Posted by: Sam Olsen | September 16, 2014

An incomprehensible choice – why the Scottish referendum matters to all of the UK

Union Saltire On Thursday – so in less than two days – Scots will vote on whether to put to the sword a country that has held together through thick and thin for more than 300 years. To the rest of the world, the answer to the referendum question “Should Scotland be an independent country?” is stunningly obvious: a trumpeted, exalted ‘no’. In the words of one leading economist, “Why anyone would want to exit a successful economic and political union with a G-5 country – a union which another part of Europe so desperately seeks to emulate – to go it alone for the benefit of… what exactly, is incomprehensible”. The US, EU, Australia and Canada have come out against Scottish independence, as has China. It is telling that the only international voices urging the Scots to go it alone are North Korea and Islamic State: worthy international partners indeed for a future independent country. Yet the polls would have us believe that around half of Scots will ignore the dangers of making “a historical mistake” and vote to leave the United Kingdom. Perhaps the polls are wrong. For a start there has not been an independence referendum before, so the pollsters don’t have any history to study for comparison. Secondly, and more importantly, is the militancy of the Yes campaign. The venomous tone has been reinforced by the recent announcement from senior SNP politician Jim Sillars, who claimed there would be a “day of reckoning” for major Scottish employers such as Royal Bank of Scotland and Standard Life who dared to endorse a vote for No. He also vowed that oil giant BP, which pays 1/7th of all pension dividends paid by FTSE 100 companies in the UK, would be nationalised. “What kind of people do these companies think we are?” SIllars asked. “They will find out” was the spiteful reply. This aggressive attitude to anyone that dares to counter them filters down to SNP activists on the ground. Labour MP Jim Murphy was attacked with eggs in the street by Yes activists, and all across Scotland ‘No thanks’ posters have been trashed and people menaced. JK Rowling, who gave money to the No campaign, was actively abused online by so-called ‘cybernats’ for her contribution.

A cybernat target

A cybernat target

Of course, there have been incidents on both sides, but the Yes campaign has managed to drum up such fanaticism that there is a real danger of violence come Thursday, and all police leave has been cancelled. Alistair Darling, hardly a beacon of the dramatic, said that “I have been involved in political campaigns for the last 35 years and have never seen anything like this. There have been dark aspects to this which need to have a light shone on them because they are not acceptable.” But say the polls really are right, and that half of Scotland believe in Alex Salmond. If the SNP are so determined, by hook or by vitriolic crook, to achieve independence then it stands that there must be an excellent reason for it. After all, people on average want what is best for themselves and their families. The core measurement of the quality of life for a separate Scotland is how well its economy would perform. This after all underpins everything: education, health, welfare, industrial investment. It therefore makes for depressing reading to see the economic challenges that await an independent Scotland. The SNP’s main economic platform is that Scotland should own the revenue from North Sea oil and gas, making it a petro-dollar paradise equivalent to Norway.  Although they have similar populations (5.05 million for Norway, 5.3 million for Scotland), Norway earned $40bn from hydrocarbons in 2013 versus $11bn for the UK as a whole. The Institute for Fiscal Studies predicts that UK oil and gas revenues will fall to $5.5bn in 2016/17 – and not all of that will be Scottish. As one Forbes commentator noted, there’s no amount of careful stewardship that is going to magic $5.5 billion into $40 billion, when many of the North Sea rigs are at the end of their life and production levels are falling.

Not for much longer

Not for much longer

Oil or no oil, there is currently a gulf between what Scotland earns and what its Government spends. No one knows how wide this gap is, but estimates range between $6bn and $24bn. The SNP likes to stress Scotland’s famed whisky exports as a source of future wealth, but given that total whisky sales abroad are only $6bn they would have to double production within a year to make up the shortfall. Not even the Chinese want that much Laphroaig. Another startling issue to confront would be the shrinking tax base. With approximately 90% of Scottish business urging a No vote, according to the CBI, it is no wonder that senior finance figures are predicting huge levels of capital flight from Scotland and the relocation of most large companies should Yes prevail. This of course would serve to widen the economic deficit. That said, Scotland would be able to borrow on the international bond market post-Independence to make up the difference. But for a small country like Scotland, with a Government intent on high levels of public spending and with a decreasing economic base, borrowing rates would be steep. This would start a vicious circle of increasing national debt that would have to be broken by reduced public spending of some kind – thus at one stroke extinguishing the argument of those that want independence to protect public health, education and welfare expenditure. The sad truth is that these economic arguments mean nothing to the average Yes campaigner. At a radio debate a few months ago, the SNP supporter I was paired with told the audience not to discuss the Scottish economy as it was something that “we should worry about only after the vote is won”. The Yes campaign is built not on logic, but on an emotional passion, and not a particularly nice one at that. The whole SNP rationale has more than a stench of the racist about it. Being nationalistic, by its very definition, means to the exclusion of others. Despite the SNP wanting to describe its campaign as the positive one, it has not hard to recognise the anti-Tory, anti-Toff, anti-English chords of chiming through like bells of spite. With Salmond’s appropriation of North Sea oil wealth (despite the fact it was developed thanks to huge upfront investment from the British Government and British industry), the SNP’s belligerent left-wing, petrochemical-based nationalism looks and feels very much like Chavezism. And look where Venezuela is now: a bankrupt, utterly divided society riven by destructive popularism.

Fighting for the UK

Fighting for the UK

It is horrific to think that the same nationalistic forces that the British fought against in two World Wars could lead to break-up of our country. I thus find it hugely ironic that I served alongside the Highland Regiment in Kosovo, the last country in Europe before the Ukrainian carve-up to suffer at the hands of rampant nationalism. Having discussed the SNP with many of the Jocks there, they would, I’m sure, be horrified at the thought of UK they served with distinction being destroyed. Not least because the vast majority of the Scots regiments don’t get a referendum vote, given that they are not based in Scotland – another nail in Salmond’s claim to be representing the democracy of his part of Britain. The world is an increasingly dangerous place. It has been said by several English friends of mine that they wouldn’t mind Scotland going their own way. But the consequences would be terrible for the remaining United Kingdom too. An economically challenged state outside of NATO, outside of the EU, led by a fanatical nationalistic party, would be an attractive partner to any nation that wanted to do harm to the West. A $20bn Russian investment into empty Edinburgh coffers would buy a great deal of influence, and perhaps a nuclear submarine base at the heart of NATO’s defences. Lord Robertson, NATO’s ex-chief, was particularly right when he said that dark forces wanted a Yes vote. In conclusion, it is an absolute pity that the Yes vote has been allowed to portray itself as the positive vote for Scotland. No wonder that Salmond is considered a competent politician when he has managed to turn a rejectionist ideal into a movement for progressive change. The division and spite that the SNP stand for is totally against the best interests of not only Scotland, but the UK as a whole. Billy Connolly, a fearless Unionist, put it simply: “The more people stay together, the happier they’ll be”. A vote for No would absolutely be the best decision for all parts of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. A vote for Yes would plunge us all into a needless pit of division, destruction and decay. So I end this note by making a strong, heartfelt appeal to anyone that has friends or family in Scotland. If you believe in the United Kingdom, if you actively love your country and don’t want it broken apart by brutal nationalism, then you have two days – two short days – to persuade your kith and kin to help keep us together.

Let's do it

Let’s do it



  1. It’s nice to see a new post from you good people after all that time since the last one. If I have friends there in Scotland I certainly would urge them to vote “No”. Trouble is – I don’t have any up there. You are right – some people are pushing things there for the sake of pushing it. What worries me is people do do things without knowing what they are doing. I hope it will not happen comes Thursday. Fingers crossed.

    I say so not because I am British. There are more than enough instances in this world where a minority ruthlessly exploit the majority for their own agenda. It’s sad to see people fooled in this way and then suffer.

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