All posts by thomas

Scotland and the rUK in the EU

I’ve blogged before about the fact that Scotland on its own has a very normal-sized population within an northern European context.

It’s quite illustrative to look at all the member states of the European Union (logarithmic scale):

Scotland (the small pink column) is slightly smaller than the average, being of almost exactly the same size as Denmark, Slovakia and Finland, and somewhat more populous than Ireland.

Interestingly, the graph also says something about England’s reluctance to let Scotland leave: While Germany is by far the most populous country, the current UK and France are competing for second place; however, without Scotland, both France and Italy have significantly larger populations that the Rest of the United Kingdom (rUK) – I’m sure this relegation won’t go down very well in certain quarters.

Moving the UK to CET/CEST

Crazy Timezones
Originally uploaded by tm-tm

The UK government’s recent idea to move the UK from GMT/BST to CET/CEST and the Scottish Government’s refusal to play along is quite interesting.

Let’s have a look at various locations in the UK and compare it with a city on the same longitude but further south, Málaga:

Equinox (23/09/2011):

Location Sunrise GMT/BST Sunset GMT/BST Sunrise CE(S)T Sunset CE(S)T
Inverness 7:05 19:13 8:05 20:13
Glasgow 7:05 19:13 8:05 20:13
Belfast 7:12 19:19 8:12 20:19
London 6:49 18:56 7:49 19:56
Málaga 7:07 19:13 8:07 20:13

Obviously there’s not much difference between any of these locations, and one might argue that CEST is a better time zone at this time of the year.

Summer solstice (21/06/2011):

Location Sunrise GMT/BST Sunset GMT/BST Sunrise CE(S)T Sunset CE(S)T
Inverness 4:20 22:17 5:20 23:17
Glasgow 4:33 22:04 5:33 23:04
Belfast 4:49 22:02 5:49 23:02
London 4:44 21:19 5:44 22:19
Málaga 6:00 20:38 7:00 21:38

At all of the UK locations, the sun rises at an impossibly early time, so either time zone is feasible in the morning. In the evening, either time zone is feasible in Scotland, but I can understand if people in London would rather have brighter evenings.

Winter solstice (22/12/2011):

Location Sunrise GMT/BST Sunset GMT/BST Sunrise CE(S)T Sunset CE(S)T
Inverness 9:00 15:30 10:00 16:30
Glasgow 8:48 15:43 9:48 16:43
Belfast 8:47 15:58 9:47 16:58
London 8:05 15:52 9:05 16:52
Málaga 7:28 17:04 8:28 18:04

This is the problematic time. In London, it’s probably not a big deal whether the sun rises at 9 instead of 8, and they would enjoy having daylight until 5pm (and this tendency is even more pronounced in Málaga). However, in Northern Ireland and Scotland, it would mean not seeing the sun till around 10am in the winter, which makes for very depressing mornings.

I must therefore support the Scottish Government’s stance on this – moving to a time zone further east makes good sense the further south you are, but north of 50°N it’s not a good idea (remember also that most of the UK is further west than London).

I probably believe so more strongly because of growing up in Denmark. In Denmark, schools normally start at 8am, not at 9am like in Scotland. The effect is therefore the same as if Scotland moved to CE(S)T. And I must say that I found going to school in the winter utterly depressing, and I was very happy to move to a country where people get up later in the morning.

A future hut heaven?

There’s an interesting article in The Herald describing how a charity is planning to build a thousand huts in Scotland.

It’s interesting, because despite Scotland’s similarity to the Scandinavian countries, the hut culture is entirely different (or rather, it’s non-existent): “In Norway more than half the population has access to a [hut]. [The proportion is] one in 12 Swedes, one in 18 Finns and one in 33 Danes. […] However, in Scotland 10 years ago a study showed there were just 700 holiday huts […] for a population of five million.”

Norway might be a difficult act to follow, but I can’t help thinking that building 1000 huts is a very small step if the deficit is about half a million!

It’s a good idea, though. The Scottish countryside is amazing, but most of the population is bottled up within the central belt. Wee huts around the lochs would be a welcome sight.

Update: It’s worth comparing the statistics about the person-to-hut ratio with the person-per-km² figures illustrated in my blog posting about wee gardens.

Scottish passports and the Scottish-English border

Most people have assumed that an independent Scotland won’t introduce passport controls at the Scottish-English border.

I’m sure that’s not the intention, but as a blog posting on Better Nation pointed out today, Scotland will probably have to join Schengen at some point post-independence, simply because England will be seen as the continuation of the UK, so Scotland will be treated as a new EU member, and they generally don’t get many opt-outs (which will also mean that Scotland will eventually need to join the Euro).

Personally I’d be delighted if Scotland joined Schengen, given that we tend to travel much more often to Schengen countries (such as Denmark, Germany, France and Italy) than to England. Who knows, it might even convince the English to join, too.

Writing this blog posting, I was a bit surprised that I couldn’t find a realistic mock-up of what Scottish passports will look post-independence, given that the layout of EU passports is heavily regulated.

It didn’t take me long to make one myself in the Gimp, though. I made the assumption that it’ll be the lion rampant that will be on the front page, although it might of course be some other emblem.

The LibDems suffered because of incompetence in Scotland, too

tavish speech 07
Originally uploaded by Liberal Democrats

The English media have to a large extent described the LibDem collapse in Scotland in terms of dissatisfaction with the CoLD coalition.

However, although this is bound to be part of the explanation, I don’t think one should underestimate the part played by their own sheer incompetence in the Scottish Parliament.

As I blogged exactly four years ago, the LibDems behaved very strangely in refusing to even sit down with the SNP.

Back then, the obvious interpretation was that they only wanted to form a coalition with Labour, but now that they’re in a coalition with the Tories in Westminster, insisting on a Labour coalition up here seems a bit odd.

I think many voters asked themselves who would govern efficiently and stand up to Westminster in a constructive manner, and almost nobody thought that the LibDems were the answer to that question.

They need to redefine themselves. Perhaps, as suggested by Liberal Vision, there is a gap “on the pro-independence centre-right” that they could fill. I’m sure that would work better than whatever it was they tried over the past four years.

Let’s see what the new leader decides to do!

Not too small

When ordinary Scottish voters are asked whether they’d vote yes or no to Scottish independence, one frequent response is that Scotland is too small to be independent.

I really don’t understand how anybody can believe this. Surely it must be a consequence of living in a big country and being used to comparing yourself with Germany and France.

In reality, Scotland has a very average size for an independent country in northern Europe. Have a look at the graph on the left, which shows the population sizes of various northern European contries (it’s Scotland in blue).

Of course Scotland won’t have the same influence as England, but similar countries such as Denmark, Norway and Ireland typically feel they have plenty of influence.

I definitely don’t know of a popular movement in any country the size of Scotland that advocates joining a bigger neighbour because their country is too small to remain independent. Even very similar countries with a long shared history, such as Denmark and Norway, never seriously discuss becoming one country again.

The effect of the new government in Scotland

Act of Union_stamps
Originally uploaded by CowGummy

If I haven’t blogged very much about the new UK government, it’s mainly because it’s so hard to blog about from a Scottish perspective.

Most of the interesting things they do don’t apply to Scotland, and you can only blog so much about their deficit reduction plan.

I’ve found two good articles about this.

The first one is by Iain Macwhirter:

[F]rom a Scottish perspective it’s hard to pass much of a judgment on the performance of the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition so far because, in terms of domestic policy at least, it’s almost completely passed Scotland by. Of the many initiatives that have been launched by the coalition in its first 100 days, very few actually apply here, apart from the deficit reduction programme and that hasn’t been implemented yet.

The second one appeared in the Caledonian Mercury, and it describes well how radical the new government is in England:

England is embracing the free market, a smaller state and weaker local authorities and Scotland is sticking with what it’s got – comprehensive education, a totally state-run health service and powerful councils.

So, if all this is happening in England, where does this leave Scotland? The blunt answer is: in a mess. Scotland is going to get the cuts but without the reforms. It is going to see swathes of public servants thrown out of work but without anything new structurally to take their place.

Although it might not have been the coalition’s intention, I think it’s becoming abundantly clear why Scotland needs full independence, or at the very least full economic autonomy. The alternative is the abolishment of Scottish devolution, and that wouldn’t go down very well north of the border!