When King James VI of Scotland ascended to the English throne in 1603 and became James I of England, after the death of the childless monarch, Elizabeth I, he began working towards the union of the two kingdoms. The Scottish king’s ascension to the English throne is widely seen as the beginning of what we today know as the United Kingdom, and the Treaty of Union of 1706 and the Acts of Union of 1707 officially inaugurated the new country into the family of nations.
Admittedly, the Kingdom of England had throughout history made considerable efforts to subject Scotland to its rule, and that created a lot of bad blood between the nations in the Middle Ages. But the modern history of the United Kingdom didn’t begin by the English conquering Scotland—it began with a Scottish king becoming king of England.
And that fact makes the current campaign for the independence of Scotland unspeakably absurd. The actual creator of the United Kingdom seceding from it would be as ridiculous as the United States seceding from Texas—or China seceding from Hong Kong, for the lack of a better comparison. Tell you the truth, I don’t see neither of these scenarios to happen—so why on earth is Scotland’s potential leaving the Union even an issue?
Instead of pursuing a campaign that could end very poorly for Scotland, the Scottish leadership and the people planning to vote ‘yes’ next Thursday should face the reality of the situation. The Scottish nation—ethnic Scots—have merged with the other parts of the United Kingdom so thoroughly in the past 400 years that breaking up the Union is all but unthinkable. Scotland will never be a nation-state with 500,000 people from elsewhere the UK residing in Scotland—and 700,000 Scots dwelling elsewhere in the UK. Scotland today is as British as it can be, so it doesn’t make much of a sense to create two separate instances of Britain.
Let’s also remember that Scotland already enjoys a considerable autonomy from the UK government. Scotland has its own parliament, its own laws, its own government. Moreover, Scotland is also represented in the parliament of the United Kingdom, so there is no issue of “taxation without representation.” In addition to that, the Scottish parliament has control over most of the areas of Scotland’s every-day life, including limited tax-varying capability.
There are some who like to compare Scotland with countries that were occupied by the Soviet Union. But that comparison is not valid either—Scotland is not occupied, nor is it governed by a one-party dictatorship. Scotland, with the rest of the UK, is a functioning multi-party democracy with free elections (to both the Scottish national parliament, and to the parliament of the United Kingdom). The very fact that Scotland is to hold a referendum on its future next Thursday is the absolute proof of that.
There is a very realistic potential that an independent Scotland will be a lot worse off than the Scotland that is part of the UK. Many institutions that are headquartered in Scotland, including large banks, have already announced they’d move their headquarters to London if Scotland votes ‘yes.’ That would create an enormous cash flow problem for the Scottish parliament. In addition, many experts say the Scottish social welfare system would never be sustainable if the country were independent, as it would simply not have enough money to finance it without London covering for that.
An independent Scotland would also have to renegotiate its accession to the European Union and, more importantly, NATO. The UK government has already ruled out a currency union with Scotland, so until the new country’s accession to the European Union it would have to find itself a currency and hold up its liquidity completely on its own. And when Scotland joins the EU, it will also have to adopt the euro, because no new addition to the EU can stay out of the eurozone. And, of course, if Scotland decides to join the Schengen area, England will have to secure its border with Scotland.
But the bottom line is quite simple.
For the United Kingdom, the secession of Scotland would be a matter of pride. Just like the breakup of the British Empire in the 20th century was a great embarrassment for London, so would it be in Scotland’s case. The United Kingdom would cease to exist—as the two kingdoms, Scotland and England, would not be united any more—and the remaining country, consisting of England, Wales and Northern Ireland will have to find itself a new name. Scotland’s secession would be the last draw of the once-mighty British Empire, and even I wouldn’t call it an empire any more. In that new reality, it would perhaps even be reasonable to give up Northern Ireland as well. But all in all, it would only be about pride and embarrassment, nothing more.
For Scotland, however, it would have severe economic and fiscal consequences that the new nation might not be able to survive. It could also mean a considerable exodus of people from Scotland to England where the quality of life, at least climate- and income-wise, is much better. Would the new Scotland be sustainable in that new reality? I’m not too sure. Even the North Sea oil Scotland seems to have high hopes for will run out eventually.
The choice for Scotland is clear—but it’s also clearly theirs. The English will not weep for it, but the Scots themselves might end up doing so.