The Scottish Independence Referendum
The phone-in on BBC Radio 5 this morning, was about the possible Scottish Independence Referendum, which is being debated by David Cameron’s cabinet today.
I should say, that I don’t care much, whether Scotland is independent from the UK or not. after all, there would be one big advantage to England if Scotland were to be independent.
It would mean that the result of UK General Elections would not be skewed because of the overwhelmingly left-facing vote north of the border. It would also mean that policies for England would not be decided in a Parliament, where many of the members had no electoral connection to England, but still voted on English law. Tam Dalyell posed this as the West Lothian question and summed it up as follows.
For how long will English constituencies and English Honourable members tolerate … at least 119 Honourable Members from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland exercising an important, and probably often decisive, effect on English politics while they themselves have no say in the same matters in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland?
I agree with this and it is a running sore to many English voters. Interestingly, to sort the West Lothian Question doesn’t need Scottish independence, but just a simple change to UK law, which would say that on matters of English law, only English MPs could vote. But would the Labour Party give up this right?
There might well be other advantages to England and I won’t debate them here, but I think it is in the interest of the whole of the UK, that the problem is settled one way or another before the end of the current UK Parliament.
Some of the biggest problems do not concern either the UK or the Scottish governments.
Suppose you are the CEO of an airline with a service to the London area, that is thinking of serving a second airport in the north of the UK. Obviously, your choice is between Manchester, Edinburgh and Glasgow. But which? Uncertainty about the status of Scotland in the UK doesn’t help your decision. From my experience of the trains between Manchester and Scotland, it would appear that Manchester is getting the business, as opposed to Glasgow or Edinburgh. Note these points too.
- In 2010, Manchester was used by slightly more passengers than Glasgow and Edinburgh combined.
- The Scottish airports are not connected directly to the rail network. Manchester is and is due to get extra connections in the next few years.
- All airports have direct air links to either Gatwick, Heathrow or Stansted.
If Scotland’s status in the UK were to be sorted long-term, it would be a much easier decision.
There are a lot of other business decisions that are suffering from the same uncertaincy.
I actually think that the biggest problem with any Scottish referendum, is that no matter how it is written, it would not give a clear-cut result, that would satisfy everybody.
There could be three possible boxes on the ballot paper for a referendum.
- Complete independence for Scotland.
- More devolution for Scotland.
- Carry on as we are now.
The Scottish Nationalists would be very happy with one and possibly two. But as time progressed, I suspect that if they didn’t get complete independence, they’d come back again and again until they got the result they wanted. The uncertainty would be bad for Scotland and not very good for the UK. So in my view David Cameron is right to insist on an early binding referendum to put the issue to bed, once and for all. It would appear that the Scottish Nationalists want the referendum in 2014, as it’s the seven hundredth anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn. I actually think that would be a recipe for a lot of trouble, that no-one wants.
The English would also like to bury the argument and most would be happy if Scotland became independent, as it would mean no Scottish interference in matters purely of interest to the English. Remember too, that the last two Scottish Prime Ministers of the UK, are not held in much affection in England. I think too, that the English would also be happy to go along with a very definite vote for the status quo, providing that the West Lothian Question was settled and there was no chance of another referendum for at least fifteen years or so.
I feel a bit sorry for the Welsh here, as they were a bit short-changed on devolution by Tony Blair. I do have this feeling though, that Wales will do well economically in the next few years, especially if they get the infrastructure a lot better.
Northern Ireland is a totally different matter and I’ve always believed that it should be united with the south. But that will probably not happen in my lifetime.
To return to the Scottish Referendum, would any political party get a result they want?
Scotland is a much more divided country than England, although both have a lot of regional pride. Edinburgh and Glasgow rarely agree and I’ve read reports in the past, about the islands not wanting independence at all, except from the rest of Scotland.
So it will be very difficult for any party to marshall the voters.
In fact, I think that in a three choice referendum, the Scots are more likely to vote strongly for maintaining the status quo.
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