The uncertainties of independence

The Union Flag and Scottish Saltire flying in front of the Scottish Parliament building, EdinburghYesterday, all three of the main UK political parties came together in a rare show of consensus to indicate that Scotland would not be able to enter a formal currency union with the rest of the UK in the event of Scottish voters choosing independence in September’s referendum. That means if Scotland continued to use the pound, it would have no say in decisions affecting the currency such as interest rates.

Unsurprisingly, Alex Salmond has hit back and said that the UK government would soon change their tune once a “yes” vote had actually been achieved. Maybe they would, maybe they wouldn’t.

The main point here isn’t so much that of the currency – important though that is – but rather the huge uncertainty that surrounds many of the SNP’s policies following a hypothetical referendum win. They present everything as a done deal: vote for independence, and this is how things will be in Scotland. Yet they are actually merely the SNP’s aspirations of how they would like things to be. In fact, nothing is certain other than that the UK government would respect the referendum result and Scotland would become an independent country.

The SNP have already decided to fix the date on which Scotland would become independent in March 2016, barely a year and a half after the vote. In that time they would have to successfully conclude negotiations not only with the UK, but with organisations such as the EU (and all the other EU countries) and NATO. Surely the knowledge that the deadline is fixed gives those other parties the upper hand? Salmond wants Scotland to enter a Eurozone-style currency union with the rest of the UK; to join the EU on the same terms as now; to join NATO but be resolutely opposed to nuclear weapons. There is a good chance some or all of those won’t be achievable. The chances would be improved if the date for independence was left open. They could take their time to find the best settlement for all parties. What’s the hurry? Scotland has been part of the UK for over 300 years. What’s wrong with waiting a few extra years, safe in a knowledge that independence is secured, if it means a better deal for the people of Scotland?

Perhaps the answer is that elections to the Scottish Parliament are due in May 2015. I don’t know if these would still take place following a “yes” vote, but maybe Salmond is afraid that if he left it too long, he might no longer be the First Minister, and it would be someone else’s name that would go down in history as the one leading the country to independence.

It’s clear that a vote for independence would mean a huge amount of uncertainty for the people of Scotland. No-one knows what the result of complex negotiations and legal arguments would be, and trying to finalise everything in 18 months makes it highly unlikely everything the SNP’s blueprint contains would come to fruition. It’s difficult to see why anyone apart from those with a strong ideological view of Scottish independence would vote “yes”.

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