Sunday, August 31, 2014

Scotland deciding

If there's one political issue I get asked about more than any other at the moment it's Scottish independence.

I am not aware of any current active political consideration of independence for Scotland but I presume people mean the referendum on leaving the United Kingdom. But since the Scottish government wants to both stay in the European Union and enter a currency union with the rest of the United Kingdom it's not accurate to call this proposal "independence".

It's up to Scotland to decide but I can't deny it would be a body blow. I have many happy childhood memories of visiting my late grandparents in Edinburgh and beyond. Scotland becoming a separate state may not mean I could no longer visit Edinburgh and remember, but it would make it a different experience. It's not easy to put the feeling into words but the prospect is not something I would like.

However there are some issues that are not exclusively matters for Scotland. Whether or not there are border controls and passport checks between countries are a matter for both countries to determine. A separate Scotland is as free as one can be in the EU to decide what controls and restrictions are in place for entering the country, but it will have no direct say over what the rest of the United Kingdom chooses to do. If the rest of the United Kingdom chooses to have border controls to enter from Scotland - and it's quite possible we will as it's likely that Scotland as a new EU member will have to sign up the Schengen Agreement as a condition of entry (whereas Ireland is not a signatory) so this would be essential to prevent a hole in our immigration strategy - then all a separate Scotland can do is protest.

And a currency union isn't going to automatically happen just because the largest party proposing a Yes vote advocates one. The rest of the United Kingdom would also have to agree to it. You can find expert economists who support just about any position and argue endlessly over whether it makes it good economic sense for the rest of the United Kingdom, but membership of a currency union is also a political matter and the three largest UK parties have all ruled it out. A referendum might be a necessary hurdle. The UK has spent the last two decades seeking to avoid another currency union despite lots of people, including Alex Salmond and some expert economists, insisting it makes sense. So there's no automatic guarantee an alternative one would happen.

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