the bits that are most directly relevant for Scotland.
However, I very much hope somebody will soon provide a full translation into English -- it's an essential document in the Scottish independence debate.
Anyway, let's get started! After a short introduction the article is divided into the following sections:
Longing for independence and European integration [p. 12]
The independence movements in at least Scotland and Catalonia are united by their desire to remain in the EU, not least because doing so reassures the voters that the countries won't be internationally isolated after independence.
It's therefore important to explore whether these new states will become EU member states automatically, or whether they will be placed in the same situation as the applicant countries of Eastern Europe, obliged to follow the long and risky process of accession negotiations.
A political gamble [p. 12f]
The independence supporters are therefore keen to assert that continued membership of the EU is practically automatic, while opponents claim that independence would lead to applying for EU membership from scratch.
The answers from public international law: succession of states [p. 13ff]
The author briefly explains how states can succeed states. It's likely the remaning parts of the UK and Spain will try to claim continuing state status, whereas it's unlikely either Flanders or Wallonia could do this if Belgium is dissolved.
Succession of states and international treaties [p. 15f]
After looking at how the succession of states affects international treaties, the author concludes one has to look at the rules of each international organisation separately -- one cannot conclude anything about EU accession by looking solely at international law.
An unprecedented situation [p. 17]
Looking at the EU itself, it quickly becomes clear that there aren't any clear precedents.
A brief detour via the UN [p.17f]
While there are no precedents within the EU, that's not the case in the UN. Here the rules are clear: The new state has to apply for membership from scratch.
The EU hostile to the splitting of states [p. 18ff]
There are good reasons why the EU is against member states splitting up.
On the one hand, the EU promotes its own regional agenda but does not want to be accused of getting involved in the internal affairs of member states at the same time.
On the other hand, many member states are worried about their own independence movements and believe they can hold back these by obstructing the accession to the EU of new states forming from other EU member states.
Common sense arguments in support of automatic membership [p. 20f]
However, is it reasonable and realistic to expel parts of existing member states from the EU? Can one imagine border posts on the Catalan border? The reintroduction of a national currency in Flanders? Scots deprived of their rights derived from the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights?
Also, a legal argument can be taken from Article 50 of the TEU, which outlines the procedure by which a member state can leave the EU. It could be argued that expelling these states and refusing to readmit them would be in breach of this explicit procedure.
Another argument stems from the EU's founding principles: freedom, democracy, equality and the rule of law. It would be ironic if the Union denied the populations of Scotland, Catalonia or Flanders the right to self-determination, and this would undoubtedly constitute a democratic regression.
Europe of the citizens [p. 21]
An even more powerful argument can be drawn from the link established over time between the European Union and its citizens. The EU constitutes "a new legal order of international law whose subjects are not only States but also their nationals". That means that unlike other international organisations, the EU is not only composed of states but also of citizens.
The question here is whether by losing their British, Spanish and Belgian nationality, the Scots, Catalans and Flemings will ipso facto also lose their EU citizenship.
A negotiation in good faith would be in everybody's interest [p. 22]
It's fair play for opponents of independence to raise obstacles to continued EU membership, but one might ask whether it's in the EU's own interest to complicate the (re-)admission of these states. Once the Rubicon of independence has been crossed, Europe would have everything to lose by putting these states into quarantine: its businesspeople couldn't invest there any more, nor could its young people study there, its travellers move there freely, its fishermen sail there, etc.
A practical solution must be found.
The most reasonable solution would be to negotiate independence and EU membership simultaneously. It would thus be neither automatic membership nor going through the full procedures of Article 49. The absence of relevant precedents, legal uncertainty and the magnitude of the challenge will require the parties to negotiate. This is not the most illuminating answer to the question, but without a doubt it is the most realistic.
Until very recently, journalists and politicians in the rUK were dismissing Scottish independence as something that clearly would never happen, so no planning was necessary.
Things are starting to change, however. Two of today's news stories were examples that people south of the border are starting to wake up to the fact that Scotland might vote Yes next year.
The first story was a BBC article about choosing a flag for the rUK. Some of the proposals are rather ludicrous, but I found their reasoning for potentially retaining the Union Jack rather interesting:
Now, the prospect of Scotland leaving the United Kingdom throws open the question again. It's already been suggested by the College of Arms that with the Queen still head of state of an independent Scotland there would be no need for a redesign. But there is still the possibility of renewed debate.
Andrew Rosindell, who chairs the All Party Parliamentary Group on Flags and Heraldry, agrees that the matter is unclear. "There is no official legal protocol on flags, to the extent that you can't even say that the union jack is the flag of the United Kingdom."
"It was created at the time of the union of the crowns," he says - as opposed to full political union, which did not happen for another 100 years. Since the movement for Scottish independence proposes to retain the British monarchy, redefining the flag in the event of a Yes vote would not make sense, says Rosindell.
It sounds a bit strange. Are they saying they can only use the Union Jack so long as Scotland remains a monarchy? Surely they'd want a flag they could use no matter what Scotland decides to do in the future? Anyway, that's their problem. If they want the Union Jack, they can keep it.
The second news story was about the threat to Britain as a global brand if Scotland leaves.
Scottish newspapers (such as The Herald) decided to portray it as yet another bit of scaremongering, claiming it'd be bad for Scotland, too.
However, if you read the actual report (PDF), it's clear their worry is that they have for a long time been selling England as Britain, so if the rUK starts calling itself something else, a lot of expensive branding will have been wasted. The following two sentences are rather revealing: "VisitEngland is responsible for growing the value of domestic tourism and is a key organisation in the GREAT [Britain] campaign. Funded by the Department for Culture, Media & Sport, it works in partnership with the tourist industry in England (Wales and Scotland have separate groups) to deliver inspirational marketing campaigns and to provide advocacy."
Also, as Interbrand (another global branding company) points out (PDF), Scotland already has a very strong brand:
Ireland and Scotland are widely acknowledged as having created country brands that punch far above their natural weight. Part of the reason for this is that they are in the so-called ‘tiger club’, small, cocky fighters who use the illusion of an enduring enemy to create a strong brand identity for themselves as the underdog.
In the case of Scotland for instance they even used an advertising line called ‘Scotland the Brand’ (replacing Scotland the brave), also, the Scottish Culture Board has sent Hollywood a training course in Scottish dialect to make sure that authentic accents are the only ones we hear on the big screen (the end of ‘Scottie’ from Star Trek perhaps).
It's therefore clear they're worried about themselves, not about Scotland.
It appears the rUK are currently working their way through the well-known five stages of grief (denial -- anger -- bargaining -- depression -- acceptance). I would say they're currently progressing from denial to anger ("You can't take our flag! You can't ruin our brand!"). It's good to see they're slowly getting to terms with it.
In a recent blog posting, Herald journalist David Leask wrote: '[T]here are many places [...] where the concept of "foreign" comes with a sliding scale rather than a simple binary yes/no switch.'
However, is this only the case in some places? When we ask ourselves whether somebody is a foreigner (in the sense of "an outsider or interloper", not in the simpler sense of "a person from a foreign country"), don't we always arrange people and places on a sliding scale? For a person from Glasgow, I presume the scale might look a bit like this:
Everybody will have their own scale, depending on how familiar you are with other places. If you've got family in Norway and have spent most of your holidays in Poland, these places will feel less foreign to you than to those of your compatriots that aren't familiar with them.
Anyway, from a Scottish independence point of view, what's important here is that England won't suddenly jump from 1 to 10 on this scale after a Yes vote. If England is currently located around 4 and Ireland around 5, it would make sense for England gradually to shift towards 5, too, but it will most likely be a slow process, caused by an increasing unfamiliarity with the finer details of the other country's politics, TV, education, etc.
When Better Together warn that family members in England will become foreigners overnight after a Yes vote, it's clearly only true in the simplistic sense that they'll be citizens of another country; they won't feel more foreign at all.
I completely get his point, but what do you do then? If Northern Ireland wasn't part of the new kingdom, I guess the Kingdom of South Britain would be a nifty option, but the Kingdom of South Britain and Northern Ireland doesn't exactly roll off the tongue.
Perhaps they'll just go for brevity and call themselves the Kingdom of Britain, but I guess the most likely solution will be the Kingdom of England, Wales and Northern Ireland, even though it sounds a bit odd without the "United" bit.
I just wonder what the demonym will be -- Kewnian?