By Stephen Bowman
Even though there’s been plenty articles and blogs written in response to Westminster’s decision to play hard-ball over the currency this week, I still want to throw in my own tuppence – or perhaps more appropriately – bawbee’s worth. In some ways, this was always going to happen. The Spanish Government has long been surprised that the UK Government hasn’t been as assertive with Scotland as it has been with Catalonia, but this week has seen London act more like Madrid in dealing with its ‘separatists’. Not only have Gideon Osborne and his Labour and Liberal cronies ostensibly ruled out any currency union between rUK and an independent Scotland, but word comes from Westminster that they might not respect the outcome of the referendum in the event of a Yes vote.
Make no mistake, the British Establishment – as represented by the Osborne-Alexander-Balls alliance – has closed ranks and is now actively trying to bully, intimidate and ultimately halt what is both a movement for progressive social change and a people’s right to self-determination. Like much about the independence referendum, it has little to do with the relationship between England and Scotland and everything to do with the relationship between the London elite and those of us on the ‘periphery’– in terms of both class and nationality – who want to do things differently. And so the facade of British democracy, along with a positive case for the Union, continues to crumble.
One of the assumptions behind Westminster’s intervention this week is that London has the stronger hand in secession negotiations following a Yes vote. In response to any suggestions that Scotland will refuse to take on a share of UK debt because of Westminster’s refusal to enter a currency union, we are told that the UK might block Scotland’s EU membership or even refuse to respect the outcome of the referendum. But it’s really important to remember that Scotland is under no obligation to take any of the debt and that there is absolutely no reason why we can’t use the pound without a currency union. This much was recognised by a leading academic in an article this week in the Wall Street Journal. Meanwhile, it’s likely that Brussels would look very unfavourably on any moves by London to stop Scotland joining the EU, whatever Jose Manuel Barrosso might say (and whatever he does say is directed primarily at Catalonia, not Scotland). In any case, with England looking likely to vote to leave the EU, London’s stance on Scottish membership could be a moot point.
Scotland could also decide to become a little less than reasonable over the removal of the nuclear submarines on the Gare Loch. Whereas a Scottish Government might have given the rUK plenty of time to find a replacement base in England, in the event of needing to adopt a tough negotiating stance, Scotland could demand the immediate removal from Scottish waters of these weapons of mass destruction. This is an important bargaining chip.
Moreover, this is all notwithstanding the fact that a currency union is indeed in the rUK’s best interests and that such a union may well still happen anyway. It’s highly likely that Osborne was bluffing.
In any event, this isn’t 1979. What the London political bubble and much of England – public, politicians and press alike – often fail to understand is that today’s Scotland is stronger and more confident for having had a devolved Parliament since 1999 and, since 2007, a popular and assertive Scottish Government. For example, a recent poll revealed that Scots trust Holyrood considerably more than they do Westminster. In other words, Scots look to Edinburgh and not to London for political leadership. These are the reasons why we are where we are today. These are also the reasons why Westminster’s aggression will spectacularly backfire. This has already been seen in anecdotal evidence from Kaye Adams’ call-in radio show on BBC Scotland last week, which was apparently inundated by callers saying that Osborne’s intervention had persuaded them to support independence.
For much of the campaign so far Better Together has insulted Scotland, talked down its ability to self-govern and told outright lies. Now Westminster is trying to bully us. But know that they are doing so because they think Scotland is on the verge of voting Yes and because, ultimately, they know that Scotland is an economic asset and, as a result, a perfectly viable independent state. If we aren’t an asset, why are they going to so much trouble? They have indeed raised the stakes this week, but it’s because they’ve been backed into a corner by the success of Yes Scotland. However, by refusing a currency union and suggesting that they won’t respect the outcome of the referendum, they’ve got very few places left to go. What are they going to do now, occupy the country? That way madness lies.
This was the week that Westminster lost the plot and demonstrated once again the futility of efforts to reform the UK from within. Nor do these attempts to bully Scotland into voting No bode well for the future of the UK. If Westminster thinks that ‘Yes doesn’t mean Yes’, it may equally find that a No vote delivered under duress does not mean No. There is an appetite for change in Scotland, and independence will happen now or later. But let’s not let it come to that. It’s time to get out now.