The SNP are leaving it late to convince the electorate of the merits of independence
On Wednesday England played Scotland in a friendly football match at Wembley stadium. The match between the ‘Auld Enemies’ took place 370 days before the Scots go to the polls next September, and prior to the game ‘Yes’ to Scottish independence signs were plastered all over Trafalgar Square. Scottish sport has already been used this year as a propagandist vehicle for pro-independence campaigners, with the Scottish National Party leader Alex Salmond waving the Saltire from the Royal Box after Andy Murray triumphed at Wimbledon. Next July Glasgow plays host the Commonwealth Games, providing Salmond with one final high-profile platform from which to win over pro-Unionists.
But Salmond and pro-independence campaigners have their work cut out. Recent polling conducted by Ipsos/Mori and You Gov of those certain to vote give pro-Unionists a relatively healthy 60/40% lead over pro-independence advocates. That’s not to say the ‘Better Together’ campaign have the result sown up. A further Ipsos/Mori poll reveals that 44% of voters are undecided over how, or if they will vote. Although there seems to be little appetite for independence, that could all change if the SNP can put forward a credible case for independence and capture a majority of the ‘undecided’ vote. But that credible case has not yet materialised. Neither have the consequences for Scotland and for the rest of the UK been fully explained. Even though the rest of the UK population will not have a say in the outcome, it is important that they know how the outcome will affect them.
Two big questions about a post-independent Scotland remain unanswered. First, what would the Scottish economy look like? Second, what would Scotland’s relationship be with the European Union?
On the economy, separatists claim that independence would leave Scots £500 per year better off, despite the fact that Scotland is weighed down with around £92 billion of liabilities according to the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland. In earlier times revenues from oil production would have been seen as the economic driver of a future independent Scotland. But in recent years North Sea oil output has plateaued, and opinion is divided as to whether current output is the beginning of a long-term decline or whether with the introduction of new extraction technologies production will bounce back. The Office for Budget Responsibility has predicted that 2017/18 revenues will be £7.5 billion lower than the £14 billion forecast by the OECD and the International Monetary Fund. With government spending per head in Scotland well above the UK average, future Scottish governments would need significant revenues from North Sea oil to pay for public spending programmes that it would take sole custody of, post-independence. Then there is the controversy over which currency to adopt. The preference of Scottish business is to retain Sterling, but the Chancellor George Osborne and the Treasury have not confirmed whether this is possible, given that Wales and Northern Ireland would have to agree to Scotland retaining Sterling. Two other options are open: joining the Euro or adopting its own currency. The pro-independence group Business for Scotland has said that it would be “extremely silly” for the rest of the UK to prevent Scotland retaining Sterling, because doing so would mean the UK would not be able to benefit from a share of Scottish exports.
The second issue is Scotland’s membership of the European Union. Separatists claim Scotland has an automatic right to membership as an existing member. The official SNP campaign website, ‘Yes Scotland’ claims that “having been a member for 40 years, Scotland will retain membership of the EU”. The Law Society of Scotland has also said that in the event of a ‘Yes’ vote Scotland would have the capacity to be recognised as an independent state and be “qualified to join other treaty organisations”. But opponents have pointed out that the UK is the Member State and Scottish secession would establish an entirely new and independent country, meaning that it would not automatically become a member of the EU or other international organisations like NATO and the WTO. The President of the European Commission Jose Manuel Barroso confirmed as much in a recent letter to a House of Lords Committee, stating that “a new independent state would, by the fact of its independence, become a third country with respect to the EU and the Treaties would no longer apply on its territory … any European state which respects the principles set out in Article 2 of the Treaty on European Union may apply to become a member of the EU.”
Other EU Member States will be looking on the outcome of the vote with great interest, and a ‘Yes’ vote for Scotland might set a worrying precedent for European countries where regions under their control have fought for decades and more, for their own independence. For the Spanish, it may well increase the pressure on the government to eventually hold a referendum on Catalonian independence. Scottish independence could also initiate a seismic shift across the rest of the UK. While less than 10% of Welshmen support Welsh independence, the First Minister of Wales Carwyn Jones has said that without Scotland, the UK’s constitutional relationship with Wales “would require a much more radical reconsideration”.
All the signs point to a continuation of the status quo, primarily because the SNP has not been able to set out a clear vision for an independent Scotland. If it can set out in greater detail what independence would mean and capture large swathes of fence-sitters, the vote could go to the wire. But they are leaving it late to convince Scottish voters that their vision is the right one for Scotland.