Scotland: Yes or No Means Big Changes For The UK

By Vincent J. Truglia

Everyone by now is fully familiar with the up-coming vote on Scottish independence scheduled for this Thursday. We should know the results by early Friday morning, unless the vote is so close that a recount is required.

We have all heard some people predicting dire consequences if the Scots vote “Yes.” Frankly, I believe that would simply represent a knee-jerk reaction to an emotional issue. An independent Scotland is only a black swan event if the English choose to make it so. If the English decide that it is in everyone’s interest to cooperate, then a yes vote will mean minor changes in governance that are likely to occur even if the No vote wins.

Scotland Vs. Quebec

The problem is that the reasons for voting yes appear to be highly emotional to begin with. The disputes between England and Scotland are long and historical, with only minor economic differences of opinion. This is in sharp contrast with the Quebec issue, where there was not just historical animosity by Francophones against Anglophones in the province, but also, there was a genuine threat to the survival of Francophone culture in Quebec as the birth rate plummeted in the province in the 1960s, and when most new immigrants preferred to become Anglophone. To a certain extent, the Quebec separatist issue centered around cultural survival. I don’t see that in the Scottish case.

I was recently once again in Quebec City and Montreal. They are extraordinarily different today linguistically than when I lived in Montreal as a graduate student in the 1970s. When I studied there, English signs and advertisements dominated downtown Montreal. In stores, you were first greeted in English, and then in French. Today all signs are in French, and only signs related to public safety are bilingual. You can no longer get any well-paying job in the province without speaking French. All immigrants must send their children to Francophone schools.

The changes in language laws probably more than anything else explain the lack of interest in Quebec independence in recent years.  In edition, the province is allowed to favor Francophone immigrants.  This is drawing large numbers of North Africans, who although Francophone, in many cases want no part of Quebec society. It reminds me of what is happening in Europe with its large Muslim immigrant population. This is very different from the more multicultural nature of the rest of Canada, or for that matter, even the US. As the old expression goes, the Quebecois should have been “careful about what they prayed for.”

I have to be honest that I don’t understand why the Scots are so adamant about separation.  However, my lack of understanding doesn’t mean that they don’t feel strongly about finally becoming independent after centuries of dominance by England’s overwhelmingly larger population. As such, although I don’t understand the emotion behind it, it is clearly there or the polls wouldn’t be so close.

As a result of the emotional and deep psychological bases for this dispute, if you can even call it a dispute, make it very difficult to predict the final outcome.

If there is a Yes vote, I expect great market turmoil, which will cause more pain to England than Scotland. Quite quickly leaders in England, and especially the Bank of England, will try to reduce any financial turmoil. Cooler heads will eventually prevail.

A No Vote Poses Almost As Many Risks As A Yes Vote

For me the more interesting fact is that even if the No vote triumphs, the UK will soon undergo significant constitutional turmoil. I use italics because as we all know, the UK doesn’t have a written constitution.

In the run-up to this legally agreed to referendum, Westminster has promised to devolve many more powers to Scotland’s parliament. The dilemma that presents is that what to do with Scottish members sitting in the Westminster parliament. Why should they be able to vote on English economic and political issues, if the English, Welsh and Northern Irish MPs, can’t vote on Scottish affairs. I expect there to be a demand for a separate English parliament or at least for English MPs to caucus and vote separately regarding matters relating purely to England.

This more than anything will cause as much legal uncertainty as a Yes vote.

What Happens To Labour and the UKIP?

Also, we have to keep in mind that if the Scots do leave Westminster, then the Labour Party will be at a big disadvantage compared to the Tories, since the Tories at present only hold one seat in Scotland. However, even then, the outcome is far from clear because of the growth of the United Kingdom Independence Party, which may wind up syphoning off votes from the Tories’ traditional base.

EU Membership: Much Ado About Nothing

What about the question of the EU? Frankly, there is more bluster than reality regarding Scotland’s entrance into the Union. First, we must remember that this referendum is taking place along completely democratic lines. Both the Scottish government and the British government agreed it to. It is not simply one section of the UK rebelling against the center. I find it impossible to believe that even Spain or Belgium, which have unity problems of their own can veto a truly democratic vote in Scotland permitted by the UK. Putin would great fun if that occurred. So much for European views on democracy!

No matter what happens, Prime Minister Cameron is in a difficult position. The entire EU is going to face difficult decisions, not just because of the question of Scottish entrance into the EU, but also because Cameron has promised a UK referendum on EU membership if he wins the next election. All in all, it is a political mess of huge proportions. Statements by financial and political leaders on both sides should not be fanning the flames by saying they will move across the border. That just makes the overall situation more combustible.

As always, Clear and Candid.