Category Archives: postindependence

A deeply divided Scotland will be the result of a No vote

Heart Wrenching Position
Heart Wrenching Position by Kat N.L.M., on Flickr.

Better Together’s Campaign Director, Blair McDougall, wrote something rather odd on their blog (thanks to Newsnet Scotland for the link):

[A narrow victory to Yes] would be the worst of all worlds: a legitimate but unconvincing mandate leaving behind a deeply divided Scotland. There is a better alternative to a divided Scotland, separate from the UK. An idea we can unite around as Scots. Distinctively and proudly Scottish with more decisions made in Scotland with the strength, security and stability of being part of the bigger United Kingdom.

Obviously a clear result is always preferable, but here he claims a narrow Yes would be worse than a narrow No. This is very odd. Sensible Unionists (like for instance Michael Moore) have always said that they’ll change sides after a Yes vote and will start working to achieve the best result for the independent Scotland state. That doesn’t sound like a divided country to me.

In fact, almost no newly independent countries have significant political forces advocating a recreation of the country they broke out of. People get used to independence, and after a few years nobody wants to go back.

It’s a narrow No victory that will leave behind a deeply divided country. A landslide No victory would perhaps have finished off the independence movement for a long time, but that’s simply not going to happen. If the No campaign manages to scare enough voters into reluctantly voting No that they narrowly win the referendum, does anybody think the massive grassroots movement that has sprung up in favour of a Yes will just wither away? Of course it won’t, so the demand for independence will just grow stronger and stronger.

Thinking that Scots could possibly unite around the idea of being “distinctively and proudly Scottish with more decisions made in Scotland with the strength, security and stability of being part of the bigger United Kingdom” is just ludicrous. Two years ago, I would have said Devo Max could have satisfied most people, but too many people have now realised it’s independence they want (and Devo Max isn’t on offer anyway).

I don’t know whether Blair McDougall really believes it himself. Surely he should also be able to recognise that only a Yes vote will bring closure.

To vote Yes is to vote against xenophobia

Borderline Racists
Borderline Racists by Matt Brown, on Flickr.
Lots of commentators — mainly, but not exclusively, based south of the border — seem to have got into their heads that the SNP and UKIP are quite similar. Apart from the inescapable fact that both party names end in the letter P, the only similarity I can think of is that they’re both excellent at articulating people’s antipathy towards Westminster.

On the other hand, one of the biggest differences between the SNP and UKIP is their stance on racism and xenophobia.

The SNP is extremely open and tolerant. Nobody ever criticises me for being Danish; in fact, people are keen to hear how things are done in Denmark. The SNP is also full of people who have foreign relatives or have lived abroad. Some of the party’s most popular MSPs are Humza Yousaf and French-born Christian Allard. It’s not anti-English, either — for instance, several of the party’s parliamentarians were born in England — it’s just that the criticisms of the corrupt Westminster system at times get misunderstood.

The wider Yes campaign is if possible even more xenophilic than the SNP, given that the other political parties involved are the Greens, the SSP and the most progressive parts of Labour.

UKIP on the other hand is clearly blowing the racist and xenophobic dog whistle so hard that my ears hurt. They might be trying to appear respectable in public, but anyone who has seen their recent election posters knows exactly what they’re thinking. It’s a horrible party — if possible even more repugnant than Denmark’s Dansk Folkeparti.

However, Scotland after independence won’t be run by the Yes campaign or even just by the SNP. Labour will probably get into power at some point, and it’s likely Scotland will also develop a right-of-centre party at some point. So why should Scotland in the longer term continue its tolerant trajectory?

Apart from the fact that the Yes side will be in the ascendency after a Yes vote and will be able to infuse Scotland with its values, there are several reasons to believe Scotland will be very different:

Firstly, Scotland has a great history of tolerance. For instance, as Frank Angell wrote in the Jewish Chronicle:

[O]ur history is at least unstained by anti-Jewish discrimination, rare among European nations, and our 14th century independence Declaration of Arbroath contains the statement: “There is neither weighing nor distinction of Jew and Greek, Scotsman or Englishman.”

Secondly, as I’ve discussed before, Scotland has never been a homogeneous country, it’s always been a country of immigrants and emigrants, and the native use of English is a good bulwark against parochialism. This means that right-wing politicians can’t appeal to memories of the “good old days” when everybody spoke one language and belonged to one religion.

Thirdly, most of the UK hasn’t actually had that much immigration, but the fact that most of the mainstream media are based in London makes many people overestimate the actual amount of immigration that has happened. In an independent Scotland, the media would be basing their reporting on Scottish statistics, and they would be located in Scotland, so they would reflect the actual reality, which should make immigration debates less fact-resistant.

Of course nobody knows the future, but the likelihood is that Scotland after independence will be an open and tolerant country. However, so long as we’re part of the UK, we’ll keep receiving the BBC’s UKIP propaganda, and if a future UK government decides to close the borders, it’s Scotland’s economy that will suffer the most (because we need immigration more than the rUK).

Will Scotland be a lucky country?

Four-leaf Clover
Four-leaf Clover by Hyoung Won Park, on Flickr.
A while ago the psychologist Richard Wiseman did some research into luck, in particular why some people seem to be luckier than others:

My research revealed that lucky people generate good fortune via four basic principles. They are skilled at creating and noticing chance opportunities, make lucky decisions by listening to their intuition, create self-fulfilling prophesies via positive expectations, and adopt a resilient attitude that transforms bad luck into good.

Can these principles be applied to a country as well as individuals? And if they can, would they combine to make Scotland a lucky place after independence? Let’s have a look at each of them in turn.

On the first principle — chance opportunities — it’s well known that small independent countries can react more quickly to them. As Stephen Noon puts it: “Government and institutions can be structured more effectively, making our size an advantage, with shorter lines of communication and the ability to bring together key decision makers, allowing a quicker response to changing economic conditions.” While we’re a part of the UK, it’s much harder to react swiftly, because we don’t have all the powers here and might need to bring Westminster on board before we can act. (One might argue that entering into a political union with England in 1707 was a case of a small country pursuing a chance opportunity, and Scotland did indeed do amazingly well out of it for the first 100-200 years. After that, Scotland stopped acting like a small country and more like a region of a large one.)

The second principle — intuition — is harder to apply to a country. One might argue that in a country with a high degree of trust in political institutions, there’s a tendency to accept other people’s actions without seeing the rationale for them. The problem with this argument is that not all small countries are very trusting. According to this article, the Nordic countries score very highly, but many ex-communist countries are at the bottom. So a lot might here depend on Scotland managing to learn the right lessons from the Scandinavia.

The third principle — self-fulfilling prophesies via positive expectations — applies easily: The story of Scotland is a positive one, especially after a Yes vote, and it’s one that will appeal to people both here and abroad. It’s not like the UK that immediately conjures up images on colonialism, racism, privilege and corruption. So people in an independent Scotland will expect to do well, and therefore they will.

The fourth principle — a resilient attitude — comes naturally in a small country. I grew up in Denmark, and you had a feeling that you were all in it together. If the government for instance said that salaries were rising too fast, it was easy to reach a consensus to do something about it — you didn’t feel that your benefits were being cut and your taxes increased just so that the bankers in could keep their bonuses.

Richard Wiseman adds:

Unlucky people often fail to follow their intuition when making a choice, whereas lucky people tend to respect hunches. Lucky people are interested in how they both think and feel about the various options, rather than simply looking at the rational side of the situation. I think this helps them because gut feelings act as an alarm bell – a reason to consider a decision carefully. Unlucky people tend to be creatures of routine. They tend to take the same route to and from work and talk to the same types of people at parties. In contrast, many lucky people try to introduce variety into their lives.

This is a very accurate description of the Yes and No campaigns: Most Yes campaigners both think and feel that independence is the right way forward, whereas the No campaigners tend to fight for a No in spite of their feelings (the “I’m a proud Scot but …” sentiment). Also, many No campaigners cling to the UK because that’s their routine, whereas Yes campaigners love to think about the endless possibilities that an independent Scotland will offer us.

Of course Scotland will still belong to both groups after the referendum, but I don’t think there’s any doubt that the winning campaign will make Scotland more like themselves. If Yes wins, the visionaries and optimists will be running the country, whereas it will be the unlucky pessimists who will be running the show after a No vote.

If Scotland votes Yes on 18 September, the country will be brimming with energy and positivism — exactly the circumstances that means we’ll create and notice chance opportunities, make lucky decisions by listening to our intuition, create self-fulfilling prophesies via positive expectations, and adopt a resilient attitude that transforms bad luck into good. In other words, Scotland will become a lucky country.

When is a UDI not a UDI?

Minnemynt fra Kroningen 1906 - 2 kroner (Revers)
Minnemynt fra Kroningen 1906 – 2 kroner (Revers) by Municipal Archives of Trondheim, on Flickr.
The Edinburgh Agreement states that both governments must respect the result of the referendum:

The two governments are committed to continue to work together constructively in the light of the outcome, whatever it is, in the best interests of the people of Scotland and of the rest of the United Kingdom.

In theory, this should mean that Westminster after a Yes vote will negotiate the terms of independence constructively and as fast a reasonable possible. The Scottish Government has already stated that it believes it should be possible to conclude the talks in time for Scotland to become independent on 24 March 2016, and several independent observers have agreed this is a realistic time scale.

However, what happens if the 2015 General Election becomes a competition about who will be toughest on Scotland, and the resulting government is unwilling to compromise in order to reach a mutually satisfactory agreement? Or what if Westminster gets distracted by other issues (such as UKIP and the Brexit) and kicks the independence negotiations into the long grass?

A unilateral declaration of independence (a UDI) is normally something a prospective country issues when it has been denied a proper democratic path to independence.

So if Scotland votes Yes, and the Scottish Government does its best to negotiate in good faith, but Westminster acts as described above, will an independence declaration be a UDI, or will Scotland be entitled to do so as a result of the Edinburgh Agreement? Basically the independence declaration would say something like this: We have followed the Edinburgh Agreement in letter and spirit, but the Westminster Government is refusing to negotiate in good faith, so reluctantly we have come to the conclusion that we have to declare independence and resume the negotiations as an independent country.

Surely other countries would study the Edinburgh Agreement and conclude that Westminster was the culprit and that the Scottish independence declaration was just, valid and legal.

Hopefully this will be unnecessary, but when I read articles about how the Westminster Government isn’t even planning for the negotiations, I can’t help thinking they might need to be given a deadline in order to conclude them in a timely fashion.

As I’ve mentioned before, I do worry that the 2015 General Election will be such a mess if conducted during the independence negotiations that the only reasonable solutions are either to conclude the negotiations before April 2015 or to postpone the election till after Scottish Independence Day. Hopefully Westminster will soon wake up to the real possibility that we’ll vote Yes and will start planning for this scenario in earnest.

Fisking Lord Robertson’s cataclysmic speech

Gustave Doré's illustration of Lord Robertson's preparations for the cataclysmic events he has predicted.
Gustave Doré’s illustration of Lord Robertson’s preparations for the cataclysmic events he has predicted.
I thought I would do a quick fisk of Lord Robertson’s Brookings speech. The following is based on the partial transcript supplied by Brookings. (I haven’t corrected the typos.)

The loudest cheers for the breakup of Britain would be from our adversaries and from our enemies.

This is an interesting use of ‘our’, because it makes it sound like they’re the same for everybody. But are America’s enemies always the same as the UK’s, and are Britain’s enemies also Scotland’s?

For the second military power in the West to shatter this year would be cataclysmic in geopolitical terms.

I think the noble lord might be overestimating the UK’s military might somewhat here. If this list is correct, the US spent $732bn on their military in 2011, while the UK spent $64bn and France $53bn. Given that the rest of NATO will still be able to act normally while the rUK and Scotland divide the UK military, I would have thought Scottish independence would feel more like a mild annoyance to NATO than a cataclysmic event. What exactly is it that Lord Robertson expects that the West won’t be able to do without the British PM jumping up and down with excitement next to the American president?

If the United Kingdom was to face a split at this of all times and find itself embroiled for several years in a torrid, complex, difficult and debilitating divorce, it would rob the West of a serious partner just when solidity and cool nerves are going to be vital.

Although he says ‘the West’ again here, this time he must mean ‘the US’ for the sentence to make any sense. In other words, he’s warning the American establishment that their British poodle might be less keen to take part in military adventures for a while. Sounds good to me.

Nobody should underestimate the effect all of that would have on existing global balances and the forces of darkness would simply love it.

I had no idea that the global balance was dependent on the UK to such an extent. I would have thought rogue states were more afraid of the US, or of the combined military might of NATO, or of the EU’s soft power, but it turns out I was wrong all along. Silly me!

The geostrategic consequences don’t stop with what happens in the United Kingdom on the 19th of September.

The 18th, Lord Robertson, not the 19th.

The ripple effects will go much wider than our own shores. The United Kingdom is not alone in having separatist movements.

True, and they’re likely to continue their fights whether Scotland votes Yes or No.

In Spain, both Catalonia and the Basque country have declared that they want independence. Catalonia where million and a half people marched in the streets demanding independence – and remember that the SNP have never had more than 10,000 people in any demonstration — Catalonia says that it will have its referendum from Spain even if it’s in breach of the constitution of its country.

This doesn’t sound like he expects Catalonia to back down if Scotland votes No, does it?

The Basque extremist have only in the recent past have backed away from terrorism, but they are watching Catalonia and Scotland with quote undisguised interest.


Then there’s Belgium, a country which is held together by a thread. The Flemish nationalists see Scotland as breaking the mold. We’re next if Scotland breaks free and becomes a member of the European Union, they quite openly say.

And why would this be such a bad thing, so long as Flemish independence is achieved by peaceful means?

And as if to underline what this means for Europe, despite its manifest claim to nationhood, Kosovo still finds itself unrecognized by a handful of European Union countries worried about the implications of breakaway for their own separatist movements.

Yes, that is true. Just as Catalan independence will probably not be immediately recognised by all other countries. Such is life.

So I contend that it is far from scaremongering to use the term Balkanization to predict what might happen if Scotland were to break from its 300 year old union. The fragmentation of Europe starting on the centenary of the First World War would be both an irony and a tragedy with incalculable consequences.

So long as Scotland, Catalonia, the Basque Countries, Flanders and all the other areas of Europe contemplating sovereignty are allowed to achieve independence through peaceful means (we shouldn’t forget that the Spanish military has already been making threatening voices), and so long as the EU adopts a pragmatic approach rather than playing silly buggers, I don’t see why these new countries should cause any negative consequences for Europe.

The UK has adopted a sensible approach to Scottish independence, and Lord Robertson should recommend this as the way forward to Spain, Belgium and other countries that might fall apart, rather than trying to insinuate that the UK will go the way of Yugoslavia.

There is some significance in all of we Scots speaking here in Washington and in New York and the major cities of the United States of America. Because the possible independence of Scotland maybe resonates with some who were involved in great battles of the past over here. And some people with no real grasp of history make a tortured comparison with the American bid for independence from Britain in the 1770s. Something that was pioneered by the Scots of course who had a lot to do with that.

Why is this a ‘tortured comparison’? Just because Scotland has political representation in Westminster? We also want to create a fairer and more democratic country, just like the American founding fathers did.

but if [those] who make this facile comparison understood the history of this country they might look more relevantly at the Civil War where hundreds of thousands of Americans perished in a war to keep the new Union together. To Lincoln and his compatriots the Union was so precious, so important, and its integrity so valuable that rivers of blood would be split to keep it together.

Is this a thinly veiled threat that Westminster will spill rivers of blood to keep Scotland if we dare vote Yes? Somebody should ask Lord Robertson exactly what he meant by this.

[…] We have, indeed, as Scots, got the best of both worlds.

So what possible justification should there be for breaking up the United Kingdom? What could possibly justify giving the dictators, the persecutors, the oppressors, the annexers, the aggressors and the adventurers across the planet the biggest pre-Christmas present of their lives by tearing the United Kingdom apart? … I fear from time to time that we Scots are living in a veritable bubble in this debate and outside of that increasingly fractious bubble, we’re losing sight of the fact that our decision on the 18th of September will have much wider and bigger implications that any of us yet grasp.

Again, Lord Robertson seems to be overestimating the UK’s current power. The Empire is no more, and most of the world will probably just shrug their shoulders and get on with other things.

However, I hope that Scottish independence will have much wider and bigger implications that any of us yet grasp. I hope Scotland will become a democratic beacon and become famous for the reinvention of the welfare state (which is under threat in Scandinavia at the moment).

So the next few months, the people of Scotland have to properly and soberly examine the impact of their decision on the stability of the world. And in that time the rest of the ordered world needs to tell us that is actually cares.

Ah, so the world needs to tell the Scots what to vote. In other words, because we’ve stopped listening to Westminster, Lord Robertson thinks the solution is to get the American government to lecture us on the right way to vote.

I’m sure that would work wonders, because Scots just love to be told what to do, as you would expect from people living in a place that has no language or culture or any of that.

English newspapers in an independent Scotland

The Guardian | Billboard (A)
The Guardian | Billboard (A) by observista, on Flickr.
When I moved to Scotland twelve years ago, I had to find myself a daily newspaper to read. I tried out most of the broadsheets before settling for the Scotsman in the first instance, and later the Herald.

While I was still evaluating the newspapers, one of the easiest decisions was to discard the Independent and the Guardian, although they were my favourite UK newspapers when I still lived in Denmark. This was simply because they sold their normal edition here instead of producing a Scottish edition (like for instance the Times does), and the result was that they almost ignored the Scottish Parliament and the devolved policy areas from a Scottish perspective.

However, I had many English colleagues who were still reading for instance the Guardian after many years in Scotland. I guess they didn’t feel they had moved abroad, moving from one part of the UK to another, so why should they change their newspaper habits of a lifetime? The result was that their knowledge of Scottish affairs was minimal, however. They would assume the Scottish NHS worked in the same was as its English counterpart, for instance, or they would be utterly surprised at the differences in the education system when their first child started school.

Would my English colleagues have done the same if Scotland had been independent at the time? Would they really have moved to another country but not changed their daily newspaper? Would the Independent and the Guardian even have attempted to sell the London edition in Scotland after independence?

Basically newspapers fall into three broad categories in Scotland: (1) Scottish newspapers that are written in Scotland, such as the Herald, the Scotsman and the Record; (2) Scottish editions of English newspapers, such as the Times and the Sun; (3) English newspapers that aren’t changed for the Scottish market, such as the Guardian and the Independent.

Once Scotland is independent, the first group will of course continue as before, and there’s no reason why the second one would need to change their model fundamentally (although it’s likely they’d need to change more contents than they do at the moment). This is indeed what we see in Ireland, where for instance The Sun produces a local edition in Dublin.

However, what will happen to the last group? Will they start producing Scottish editions (e.g., the Scottish Guardian), will they quietly disappear from most shops, or will they just continue to sell their rUK editions in Scotland as if nothing has changed?

Unexpected anger

HMS Astute Arrives at Faslane for the First Time
HMS Astute Arrives at Faslane for the First Time by UK Ministry of Defence, on Flickr.
I used to think that Coulport/Faslane would be an amazing negotiating chip in the independence negotiations with Westminster.

The Guardian’s recent scoop about a currency union not being ruled out after all reveals a similar stance:

“Of course there would be a currency union,” the minister told the Guardian in remarks that will serve as a major boost to the Scottish first minister, Alex Salmond, who accused the UK’s three main political parties of “bluff, bluster and bullying” after they all rejected a currency union.

The minister, who would play a central role in the negotiations over the breakup of the UK if there were a yes vote, added: “There would be a highly complex set of negotiations after a yes vote, with many moving pieces. The UK wants to keep Trident nuclear weapons at Faslane and the Scottish government wants a currency union – you can see the outlines of a deal.”

Various non-Scots that I’ve talked to over the past few months also clearly expect that the Yes campaign’s insistence that Trident must go is surely just an attempt to build a strong basis for the negotiations.

However, having spoken to many Scots about this topic over the past couple of years, both on social media and in real life, I have to say that all the non-Scots (including my younger self) are mistaken.

Most Scots seem to be so strongly opposed to Trident for various reasons that I don’t believe any real negotiations are possible. The nuclear weapons will need to be moved away or destroyed (and most Scots would prefer the latter). The Scottish anger at having these weapons stored on the Clyde, just outside our largest city, is simply too strong.

The Scottish negotiation team might be able to give the rUK five years to remove Trident from Scotland, but I’m doubtful the Scottish public would accept any more than this. Ten years would probably lead to riots.

If Scotland votes Yes, Trident will be gone before 2020. The sooner Westminster get their heads round this fact, the better.