Between Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon, there’s something fishy about Scottish politics.
I remember saying this to a well-known conservative columnist in 2012, at the time the Scottish Independence Referendum Act was being mooted.
The Act was soon passed, and two years later the SNP got its referendum, which it lost by 55.3 to 44.7 per cent of the vote.
My interlocutor’s feelings about Scottish independence could be summed up with the words ‘good riddance’, while I was arguing the unionist cause. Even between us, we didn’t manage to solve that problem there and then, and it continued to fester.
The SNP now demands a second referendum, which proves it’s in synch with EU policy: if you don’t like the result, make the people vote again and keep doing so until they get it right.
As a justification for its persistence, the SNP refers to another referendum, the one in 2016, when Britain voted to leave the EU, but the Scots voted to remain by a wide margin.
The Scots, claims the SNP, only agreed to remain in the UK because that way they remained in the EU. Now that prize is no longer on offer, they want to leave the former and seek membership in the latter.
I smell a logical rat there somewhere. The Scots, or rather the SNP, seem to define independence as being dependent on the EU, rather than Britain. Such is the conduit channelling the fiercely individualistic spirit of the people who wear kilts with nothing underneath.
Now I must declare a personal interest, or rather a distinct lack thereof. The only Scottish contributions to our civilisation that enrich my life directly are malt whisky (especially from the Isle of Islay) and James MacMillan, who will in future be mentioned in the same breath as Bach – and I can’t imagine a political situation depriving me of either.
The Scots, however, have much to lose if they aren’t careful about what they wish for. Scotland is currently running a 10 per cent deficit-to-GDP ratio, which is a bill picked up by Her Majesty’s Exchequer.
Since that body will no longer be proffering its chequebook, the Scots must hope that the EU will step in to take up the slack. The hope may well be forlorn.
The EU demands a deficit of no more than three per cent from its members. Though it has been known to show some flexibility in this matter, 10 per cent is way too much even for the EU to swallow.
Hence Scotland will have to introduce severe austerity measures, meaning higher taxes and lower spending. I’ll leave it to the economists to argue about the plausibility of such a drastic deficit reduction. Let’s just say that no European country has found it easy.
Now, apart from whisky and James MacMillan, significant but not sufficient revenue streams, Scotland’s principal export is North Sea oil, which presents a few problems.
First, it’s not a foregone conclusion that Scotland can claim exclusive rights to those reserves simply on the basis of their geographic location. One suspects HMG could make a strong case about those oil fields belonging to the country that paid for their exploration and operation, which is Britain at large, not just one of her constituent parts.
But be that as it may, those reserves are dwindling away, in parallel with oil prices going down. Unless those problems are solved, no drastic deficit reduction is on the cards, barring Nicola Sturgeon whipping out her magic wand.
The EU may also get cold feet about Scotland’s historical tendency towards separatism, which no one believes will go away the moment the Scots have replaced the Union Jack with that stellar circle.
With Britain leaving, the EU will have enough separatist pressures already, thank you very much. It may not want any other member pushing against the walls from the inside.
Then there’s the issue of the euro, which Scotland would have to join, what with the pound sterling no longer available. That means the Scots wouldn’t be able to adjust their monetary policy to suit their specific needs, which may well have Greece-like consequences.
The Scots may regard England as the devil, but at least she’s the one they know. Swapping the United Kingdom for the European Union is fraught with all manner of dangers – can they really want to spite the English so much as to cut off their own nose?
I don’t know. So perhaps a glass of Lagavulin in my hand and one of MacMillan’s Passions on the CD player will make things clearer.