Scotland’s Independence Day Approaches, Ctd


Sam Wang examines the Scottish polls:

Thursday’s election will be extremely close, thanks to the elusive quality of political momentum. Shown above are the results of opinion surveys conducted in Scotland on this question. Each data point shows the median of 2 to 6 surveys, and the gray zone indicates the 1-sigma confidence band. The word “momentum” gets thrown around loosely in politics. To get back to its meaning in physics, one definition might be a change in opinion that looks like it will continue in the same direction. In that sense, “yes” has had the momentum.

Mark Gilbert expects that the way the referendum is phrased will impact the vote:

“There’s lots of experimental research showing that a strong positivity bias exists,” Andrew Colman, a psychology professor at the University of Leicester, said in response to e-mailed questions. “The ‘Better Together’ campaign, or perhaps the U.K. government, made a mistake allowing the ballot question to be as it is. It is obviously easier to campaign for ‘Yes, we can’ than ‘No, we can’t.’ If the U.K. government wanted to keep Scotland in the union, then the question should have been ‘Do you want Scotland to remain part of the United Kingdom?'”

I’m finding all of this riveting. We’re talking about secession, after all, an option David Cameron insisted upon as a binary matter three overly-confident years ago. And yet a supra-nation has to have a binding identity to keep its constituent parts together. Britain was a vehicle for empire; that was its core purpose; and that purpose is no more. The deep cultural shifts in England that I detected even fifteen years ago have only gained momentum. And meaning matters – more, perhaps, than things like a stable currency or even economic growth. For a very long time, the English have alternately over-compensated for Scottish resentment – think of how many Scots have been prime ministers of Britain over the years – and yet also treated the place as a distant province.

I’m against secession, but I understand where the Scots are coming from. People want to be in charge their own destiny, be in control of their own future. If they no longer truly identify as British rather than as Scottish, then their future is effectively being determined by someone else – and it doesn’t help matters that Cameron is almost a text-book example of the kind of Englishman the Scots have always detested. This deep sense of identity matters in politics. Nations are mysterious things, wrapped up in human psychology. And what I’m seeing from this distance is an element of excitement for the future in Scotland that I haven’t seen before. I think that when such underlying shifts have already occurred, it is not unreasonable to adjust the political arrangements to accommodate them. Just read your Burke. And who doesn’t get a little thrill at the thought of Elizabeth, Queen of Scots?

Much more opinion and analysis below. Frum claims that Scottish independence is against America’s interests:

First, a ‘Yes’ vote would immediately deliver a shattering blow to the political and economic stability of a crucial American ally and global financial power. The day after a ‘Yes’ vote, the British political system would be plunged into a protracted, self-involved constitutional crisis. Britain’s ability to act effectively would be gravely impaired on every issue: ISIS, Ukraine, the weak economic recovery in the European Union.

Second, a ‘Yes’ vote would lead to a longer-term decline in Britain’s contribution to global security. The Scottish separatists have a 30-year history of hostility toward NATO. They abruptly reversed their position on the military alliance in 2012 to reassure wavering middle-of-the-road voters. But the sincerity of this referendum-eve conversion is doubtful. Even if it was authentic, the SNP’s continuing insistence on a nuclear weapons-free policy would lock U.S. and U.K. forces out of Scotland’s naval bases. The SNP’s instincts are often anti-American and pro-anybody-on-the-other-side of any quarrel with the United States, from Vladimir Putin to Hamas.

Larison pushes back on Frum:

[T]he “potential disaster” isn’t anything of the kind. The rest of the U.K., NATO, and the EU will continue to function just as well (or just as poorly) as ever. The U.K. was already being held back from a very activist foreign policy by its fiscal priorities and the public’s aversion to involvement in new foreign wars, so the separation of Scotland would have less of an effect than at almost any time in the last thirty years. Whatever problems NATO and the EU may have, including Scotland in these organizations won’t be a serious problem for either of them. NATO is already filled with small countries that don’t pull their weight. One more or less won’t make any difference. Both organizations may make it difficult for Scotland to join for individual members’ own reasons, but in that case Scotland wouldn’t be contributing to their dysfunction for years to come.

Noah Millman mulls Scottish nationalism:

In a multi-cultural age, nationalism makes sense as a response to collective oppression, which Scotland does not suffer from, and/or some sense of profound and unbridgeable difference, which Scotland does not really manifest. Nationalism as an ideal in itself, as a way for a people to establish itself as a force in the world, romantically actualizing their ethno-historical essence, frog-marching their people into modernity and/or purifying themselves of foreign influences – all elements of nationalism when it mattered for Germany, or Italy, or China, or Japan, or Egypt, or Israel – is more than slightly alarming to contemporary cosmopolitans. But on that score Scottish nationalism doesn’t look much like nationalism at all. And, okay, maybe it’s just more practical for New Zealand not to be governed from the other side of the world. But is Scotland really “necessary” or “inevitable” in that sense? Not really. So why vote yes? Isn’t it setting the requirements for divorce rather low?

Bloomberg View’s editors encourage Scotland to stay:

[W]hat problem, exactly, is independence supposed to fix? In a sense, Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond and his supporters have already won the battles that count. Scotland already sets its own course in education, offering free university tuition compared with the 9,000 pounds a year payable in England, and in health care withfree medical prescriptions (which the English help to pay for). Moreover, the U.K. government is clambering to devolve more tax and spending powers, both in response to the independence movement and as part of a wider acknowledgment that more decentralization is desirable.

With the momentum toward devolution likely to accelerate, Scotland is in a position to gain control of its fiscal affairs without abandoning a relationship that has worked well for more than three centuries. Its politicians could tailor economic and social policies to suit local needs without the potentially disastrous distractions of balancing the books, managing its heightened dependence on oil, and seeking membership of an EU that is wary of setting a precedent for Spain’s Catalonia and other discontented regions.

Matthew Dal Santo has related concerns about independence:

It’s not fear that’s clouding the referendum debate; it’s amnesia about the scale of the union’s achievements and the inter-dependence of the British peoples. After 1707, Scots and English (and Welsh) invented Britishness together. It’s entirely within their creative capacity to reshape its content for the 21st century.

Larison calls out a double-standard:

Western policymakers and pundits are normally too enamored of the benefits of partition, secession, and the creation of new states when it applies to states that they don’t like or that they view as intractable problems. Iraq isn’t stable? Maybe we should split it up into sectarian and ethnic enclaves, regardless of what the people living there might want. Sudan suffers from a protracted civil war? Let’s create a new, automatically failed state as part of the “solution.” Ukraine is politically divided and dysfunctional? Maybe we should cut it in half! Over the last few months, advocating for an independent Kurdistan has suddenly become popular again, as if that weren’t potentially very dangerous and explosive for the entire region. But when there is a popular movement to establish a new state peacefully and it affects a Western country that they know well, it suddenly seems mystifying and bizarre. “Why would anyone want to do that?” they ask. Self-determination and national independence are supposed to be what nations somewhere else want. People living in modern Western democracies are supposed to have outgrown that sort of thing.

And Emile Simpson is upset that the rest of Britain doesn’t get a vote:

[T]o have no voice feels culturally unjust. Not just for many of those among the 830,000 people born in Scotland who now live elsewhere in the United Kingdom (and thus can’t vote), but for many British citizens who feel that Scotland is inseparably intertwined with their broader cultural identity. Both my grandfather’s name (Simpson) and my grandmother’s maiden name (McDougall) are Scottish. My family can trace some of our Scottish ancestors back to the 19th century, and I take pride in that.

Scottish nationalists will say, “That doesn’t make you Scottish.” That is true in my case — I don’t identify as Scottish; I identify primarily as British — but it is also banal. What I resent in that argument is being forced out of claiming as my primary civic identity an open-facing and inclusive “British” identity, which incorporates and celebrates the diversity of sub-national character and origins within the United Kingdom. There are countless families whose roots and cultural heritage span far beneath the border; cutting the family tree’s roots in two will cause many of them huge cultural pain in a visceral, human sense.

Previous Dish on Scotland here.

Scotland’s Independence Day Approaches

Groundskeeper Willie weighs in:

But, even with that key endorsement, Sam Wang calculates that No is favored to win:

There was some excitement over a YouGov/Sunday Times survey showing the “yes” vote leading by 2%. However, that now appears to be an outlier. The most recent five surveys, all completed in the last 10 days, show a lead for No by 4.0 ± 1.3%. As of today, that means a 95% probability that the referendum would fail in an election held today.

Felix Salmon, on the other hand, predicts that Scotland will vote Yes:

I still think the Yes campaign is going to win, just because, given the choice, nations tend to want independence. Especially when they’re voting for a peaceful divorce from a country (more realistically, a city) which doesn’t care about them and doesn’t share their values. Would Scotland be worse off as an independent country? Yes. Is that sufficient reason to vote no? No.

A.L. Kennedy is taken with the idea of independence:

[L]et’s repeat that question: “Should Scotland be an independent nation?”

That shouldit is philosophicalhas opened up areas of aspiration and communal possibility. It’s not about money, not about habit, it’s aboutwith one wordchanging the course of a nation’s history and finally ending an empire. Which is to say, it’s about voting and effecting actual, real-world change. This may be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Or it may lead votersNorth and South of the borderto expect more from every appeal to their settled will, which is what a democratic election involves, after all: Politicians beg for power from the people, even if it often seems otherwise.

Daniel Berman rattles off the many mistakes of the Unionists. A biggie:

The NO campaign has not been lacking in dire warnings; the Scots have been threatened with the loss of everything from the Pound(the Bank of England has said there will be no currency union), to the BBC. Yet the effectiveness of these attacks has been undermined by the signs from Osborne and others that Westminster is willing to offer them whatever they want if they don’t leave. Would a government this desperate really treat Scotland like an enemy? At the same time, however, the threats have been sufficient and blunt enough to be interpreted as hostile, uniting many Scots in the view that the English see them as an “other” that all too many southern voters would like to see suffer. NO has done what the SNP’s best efforts have failed to do: made Scots feel like a distinct nationality, even if they remain, or wish to remain, within the borders of the United Kingdom.

Ilya Somin considers Scotland’s economic prospects:

Whether independent Scotland ends up with a larger welfare state than it has now or a smaller one depends in large part on whether the Scots will be able to finance higher government spending with North Sea oil revenue. Oil production in that region has declined 40% over the last four years, so this may well be a wasting asset. Its future prospects are unclear. It is also far from certain whether the British government will simply let Scotland keep all of the oil, as opposed to insisting on a division proportional to Scotland’s percentage of the UK population.

Jordan Weissmann also examines Scotland’s oil reserves:

The Scottish National Party has optimistic estimates [about North Sea oil] based on the assumption that investing in better technology will let the industry drill more oil out of the ocean. Sir Ian Wood, a billionaire Scottish oil executive, has called those predictions a “fantasy,” and said that revenues from the North Sea “will simply not be there in 25 to 30 years’ time.” The U.K.’s Office for Budget Responsibility thinks output will be far lower than the nationalists hope.

As the Guardian soberly put it, “oil should be a crucial factor in weighing up how Scots vote on 18 September, but the scale and longevity of the country’s fossil fuel wealth remains a matter of debate.”

Matt Ford reads through Scotland’s draft constitution:

The U.S. constitution is heavily influenced by British democracy, but also by its perceived shortcomings. So is Scotland’s draft document. Instead of welding the elected House of Commons to a House of Lords, Scotland’s legislature would be unicameral and elected by proportional representation. Elizabeth II would reign as the first Queen of Scots in more than three centuries, but Scots would have a monarch as an expression of their sovereignty, not the other way around.

Scots law, long distinct from the Anglo-Norman legal tradition, would outpace it on human-rights protections, too. The Scottish constitution would explicitly forbid discrimination on the basis of age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage or civil partnership, pregnancy or maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, and/or sexual orientation. To safeguard these rights, the constitution would also enshrine total judicial independence. With few exceptions, U.K. courts cannot strike down laws passed by Parliament.

And Clive Crook fears that Scotland will come to regret independence:

The question Thursday is whether Scotland should stay in the U.K. for Scotland’s sake. It’s a close call. Though many small countries do well, they face risks that big countries can more easily absorb. One such risk is that they fail to get along with their bigger neighbors. An independent Scotland would need good relations with England more than England would need good relations with Scotland. That’s something Scots should keep in mind.

The main danger, in fact, is that the divorce they’re contemplating might turn bitter. This could happen easily, and if it did, Scotland would be the weaker party. As that became obvious, Scots might pine for the benefits of a tolerably, even if not blissfully, happy union.

Earlier Dish on Scotland here.

The Scottish Vote Is Neck-And-Neck

No has regained a slight lead:

Scotland VoteYouGov’s latest survey has No, on 52%, narrowly ahead of Yes, 48%, after excluding don’t knows. This is the first time No has gained ground since early August. Three previous polls over the past month had recorded successive four point increases in backing for independence. In early August Yes support stood at 39%; by last weekend it had climbed to 51%. …

A key reason for the renewed fears of independence is what might happen to people’s bank accounts. The biggest single advantage of the union cited by No voters is that the UK would have the resources to step in if Scotland faced another crisis of the kind that erupted in 2008.

Fraser Nelson focuses on the decline in support among the youngest voters:

You need to treat all Scottish polls with caution, due to the sample size and the fact that the turnout may be high enough to include people who polling companies don’t know exist. But YouGov found that the under-25s (the ones more likely to vote on the day, rather than by post) have switched form a 20-point lead for ‘yes’ to a 6-point lead for ‘no’ in under a week.

Now, 20pc of people born in Scotland have concluded that their future lies outside of Scotland. Being fully plugged into the network of the rest of the UK is an advantage: as a Scot in London I feel (and am treated) like a fellow countryman, not an immigrant. I have to say: it’s a good feeling, and one I’d certainly want to protect if I were a teenager mulling my future options.

Examining the coalitions for and against independence, Tom O’Grady argues that “the referendum has arguably ceased to be about independence at all”:

[T]he pro-independence coalition looks much like the types of groups that are rejecting conventional politics in Europe today more broadly. Younger and poorer voters show lower turnout in elections, are more likely to vote for anti-establishment fringe parties, and are scornful of traditional political elites. Overall, the Scottish National Party’s success has come partly from framing independence as a form of anti-establishment protest, as well as the sheer luck of holding a referendum that coincides with a Conservative government in the United Kingdom.

This means, though, that support for independence could ultimately prove fragile.

Adam Taylor profiles Alex Salmond, the leader of Scotland’s independence movement:

Salmond seems to divide opinion like few other politicians. He has substantial support, enough to be elected as first minister of Scotland, yet polls show almost as many are dissatisfied as satisfied with him. Strangely, women seem to have a particular problem with him: One recent poll from the Scottish paper Daily Record found that half of women surveyed saying his role makes them want to vote against independence. Salmond was described as “arrogant,” “ambitious” and “dishonest” by those polled.

Perhaps it’s logical that a man who espouses a radical plan would elicit both love and hate. But there’s an even bigger factor here: Salmond doesn’t just espouse a radical plan – he also promotes it very, very well.

Eric Posner approves of independence:

[W]hile it’s true that Scottish nationalists often make mystical arguments (as nationalists always do), the case for independence is based on serious policy considerations. Some Scots believe that independence would give Scotland sole ownership of valuable oil deposits off its coast in the North Sea. Although those resources may well be almost depleted, it is possible that advances in oil-extraction technology would enable Scotland to create an oil-financed welfare state like Norway’s.

More importantly, if Scotland were independent, Scots would control the whole array of policy instruments that Scotland now shares with the rest of the U.K.—above all, taxing and spending. The Scots would be able to govern themselves however they want—and that includes putting into place the more generous welfare state that the more right-leaning English public has denied them.

Though not against independence in principle, Megan McArdle has misgivings:

My basic position on this sort of thing is that if places want to be independent, they should be independent, unless the reason that they’re seeking independence is so they can have more freedom to oppress minority populations. Yet I can’t say this seems like a good idea, for reasons that my friend Alex Massie has ably outlined. Scotland is a net recipient of transfers from the U.K. government, so going it alone will probably require some belt tightening. The process of separating all the intertwined institutions, from banking to education, will be daunting.

But Justin Fox outlines how breaking off could be economically beneficial for Scotland:

What has made small countries so economically successful over the past few decades is less their smallness than the ways they’ve taken advantage of it. David Skilling, a former New Zealand government official and McKinsey consultant who now advises small-country governments and companies from a base in Singapore, has spent as much time thinking and writing about the strengths and weaknesses of small states as anybody. In a 2012 paper that should be required reading in Scotland, he lists two main characteristics of successful small states:

1. They’re cohesive, and thus able to make policy decisions quickly and stick with them.

2. They tend to make good policy decisions, in part because they’re very aware of the world around them and what it takes to compete in it.

Ilya Somin searches for historical parallels:

One relevant precedent is the experience of the “Velvet Divorce” between Slovakia and the Czech Republic, whose success is sometimes cited by Scottish independence advocates as a possible model for their own breakup with Britain. Like many Scottish nationalists, advocates of Slovak independence wanted to break away from their larger, richer, partner, in part so they could pursue more interventionist economic policies. But, with the loss of Czech subsidies, independent Slovakia ended up having to pursue much more free market-oriented policies than before, which led to impressive growth. The Czech Republic, freed from having to pay the subsidies, also pursued relatively free market policies, and both nations are among the great success stories of Eastern Europe.

Like Slovakia, an independent Scotland might adopt more free market policies out of necessity. And the rump UK (like the Czechs before it), might move in the same direction. The secession of Scotland would deprive the more interventionist Labor Party of 41 seats in the House of Commons, while costing the Conservatives only one. The center of gravity of British politics would, at least to some extent, move in a more pro-market direction, just as the Czech Republic’s did relative to those of united Czechoslovakia.

Jason Sorens watches the markets:

So far capital markets seem to be telling us that the economic costs of independence to Scotland would be significant but not catastrophic, and that they would be virtually nil to the rest of Britain. How much of those costs are due to the policies Scotland would implement after independence, rather than secession as such? It is difficult to know, but the differential returns to particular firms give us a clue. Transportation companies have closer links to the state, so a more statist policy regime might not hurt them. Financial companies might lose because of the lender of last resort issue (Scotland might not have a credible one). Energy and engineering companies might lose because nationalists want to tax oil heavily to fund social programs. Also, stricter environmental laws may hurt the electric utility SSE, which lost heavily on Monday.

Speculatively, then, capital markets seem to be telling us that the costs of secession as such are modest, but that the costs of dramatically different economic policies are substantial.

And Simon Lester doesn’t see what all the fuss is about:

In terms of war and peace, there have been no Mel Gibson sightings that I’m aware of. On trade, there may be some bureaucratic challenges, but it seems clear the goal is for Scotland to join the EU and be part of its large, single market. As for trade with the rest of the world, Scotland will take on the EU’s trade policy–which is not perfect of course–but has followed the trend toward liberalization that the rest of the world has pursued over the past few decades. In all likelihood, Scotland will continue to search for export markets for its whisky and allow the free flow of imports.

If Scottish independence meant it would become like North Korea, I’d be concerned. But it doesn’t seem like that’s the path it is on. With the exception of a few regions, we live in a highly integrated, peaceful world. Scottish independence would not change that.

Previous Dish on Scottish independence here.


The Quality Of Britishness

Several readers have made this point about Britishness:

I was born in the UK, in the south-east of England, and I’ve always lived here; but my perspective on Englishness or Britishness has a specific nuance that none of your correspondents so far have mentioned. It has to do with race; particularly how those, like me, who have mixed backgrounds, identify ourselves.

BRITAIN-ATTACKS-MILITARY-MURDERMy dad came to the UK from Malaysia on his own to go to boarding school in England in the early ’60s. About five years before that he and some of his family escaped from persecution in China. He later went to university in Scotland, became a doctor, met my English mother, married, took British citizenship and settled here permanently. He’s not English; he’s a Chinese man who is British, and who has lived in both Scotland and England. And I’m not English either; if you’re talking about my race, I’m half-English, but I identify as wholly and proudly British, part of a country that embraces people whose origin is African, Pakistani, Chinese … and Welsh, Scottish, Irish and English.

I’m married to a man who was born in Wales and lives in England, with one Welsh and one English parent. How is he to choose whether he’s Welsh or English? He’s lived here in England longer, but the town of birth on his passport is on the other side of the Severn, and we spend a lot of time with family who still live there. There’s a simple answer: he’s neither. He’s British.

Separation of Scotland has more than political implications. For many of us who do not have any vote in the matter, it carries profound implications about our identity, and what our nationality means.

This strikes me as a really valuable point. Britishness surpasses nationalism as a kind of supra-nationalism. It leaves space for the other; it is a rubric – largely defined as well by the Crown – that has more virtues than might immediately appear. Maybe it takes the potential end of Britain to value it all over again. Another reader notes:

Just an observation about the uniqueness of British nationalism in the European landscape.

I am unsure of another European example of a country that has for the most part successfully integrated large disparate immigrant classes, and I have always wondered how much the concept of British helps with this. Concepts like German, French, Dutch, and the like all have the same problem of tribal affiliation.  I could live in London for 25 years and never feel I am English (I know my heritage, and it isn’t English), but I would see no problem with becoming British.  By accident or design, the United Kingdom created a national class that would seem to put it in a much better position vis a vis the US/Australia/Canada in terms of the movement of immigrants and all of the benefits and drawbacks contained therein and if the Kingdom splinters, I wonder if they will lose this as well.

(Photo: A man wearing Help the Heroes tshirt looks at floral tributes left at the scene where Drummer Lee Rigby of the 2nd Battalion was killed outside Woolwich Barracks in London on May 24, 2013. By Justin Tallis/AFP/Getty.)

The End Of Britain? Ctd

A reader responds to my take:

Well you may be indifferent to the Scots gaining independence, but in our family it’s Gilbert Johnstone Jr. pistolsabsolutely thrilling!  We were Jacobites who participated in the 1690, 1715 and 1745 rebellions.  We were at Culloden and the entire family had to flee to the Cape Fear River region in North Carolina after the battle.  They hid out at Brompton Plantation, which was owned by the Royal Governor Gabriel Johnston, a brother to my sixth great grandfather.  During the Revolution they were officers in the NC Militia, and then after the Tories burnt their home to the ground, they moved to South Carolina, where they fought a guerilla campaign with General Francis Marion (aka the Swamp Fox) against the English.  I have the pistols my gggggg-grandfather carried at Culloden and during the American Revolution next to my bed (photo attached).  To finally win independence and get from under the thumb of the English would be bloody brilliant and a long time coming!

Another takes a step back:

I am an agnostic on Scottish independence. I get the impulse; I get your possible acceptance. But how can anyone looking at our current world situation not be anything but appalled by the possible positive vote? If it passes, won’t every active independence movement – Quebec, Catalan Spain right away – get a boost? Doesn’t it give an easy way for Putin to insist that eastern Ukraine vote for the same? Wouldn’t it give a boost to parts of the U.S., particularly if Dems some time in the near future gain control of all levels of the federal government, that might start talking secession? As a true conservative (not tea-partier or corporatist), shouldn’t you be worried about the larger impact of a positive vote?

Yes, I can see those concerns. And that’s why I hope in my rational mind that they don’t secede. But given the existence of a separate nation, and given the peaceful, democratic manner in which this divorce could take place, I don’t see much of an analogy except for Catalonia. A reader notes:

More than 500,000 have actually signed up to participate in the V for Vote demonstration for Catalonia’s independence, with their IDs. And many, many more will come.

Another drills down into the Scottish question:

I wonder if the Scots might not end up shooting themselves in the foot? There’s a triumvirate of failures they are setting themselves up with:

1) I’m with the Betfair people. It’s easy to say “yes” to a pollster with no consequences, but much harder in a ballot box. I suspect a “no” vote is much the more likely.

2) If they do lose, they can’t come whining back to the table for a good 15 or 20 years.

3) They have, without thinking too much about it, aroused English nationalism, as you detected on your recent visits. I have always been mildly ticked off by the “West Lothian question”, as it used to be known: Scottish MPs voting on wholly English matters. However, since devolution and now with this independence debate, I am convinced that it is an injustice of titanic proportions on me and 53 million other English men and women who put up with Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish MPs (the latter two to a lesser extent) having a say on matters that have no impact upon the people they represent. They can vote without personal consequence. The reverse would never be allowed.

As a natural Labour supporter, I can see that me and mine need the Scottish Labour vote to drive a left-of-centre agenda, but frankly, and you hit the nail on its head, all this self-serving “we want to be independent, but thanks England, we need you to bank-roll us,” has made me agree: “fuck ‘em”. I’m not sure I want them anymore. My public services are on their arse because of Tory cuts, yet Scotland’s flourish, not because of extraordinary financial management on the part of the Scots, but because my English pounds get spent disproportionately across the border. The Treasury reports that it spends £10,152 for every Scot. It spends £8,529 for every English man or woman. Here in the East Midlands where I live, it spends a miserly £8,118. It spends 25% more on a Scot than it spends on me. (See this linked pdf.)

What on earth is Scotland going to do without my money? I am completely convinced that if they do go their own way, Westminster will cave in and agree to bankroll them for years to come.

Whatever comes of this independence movement, one thing seems certain, and that is that they will lose a substantial amount of influence, either by becoming independent, or by the certainty that Scottish MPs must – must – be prevented from voting on wholly English matters. I might have to suffer a lifetime of damned old-Etonian, Oxbridge power and influence, but at least it’ll be English power and influence.

A final aside. I travel to the US a lot. About 20 years ago, when I first starting going to North America, I would take great pains to tell people I was British, or from the UK. Not anymore. I realised that in the last few years, I am English when asked. No conscious decision to change; I just did. I am more and more English and less and less British everyday.

All Dish coverage of Scottish independence here.

The End Of Britain? Ctd

This ad by Scotland’s Yes campaign packs an emotional punch:

But Alex Massie isn’t swayed by such appeals. He doesn’t think “independence a daft notion or some kind of fatuous affectation.” Yet he will be voting no:

[I]f we’re to vote on independence it should be done on the basis of a moderately honest prospectus. No such prospectus has been offered by the Scottish government. A lot of people are voting on the basis of a deeply cynical and meretricious set of promises that simply cannot, not even when assisted by great dollops of wishful thinking, be delivered. It is not possible to spend more, borrow less and tax the same.

That, however, is what the SNP propose. Lower borrowing rates, 3% annual increases in public spending and no changes to the overall level of taxation. It is incredible. It supposes that voters must be glaikit and easily gulled ninnies who can be persuaded to swallow anything, no matter how fanciful it must be. A nonsense wrapped in a distortion inside a whopping great lie.

But Mark Blyth believes that this vote isn’t about economics:

Raised in a country where the policy choice of the past 30 years has been neoliberalism with airbags (New Labour under Prime Ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown) or neoliberalism on steroids (under the Tories), and faced with falling real wages and diminished opportunity, young people in Scotland want another choice. This is perhaps why nationalism retains the capacity to surprise. It’s not about costs, risks, or uncertainties; it’s about the idea that a different future is possible.

Daniel Berman compares Scotland’s upcoming vote to Quebec’s failed 1995 independence referendum:

Regardless of my skepticism of YouGov’s finding that the YES campaign is ahead, I think that it is clear that the polling has closed across the board. In historical context this is not a surprise. While there tends to be a bias toward the status quo in most referendums compared with the final polls, that bias tends to manifest after a surge for the YES side in the final weeks.  …

This was evident in the closest precedent for the current Scottish Referendum, the 1995 vote in Quebec on the province’s status. As can be seen, the NO campaign enjoyed a large lead until the final two weeks when YES seemed to surge to a substantial lead, despite an intervention by American President Bill Clinton and a large Unity rally. Then, in something of a surprise, NO prevailed 51-49.

Neil Irwin considers the trade-offs of independence:

In big countries, businesses can get all the benefits of scale, selling within giant markets that all use the same currency with the same legal system. In geopolitics, large countries can strike hard bargains to get access to one another’s markets, while trouncing smaller rivals at the negotiating table. … If Scotland chooses to go independent, it will shed the advantages that come from being part of a relatively large global power (Britain’s population: about 64 million. Scotland’s population: about 5 million) for the chance to be governed by people with whom they share a deeper cultural affinity.

Noah Millman complicates the debate over Scotland’s currency:

Keeping the pound, at least initially, is much cheaper than ditching it. And the prospect of ditching it in the future would mean higher borrowing costs today. Why, after all, would you want to ditch a solid, respectable currency unless you planned to devalue? And if you wanted to tie the hands of a new government that might otherwise open the spigot a bit too wide, what better way than to force them to borrow in a foreign currency?

Precious few seceding states in recent years have adopted a truly independent monetary policy. Many have ditched their own newly-minted currencies entirely. Slovakia adopted the Euro before the Czech Republic has. Montenegro and Kosovo adopted it unilaterally. The Baltic states have rushed to adopt it as swiftly as possible. Croatia is hammering at the door to get in, notwithstanding all the nastiness of the past five years. Countries also continue to adopt the dollar as either their official currency (e.g. Ecuador, El Salvador) or as legal tender alongside a pegged local currency.

[Gordon] Brown probably has a genuine belief in Scotland being part of the United Kingdom, but there’s a more personal motive for him too: Without Scottish voters, the British left wing party he represented, Labor, loses a substantial chunk of its support. For example, there are currently 40 MPs in Westminster representing Scotland from the Labor Party, and just one from the dominant Conservative Party. Earlier this year, the Financial Times reasoned that Labor would need another 250,000 votes from the rest of the U.K. to compensate if Scotland left.  “We can’t even contemplate what might happen to the party if Scotland went,” one Labor source told the newspaper. “This is nightmare territory for us.”

Robert Kuttner made a similar observation earlier this week:

As cynics have pointed out, Tory Prime Minister David Cameron doesn’t want to be remembered as the British leader who presided over the dissolution of the United Kingdom. On the other hand, if relatively left-wing Scotland were to quit the U.K., the remainder of Britain would be quite solidly Tory.

But Cameron appears genuinely troubled about Scotland going its own way:

“I would be heartbroken … if this family of nations is torn apart,” Cameron told an invited audience at the Edinburgh headquarters of the Scottish Widows insurance firm. … Cameron acknowledged his unpopularity, but said the vote was not about giving “the effing Tories” a kicking. “This is not a decision about the next five years. This is a decision about the next century,” Cameron said.

Whatever happens, Bill Coles expects the vote to leave a mark on Scotland:

After most elections, the losers go off to lick their wounds, and then a little while later they come back to fight another day.

Not this time, though. This time it’s for keeps – with either the independence question kicked out of bounds for at least a generation or Scotland going it alone. The referendum has been thrilling and yet utterly divisive. Whatever the result, the wounds are going to be deep, and they will take a long, long time to heal.

The Scots And The English: Some Guilty Thoughts

Battle of Bannockburn - Robert the Bruce reviewing his troops

Josh Marshall is bug-eyed at the possibility that the union of England and Scotland may soon end. The Sunday Times poll last weekend gave the markets the willies, and prompted what looked to me like a panicky bunch of last-minute concessions from London. My old chum Boris Johnson had a very Boris defense of Britain and “British” as core identities for a multicultural country in the Telegraph yesterday. Money quote:

The entity under mortal threat next week is Britain itself. You cannot refer to a state called “Britain” unless you include Scotland, because it is a basic fact of geography that Britain comprises everything from Land’s End to John o’Groats.

Look at the map – so often rendered by cartoonists from the 18th century onwards as Britannia sitting down: rump in east Anglia, feet in Cornwall, and topped off with that sweeping Scottish cerebrum and helmet. Chop it off – decapitate Britain at Carlisle and you can no longer call it Britain; and what goes for geography must go for politics, too. Take Scotland away from England and you are losing a critical part of our political nomenclature. There was no British government before the union with Scotland; there was no British electorate; there were no British interests. There was England and Wales, and there was Scotland. Take away Scotland, and we destroy Britain.

He’s not wrong – and part of the alchemy of Britain has always been the mixture of the shire and the highlands, the Angles and the Celts. Blair and Brown were both Scots. BoJo notes that the great Englishman, Samuel Johnson, needed his Scottish side-kick, James Boswell, to be fully who he is in our collective civilization. That’s the kind of national chemistry that independence might destroy. And it was a Scot, “Queen” James I, who cemented England’s religious settlement for a while after the death of Elizabeth I.

And yet … I have to say, I find myself a little emotionally indifferent, even as I am rationally persuaded by the argument that an independent Scotland with the pound as its currency could be headed for Greece-like status. And it’s that conflict between emotion and reason that will Nicola Sturgeon Continues Health Campaigndetermine the result. Maybe it helps Americans to understand those emotions if I examine my own. So why the indifference?

For one thing, Scotland is not like, say, California. It’s an ancient nation, and, unlike England, was never pacified by the Romans. It’s a prickly country, bristling often at England, its exports to London often having more than a bit of a chip on their shoulders. More to the point, it gets to have its own parliament and yet also have a full presence in the London parliament – an arrangement not accorded to the English. It’s politically well to the left of middle England, and is a big net beneficiary of British Treasury. After a while, if you’re English, and right-of-center, and taxed to the hilt, endlessly subsidizing the Scots in return for their thinly veiled disdain, you get a bit irritated. Deep, deep down in my Sussex soul, there’s a “fuck ’em” urging to come out, even as my own Irish ancestry gives me some emotional accord with the Scots.

And since “Britain” is at stake, why should one small part of it be the only part that has a say? What do the English think about Scottish independence? Or the Welsh? Or the Northern Irish? Why shouldn’t they be a part of the deliberation? I guess it says a huge thing about British democracy, decency and fairness that Scotland is being allowed this no-fault divorce option (one only has to look at Ukraine to see the alternative) – but it also says a lot about the way Scotland often wants to eat its cake and have it too.

“Britain” as an entity, moreover, is indistinguishable from empire. From 1707 on, the Scots played an outsize role in creating and sustaining that empire across the world – and I can understand why a thoroughly post-imperial country doesn’t quite have the collective martial spirit to keep it all together any more. A long while back, I saw this coming. Back in 1999, I wrote, after re-visiting my homeland, that:

As the century ends, it is possible, I think, to talk about the abolition of Britain without the risk of hyperbole.

The United Kingdom’s cultural and social identity has been altered beyond any recent prediction. Its very geographical boundaries are being redrawn … To begin with, Blair is proposing what amounts to the end of the unitary government of the United Kingdom. Scotland’s new Parliament will be elected in May, a symbol of self-government not known since the 16th century. In the referendum that sanctioned it, 74 percent of Scots voted in favor. More significant, a full 64 percent supported the notion that such a Parliament should have tax-raising powers, essentially replacing Westminster.

Blair has allowed the Scottish Parliament the leeway to lower or raise the British rate of income tax by only 3 percentage points. But the direction is clear enough. Blair clearly believed that by devolving some power to Scotland he would defuse the independence movement. Instead, the opposite could happen. The latest polls suggest that in the new Edinburgh Parliament the largest single party may well be the Scottish Nationalists, who see the new Parliament as a way station to full independence. Of the dozens of conversations I had in London about the future of the United Kingdom, literally no one I spoke with believed that Scotland would be a part of Britain in 10 years’ time…

What Blair has ushered in, in other words, may well turn out to be a return to a political Constitution last seen in the late Middle Ages: an English state with an almost independent European metropolis on the Thames, a feisty neighbor to its north and a half-heartedly controlled province to its west.

You end the empire, you unravel – through a new cosmopolitanism – the cultural power of Britishness, you see London emerging as essentially a separate country as well, and you devolve power more and more to Scotland … and, well, you can see why we are where we are. The logic of recent history – and ancient history – points solidly to an amicable divorce. This is not some sudden, unforeseen act of madness. It is the result of history and culture and economics.

And then there’s English nationalism as well. By far the most striking new development I saw in Britain at the turn of the century was the adoption of the English flag over the Union Jack:

When I left for America, the clear, simple symbol of England was the Union Jack. It is now increasingly the bare emblem of St. George: a red cross on a white background. You see it in soccer stadiums and emblazoned into the skulls of East End skinheads. In 1995, the biggest greeting-card distributor introduced a card to celebrate St. George’s Day on April 23. Within two years, as the journalist Jeremy Paxman pointed out, the number of cards sold had grown to 50,000.

And when I hoisted a flag on my cottage in Ptown during last year’s Olympics, it was the English flag, and not the British one, that I flew. For it is England I truly love. Scotland? Best of luck to them.

(Painting: Battle of Bannockburn – Robert the Bruce reviewing his troops before battle, 24 June 1314. Significant Scottish victory in the Wars of Scottish Independence and  the decisive battle in  First War of Scottish Independence. By Culture Club/Getty Images; Photo: Danny Barbieri, 4-years old, dressed in a Superman superhero outfit, holds aloft a Pro-Scottish independence ‘Yes Scotland’ campaign sign, as he and other supporters await the start of a press event in Glasgow, Scotland on September 8, 2014. By Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert/Getty Images)

The End Of Britain? Ctd

Scotland’s independence movement has the wind at its back. But the increasing likelihood of a Yes victory sent the Pound tumbling yesterday. And the economic consequences of independence don’t end there:

Douglas Flint, the Scottish-born chairman of HSBC (HSBC), predicted that uncertainty over Scotland’s currency arrangements could “prompt capital flight from the country, leaving its financial system in a parlous state.” Independence advocates haven’t said whether Scotland would establish its own currency or maintain an informal link to the British pound. Whatever approach is taken, Flint wrote in a recent column for the Telegraph, “Scotland’s borrowing costs and those of its businesses and consumers would rise, at least in the near term.”

Should Scotland secede, Drum suspects the country will get its own currency soon enough:

The pro-independence forces probably feel like they need to support continued use of the pound for now, just to take it off the table as a campaign issue. But if independence succeeds, there’s a good chance that Scotland will adopt its own currency within a few years for all the reasons Krugman brings up. Being stuck in a currency union is so obviously dangerous that it will probably be abandoned once things shake down in an independent Scotland and the new government has time to focus on it.

Yglesias agrees that “the most sensible option might well be for independent Scotland to have its own central bank and its own currency that would trade freely on global markets”:

Other small developed countries (Norway, Iceland, New Zealand, Sweden) do this successfully, and it appeared to work well enough for Denmark and Finland in the past. Small countries are inevitably very exposed to developments in the global economy that are outside their control, and currency flexibility can help cope with that. … The downside of creating a new currency is that it would have no track record, and might be catastrophically mismanaged and destroy the value of everyone’s savings. Independence campaigners appear to feel that these fears are widespread, and have not made the creation of a new currency part of their proposal for Scottish independence.

But this all assumes the Scots vote for independence in the first place. Justin Wolfers has doubts:

In contrast with the polls, traders at the British betting exchange currently assess the “No” vote as the likely favorite, assigning it a 72 percent chance of winning. To be sure, that still suggests a sizable 28 percent chance that a majority of Scots will vote for independence, but the odds that it will happen seem a lot weaker than polls would suggest.

And, even if the polling is taken at face value, the goodies Westminster is promising Scotland might boost the No vote. But Fraiser Nelson wouldn’t bet on it:

So Gordon Brown has spoken, and the unionist parties are in agreement: if there’s a ‘no’ vote then more powers will be given – we’re told – ‘to Scotland’. And why? Because there’ll be another commission and another Scotland act and the Great Broon announces that the results will come out on Burns Night! Neeps and haggis all round! To me, this is only a little better than the Treasury telling Scots that they should vote ‘no’ because they’ll be able to afford more bags of chips. It’s patronizing, not credible and I doubt will make very much difference. This so-called Devo Max should have been offered six months ago; to offer it in the last few days of the campaign smacks of desperation.

Indeed it does. Peter Geoghegan remarks that the “No side might still be the favorite to stumble across the finish line first in the coming referendum, but it has singularly failed to make an emotional case for the United Kingdom”:

A Better Together activist told me recently, “It is like a business transaction. I look at the sums, they don’t add up, so you don’t do it.” This might be a good reason to reject independence, but such instrumentality hardly bodes well for the union’s future health — and such sentiments leave plenty of room for uncertainty about what will happen on September 18. Nationalists have won the argument that Scotland could be a separate state. The question now is whether they can persuade their fellow Scots that it should be. If they can, what seemed unimaginable just a few months ago could become a reality.

Should that happen, Robert Kuttner imagines that other independence movements around Europe will take notice:

If the Scots actually become independent, it’s not Britain alone that is affected. Also threatened are such venerable unitary nations as Spain, France and Italy. That’s why the leaders of the E.U. have signaled that an independent Scotland would not be welcome as a member. If Scotland secedes, Catalonia will be next. And if Catalonia, why not Brittany and Northern Italy? Why not Wales? Not to mention Quebec.

Most major nations were created by acts of conquest and often brutal suppression of ethnic and linguistic minorities. Irish schoolchildren got their knuckles rapped for speaking Irish in school. In Catalonia, kids caught speaking Catalan were warned, “Habla Cristiano!“—as if Castilian Spanish were the language of Christ and Catalan the idiom of Satan. But it is absolutely startling to see hundreds of years of political history unwinding.

The End Of Britain?

It’s looking more and more likely:


Daniel Berman takes a close look at polling on the referendum. Why there is reason to question it:

British polling is problematic at the best of times, as anyone who observed’s efforts to extend their successful model to the 2010 General Election, an effort I played a role in can testify. The Cleggmentum that dominated polling and media coverage of the campaign failed to materialize in practice. Was the media wrong? Only to the extent they focused on the polling.

Why then was the polling off? There are several reasons why UK polling is generally less reliable than its American equivalent. For one thing, “partisan weighting” the effort to ensure that your sample is politically and not just demographically representative of the electorate is an obsession for British pollsters, and has been ever since John Major’s surprise victory in the 1992 elections prompted a search for the “shy Tory” voter.

On the issue at hand:

YouGov’s Yes lead is the result of changes in sample composition rather than a clear shift, though a substantial shift in the preferences of Labour supporters was detected.

Angus Roxburgh, a Scot, is in favor of independence:

Independence is not about erecting barriers. The Scots and English would still be the closest allies. Yet independence would give us a chance to build a country that better reflects the identity and prioritiesthe political culture, if you willof the majority of those who live here (both “ethnic” Scots and those who have come here and taken the land to heart).

James Forsyth, on the other hand, wants to keep the union intact:

Given the closeness of the polls in Scotland, I suspect that the result might be determined by how clearly the Scots hear the rest of the UK saying ‘please, stay’. So, if you believe in this country and want to save it, pick up the phone and call your Scottish friends and family and urge them not to leave us.

The announcement that William and Kate are having a second child could be an additional factor. Hayes Brown explains:

[T]he as-of-yet-unnamed pending addition to the Royal Family could be just the boon needed to help turn back the tide against a surge of support for Scottish independence. Last year, William and Kate welcomed their first child — George — into the world amid a media blitz that even the media itself would later say was somewhat excessive. But George’s birth had some tangible benefits for the Windsor dynasty. A poll taken last year by British firm ComRes showed that since the wedding of the two young royals, and especially after the first appearance of Prince George, the popularity of the British Crown has skyrocketed. Beating out even the Diamond Jubilee and London Olympics in terms of support, last year’s Royal Birth led to two-thirds of Britons supporting the monarchy.

Krugman tells Scotland to think twice about independence:

In short, everything that has happened in Europe since 2009 or so has demonstrated that sharing a currency without sharing a government is very dangerous. In economics jargon, fiscal and banking integration are essential elements of an optimum currency area. And an independent Scotland using Britain’s pound would be in even worse shape than euro countries, which at least have some say in how the European Central Bank is run.

Daniel Clinkman, an American living in Scotland, shares his perspective on the forthcoming vote:

I am not Scottish, but the country became my home for many years and I am passionately in favor of what is best for Scotland’s people, whatever they decide. I think that the activism and thought given to this by Scots of both nationalist and unionist persuasions is very different from the stereotype of the emotional, skiving Scot put out by the Better Together campaign and its sympathizers in the press.

Last but not least, Alex Massie feels that “that Yes had an easier job  – and perhaps a better story to tell – in this campaign”:

Perhaps Scots will peer over the edge and think, jings, that’s a long way down. Perhaps we’ll conclude that, despite everything, all things still aren’t busy being equal but right now, this morning, that seems about the best the Union can hope for. Still time for things to change, right enough – only one poll and all that –  but, you know, there are peer and herd effects here: the more thinkable an idea becomes the more popular it is likely to prove. People say: Bloody hell, if you’re going to jump I’ll jump too. Even if it is a long way down.

I have to say that Krugman’s column, while pertinent, had a bit of the “What’s The Matter With Kansas?” about it. This decision is not only about economics; it’s about history, identity and the nation-state. At this point, I wouldn’t be shocked if the Yes’s win the day. These pressures have been building for some time.