Category Archives: postindependence

Will the Scottish-English border look like this?

There’s an article on Yes Scotland’s website today about border controls in Scandinavia (or rather the lack thereof).

At first I thought it was a rather pointless article, given that the absence of actual border controls is the norm in most of Europe these days.

However, as the article points out, “for those who travel infrequently, or who usually fly rather than make land crossings, the concept of moving between neighbouring countries without having to show any form of identification, or even stopping at the border, can be hard to envisage.”

So to illustrate how easy it is to cross a national border in the EU at the moment, I’ve found a small video on YouTube showing how to drive from Germany into Denmark:

Will the Scottish-English border look like this after 2014?

Scotland will get £172m to buy embassies

British Embassy
Originally uploaded by The Shifted Librarian

I just noticed that in 2010, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office‘s global estate (i.e., embassies, consulates, etc.) was worth £2,042,480,000.

That’s a lot of real estate!

Scotland makes up about 8.4% of the UK’s population, and this is normally the basis for splitting up countries.

This means that Scotland will be entitled to global estate worth £171,568,320 after a Yes to independence.

This amount is of course subject to negotiation, and Scotland will probably be given a mix of buildings and money, rather than just a lump sum.

However, it does demonstrate that any fears that Scotland might not be able to afford embassies are completely unfounded.

Scotland’s foreign policy

Wales as part of Englanti
Originally uploaded by hugovk

Scotland hasn’t had a foreign policy since the Act of Union in 1707, and to some extent not since the Unions of the Crowns in 1603. It is therefore interesting to have a look at what kind of international outlook an independent Scotland is likely to have.

First of all, every country is to a large extent focused on its neighbours. Whereas from London the neighbours listed by a combination of closeness and size are France, Ireland, Netherlands, Germany, Belgium, Spain, Denmark, Norway and Iceland, the list of the neighbours as seen from Edinburgh goes something like England, Ireland, Norway, Denmark, Iceland, Germany, France, Netherlands and Belgium. In other words, Scotland is likely to pay much more attention to especially Norway, Denmark and Iceland than the UK; on the other hand, Scotland will probably not be as preoccupied with France, although I’d expect the relationship to be very friendly, perhaps even to some extent reviving the Auld Alliance.

Secondly, Scotland is likely to have a very close relationship to Canada, the US and other countries with significant numbers of citizens of Scottish descent. According to Wikipedia, there are almost 10m Americans and almost 5m Canadians of Scottish descent, which is likely to make these countries close partners. Other countries with significant numbers include Australia (1.5m) and Argentina (100k).

Last but not least, the UK’s foreign policy is to a very large degree defined by be effects of the British Empire. Scotland would be much less tainted by this (although of course Scots played a full part in the Empire). So whereas the UK has a difficult relationship with Argentina because of the Falklands and with Spain because of Gibraltar, there is no reason why an independent Scotland shouldn’t enjoy cordial relations with both Argentina and Spain. Scotland would also be a normal member of the UN without a veto in the Security Council and without nuclear weapons, so there would be less of an incentive to formulate a policy vis-à-vis all the countries of the World.

To sum up, I expect Scotland’s foreign policy to be focused on Scandinavia and North America, and to be friendlier and less global than the UK’s.

The Constitution of Scotland

When Scotland becomes independent, it would be a wasted opportunity if the new (or rather, reborn) country didn’t get a written constitution — the UK’s unwritten one has always struck me as a bizarre contraption.

I’m by no means the first person to have had this thought — see amongst others Better Nation and the Constitutional Convention, as well as the SNP’s ten-years-old proposed constitution (PDF). There are also some plans about crowd-sourcing a Scottish Constitution, which I might write more about another day.

Without going into the details of what it should and shouldn’t say, I have a few ideas about the length and scope:

  • It shouldn’t be too long. If it is (like for instance the doomed Constitution for Europe), it will be too specific, which means that it will need revising all the time, and by doing so, it loses its constitutional nature.
  • It shouldn’t be too specific. Apart from the problem with continuous revisions if it is, it also creates problems if external factors require a constitutional change that there might not be a political will to implement.
  • It shouldn’t be too hard to change. If it is, it will start to be reinterpreted, with the result that nobody really understands what it means. For instance, the Danish Constitution is almost impossible to change (it was last changed in 1953), and when it mentions the king, it means either the queen, the prime minister or the government, depending on the context, which isn’t ideal.
  • It should be easy to understand. Although many laws are by nature highly complex, the constitution should be a straightforward text that school children could learn and discuss at school.
  • It should make us proud. Like the Declaration of Arbroath and other such documents through the ages, a good constitution should be an inspiring document that will inspire its readers centuries for now.

If all of this seems a bit daunting, at least there are plenty of existing constitutional documents from all over the world than can be used as a basis, so it should be doable.

A reply to Patrick Harvie

Patrick Harvie (Green Party)
Originally uploaded by alf.melin

According to The Scotsman, Patrick Harvie (Green MSP) has a problem with the SNP’s attempts to woo centrist voters:

However, Mr Harvie fears the efforts to woo centre-ground voters could alienate many on the Left.

“The task of those who see the opportunity of independence is to inspire hope that a Yes vote will lead to the radical change we consider necessary and desirable,” he said in his submission to the Scottish Government’s consultation on the 2014 vote.

“The current ‘universalist’ approach risks turning what should be a transformational opportunity into a promise of middle-of-the-road blandness, only under a different flag. “I can’t ask people to vote for that. This debate needs to offer more.”

I can totally relate to this, but I also think it’s misplaced.

The real reason to support independence is to allow us to make our own decisions in Scotland. However, we can’t make those decisions in advance — that would be counting our chickens before they hatch.

Once independence has been achieved, I will be delighted to join Patrick Harvie and many others in the fight for ending the monarchy in Scotland, and I think there’s a good chance we’ll win that fight. However, without independence Westminster will just veto it.

Once independence has been achieved, there will be a huge argument whether Scotland should be part of NATO (like England, Norway and Denmark), or more strictly neutral (like Ireland, Sweden and Finland), and I haven’t decided yet which side I’m on. However, without independence Westminster will just keep Scotland inside NATO (and keep the atomic bombs up here for good measure).

Once independence has been achieved, we’ll have to discuss a whole range of issues that it would be futile to discuss at the moment because Westminster has the final word.

So Patrick Harvie shouldn’t ask his voters to vote for middle-of-the-road blandness à l’Écossaise; he should ask his voters to vote for an independent Scotland so that the questions that are most important to us can be decided in Scotland by the people living here, and the day after Scotland has voted Yes, he should then start changing Scotland into a better nation.

The Unionists’ plans for an independent Scotland

Scottish Parliament III
Originally uploaded by Graeme Pow

The SNP are often asked to provide detailed plans for what to do after independence — which currency would Scotland use, would there be passport controls, would Scotland be a member of NATO, etc.

To a certain extent that is right and proper – the SNP is the main proponent of independence, so it reasonable to expect that this party will also be able to suggest some answers to these questions.

However, there’s a limit to it.

The day after Scotland votes Yes to independence, the unionist parties will have to stop working to prevent independence and start working to fight Scotland’s corner in the independence talks with the rUK.

Furthermore, the next elections to the Scottish Parliament are due in May 2016, roughly 18 months after the independence referendum. It is entirely possible that the SNP won’t win these elections, and it could therefore quite feasibly be a Labour politician who would be the first prime minister of an independent Scotland, and in this case it would be Labour and not the SNP that would be making many of the crucial decisions about NATO, the currency and the other crucial questions.

In short, I’d like the Unionists to acknowledge that they too need to have a vision about what an independent Scotland should look like, because they might be the ones who’ll have to implement it.

How to minimise the number of students from England after independence

At the moment, the main reason why English students are not all going to university in Scotland (where university tuition is free, compared to English universities that will typically charge £27,000 for a 3-year degree) is that Scottish universities charge them up to £27,000 for their degree. This is only possible because the EU rule about not discriminating against EU students only applies to students from other EU countries (such as Ireland, Denmark or Bulgaria) and not to students from other parts of the UK (England, Wales and Northern Ireland).

As soon as Scotland regains her independence, rUK students become EU students and will have to be treated in the same way as students from Scotland.

However, some lessons can be learnt from Scandinavia. Denmark in theory has to treat Swedish students the same as Danish ones, but this is not the whole truth.

Denmark used to have a big problem with too many Swedes studying medicine in Copenhagen and then going home after graduation. In 2007, Denmark therefore did two things (link in Danish): (1) They changed the number of advanced highers (“højniveaufag”) a student needs to pass to get a grade top-up, which benefitted Danes in comparison with Swedes. (2) They changed the way they translated Swedish grades into Danes ones (that is, they made it harder for them to get in).

Apart from this, Denmark pays generous grants (typically £7616 per year) to university students who are either Danish citizens, have lived in Denmark for five years prior to starting university, or who have parents that are EU citizens and have moved to Denmark for work reasons. Other students don’t get a penny.

Scotland could copy some of these policies after independence. There are already plenty of differences between A Levels and Scottish Highers to provide opportunities for tweaking the entry requirements to make it harder for English students to get into Scottish universities (the brilliant ones would of course still get in, but that would be to Scotland’s advantage anyway), and Scotland could introduce tuition fees for everybody, but cancel out the effect by creating grants for Scottish citizens and long-term residents.

In an ideal world such measures shouldn’t be necessary, but until it dawns on the English that they’re shooting themselves in the foot by pricing bright young people out of universities, I fear that Scotland will have to take a leaf out of Denmark’s book.

Update (May 2013): Denmark’s rule about only giving grants to long-term residents has been found unlawful by the EU Court of Justice. Now everybody who has moved to Denmark in order to work (even if only for the summer holidays before starting university) has the right to get Danish grants when studying in Denmark.