By John Lloyd
Readers of a romantic bent, perhaps Scots or descendants of Scots, may think that it would be cool for Scotland to vote for independence from the United Kingdom next Thursday.
If so, here are 10 reasons why they’re wrong.
1. It would mean nationalism – the call to old loyalties deeper than any civic and cross-national identities – would win. The Scots nationalists are nothing like the proto-fascist groups at large in Europe: indeed, their party is social democratic, liberal in social policy. But the demons unleashed will be stronger than their politics.
2. The countries of Europe have many secessionist movements. Spain has two, in Catalonia and in the Basque country. Belgium is divided between the French Walloons and the Dutch-speaking Flemish. Italy has an old secessionist movement in German-speaking Alto Adige and a new one in the north, claiming a territory called Padania. France has an occasionally violent movement in the island of Corsica. Others will come along. All would be hugely encouraged by Scots independence. It would consume Europe for decades.
3. The UK has been, in the past century, an imperial power, claiming ownership of large parts of the globe, fighting and imprisoning those who sought liberation in Africa, India and elsewhere. US President Barack Obama’s grandfather, Hussein Onyango Obama, was imprisoned and tortured by the British in Kenya because he was suspected, it seems wrongly, of being a member of a militant pro-independence group, the Mau Mau. But in the latter part of the 20th century and in the 21st, Britain ceased to be part of the problem and strove to become part of the solution. The ‘solution’ is to find a way to manage the world out of confrontation and division into a common effort to attack its real problems – ecological damage, poverty, drought, Islamist and other terrorism. The loss of Scotland would diminish it, weaken its presence internationally, weaken what it does and can do for global governance.
4. The UK is a major and founding member of NATO: it’s a nuclear power. Yet all of its submarine-based nuclear armament is based in Scotland, at a base near Glasgow. Moving it – as an independent, anti-nuclear Scottish government would demand – would take years and many billions of pounds to execute. And this at a time when NATO is seeking more commitment, more defence spending from its members to counter the growing threat from Russia.
5. The United States, presently blamed by critics inside and out for being weak in the face of global challenges – from Islamist terror, from Russia, from China – has under Obama’s presidency sought to convince the Europeans that they must take greater responsibility. Scots independence would be an example of a people taking less: it would present the malign example of a region, by claiming independent status, ducking out of taking the hard choices in the world – while seeking protection from those still constrained to make them.
6. The UK has been a large part of ‘the West’ – that group of nations, which include ‘Easterners’ like Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand and others – that privilege democracy, a strong civil society and rule of law. For the UK to lose Scotland would point up to a failure of democracy, at a time when the growth of China and the challenge of Russia is putting it’s primacy in doubt.
7. With the discovery of major oil reserves off Scotland in the early 1970s, most of the UK’s oil has come from the fields off the Scots shore. There are still large reserves – how large, is still being proven. Scotland would demand total control of these reserves – they would be mainly within its territorial waters. It’s another malign example of a region rich in mineral reserves severing links with the larger state of which it was part in order to enjoy the easy income. It’s what the Oxford economist Paul Collier called, in a recent talk, ‘a dirty little resource grab’ – one sure to be copied elsewhere.
8. Scotland has a large financial sector, even after the near-collapse of the Royal Bank of Scotland, still one of the world’s banking giants. The turbulence and uncertainty which independence would cause would prompt several big banks and financial institutions to relocate to England: and foreign-owned businesses would also take precautionary measures. It wouldn’t be disaster: but it would mean that the UK, presently growing more strongly than any other European state but still recovering from recession, would be badly knocked back.
9. Modern terrorism has targeted the UK: it’s seen by radical Islam as both a threat to their plans to create a fundamentalist Caliphate and to make of the Muslim populations round the world – there are nearly three million Muslims in the UK – adherents to their cause. As UK security chiefs have warned, an independent Scotland with new and small security services would be hobbled in efforts to combat extremism – and would be seen as a pressure point.
10. Finally, there’s the more indefinable damage: to civility and to common culture. The nationalist campaign has raised tempers on both sides of the divide – within Scotland itself, and between Scotland and the rest of the UK, especially England. Nationalists like to see England as still an imperial hangover, un-modernised, run by ‘posh’ Conservatives for whom most Scots didn’t vote. Independence would make this still worse: many English say they want Scotland to go, because they’re tired of their complaints. It would be a long time before that died down: and something precious, a recognition of difference within unity, would have been lost.
This much is at stake. The world will not benefit, now or in the future, from an independent Scotland. But there’s nothing it can do about it, but wait to see what choice that nation makes.
John Lloyd co-founded the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford, where he is Director of Journalism. Lloyd has written several books, including What the Media Are Doing to Our Politics (2004). He is also a contributing editor at FT and the founder of FT Magazine.