All posts by thomas

Scotland in the EU

Originally uploaded by itmpa

Although some nationalists have at times hand-waved the problem away, I have for a long time been convinced that an independent Scotland might find it hard to be allowed membership of the EU (even though refusing it would be ludicrous, given that Scotland has been part of the EU for my entire life), simply because Spain is afraid that Catalonia and Euskadi might leave, and they want to make the independence option seem as unattractive as possible.

I was therefore extremely relieved to see this article in EUbusiness that states that majority voting will be sufficient to give Scotland a seat at the European table:

Lawyers for the EU said an independent Scotland could be treated as one of two successor states, and that a separate seat for Edinburgh would require only a majority vote among member states.

At the European Council, where leaders stage decisive summits, a deal could be “done by the Council, using qualified majority voting and with the required say-so of the European Parliament,” said one of those lawyers.


Standard procedure for external accession candidates such as Croatia, which enters in 2013, involves the unanimous backing of all EU governments.

I don’t see any reason why Scotland should fail to get a qualified majority backing its membership application, so this is excellent news!

A Scottish currency board

Several articles, such as this one in the Scotsman, have covered the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s announcement that Scotland after independence won’t be able to use the pound:

The Treasury confirmed that, while it could not block Scotland from using the currency, it could be reduced to a situation where it had no say in fiscal policy, was prevented from printing its own money and was locked out of any valuation decisions.

Treasury officials confirmed this would mean Scottish banks, which are licensed by the Bank of England to print their own notes, would be barred from doing so in the event of independence.

Royal Bank of Scotland, Clydesdale Bank and Lloyds-owned Bank of Scotland are able to print bank notes with the faces of famous Scots, in a long tradition that has been symbolic of Scottish identity.

Whereas there’s nothing Scotland can do about being locked out from England’s fiscal policy – but to be honest, it currently tends to cater for the needs of the City of London anyway – an independent country can certainly make its own decisions about printing bank notes.

I would recommend creating a Scottish pound after independence, locking it to the English pound using a currency board. This basically means that the Central Bank of Scotland would store English pounds in its vaults and print Scottish pound notes and mint Scottish coins in the same amounts.

The advantage – apart from having distinctive Scottish money – would be that it would be easy to break the peg and link the Scottish pound to the euro instead if that was decided to be desirable. If English money was used directly, that would be much harder.

Lots of countries use currency boards, and they work really well, so it’s a no-brainer to use one at first, at least until Scotland has been seen to have a strong economy, after which it might even be desirable to let the Scottish pound float freely.

Autumn 2014

Today the Secretary of State for Scotland, Michael Moore, was making an announcement in the UK Parliament about giving the Scottish Parliament the right to call a referendum on independence, so long as they do it the way Westminster wanted and do it soon, when Salmond went on Sky News to announce that the referendum will take place in the autumn of 2014.

Salmond usually wins in situations like this, so I’m 99% certain that the referendum will indeed take place then.

Here are a couple of interesting blog postings from today, one about Salmond running rings around Cameron, and another about why the SNP are outgunning the Coalition.

It will be interesting to see what will happen to the remaining UK after Scotland leaves. I wouldn’t be surprised if Northern Ireland will find it hard to cope without Scotland, so it’s entirely possible that Scottish independence will be followed by Irish unification. However, I’m very happy to be corrected by somebody with better knowledge of the politics of Northern Ireland.

However, if I’m right, perhaps Wikipedia will contain the following chart in twenty years’ time (based on this):

I might be getting ahead of myself, however. There’s a referendum to be won in the autumn of 2014, and I intend to do as much as I can to make it a resounding YES!

Nordic Horizons

noctilucent clouds
Originally uploaded by kanelstrand

The newspapers have recently been full of stories about how an independent Scotland will try to move closer to Scandinavia.

I think it started with this article in The Independent, which was their mostly commented article for days.

Then a journalist called Lesley Riddoch wrote this article in The Guardian, saying many of the same things but also drawing attention to her think tank and Facebook group, Nordic Horizons.

A few days later, the story appeared in Danish and Norwegian newspapers.

As a consequence of this, the Facebook group I mentioned above has grown considerably, so now a meeting has been arranged for the 19th of January in the Counting House. Will I see you there?

Scotland and Scandinavia superimposed

On a normal map it’s difficult to see how far north Scotland is compared to Scandinavia.

To illustrate it better, I generated two Google maps of the same latitudes, just 15 degrees apart, and then superimposed them in the Gimp.

You can see the result on the right (click on it for a larger version). It’s clear that all the cities of Scotland are on the same latitude as Denmark and southern Sweden, whereas only the far north of Scotland is as far north as southern Norway.

Aberdeen is on a similar latitude as Aalborg or Varberg, Dundee is like Viborg, Glasgow is like Horsens, and the southernmost bit of Scotland is almost exactly as far south as Gedser in Denmark.

The way forward for Scotland’s airports and railways

There’s only about 60 km between Scotland’s two largest cities, Glasgow and Edinburgh (counting from city boundary to city boundary along the motorway), yet they have separate airports and it takes 50 minutes to take a train from city centre to city centre.

Looking further afar, Inverness is only about 180 km north of Glasgow as the crow flies, or about 270 km by road, yet the fastest train is underway for almost 3½ hours.

I could give similar figures for travel to the other Scottish cities, such as Aberdeen and Dundee.

This is ridiculous! It’s like all efforts go into providing good connexions to London, instead of tying Scotland closer together.

In an ideal world, I’d shut down Glasgow and Edinburgh airports and build a new one south of Falkirk (the exact location would of course have to depend on the topology). I’d then build some very straight rail tracks from Glasgow via the new airport to Edinburgh, so that the trains could achieve a decent speed (I’m imagining something like 15 minutes from either city centre to the airport, or about 30 minutes from Glasgow to Edinburgh).

Furthermore, I’d straighten out the tracks to at least Inverness and Aberdeen, add parallel tracks and electrify the whole lot, so that decent speeds could be achieved there, too. I’m not sure exactly what would be possible, but I reckon it should be possible to get the travel time from Inverness to Glasgow or Edinburgh down to under two hours, and hopefully close to one hour.

The effect would be that all Scottish cities would be within easy reach of each other, which would no doubt do wonders for the Scottish economy. It would also mean only one airport was needed for mainland Scotland, which would result in a big airport with lots of direct connexions, instead of just having small airports mainly sending passengers on to the larger hub airports such as Heathrow.

Besides, I’m sure a big infrastructure project such as this would be just what the doctor ordered against the recession…

Scottish phone numbers after independence

Originally uploaded by zigazou76

Once Scotland becomes independent, it would be natural to get its own international dialling code instead of the British +44.

My guess is that Scotland would get +424 – it’s similar to +44, it’s available, and it’s in the European block.

This change wouldn’t happen immediately — the Czech Republic and Slovakia got their own codes in 1997, four years after independence.

There’s of course nothing that would prevent Scotland from stopping there, resulting in phone numbers such as +424 (0)141 639 9718. However, this would be unnecessarily long.

There are only two three-digit area codes in Scotland, (0)141 (Glasgow) and (0)131 (Edinburgh); these could easily be mapped to one-digit codes instead, such as (0)4 and (0)3.

Similarly, the four-digit codes could be mapped to two-digit ones, e.g., (0)24 instead of (0)1224 (Aberdeen). (See all the current area codes here.)

After shortening the area codes, all Scottish phone numbers would effectively have only eight digits in total, so perhaps the area codes could be permanently fused with the phone numbers, just like it happened in Denmark a few decades ago.

A few examples:

Area Current 1st stage 2nd stage
Glasgow, 0141 +44 (0)141 639 9718 +424 (0)4 639 9718 +424 4639 9718
Edinburgh, 0131 +44 (0)131 348 5200 +424 (0)3 348 5200 +424 3348 5200
Aberdeen, 01224 +44 (0)1224 272 000 +424 (0)24 272 000 +424 2427 2000
Isle of Arran, 01770 +44 (0)1770 600 341 +424 (0)17 600 341 +424 1760 0341