Athens of the North

There is to be a referendum in Scotland as to whether Scotland wants to leave the United Kingdom. Only Scots get to vote, which is as it should be.  The polls suggest that the vote will be about 2-1 in favour of staying in the UK; we shall see.  The Scottish Independence Party are confident of gathering more support between now and the referendum itself.

But an interesting question arises as to what the English think of all this. It might be more likely that the independence motion would get up if the English were included: many English would probably be in favour of independence for Scotland, if they bothered to think about it at all.  Not so much because the English dislike the Scots (by and large, the English view is that the Scots are bit boring and grumpy, but generally unobjectionable) but for these reasons:

  • Most English people are Conservatives. If it were not for the anti-Conservative sentiment in Scotland and Wales, the Conservatives would have won virtually every general election for the last 100 years. So the effect of the present constitutional arrangement is often to deprive the English of the colour of government that most of them want;
  • Further, the current arrangement is that elected Scottish politicians get to decide what happens in England, whereas elected English politicians have a much smaller say in what happens in Scotland (this is not a big point, really. Most English people do not care what happens in Scotland, now that they have stopped trying to invade England)
  • Scots get a disproportionate share of public expenditure.  Figures vary; these are the figures for annual per capita public spending from Wikipedia(leaving aside things like servicing the national debt, which cannot be allocated to any region):
    • England £7,121
    • Scotland £8,623

Some say that this is not unfair: the practical reality is that many bright Scots leave Scotland and move to England, and so it is not unreasonable to sponsor the less bright Scots who get left at home.  But if there were independence for Scotland, the bright Scots would still move to England, and if the Scots were to vote for independence, they could hardly complain about the end of the subsidy.

In any event, if the Scots were to become independent, it is most unlikely that the English would agree to any fiscal union with them. And it quite likely that – despite their reputation for financial prudence (ha ha) – the Scots would spend themselves into economic ruin within a decade.

What about the North Sea oil that the Scottish National Party is slathering over? Not so easy. Firstly, the SNP say that 90% of it would fall within Scottish territorial water, but that is far from clear.  Other estimates put Scotland’s share of North Sea oil and gas at just 14% (the rest belonging to Norway, Denmark, Netherlands and England).  Secondly, the production today from these aging fields is just a fraction of what it once was.  Thirdly, if the oil price eases (as seems likely) then Scotland’s only real revenue earner will collapse. And fourthly, it is by no means obvious that the Shetland and/or Orkney Islands – or even the Hebrides – would want to follow the Scottish mainland down an independence path; they are a traditional Lib-Dem stronghold, and the Lib-Dems point out that they do not like the idea being ruled by Glaswegian trade unionists and Edinburgh lawyers.  They might prefer to remain part of the UK, and given their impact on the territorial water thing, might well have quite a significant bargaining position.

But never mind that.  People tend to vote on these sorts of these issues with their hearts, and the Scots might well prefer being independent even if that means being poor.  Good for them. It will give them something worthwhile to moan about, and we can expect a resurgence in good Scottish whinge-music.

And anyway Edinburgh would eventually make good on its boast of being the “Athens of the North”.


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