Tuesday, 26 August 2014

5 Good Reasons To Vote No - Part 2

Continued from Part 1.

3. The North Sea oil won't last forever.

One of the Yes campaign's major points throughout the campaigning has been that Scotland as an independent country would have a valuable asset in the form of North Sea oil and gas reserves. The issue came up again last night, when Alex Salmond said that "every other country in Europe would give their back teeth to have North Sea Oil". Except the Kingdom of Norway, of course, who already have 54% of the sea's oil reserves and 45% of its gas reserves. Norway is part of the "arc of prosperity" cited by Alex Salmond as models that an independent Scotland could model itself on, before other members of that arc of prosperity- including Iceland and the Republic of Ireland- suffered a spectacular economic collapse when the recession hit. Certainly, Norway has gained great wealth from its share of the oil and gas reserves in the North Sea, but Norwegian and British government sources agree that over half the reserves have already been used. Furthermore, as Alistair Darling pointed out last night, oil is a very volatile source of revenue and an independent Scotland relying on it to buoy the economy would be taking a gamble. Recently, Sir Ian Wood, a major figure in the UK's oil and gas industry, came out against independence warning that "there are only 15 years of reserves left before its decline starts wreaking major damage on the Scottish economy." Sir Ian believes that the Scottish Government has been overestimating the remaining oil and gas reserves in the North Sea. On the other hand, other industry experts yesterday said that the Scottish Government's estimate of 24bn remaining barrels of oil was "plausible." Whatever the case, oil and gas are non-renewable resources, meaning that they are replenished so slowly that they are effectively finite. And reserves are notoriously difficult to predict, meaning that relying on the revenue from North Sea oil to buoy the independent Scotland's economy is building a house on unstable ground.

4. EU membership is uncertain.

Another of Yes Scotland's talking points has been the European Union, which Scots are generally more supportive of than their countrymen in the rest of the United Kingdom. Alex Salmond has repeatedly claimed that independence is the best option for Scots who wish to remain within the EU, as rising euroscepticism south of the border sees the UK Independence Party gaining increasing electoral success and the Conservatives promising a referendum on EU membership if re-elected. However, as I've previously mentioned, Salmond's assertions that upon independence, Scotland would automatically inherit the UK's membership of the Union have been contradicted by members of the European elite. In February, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said that it would be "extremely difficult, if not impossible" for Scotland to join the European Union. Yesterday his sentiments were echoed by Ruairi Quinn, former president of EU's finance council, who predicted that Spain and Belgium would be likely to block Scotland's application. Both countries have significant secessionist movements within their own borders and would not wish to encourage them by allowing a newly independent Scotland into Europe. Mr Quinn also stated that Scotland would need to adopt the euro as a condition of joining the EU, providing its application was accepted, contradicting Alex Salmond's claims that Scotland would be allowed to continue using the pound as the United Kingdom is at present.

Meanwhile, the Scottish Fishermen's Federation have warned that an independent Scotland would have less clout within the EU and less say when it came to issues such as fishing quotas, meaning that Scotland would likely lose out to larger countries- including the rest of the United Kingdom, which will continue to have considerable influence in Europe post-independence. The SFF also described the SNP’s claims that Scotland could negotiate EU membership between a "yes" vote next month and seceding in March 2016 as "very optimistic." Much like the rest of their campaign, then.

5. The United Kingdom is stronger together.

As a unified country, Great Britain and later the United Kingdom achieved more than Scotland and England ever did alone. For better or for worse, the British Empire was the largest empire in world history, and the union flag flew over a quarter of the world's landmass at its height. The Industrial Revolution began here, as did modern parliamentary democracy, influenced as much by the Scottish Enlightenment as by English ideals. Glasgow was called the "Second City of the Empire." Today, Scotland still benefits from being part of one of the world's great powers, a nuclear power with a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, and the world's sixth-largest economy by nominal GDP and eighth-largest by purchasing power parity. But most of all, the bonds between the people of the British Isles go beyond mere politics and economics; we have deeply influenced each other's culture, and millions of people live in the UK today who have both English and Scottish ancestry, living embodiment of the 300-year-old union between these two ancient nations, along with Wales and Northern Ireland. I will leave the last word to the architect of the Union of Crowns, James VI and I, who laid the groundwork for the eventual unification of Great Britain:

James VI and I in 1606 by
John De Critz the Elder 
"But the union of these two princely houses is nothing comparable to the union of two ancient and famous kingdoms, which is the other inward peace annexed to my person ... Has not God first united these two kingdoms, both in language, religion, and similitude of manners? Yes, has he not made us all in one island, compassed with one sea, and of itself by nature so indivisible, as almost those that were borderers themselves on the late borders, cannot distinguish nor know or discern their own limits? These two Countries being separated neither by sea, nor great river, mountain, nor other strength of nature ..."
- James VI and I, King of England, Scotland, France and Ireland

Monday, 25 August 2014

5 Good Reasons To Vote No - Part 1

The Scottish independence debate is really warming up now as we draw close to the 18th September, when the people of Scotland will go to the polls. Alistair Darling and Alex Salmond will be trading blows again tonight in their second televised debate; the first one made for frustrating viewing as both politicians dodged questions and resorted to attacking one another's campaign tactics rather than discussing the core issues surrounding the referendum. Most notably, Darling repeatedly asked what the SNP's "Plan B" was for Scotland's currency if their plan for a customs union with the rump of the United Kingdom failed, and Salmond repeated sidestepped the question. Tonight's debate will no doubt be much of the same.

Personally, I remain firmly wedded to the Union. In case you hadn't noticed. But if you're still not confessed that the Union is best for Scotland, here's my 5 top ten reasons to vote "NO!" on the 18th, posted in two parts:

1. There aren't any definite plans on currency.

Scotland's First Minister, Alex Salmond, has repeatedly stated that the Scottish National Party's plan is to continue to use the pound sterling after seceding from the United Kingdom, stating that a currency union between the independent Scottish state and the UK would be desirable for all parties. However, Westminster has shown little enthusiasm for the idea of a currency union, and in February the Chancellor announced that the Coalition Government had formally ruled out the idea of an official currency union. In the last debate, the First Minister indicated that Scotland could continue to use the pound after independence whether or not the UK agreed, just as Panama uses the US dollar. This is entirely true- however, without a formal currency union, Scotland would find itself at the whims of the central British government's financial policy, and Scotland could not count on a safety net in the event of a future financial crisis. What's more, the pound sterling is backed by the Bank of England. The Scottish banknotes printed by Scottish banks are not in fact legal tender, but promissory notes that are backed by the Bank of England; since the Bank of England has no real reason to continue backing promissory notes printed by foreign banks in a foreign country, it is by no means clear whether Scotland would still be able to print its own currency upon independence. A further complication is that the SNP hope for Scotland to remain within the European Union post-independence, but EU officials, including European Commission  President Jose Manuel Barroso, have stated that Scotland will need to apply as a new country, meaning that Scotland will likely be expected to adopt the euro.

To make matters worse, the SNP have said that if they are refused a currency union with the rest of the UK, they will walk out on their £140 billion share of UK national debt. Apart from being childish, this is extremely dangerous financially- if the newly independent Scotland's first act as a sovereign country was to essentially default on its national debt, the impact on financial markets could be devastating. The SNP could rock Scotland's economy from Day 1.

2. Border controls would have to be introduced.

Currently, people are free to move between Scotland and the rest of the UK. The SNP have stated that this will remain the case post-independence; however, this is not guaranteed. A number of prominent pro-Union politicians have indicated that border controls between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom would have to be introduced; the principal concern is that Scotland plans to introduce a more lax immigration policy following independence, with Alex Salmond promising to increase net migration into Scotland by 10% in order to expand the workforce. Scotland's population is aging more quickly than the rest of the UK, meaning that the workforce needs to be expanded to pay for Scottish pensions.

Unfortunately, this is at odds with viewpoints on immigration in the rest of the country, where there is pressure for tighter border controls. This means that some politicians are worried immigrants will enter the rest of the UK through Scotland, necessitating border controls between England and Scotland. This could have a serious impact on Scotland's economy, since exports to the rest of the UK account for just over 50 per cent of total exports from Scotland, and imports from the rest of the UK account for around 64 per cent of Scotland's total imports. It would also be a major inconvenience for anyone like myself who is of both Scottish and English descent and regularly visits relatives on the other side of the border- and that's a sizable portion of the UK's population. What's more, if Scotland was required to go through the normal application process to the EU as Barroso suggested, it might be expected to join the Schengen Area, a common travel area established by an agreement in 1995 that enabled passport-free movement between 25 European countries, but not the UK and Ireland. This would almost certainly require border controls between Scotland and the rest of the British Isles.

To be continued.