Monday, 16 January 2012

War of Independence

After much sabre rattling on both sides of the border, it would seem that Alex Salmond, the First Minister of Scotland, will soon be holding talks with David Cameron regarding a referendum on Scottish independence. Despite an ICM survey, and an opinion poll for the Mail on Sunday, suggesting Mr Salmond was swimming against the tide in his preference for independence, his Scottish National Party hailed the proposed pow-wow with the big fish in Westminster a “very welcome development”. As with many potential break-ups, some of the rhetoric has been a tad acrimonious, with both parties taking legal advice, and on more than just who gets the CD collection.

The statistics suggest that English voters are more inclined to support Scottish independence than even the Scots themselves, but at 43% and 29% respectively, neither survey strongly support a separation. Scottish voices in Westminster have not been welcoming either. Former Chancellor Alastair Darling declared “the downsides are immense, the risks are amazing,” and he has lived next door to Gordon Brown. Regarding the slippery issue of currency, Darling pointed out that if an independent Scotland stuck with sterling, it faced the same situation as Euro-zone members. The prospect of using a currency whose central bank is in a foreign country, that controls your interest rates, is hardly mouth-watering to the independently minded. Alternatively, you could swallow hard and join the Euro, an option likely to leave you losing your appetite altogether.

When even the established currencies are barely buoyant, the start-your-own-scenario might also represent a ready-made recipe for disaster. The economic equivalent of home-brew heart surgery, and as likely to succeed, this third theory does, however, conjure up the Caledonian conundrum of which national treasure should grace the coinage in the manifest absence of monarchy. My money would be on Robert the Bruce, William Wallace, or Lulu. 

Labour leans heavily on a support base north of the border, but there are more pandas in Scotland than Tory MPs. Despite that discrepancy, cross party commitment to the union exists in the Commons, alongside the need to debate the when and the how of the proposed referendum. Cameron claims it should come in the next 18 months, Salmond says 2014, to coincide with the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn. That was a significant victory for Scottish independence, but I wouldn’t put many Lulu dollars on another one. 

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