Firstly, the polls. The first YouGov poll on Sunday to put Yes ahead, and the more recent ones showing No and Yes neck-and-neck. These obviously buoyed the SNP and the others in favour of independence. But can they be trusted? Or will it be like the 1992 election, when everyone predicted a great victory for Labour, yet the Conservatives one a majority. I am inclined to think it would be, as people on the day itself will worry more about the uncertainties then they had before, when push comes to shove I fully expect many to vote No, particularly undecided voters. It is also important to note that a Palermina poll on Sunday still had No ahead 53% to 47%, and they were considered one of the more generous polls to the Yes camp. YouGov is not completely accurate, and there is a margin for error, indeed before Sunday it was the nationalists who criticised YouGov’s accuracy. A recent average of polls still has No ahead, 49% to 39% with the rest undecided. Obviously the undecided will make all the difference, but as I said people tend to default to the status quo if they have not been convinced otherwise, or they simply will not vote.
So what happens after the vote?
If Scotland votes Yes, then things will be very uncertain. I shall look at several main points.
Currency: A formal currency union has been called “unworkable”, although the SNP assure Yes that they can keep the pound this looks unlikely unless they do it via ‘Sterlingisation’ which poses many risks and limits financial controls. Also if Scotland does join the EU they would probably have to accept the Euro as their currency.
EU: I do believe an independent Scotland would get into the EU, despite the less than favourable opinion of Spain and some other countries with independence movements. However I highly doubt they would get the same concessions the UK managed to get. As I said they would probably have to join the Euro, as well as accept the other more normal conditions, probably not getting an opt out as the UK has. It might also have to join the Schengen travel zone, adding more difficulty for the new border between Scotland and England. Admittedly the latter is less likely, Ireland is not in the Schengen zone, so Scotland could probably avoid it, but it is an important possibility.
Economy: The market hates uncertainty, as we have seen with the reactions to the latest polls, with Scottish companies losing investment and the pound plunging. Nothing is more uncertain then a newly independent country. Several companies and businesses have already said they would pull out of Scotland in the event of a Yes vote, many moving to London. Trade with the rest of the UK is another difficult question, particularly if one of us is in the EU while the other is not. The vast majority of Scotland’s trade is with the UK, whereas a much smaller per cent of the UK’s trade involves Scotland. There is also the problem of Scotland’s rapidly ageing population, the UK to has an ageing population, but this is offset by our high amount of immigration, which Scotland lacks. This would mean taxes would need to rise to keep paying pensions. Of course Salmond maintains that there is plenty of oil left, and that it will support Scotland’s increased welfare plans. Even if he is correct, he also wants an oil fund, and berated Darling for not setting one up, but an oil fund prevents you spending the money there and then. (The SNP supported spending the oil money immediately at the time it was discovered).
I do believe Scotland could survive as an independent country, I just do not think it would thrive, and it would certainly have a lot of problems and issues to deal with in the first 10, 20 or 30 years, at least.
But what if it votes No?
All the major parties have promised more powers for Scotland. Excellent, a good compromise. Or is it? (There should be a referendum on this as well, which I have yet to here mentioned). One problem is that if more power is devolved to the Scottish Parliament it could result in a disjointed economy, with Scotland and the rest of the UK pursuing different economic policy, but each being able to drag down the other if it goes into crisis. Risky. But there is a far more important problem-accountability. Although you might think that having a devolved parliament would make politicians more accountable, this does not seem to be the case. Take the USA that has several separate but equal sections of federal government, as well as having State governments. There is a simple problem with holding politicians accountable in the USA, who do you blame? If you are unhappy with how Texas is being run who is at fault? Who do you vote out? Governor? Congress? President? As an article in the Washington Post explains (http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/10/02/the-shutdown-is-the-constitutions-fault/ The section titled “Can’t the Voters stop this?” is the relevant one) whoever you think is to blame, usually who you get to vote for first once you become dissatisfied, or whoever you perceive to have the most power. What does any of this have to do with a quite different way of dividing powers we have in the UK? Well, if Scotland votes No then it will never taste independence, many hard-core Yes voters will continue to argue they should become independent, and any problems in Scotland are more likely to be blamed on Westminster than Holyrood. Case in point, the SNP argued that independence would keep the NHS safe from Tory privatisation, but whatever you think of it in England and Wales, the Conservatives are not responsible for it in Scotland. The Scottish parliament already has been given full control over NHS funding there, and it is the SNP who have ‘privatised’ the NHS just as much as the Conservatives.
It is this kind of deceit, which makes me feel that, whichever way Scotland votes, the UK loses. I may disagree with Ed Milliband, Nick Clegg or David Cameron, but I dislike Alex Salmond. Much like Nigel Farage he is a persuasive nationalist leader campaigning for separation. Both declare Westminster are bad, both play fast and loose with the truth, both lead parties that will do anything to get what they want. It is one of the ironies of the independence campaign that the SNP disagree with UKIP so much, when they are similar in many ways. Both lie through their teeth to get what they want.