While polls now switch sides daily, a September 18th yes-vote for Scottish independence will break her three centuries-old union with England, Wales and Northern Ireland, barring surprises from canny Scots who can still add and subtract. There also may be more plebiscites to come, and mayhem regardless. Nobody worked this out, neither the Stay Together coalition of national political parties which was sloppy and complacent until possibly too late, nor the Scottish Nationalist Party which, like the Great Oz, doesn’t want anyone looking at the shambles behind the voting-booth curtain. Now, last-minute financial doubts about independence, and unionists threatened by nationalist thugs causing defensive lying to pollsters, may save the union by a hair. Or not.
For weeks far beneath the media radar, small businesses in Scotland have surreptitiously opened bank accounts in England and siphoned funds across. UK savers with Scottish banks, even in English branches, have shifted their money into insured-deposit, fully-English banks, fearing that the UK government-owned-and-subsidised RBS and others may be allowed to fail after Scots independence. I am told that Edinburgh’s once-mighty financiers are escaping over the grouse moors, and that an optimistic Scots real-estate agent takes his lunch to work. Hardly anyone disputes that a Yes victory will cause more capital flight; only how much. Meanwhile Scotland’s biggest banks have just confessed that they’ll apply to move to London if Scotland goes independent, jeopardising thousands of jobs.
A Yes vote will almost certainly increase unemployment by three: the heads of the Conservative, Liberal Democrat and Labour Parties; narcissists who barely rule large, more extreme and increasingly resentful factions. Sloppy like many other Western lawmakers, they assumed that nobody cared, did not do their policy homework, scribbled referenda incompetently and in haste, and posed for more fawning portraits. Hence the referendum is a mess, worded to promote independence, letting English residents in Scotland vote while denying it to Scots in England, and disenfranchising members of the historic Scottish regiments serving outside of Scotland. Both sides might have hired the authors of ObamaCare.
At the last minute, the Better Together crowd stirred only a little. Virtually every well-known figure in Britain with an IQ over room temperature—English, Scots, Northern Irish and Welsh—has publicly supported union, from artists and rock stars and other entertainers, from entrepreneurs and financiers and statesmen, pundits and novelists and editors, right-wing and left-wing, respectable or flaneur, hetero or homo. Every argument for togetherness has been made. European grandees hint that an independent Scotland will not likely be welcome at the European Union trough, especially while Spain and Belgium face aspiring breakaway regions of their own. Economists mostly concur that Scotland can hardly support her entitlement culture without massive cuts, since England already tops them up by $5,000 per capita per annum. If Scots notice it will be in the final days.
Phooey, scorns Scotland’s nationalist Chief Minister, Alex Salmond, who threatens to seize all dwindling North Sea oil revenues—which he’s already promised in multiple for Scotland’s no-nuke defences, family welfare exceeding posh Scandinavian levels, innumerable new government jobs, infrastructure and much, much more. Will Scotland build its own embassies? Its own version of the BBC? Its defences in order to join NATO? Nobody knows. Where will the money come from? Ditto.
Then what to use for money? Scotland cannot legally join the European Union and adopt the Euro without its own central bank, which takes cash-starved years to build. A new currency requires massively expensive borrowing. So Salmond says they’ll use the British pound instead, and if he doesn’t get his way he’ll renege on Scotland’s share of UK national debt. There may be no more gangsterish way to irritate the English and scare off potential investors.
An independent Scotland would start life with debt worth 12 times her GDP, says Credit Suisse, much higher than the UK’s. Of course this may resemble terminal cancer patients fretting about the risk of bicycling without a helmet. The entire West is riddled with unpayable debt. The UK’s relative strength is thus like a dozen elevators plunging to earth from the 82nd floor, with the UK falling only marginally slower than the others, attracting “savvy” investors who’ll live only a few nanoseconds longer.
Meanwhile the unionist politicians, in an already destitute United Kingdom, keep waving bigger and bigger bribes at mobs too drunk to notice. The Scots already enjoy a devolved parliament in Edinburgh plus a full vote on English matters in Westminster, further powers and cash on the way, and even more if they vote to stay. Every day the bribes are increased. But no matter because, as P. G. Wodehouse says, “it’s never been difficult to distinguish between a Scotsman with a grievance and a ray of sunshine.” Offer the kilted Yes-crowd anything and they sneer that it isn’t sufficient, or that it’s a typically devious English trick, or less than Scots are due after centuries of alleged injustice. Smile and they try to head-butt you, frown and you get slashed at with broken beer bottles, or struggle to look neutral and they call you haughty and spit on your shirt. Ye cannae win, laddie. Nationalist thugs break up unionist meetings, shout down or punch up opponents, deface websites and blackmail businesses by threatening worse treatment after independence. No wonder why so many Scots make contingency plans to flee the Tartan SS.
The independence movement contains more than a few corrosive socialists, angry and jealous and greedy in equal measure. It also has many giddy romantics: a television comic asked whether more voters would get excited by stripping half-naked, painting their buttocks blue, waving an axe and screaming “FREEDOM,” or with men in suits mumbling about more of the same. No need to guess. Foreign guest-workers and tourists universally support the Yessers, urging the kilted lunatic to jump off the window-ledge for the cameras. Scotland may be the first country to kill itself from boredom.
Scotland, like all UK regions apart from London and two in the south-east, is a parasite, gobbling far more money than it contributes. After independence, with no more England to suck dry, will they tighten their belts and buckle down? Fancy a wager? After independence their basic socio-economic policy will be cannibalism. Leaders surely won’t blame themselves and their baying mobs instead of scapegoats! Bloated on welfare and deep-fried Mars bars, drunk on neat sprits and entitlement, their demagogues will first eat the English who own second homes north of Hadrian’s Wall, then Scotland’s own rich, then her middle classes. Wealth tax will be added to exit charges. Smart Scots eager for a better life will disguise themselves as gypsies and immigrate to Rumania. Before their countrymen come to their senses and abandon their gamey Scotch broth of ideologies, they’ll have been reduced to, as a Scots friend says, “eating their own young.”
That’s pretty much what they did prior to the Acts of Union in 1707, when their poor country was too small to support much industry. Bigger markets, across the British Isles and her colonies, let them more fully use their impressive brains, brawn and industrious values, comprising what we call human capital and Scotland’s Adam Smith defined as “the wealth of nations.” In the 18th Century they exported entrepreneurs, products and philosophers too; in the 19th inventors and inventions, engineering and engineers, financial wizards and poets and novelists, colonial administrators and of course soldiers. But alas, a century ago they discovered trade unions and eventually priced themselves out of the world market. Then, drunk on democratic power, they discovered socialism, welfare, indolence, entitlement and embittered jealousy. Today, excluding 700,000 hard at work in England and a few at home, they are often drunken, brawling and menacing welfare bums. Independence will make them look into the mirror, and perhaps eventually recoil in horror at what degradation they see.
Scotsmen are pro-independence if sober enough to answer questions. Working-class women are always more conservative: they do the shopping and thus elected Thatcher in the UK and ousted Allende in Chile. Older Christians support union in whispers: Glasgow Catholics because they fear losing the protective English and falling prey to bullying Scots Protestants; while some pro-union Protestants fear getting outnumbered by Scotland’s allegedly hyper-productive Catholic families. Younger Catholics and Protestants spurn sectarianism and worship in pubs. Union is supported by Scotland’s Conservative Party members—both of them and their two dogs. The young favour independence, so Salmond’s nationalists rewrote the law to let 16-year-olds vote: expect misspelled write-ins demanding better video games.
If Scots vote no, but not resoundingly so, we’ll suffer another decade of nationalist whinging and begging, rent-seeking and thuggery. That optimistic prospect is still just possible, if enough mercantile Scots can add up impending bankruptcy and decide to bask in bribes instead. If they vote yes there still may be another vote soon, if controversial independence negotiations justify voting to accept the plan or to demand a whole new deal. Then another and so on. So this week’s vote, yes or no, may be overturned by another one later.
A few of us Britons, who venerate our union, believe that losing leftist Scotland may put a smaller union under a smaller Parliament dependably governed by a permanent Conservative Party majority. Like throwing the brawling drunk out of the balloon basket, it may save England, Wales and Northern Ireland. It may also help the Conservatives jettison their trendy-lefty, chattering classes, poodle of a party leader who botched the referendum for all his time squandered on promoting homosexual marriage, persecuting Christians in court, scouring the world for vainglorious wars, and concocting middle-class welfare schemes instead of conquering government debt.
A Yes vote may even save the Scots, if after a few generations of self-induced misery they recapture their great, and many, lost virtues. Revived, that formerly bonny wee nation might even lead the world again.
Books on the topic of this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore.