With just seven months to go before Scotland decides whether it wants to file for divorce from the rest of the UK after a 307-year marriage, proponents of independence suddenly have a much harder sell. The UK has made it known that an independent Scotland would not be able to keep the pound in a currency union with the UK, and the European Commission has told Scotland that it would not be able to charge British university students higher tuition rates than other EU students. That throws two big monkey wrenches into the Scottish National Party’s (SNP) machinery, because recent polls have suggested that Scottish voters are concerned first and foremost with the economic consequences of independence.On the question of the pound, the UK’s three main political parties have finally awoken from what has thus far been an all but comatose Better Together campaign and decided to play hardball. Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, Danny Alexander, the Lib Dem Treasury Chief Secretary, and Ed Balls, Labour’s shadow chancellor, are to launch coordinated warnings that Scotland “should not expect to form a currency union with the UK in the event of independence,” as the FT reports:
The warnings mark an escalation of the unionist rhetoric, with all three major parties having thus far said only that it would be “very difficult” to form a currency union with an independent Scotland rather than ruling it out altogether. […]The SNP has made it a crucial part of its vision of independence that Scotland would be able to share the pound, rather than having to join the euro or establish its own currency.
The SNP has responded by saying that the UK parties are “ganging up” to bully Scots into rejecting independence and that talk of withholding the pound post-referendum constitute “cack-handed panicky” tactics. There are legitimate fears among unionists that using sticks rather than carrots with Scotland will only rile up the sort of antipathy that has made a yes-vote ever more possible, if not yet probable. But rejecting a currency union with an independent Scotland has more to do with economic sense than with campaign tactics, as Martin Wolf has argued, among many others.On the higher ed question, too, the SNP might be forced to take a different tack, after the European Commission said yesterday that the SNP’s tuition fees plan “breaks EU law” and would constitute a “covert form of discrimination.” As the Telegraph explains:
The Scottish Government’s blueprint for independence claims that the country’s universities will continue to charge students from England, Wales and Northern Ireland tuition fees after independence – despite courses being free to Scots and other EU citizens.Those plans have been deemed illegal by a string of academics, EU law experts and former European Commissioners since the turn of the year.
Thus far, the SNP’s strategy has been simply to stonewall on these challenges to its plan for independence. Even if the momentum had recently been in its favor, this strategy wouldn’t work. If proponents of an independent Scotland can’t work out credible proposals for how the country will deal with its new status post-referendum, voters may decide to stick with the devil they know.