Category Archives: rUK

rUK passports for Scots

Scottish passport
Scottish passport, a photo by viralbus on Flickr.

Theresa May and Better Together are today talking about denying “British” passports to Scots after independence.

It’s a somewhat strange use of “British” (which is why I put it in quotation marks above) — surely Ms May means “rUK passports” or “EWNI passports”, given that it’d be a bit odd to use the word “British” to refer to somebody or something from the United Kingdom of England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

However, apart from her bizarre use of language, I think both sides are at fault here. Ms May and Better Together are making it sound as if people from Scotland — as the only country on Earth — will be denied British citizenship if they otherwise qualify, and some people on the Yes side seem to think that Scots should qualify for rUK passports in perpetuity, even if they have no connexions to the rUK whatsoever.

As is often the case, it’s wise to look at Ireland. According to Wikipedia, this is the current situation:

Irish citizens seeking to become British citizens are usually required to live in the UK and become naturalised after meeting the normal residence and other requirements, unless they can claim British citizenship by descent from a UK born or naturalised parent. An Irish citizen who naturalises as a British citizen does not automatically lose their Irish citizenship.

I therefore suspect the situation after independence will be as follows:

Scottish citizens seeking to become EWNI citizens are usually required to live in the EWNI and become naturalised after meeting the normal residence and other requirements, unless they can claim EWNI citizenship by descent from a EWNI born or naturalised parent. A Scottish citizen who naturalises as a citizen of EWNI does not automatically lose their Scottish citizenship.

Of course, just like people from the Republic of Ireland, Scots will most likely be allowed to live and vote in the rUK/EWNI without becoming citizens of that state:

The right of Commonwealth and Irish citizens to vote is a legacy of the Representation of the People Act 1918, which limited the vote to British subjects. At that time, “British subjects” included the people of Ireland — then part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland — and all other parts of the British Empire. Though most of Ireland […] and the majority of the colonies became independent nations, their citizens have retained the right to vote if they live in the United Kingdom.

It’s also possible that there’ll be increased access to acquiring EWNI citizenship for a limited time, or for Scots born before a certain date. Looking again at Ireland, older people can claim British subject status, but the “facility for those born before 1949 to claim British subject status does not confer British citizenship, although it gives an entitlement to registration as such after 5 years in the UK.”

Two options

NYC: National Debt Clock
NYC: National Debt Clock, a photo by wallyg on Flickr.
Better Together politicians have frequently argued that the rUK will be the successor state, inheriting the EU membership terms and the permanent seat on the UN’s Security Council as well as numerous other tangible and intangible assets, while Scotland will be a new state that will inherit very little apart from its population share of the national debt.

Now Matt Qvortrup has made a very interesting intervention in the debate:

Dr Qvortrup’s explosive findings are published in a report that looks at national divorces dating from 1830, when Belgium left the Netherlands, until the break-up of Yugoslavia and the collapse of the Soviet Union in the Nineties.

His research found countries that split equally have historically shared the debts built up during their union. But if one partner continues as before as the ‘successor state’ — keeping its position on international bodies such as the United Nations — it shoulders the debts.


He said: “If Alex Salmond doesn’t want to share the debt and is happy to reapply to Europe, the default position in international law is that Scotland would not have to pick up the debt.


“If you want to be the EU successor state and be in the UN Security Council, you can. You take all the spoils — but you also take the baggage.”

This seems perfectly clear and straightforward to me. Although I have recently argued that there are very few questions that need answered at this stage, Westminster really need to tell the voters before the referendum which of these two options they will be opting for.

Using the pound sterling after independence

Lloyds Banking Group Archives - 'Oldest Surviving Scottish Banknote'
Lloyds Banking Group Archives – ‘Oldest Surviving Scottish Banknote’, a photo by Scottish Archives on Flickr.

Scotland currently has a very strange currency set-up — we’re technically speaking using the pound sterling, just as England, but three “Scottish” banks have got the right to issue their own banknotes in a currency board arrangement (I put Scottish in inverted commas because the Royal Bank of Scotland is owned by UK government, the Bank of Scotland is part of the Lloyds Banking Group, and Clydesdale Bank is part of the National Bank of Australia). I don’t know of any other modern countries where private banks issue bank notes in lieu of a devolved government.

After independence, there are several options available to Scotland.

As I’ve written before, my personal preference would be a currency board arrangement, where the National Bank of Scotland issues one Scottish crown (or pound or dollar or whatever) for each pound sterling in its vaults. In this way, it will still be very easy to do business with the rUK, but the coins and banknotes will all be issued by the NBS. The advantage of this system is that if the rUK economy collapses, the link could be broken and the Scottish crown could either be tied to the US dollar or the euro instead, or it could start to float freely, without the need to issue new notes or coins. During the independence negotiations, Scotland would of course be entitled to demand representation on the Bank of England’s monetary policy board in return for maintaining the currency board (which would be to the rUK’s advantage).

I think this policy would be more robust than trying to maintain the status quo exactly, where the Bank of England’s notes and coins are also circulating in Scotland, because it would be much harder to change the set-up if it becomes desirable to leave the sterling zone (who knows, the euro might be looking fantastically attractive again in ten years’ time).

What’s important to remember here is that changing a currency takes time. No matter what the outcome is, I’d expect the status quo to continue at least two or three years after independence day (until 1st January 2019 or so), which means that the actual way forward will be decided by the independent Scottish Parliament elected in May 2016, not by the current SNP government.

The fact that Scotland can decide to implement a currency board without the approval of the Bank of England shows that the unionists’ threat of the day (that there wouldn’t be Scottish banknotes after independence) is absurd. Even David Blanchflower said so today (“George Osborne would be better off revisiting his misguided and failing policies for growth rather than scaremongering to the people of Scotland”) and I don’t think anybody has ever accused him of being a Scottish nationalist.

PS: I’d recommend following Blanchflower on Twitter. For instance, he tweeted this today:

Why Westminster will do anything to hold on to Scotland

Wings over Scotland recently published an interesting article which contained the following illuminating passage:

So why would the UK deliberately undermine the long-held view that the UK is a political union of different countries? The answer may be seen in a passage from the report stating that “Since the rUK (remainder of the UK) would be the same state as the UK, its EU membership would continue”, and that after independence, representatives of the UK Government would enter negotiations on the terms of independence “as representatives of the continuing state of the UK”.

From these two snippets it appears that the repositioning of the Act of Union as merely an enlargement of England is an attempt to retain sole-successor status in the same manner as Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The Westminster government is so desperate to keep hold of the permanent Security Council seat that they’re willing to undermine the constitutional arrangements of the UK in order to ensure they keep it in the event of a Yes vote.

I’m not an expert on UN membership rules, but I would have thought there was a decent chance the rUK will retain the UK’s permanent seat on the Security Council. However, even a modest risk of losing that seat is probably enough to give the politicians and mandarins in the FCO and the rest of Westminster sleepless nights. Sacrificing the happiness and wellbeing of the Scots is a very small price to pay for maintaining a place amongst the great powers of the world.

Besides, the unionist politicians in Westminster are not the only ones who are worried. David Leask quotes Phillips O’Brien of Glasgow University for the following: “France’s place in the world would come under real pressure if Scotland were to leave the United Kingdom[.] In the first place, it could lead to reform of the UN Security Council and the concurrent loss or reduction of French influence in the UN.”

Personally I’m pretty relaxed about a reform of the Security Council, but I can understand that for a small group of politicians clinging to the remnants of the empire, it can seem like the end of the world as they know it, which explains why they attack Scottish independence so vociferously.

The Swiss capital of the European country

The political class in Westminster tend to look at the UK from a London perspective, and to listen especially to the needs of the City of London (i.e., the big financial institutions). Most of the British media exist in the same bubble, which is why so many topics are being discussed as if everybody in the country was making a very comfortable living working in a multinational bank in London.

This became abundantly clear again yesterday, when a majority in Westminster voted to force the UK government to demand an EU budget cut, which is surely another small step towards the Brexit. In other news yesterday, it was noted that the regional divide is growing within England, and Scotland was fully preoccupied with the question of Scottish membership of the EU.

The problem is that London is to a large extent a global Switzerland, and as such EU membership isn’t necessarily such a good idea — a Swiss solution vis-à-vis the EU and lots of bilateral free-trade agreements would probably suit London best.

On the other hand, the rest of the UK is probably not that different from most of Europe, and although we can save Scotland through Scottish independence, I do fear for the prospects of the north of England if London takes the (r)UK out of the EU.

I often think that independence for Greater London would solve even more problems than Scottish independence, but alas it’s not on offer.

The current state of affairs is a bit like if the Switzerland and France had formed a union at some point and had moved the capital, the company headquarters, the politicians and the media companies to Zürich, with the result that both parts of the union were being run based on what was best for Zürich. I doubt most of France would have flourished in such a scenario.

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.