If I read the media right, there are some people in Scotland who assert that I have no right to be writing this piece at all.
They think that Scottish independence is Scotland’s business and nobody else’s.
Thus Alex Salmond told David Cameron to ‘butt out’ when he tried to influence the timing of the independence referendum.
Well, I don’t agree with Alex Salmond. To tell you the truth, I don’t even agree with David Cameron. I don’t think that we English people ought to have a say just in the timing of the referendum … I think we ought to have a vote!
Whether or not your daughter leaves home is not just an issue for your daughter, unless she is a totally selfish daughter. It involves such issues as the situation and wishes of her parents, and the economic position of the household. It is not always the ‘right thing’ for a daughter to leave home just because she wants to (e.g. what if she is 10?), and other people do have a say in that decision.
Similarly, the departure of Scotland from the Union will affect much more than just the people of Scotland. So it has to be a Union referendum – not only the English, but the people of Wales and Northern Ireland need to be asked what they think too.
The surprise you might get is that I would probably vote ‘yes’, not ‘no’. At the very least, I know as a father that there is no point in trying to keep your daughter at home against her will.
Show Me The Money!
Before I say any more, can I make it quite clear to everyone that I am not some Scot-hating Sassenach. For a long time, Barbara and I had a holiday home in Hawick, and I can tell you that it is one of the most beautiful and friendliest places on earth. We loved it there, and for a while contemplated retiring there. We met no anti-English racism. All the people we met there were kind, helpful and honest – and they seemed to have maintained an old-fashioned decency of morality which we have sadly jettisoned in many ways in England.
But, whilst we continue to allow the Scots to think of independence as some kind of sole Scottish inheritance-as-of-right, we do not do these wonderful people any favours. Because there will be a lot more to independence than Parliaments and flags.
My point is that nobody, least of all Alex Salmond and David Cameron, are talking about independence in nuts-and-bolts enough terms.
For a start, what is the financial deal? Things usually come down to money, and that is usually when things get nasty, so let’s talk about it before we decide to have a referendum. What exactly would the financial deal include?
The Scots have a feeling that they pour £_billions into the English economy in oil revenues, and that they will be quids-in upon independence. Equally, if you talk to any Englishman, he will tell you that he believes the Barnett Formula allocates £_billions to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, so they will be quids-in if the Scots get independence. I read one article which calculated that it would end up about even-stevens. But I don’t know, and before we go any further, we need to know. It will do nobody any good, for instance, if independence plunges either Scotland or England into a sovereign debt crisis, because the two economies are so fully integrated.
Independence = Disentanglement
Having said that, independence will involve some disentangling of all sorts of things which we take for granted although, at the end of the day, I suspect that we need not get too paranoid about this side of independence.
The government side of things, let’s face it, is almost wholly separated already. Indeed, there will be a good deal of satisfaction in England when the 40 Scottish MPs are given their marching orders; there is a grumbling resentment that the Scots vote on our business, but we don’t get to vote on theirs, and it will save a bit of money into the bargain.
There may be some confusion as firms try to disentangle which tax they pay in Scotland, and what they pay in England; there will certainly be some economic shift as they try to take account of differences in the tax systems to minimise their tax liability. Expect a bit of a wrangle over who owns the Bank of Scotland! And many Scottish firms will get one hell of a shock when the UK government closes down all its government offices, naval bases etc., and relocates them to Newcastle.
However, in this world of global capitalism, I won’t have to take all my money out of HBOS and put it into some English bank; that’s not how the economic world works nowadays.
I do have a bit of a worry about the borders. Will they be able to stay wide open as they are at the moment? Somebody who is familiar with the situation of the borders of Eire and Northern Ireland will be able to say better than I – though I know that they are certainly more open there than they used to be.
Nevertheless, I know that the Scots would intend to increase the duty on alcohol (a policy with which I thoroughly agree). But if Scotland was to be an independent country with much higher duties, would you not get a massive smuggling problem; are the Scots not going to want some kind of effective barrier? Nobody is suggesting that it would be like Checkpoint Charlie, but is there not going to have to be some kind of border control at places like Carter Bar?
Again, we need to know before we go rushing into independence.
Above all, has anybody thought about what’s going to happen to the people? What about all those English living in Scotland? What about all those Scots living in England?
Again, I suspect that the likes of Alex Salmond have this dewy-eyed romantic notion of independence where everything is going to go on exactly as before EXCEPT that Scotland will be a self-determining free nation as well.
But it just cannot happen like that. Independence will change the status of the people of the two nations viz-a-viz each other. Perhaps exceptions will be written into the protocols of independence, but I don’t see any reason why they should. If the Scots want to be independent in a separate country, then let them be independent in a separate country!
Are we just going to assume on independence day that every Scot living in the UK is an Englishman? I suspect that the Scots living in the UK may have something to say about that! But what is the alternative but to treat Scottish people living in the UK as foreign nationals … as immigrants?
This will have a MASSIVE effect on Scottish people living in the UK. Until Scotland is allowed to join the EU (which is far from a foregone conclusion), Scottish people will be equivalent to immigrants into England from such as Sierra Leone and India – they will have to tot up a points score of qualifications and experience to prove that they will benefit this country when they arrive (and if they cannot, they will not be allowed in). If they want to become a UK citizen, they will have to take a test about life in the UK, and prove they can speak English!
Even should Scotland join the EU, Scottish nationals would find themselves in the same classification as Polish plumbers and Ukrainian waitresses.
So would similar questions about them start cropping up in the Daily Mail?
If a Scottish national is out of work and on benefits, should he and his family not be required to return to Scotland?
And would we start seeing ‘English jobs for English people’ campaigns?
Of course, exactly the same would start kicking off in Scotland; why should the Scots look after English nationals in their free old people’s homes?
Has Alex Salmond REALLY begun to think what effect independence would have upon Scottish ex-pats living in England?
Goodness knows what other issues independence will turn up that I haven’t thought of. In a world where everything is about reducing impediments and integrating systems, who knows what chaos a sudden against-the-flow decision to create a massive new barrier might trip?
Again, as I say, everything might turn out to be eminently sortable, but these issues need exploring before we, as citizens of the United Kingdom, as is our democratic right, turn out to vote on whether we wish to see our United Kingdom dissolved.