First, the positive case. Scots should vote “No” because the Union that constitutes Great Britain is one of the world’s great states, both powerful and good.
The partnership of Scotland with the rest of the UK does of course have a glorious history – financial, philosophical, entrepreneurial, industrial, military – but it is a bad mistake to imagine that the greatness of Britain is something only of the past. Britain remains somewhere between the second and sixth most powerful and influential country in the world. It is scheduled to have the largest economy and largest population in Europe in around 15 to 20 years. It is noted the world over for its support of liberty and defence of human rights. New countries dream that they one day might have a political system as stable and free as Britain’s. Those fleeing oppression still travel vast distances to come to Britain to seek a better and safer life. To destroy Britain would be to remove the most influential, benevolent great world power in history, at great cost to freedom and prosperity for many of tomorrow’s citizens of the world. Britain’s greatness lies in the present and the future, not just the past, and Scots and Scotland have always been a core component of that.
Scotland is very politically influential within the UK. The role of senior Scottish politicians – including those many that stand for non-Scottish seats – as prime ministers and senior members of the Cabinet is well known. But Scottish seats are also frequently crucial in moulding the shape of UK governments, with Scottish votes overruling the preferences of those in the rest of the UK around half as often as Scotland’s preferences are themselves overruled – a vast influence in proportion to Scotland’s population.
Scotland is also economically prosperous within the UK, on some standards the 14th richest nation in the world. This wealth is in no small part a reflection of the deep economic, political and cultural integration that comes precisely because Scotland is one country with the rest of the UK. Scots also benefit from the ability to travel and settle freely within the UK, with more than 800,000 of those born in Scotland having chosen to do so.
Thus, Britain is a great country that Scotland and Scots benefit enormously by being part of. Now to the negative case.
The first element of the negative case is that the “independence” on offer to Scots is an illusion. The policies of the SNP would not mean independence. The SNP proposes that after independence Scotland will join the EU. But all new EU members must join the euro – a pointreiterated by other EU member state leaders only yesterday – and membership of the euro will in due course, perhaps within ten years, means participation in the Single European State, not independence. Scotland would certainly not be a member of the EU automatically. Though Scottish citizens, as former British citizens, might continue to be EU citizens – at least for a period – that would not imply Scotland’s being a member of the EU. Indeed, that might even mean that many talented Scots would leave Scotland, post-independence, to take up opportunities within the EU while they still could. While Scotland were outside the EU and the remainder of the UK in the EU, that would mean border controls and tariffs with Scotland (as occur with all borders between the EU and those outside the European Economic Area). The same would apply if Scotland eventually joined the EU and the remainder of the UK left.
With the right policies, over the medium term Scotland could of course function and even prosper economically as an independent country. But would those right policies be put in place? The SNP says that after independence Scotland will use the pound sterling “come what may” – i.e. whether or not there is a currency union with the remainder of the UK (which there definitely will not be). But such a policy will mean the departure of almost all Scotland’s main banks (and that is not simply a theoretical claim), a budget that is usually in surplus and the need for large cuts to public spending for the foreseeable future. Within the UK Scotland is able press for (and frequently bring about) a Left-wing socialist or social democrat political agenda. A Scotland that used the pound despite there being no currency union would need to have economic policies far to the political Right (in terms of, for example, the proportion of GDP comprised by public spending) of anything any of the major UK political parties has contemplated for over a century.
Again, SNP politicians propose policies for an independent Scotland that international partners would consider highly irresponsible. Alex Salmond threatens to renege on Scotland’s share of UK debt. When challenged on the point that membership of the EU will entail committing to join the euro, many Yes campaigners suggest that Scotland would commit to joining the euro but then never get around to qualifying for membership despite that commitment. These are not the acts of responsible government. And that is before one considers the wilder threats that businesses that opposed Scottish independence will face a “day of reckoning” once independence comes. International partners and businesses considering where to invest want political leaders that they can trust to keep their promises, not leaders that walk away from debts they could pay or that say they will enter into undertakings they have no intention of honouring.
The transition for an independent Scotland would not be pain-free. It could of course be made to work, after a fashion, eventually. No-one should pretend that an independent Scotland could not succeed. But Scotland is not politically dominated or oppressed or impoverished or dishonoured as part of the Union. On the contrary, it is prosperous and influential and free and a participant in of the world’s great countries. It should not give that up easily. It should certainly not give that up on the basis of lies, half-lies and delusions.