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Getting Away Scot-Free?
UK to Scotland: Stay…or Else

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.

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  • brad lena

    While it is true an independent Scotland does not have a claim on the pound, neither the pound or GB are the only game in town in the 21st. Century

    • free_agent

      Quite true… It seems to me that the euro would be a reasonable choice for a new Scottish currency. Why is that so unpopular that the SNP can’t float that idea?

      Although in the long run, I think the crucial question is which way the transfer funding flows. Generally in a modern nation, the richer, more urbanized, and more powerful regions pay for the privilege of keeping control of the hinterlands.

      • Tom

        That’s a pretty good way to measure it, honestly. The hinterlands provide the cities with their basic necessities, the cities provide the hinterlands with modern technology.
        The hinterlands provide soldiers, the cities provide money.
        Which brings up the question of whether Scotland provides any of the above to the United Kingdom, besides Scapa Flow.

  • lord acton

    They will never take away……our freedom. Lol. Getting off the English teat would probably be the best thing for Scotland in the long term. But the withdrawal period would be unpleasant for many. And of course staying in the EU rather than taking the opportunity to become truly independent is a step in the wrong direction.

    • Andrew Allison

      The EU has made it very clear that if Scotland becomes independent, it will have to apply for EU membership like any other European country — a process which would take several years. The very last thing the EU wants to see is the precedent that a “province” (no disrespect to Scotland, hence the quotes) can declare independence and remain in the EU (c.f. Catalonia, etc.)

  • bigfire

    Nah, Socialism Now, Socialism Forever. We always have other people’s money.

    • f1b0nacc1

      You have put your finger on it. The Scots with any brains (and that doesn’t include the SNP) will vote this thing down, since if they became independent, the money tree that they shake to support their socialist paradise (tongue firmly in cheek) would disappear. As for the Brits, Labour would cease to exist as a viable political force in the UK without the Scots, so they will fight this tooth and nail…

  • rheddles

    I agree the EU will probably make it hard for Scotland to join for the reasons Andrew mentions, but I really question the use of economic coercion to keep Scotland in the UK if it wants out. What do the Scots contribute to England beyond a place to base their boomers? The UK will have millions of sullen, resentful, unproductive subjects to support. For what? To keep the Spanish happy?

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    I think if Scotland wants to be a separate country, it should have its own currency, it should accept an equal per-capita share of the UK’s government debt, and if it wants to be part of the EU it must comply with the laws governing the EU.

    • Honk

      But.. but… not fair! Mel Gibson told me the British are evil! They deserve it! /*sarcasm

  • free_agent

    I know it’s not relevant, but any time I hear of Scottish independence, I think of “Braveheart” … and also the “It’s shite being Scottish!” rant in “Trainspotting”.

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