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!
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 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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
[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?
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:
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.
When 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.