"Then it is dark; a night where kings in golden suits ride elephants over the mountains." - John Cheever

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

New thread for the purpose of discussing Scottish Independence

I need to do some reading up on the economic pros and cons, but at an emotional level I'm all for the Union.

I wonder what the Lowland / Highland split is with regard to the issue? Arguably in evidence in Fitzrovian Tuesdays?


Colin said...

Well, I noticed that this was the cover story in Prospect magazine, but as I haven't read it yet, I'm not going to steal its best points and pass them off as my own. Assuming I agree. Hence, have provided the link to get things going.

As for highland/lowland, there are those that are for and against in both, but I suspect there's a higher proportion in the highlands and islands - certainly than in Edinburgh, which is historically pretty unionist.

The SNP MP who brought the loans for honours thing into the spotlight (Angus MacNeil) is a crofter on Barra, and you can't get much further from Westminster than that.

Tom said...

Just to contextualize this within our usual favourite topic - environmental disaster. I feel that progress will be hindered the more there is a fragmentation of governments and sovereign states. This is a global problem requiring collective action, something which would become just that little more difficult if England/Scotland had different policies.

john said...

Just read the prospect magazine article and it's interesting stuff, coming from (quite an unconventional) personal perspective.

It's interesting that he says he's going to vote SNP regardless of their economic policies as they'll have to U-turn on them when reality bites. There's a great line about mink farms as well.

Colin said...

Just realised that I should have posted this link to the index page of december issue of Prospect, which has a number of articles (scroll down the web exclusive column), not just that weird old Tory's. Don't like the standpoint that one's coming from.

john said...

From this article:

The Scottish electorate and business community, looking over its shoulder at the Celtic tiger in Ireland, expected devolution to modernise the country and its lacklustre economy. Instead they got the ancien régime writ large. Over half of Scottish GDP is now in the state sector, productivity is dire and economic growth glacial. We have the highest per capita health spending in Europe and the worst health under a Stalinist, super-centralised Scottish NHS. Twenty per cent fewer young Scots finish high school (post-16 education) than the European average.

The only way to destroy this conservative, subsidy-driven culture is by cutting off its financial lifeline to England, which is there because Gordon Brown and other ambitious Scottish Westminster politicians such as John Reid are anxious to protect their domestic base.

Re the 2nd para - it ain't gonna be pretty, not sure I'd want to hang around to watch...

phaemon said...

I'd just quickly like to address Tom's point before I go pub: just because England and Scotland would have separate parliaments doesn't mean they have to stop talking! They could still agree on common policy on a variety of topics (and no doubt would).

However, your specific example of the environment is not the one I would have chosen. As a general policy, I think the UK is too small: we should be thinking of an EU wide (preferably world wide on the most general points) policy.

For specific implementations, Scotland and England have very different resources and requirements. Using wind farms and the current use of hydro electric make sense for Scotland, but I doubt these solutions would work so well here in London! Therefore I think they're better kept on a more local level.

I'll come back to the economic points tomorrow.

p.s. Of course, being from Barra, I know Angus MacNeil!

Tom said...

I haven't read the Prospect article in full, but the extract is very uninformed and unfair. Much of Scotland is relatively poor but other bits (e.g Edinburgh) are booming.

Of course, as a whole, Scotland is poorer than London/SE, but economically it's pretty comparable with NE England or Yorkshire. Not surprisingly, as they are former industrial centres experiencing long-term decline. I can't see how the economic profile of Scotland has anything particularly to do with its contemporary politics or supposed subsidy culture.

Tom said...

In one way, I agree with Seumas - the environment will only be dealt with at a much bigger level than just Britain or Scotland, so it probably isn't a great example.

However, it is an instance of how having independent states would make it more difficult to pass good laws. Given that economic assets are so mobile between England + Scotland, their respective governments would become more reluctant to do things like raise green taxes, regulate business malpractice or punish polllution, for fear that businesses would just move across the border. Different legislative conditions in the US states is one of the reasons why businesses can get away with murder over there.

I know that the English/Scottish governments could still talk to each other, but I fear they would also find the temptation to freeload irresistable.

Colin said...

I think Seumas's point about alternative energy is a good one - there is much more potential in Scotland than in the rest of the UK (including places like Cornwall, whose wind turbines don't even deliver 30% of the time, like they were supposed to). But is there any reason why the current Scottish parliament can't adopt different energy policy than the rest of the UK? Is that within its remit? I suppose if Scotland was independent it could sell electricity to england and wales. I think the legislation question is more complicated, and can work both ways. England only decided on an outright ban on smoking, without complicated compromises, after seeing that Scotland and Ireland managed it without fuss. And in the US, individual States' environmental legislation is forcing the country's practice to change, even though the federal govt. wasn't interested. In the EU, would Scotland and England/Wales/NIreland (what would you call that?) have twice as many votes as Britain currently does? They'd probably vote the same on most issues, so that might be quite useful, particularly as the EU enlarges.

phaemon said...

On the economics of the situation, as far as I can see the Nationalists' reports tend to assume we'll get all the oil revenues immediately and therefore be rich, while the Unionists' Reports ignore them completely and therefore we'll be poor. Frankly, I'm guessing it would probably work out in between and would make very little difference, at least in the short term, but if there's a real argument against that, I'd like to hear it.

From what Colin was saying about energy policy: if we're just going to hand more and more power to the Scottish parliament, at what point does it make sense to allow any Scottish decisions to be made in Westminster?

The lack of a voice within the EU is something that I think will also become more important as time goes by. It's one of the more important reasons for having a separate identity.

Basically, I think there are significant advantages in dropping the union, and I can't really see what the major disadvantages are. Those typically presented as scare scenarios are situations that would profit neither country and so surely would be sorted out by treaty beforehand.

Tom said...

I don't think the basic problem I've identified has been dealt with yet - i.e, in a situation where economic assets can move freely (as with UK at the moment), having different tax and regulatory regimes becomes very difficult, and will tend to favour low taxes and feeble regulatory enforcement.

I take Colin's point that having different legislators means that good laws can be pioneered and then rolled out across the country
(as with the smoking ban), but this only applies in the case where such laws have a noticeable improvement without any spillover effects on other countries. In the case of lowering fuel taxes, for instance, this would obviously not be the case.

phaemon said...

Why is this different from Ireland? UK business could have moved there completely to take advantage of the low tax rates, yet didn't.

It's also worth bearing in mind that most business is SME, working on a local level, and therefore unlikely to move from their immediate base.

Tom said...

Ireland actually proves my point. Along with all its other problems, one of the difficulties facing the Northern Irish economy is that it has higher tax rates than Eire - as a result capital and skilled labour migrates to the south of the border, leaving N. Ireland's economy entirely dependent on public sector.

Most businesses might be SMEs, but most employment and economic activity is in large, relatively mobile businesses.