All posts by thomas

Independence for Shetland and Orkney?



Shetland_dsc_0946
Originally uploaded by image_less_ordinary

Tavish Scott and some of his unionist friends have been having fun recently suggesting that Shetland and Orkney might separate from Scotland in the case of Scottish independence.

As far as I can see, there are theoretically four options for Shetland and Orkney if Scotland becomes independent:

  1. They can remain part of Scotland.
  2. They can become part of Norway (or Denmark) instead.
  3. They can become part of England.
  4. They can become independent.

Option (1) is of course the most straightforward option. Although option (2) would perhaps tempt some of the islanders temporarily, I’m not sure they’d really want to learn Norwegian as their first foreign language, introduce Norwegian law, go to university in Norway, and so on. Option (3) would possibly appeal to some of the islanders, especially those of them who have moved there from England; however, would the majority of the population really want to be flown to England for complex hospital treatments, or by default go to university in England? Also, the islands have never in their history belonged to England, so it’d be a somewhat strange outcome. Option (4) is of course a possibility, but they have a very small population and don’t even have experience with devolution.

I think it’s a good idea for Shetland and Orkney to get some degree of autonomy within Scotland. Perhaps this would over time develop into full independence, although I’m doubtful. However, to leap from being a full and integrated part of Scotland to becoming an independent nation overnight would be a complete shock to the system, and I’d be very surprised if the islanders themselves would go for it, especially as there is no established independence movement on the islands as far as I know.

I can therefore only conclude that Tavish Scott is just trying to spread uncertainty and fear about the prospects of Scottish independence – he’s not really advocating separating the islands from mainland Scotland. I would have hoped the unionists had some positive arguments in favour of the Union, but that might have been too much to hope for.

Scottish independence as seen from London



Kilt man
Originally uploaded by thecnote

As far as I can gather, we are currently seeing a divide opening between London-based media (the big newspapers and many of the BBC’s flagship programmes, such as the Andrew Marr Show) and Scottish-based media (including Scottish blogs).

The London-based media are acting as if the independence referendum has already been won by the No side, and they’re almost blanking out the SNP. For instance, Andrew Marr seems to have completely ignored Scotland for the past few Sundays, and Fraser Nelson reported that the Unionists won easily at a debate in London.

In the Scottish-based media, on the other hand, there’s definitely no feeling that the independence referendum has been decided yet, and I think it’s fair to say that the Yes side are doing better than their opponents at the moment.

If this divide continues, the next two years are going to be very bizarre, with media in based in London and Scotland appearing to be based on different planets.

I wonder whether the divide will remain intact for the duration of the referendum campaign. If so, I think the London-based media are going to be very interesting to watch in the autumn of 2014, when they suddenly have to face up to the fact that the referendum electorate are all living in Scotland!

Population growth in independent countries and Scotland


Two weeks ago, the Better Nation blog published an article by Jeff Breslin which contained the following passage:

Perhaps the saddest aspect of Ireland’s current difficulties is the number of bright young things leaving the country for better prospects abroad. One could argue that this isn’t a road that Scotland would want to go down through independence and, yet, that is precisely what is happening now. (I know this from experience as I moved to London strictly because Scotland couldn’t provide the PhD that my partner wished to study. Wales, incidentally, could).

The Irish population in 1961 was 2.8m. The population today is 4.5m.

The Norwegian population in 1961 was 3.6m. The population today is 5.0m.

The Icelandic population in 1961 was 179,000. The population today is 318,000.

The Scottish population in 1961 was 5.2m. The population today is 5.2m.

There is clearly only one stagnant, problem child in the above list and that is because there is an historic, corrosive brain drain taking place in Scotland that is damaging growth from both a population and an economic viewpoint. It is little wonder that ‘London-based parties’, to use an unfortunate phrase, are championing the continuation of the UK when it is London that is the prime beneficiary of this very brain drain.

Kids wanting to get away from it all in Sweden move to Stockholm, kids wanting to get away from it all in Norway move to Oslo and kids wanting to get away from it all in Iceland move to Reykjavik but too many kids wanting to get away from it all in Scotland move to London, and we are haemhorrhaging talent and creativity as a direct result.

I decided to have a closer look at this. Using figures from Wikipedia (look for the articles called Demographics of …), I’ve made two graphs.

The first one (top right) shows the populations of Scotland, Ireland, Denmark and Norway from 1900 to 2010. In 1900, Scotland was by far the most populous country of the four, with almost as big a population as Norway and Denmark combined. Scotland and Ireland had almost stagnant populations for the following decades, while Norway and Denmark grew rapidly. A while after Ireland became independent, the Irish population suddenly exploded, and it has now almost caught up with Denmark. Scotland seems to have experienced modest growth after the introduction of the Scottish Parliament in 1999.

The other graph (on the left) adds Sweden and England, but instead of using absolute numbers, the graphs are relative to the populations in 1900.

The second graph clearly shows a difference between non-independent Scotland and pre-independence Ireland on one hand, and the independent countries (or the dominant part of the union, in the case of England) on the other.

If Scotland had experienced the same relative population growth as Denmark since the year 1900, the population in 2010 would have been around 10.1m instead of 5.2m. Would this have happened if Scotland had regained her independence under Queen Victoria, or are there other reasons why Scotland would never have been as fertile as Denmark?

Britain and Scandinavia



The subject
Originally uploaded by Simon Collison

To what extent is Britain (or the British Isles) the same kind of construct as Scandinavia (or the Nordic countries)?

Both Britain and Scandinavia have a long and complex history, with periods of political unification and others with separate kingdoms and plenty of wars.

Scandinavia’s united period was a long time ago (1397–1523), while Britain only started falling apart when Ireland became independent again less than a century ago. On the other hand, the British Isles are to some extent more heterogenous than Scandinavia – the former is a mixture of Celts, Anglo-Saxons and Norman French, while the latter consists of the descendants of the Vikings with some Finns, Lapps and Germans thrown in.

In both cases in can be hard to pinpoint exactly what Britishness/Scandinavianness means. For instance, John Major’s description of Britishness – “Britain will still be the country of long shadows on cricket grounds, warm beer, invincible green suburbs, dog lovers and pools fillers and, as George Orwell said, ‘Old maids bicycling to holy communion through the morning mist’” – is so clearly a description of England that does not apply to Scotland and Ireland. In the same way, it’s very hard to define Scandinavian culture in one sentence. And yet, Scandinavians do recognise the similarities intuitively, and Scandinavians abroad tend to hang out together, for instance at international conferences.

So there are definite similarities. And just as Scandinavia does exist in spite of having been separate countries for half a millennium, Britain will always exist whether Scotland becomes independent in 2014 or not. Actually, Scottish independence might actually lead to a reevaluation of the concept, so that it ceases to be about a political construct and starts being about what actually binds people on these islands together, whether they live in Ireland, Wales, Man, Scotland or England.

The jobs created by independence

Independence sceptics are often worrying endlessly about the jobs that might disappear as a result of Scottish Independence.

However, many jobs will be created as a result of independence. Here are a few areas that spring to mind, but I’m sure there will be many more.

  • A lot of countries will open embassies in Edinburgh — we can’t be sure of the number, but there are about 60 embassies in Dublin, and about 75 in Copenhagen, so one would expect a similar number. Some of these will be small, but others will be huge, and there will be lots of local jobs needed to set them up and keep them running, on top of the money created by embassy employees finding places to live and spending money in local shops and restaurants. Of course Scotland will need to finance a similar number of embassies abroad, but we’re already paying about 10% of what the UK are spending on representations abroad, so I reckon there’ll be a net gain.
  • There will be ministries created for the previously devolved areas. Using Denmark as a basis (it’s probably a better guide than using 10% of the UK), there might for instance be about 850 employees in the Scottish Foreign Office in Edinburgh and about 150 in the Scottish Ministry of Defence.
  • Even if the SNP at the moment claim it won’t be needed, I think it’s likely there will be a Central Bank of Scotland, even if it’s just to administer a currency board. Using Denmark as a guide again, there might be more than 500 people working there.
  • There are other government offices of various kinds. For instance, the DVLA in Swansea almost 7000 employees — a Scottish DVLA would therefore probably have at least 700 employees. On the other hand, there are UK government offices in Scotland — for instance, the HMRC accounts office in Cumbernauld AFAIK covers an area larger than Scotland — so it’s somewhat complicated to work out exactly the net number of jobs created in Scotland.
  • Some companies would need to create separate Scottish subsidiaries. For instance, mobile phone companies would presumably need completely separate organisations in Scotland. I’ve no idea how many companies we’re talking about here, or how large their Scottish operations are, but we must be talking about thousands of jobs moving to Scotland. Of course there will also be companies based here that will need to create English subsidiaries in the same way, but I have a feeling the net effect will still be very positive for Scotland.

Of course there won’t be a perfect match between the jobs that will disappear and those that will be created — you can’t retrain a nuclear weapons worker to become a Foreign Office employee overnight — but I think on the whole it seems likely that independence will be very good for Scottish employment figures.

Two options: Independence or Devo-Max

So now David Cameron is promising more powers after a No to Scottish Independence:

And let me say something else about devolution.

That doesn’t have to be the end of the road.

When the referendum on independence is over, I am open to looking at how the devolved settlement can be improved further.

And yes, that means considering what further powers could be devolved.

But that must be a question for after the referendum, when Scotland has made its choice about the fundamental question of independence.

Alex Massie sums up quite nicely how much the Tory position has changed recently.

However, I do think Cameron’s idea that the SNP have to spell out in minute detail what independence will mean while he only needs to put his thinking-hat on after a No vote is manifestly unfair.

If a No vote effectively is a vote for Devo-Max, then Cameron needs to say so clearly now.

Incidentally this would solve the big outstanding issue about the referendum, namely that the SNP would like to include Devo-Max on the ballot paper while Westminster want only two options. The solution is simple: Put the following two options on the ballot paper:

  1. Independence
  2. Devo-Max

Of course, the Unionist parties would have to spell out Devo-Max in full detail before the referendum, but surely they’ll have time to do that before 2014.

What will the Unionists do after we vote Yes?



Saltire
Originally uploaded by drgillybean

I think there’s a tendency to ask the SNP to come up with solutions for all questions about how to split up England and Scotland.

However, if we think about the time after the Yes vote, I don’t expect all Scottish Unionists to commit collective harakiri.

What I do expect is that the vast majority of Unionist politicians will pick themselves up and start working to secure an independent Scotland the best possible deal.

To be concrete, I would expect all Scottish members of the UK government – Michael Moore, Danny Alexander, David Mundell etc. – to resign the next day. It’s possible that all Scottish MPs would resign, too, but I find it more likely they’d stay in place in order to help keep a tab on the UK government’s activities.

The next step will be the formation of an independence negotiation team. Of course the negotiations could in theory be handled by the SNP, but it would make better sense to make a united negotiation team with representatives from all the mainstream parties in Scotland, and consisting of not just MSPs but also MPs.

As part of the process of assembling the negotiation team, I expect a lively discussion on the way forward for Scotland. For instance, the other parties might challenge the SNP’s plan to leave NATO. This is what makes the current situation so annoying. Labour, the Tories and the LibDems keep criticising the SNP’s concrete post-independence policies, but they don’t have to tell us what they’d do instead; they just tell us they want to preserve the Union (which is fair enough, of course), but they don’t want to answer what it is they want to do if independence happens anyway.

Anyway, once the independence negotiation team has been formed and the negotiation mandate agreed on, things should proceed quickly. Certain questions need to be resolved before independence, but many other questions can probably be ironed out afterwards, so long as the interim position is clear.