The nervousness among the British elite over the possibility of Scots opting for independence in this September’s referendum is now permanently on parade. Take this morning’s Opinion piece in City AM – the London financial freesheet – by Andrew Lilico, chair of consultancy firm Europe Economics who also writes for the ConservativeHome website.
Lilico starts by echoing David Cameron in asking Scots to take pride in a shared British history:
“For Scotland to leave the UK would, in my view, be a catastrophe both for the values that Britain – that great fused project of the English and Scottish Crowns – has developed and projected around the world these past 300 years, and for Scotland itself – the great flourishing of which, in philosophy and finance and invention and economic theory in the eighteenth century, and then in military adventure and colonialism in the nineteenth century, occurred as part of Britain.”
The Scottish Enlightenment is one of the great chapters in the development of modern capitalist society. It remains an unfinished business. Its values were never extended beyond Western Europe and North America, and even there not to the bulk of the population. Its logic has certainly not been applied to indigenous people elsewhere.
Lilico’s mention of “military adventure” and “colonialism” raises the legacy of Britain’s bloody past, which extends to its participation in wars such as Afghanistan. He’s right to say the Scottish upper classes participated whole heartedly but for many Scots this is not something to take pride in, further many would like to break from being part of a state permanently at war and which tags along behind whatever military adventure the US launches.
But Lilico moves on to the bread and butter issues which will dominate the referendum campaign and trots out the litany of Better Together scare stories.
First up is his claim that if it’s a Yes vote Scotland “will not automatically be part of the EU.” Perhaps he can explain how Scots who have been citizens of the EU for nearly three decades can have their citizenship removed. Under EU law that could only happen if parliamentary democracy was scrapped and a dictatorship was installed and/or the state was guilty of human rights crimes. You do not have to be a fan of the current administration at Holyrood to think they’re unlikely to follow that path.
Lilico is of course echoing the statements of the president of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, who was backing up David Cameron and the Spanish premier, Mariano Rajoy, who is worried a Yes vote in Scotland will lead to a Catalan break away. Barroso’s claims were demolished by John Palmer, the long time European editor of The Guardian.
More interestingly if Scotland stays in the UK it faces the prospect it might have to quit the EU, even if they vote not to, if English voters vote accordingly in the referendum on European membership the Westminster parties are proposing.
Next is Lilico’s claim that “Scotland will not have a currency union with the rest of the UK.” Why corporations and banks would want England’s second biggest trading partner to operate a separate currency is not explained. The major supermarkets, banks, oil companies and much more are not going to quit Scotland if its votes for independence and would want a free trade area with the same currency to keep costs low.
But here we come to the nub of Lilico’s argument:
“the SNP appears not to grasp this difficult truth: English voters do not want Scotland to leave and, if it were to do so, would be mortally offended. Alex Salmond merrily claims that Scotland would be England’s best pal in the world after independence. I can assure him that the feeling would not be mutual. In the unlikely event that Scotland were to vote for independence, English voters would be incandescent. Their view would be that the Scots had voted for independence precisely and mainly because they hated the English. Their attitude to any suggestions of political accommodation would be: “If, after all we’ve been through together, you hate us that much that you’re off, then be gone!” No English politician could stand against the rage that would follow.”
I have a wee confession to make: I life in London W9 in one of the top ten English wards blighted by child poverty, a reminder that the there is another side to London’s bubble boom and the long love affair of UK governments with the City. The people I meet are generally sympathetic to the idea that Scots might vote to leave the UK because they can get a better deal for themselves, and I do not meet a potential wave of rage if the Scots were silly enough to leave the UK. Lots of people are aware students do not have to pay university fees, pensioners get a better deal and Muslim friends remark that they or their friends and relatives meet less hostility in Scotland than south of the border.
Similarly, are Scots going to vote Yes out of hatred of English? No. That is another echo of Barroso’s comparison between Scottish and Kosovan independence. A Yes vote will not be followed by civil war and ethnic cleansing. Actually, lots of English residents of Scotland I know are going to vote Yes on the grounds that they want a Scotland committed to welfare not the neo-liberal template shared by Westminster.
Lilico ends with the claim “Britain is a fantastic constitutional and cultural project.” Already someone has asked where they can read that constitution! The truth is that the gross disparities of wealth in the UK, the free market zeal of Westminster politicians and the very lack of democracy on offer there are reasons driving a Yes vote. Many people are saying something very simple, “it does not have to be like this.” Alastair Darling and David Cameron answer yes it does. No wonder the English right are worried!