Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Scotland's Future

Yes. I read it. Thoughts in brief:
  1. It could have been significantly shorter. There is so much repetition throughout the document, it almost feels like a hopeful 'say it enough times and it shall be'.
  2. It is a curious blend of government white paper and political manifesto. I'm not convinced it works as a document.
  3. A huge amount of future policy up in the air - there is a lot of aspirational stuff devoid of any real detail.
  4. There are some very sizeable assumptions in there over which the Scottish Government has no real say. (e.g. EU membership, Sterling zone membership)
  5. The complexities of splitting things such as pensions are not really detailed.
Look, I'm not a policy expert - or an anything expert for that matter - but the further through the document I got the more concerned I was about what is being offered here. There is much aspirational stuff with little or no detailed proposals how policy goals can be achieved. So many areas of policy seem to rely on the benevolence of the UK government to give up assets easily and share services where it's in the "interests of both countries", which seems to mean Scotland's interests. If it comes to a yes vote, I would expect the Westminster Government to negotiate hard for the best deal for the voters and yes, the tax payers that it will continue to represent post-break. So much content in this document relies on London playing nice, it feels naïve to me; and there is so much mention of cross-border co-operation that you really do begin to wonder how much independence Alex Salmond's SNP is comfortable working with. It's a strange beast.

As an aside, I really don't know what the Scottish Air Force intends to do with 12 Typhoon fast jets other than either burn though an awful lot of cash, or leave them in the hangar. Given the Scottish Government's plan to move away from London's more interventionist use of military assets, the SAF will spend most of its time training or escorting long-range Russian bombers out of Scottish airspace. Both of these tasks can be readily achieved with SAAB Gripens at a quarter of the hourly running costs.

So, here's what I think will happen: Scotland will vote no.

However, should I be wrong about that, here's what I think will happen:
1. As far as EU Membership is concerned, a negotiating team will be sent, by the Westminster Parliament, to Brussels to discuss Scotland's future within the EU. Despite the fact that (as far as I am aware) the Scottish Parliament has no legal competence to negotiate with the EU, the negotiating team (as if by magic) will include members who happen to be members of the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government. The EU will suddenly find that Article 48 of the TFEU is applicable because (until 26 March 2016) Scotland is a constituent part of a member country. Some newer EU members, who have had to spend years aligning themselves with the EU Acquis may feel a little aggrieved if Scotland wanders in to the EU fold 'on the nod' so to speak. But the big difference between Bulgaria or Croatia and Scotland is that Scotland's legal system (assuming they retain the necessary statutes) has been in alignment with the ever-evolving acquis since 1973.
2. On the internal considerations for Scotland leaving the UK, the Westminster Government will find that all those insurmountable issues and impermeable barriers that we will hear a lot about between now and 18 September, are no longer so challenging and the real work of dividing up the family silver begins. I do not underestimate just how difficult this bit is going to be.
Why do I think that? The people of these isles are a fairly pragmatic lot in the end and we would rather see that people still get their benefit payments, that their cars are still legally registered and that unfortunate youths can still get an emergency passport when they've been robbed in the middle of wherever.

Ultimately, the next few months are about cringe worthy, mud-slinging politics and then, given a yes vote, it will be about the thankless task of negotiating separation and making sure everything still works.

To wrap up, the thing to bear in mind is that no political solution is going to be perfect. On the one hand you have perceived safety in maintaining the status quo, but you must rely on the promises of the Westminster government for any increase in autonomy. On the other, you have the chance to decide amongst yourselves just how you move your own country forward, with all the uncertainty that entails. I know which way I'd go but, as I have no say in the referendum, I'll keep that to myself.

I still think they'll bottle it.

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