The real benefit of Scottish independence

By Rochelle Sampy

Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond has recently announced that he wants to hold an independent referendum in the autumn of 2014. The pleas of UK Prime Minister David Cameron have been ignored and Westminster politicians like Vince Cable have now been encouraged to visit Scotland to save the union.

Scottish Secretary Michael Moore has also launched an eight week consultation to consider whether Westminster can temporarily transfer legal powers to Holyrood in order to hold a binding rather than advisory referendum. Thus for the time being, the Scottish National Party is not in full control of organising this referendum and Westminster can still keep an eye on them.

Although David Cameron still claims the referendum would be more of a ‘neverendum’Salmond currently holds the power in this dangerous game. Initially, Cameron might have thought that Salmond would drop his ‘independence’ stance and eventually realise that it is better for Britain to stay united. However, Cameron should have called Salmond’s bluff a long time ago on the independence issue. Perhaps a good time would have been after the general election when Lord Michael Forsyth advised him to do so.

At the time, Salmond was not popular in Scotland after claiming that the Scottish economy could be supported by an ‘arc of prosperity’ which referred to Iceland and Ireland, should Scotland break away from the UK. Of course, in light of Ireland’s financial problems a few months ago, this arc soon proved to be wishful thinking. This should have been the time for Cameron to play the ‘independence’ game, as Salmond’s falling public support would surely have caused him to lose a referendum.

However, Salmond has now become a much stronger figure in Scottish politics. Although only a third of his voters currently support independence, this number is slowly increasing in light of what is seen as more ‘interference’ from the Tories in Westminster. An IPSOS Mori poll conducted in December 2011 showed that support for the SNP’s independent aim was up by 16% while support for maintaining Westminster rule was down to 57%.  Salmond has used the anti-Tory yet pro Labour sentiment to his advantage and knows that this anti-Tory feeling in Westminster will only grow over time.

To show that it is not only the Tories who are interested in this delicate issue, Cameron now also has the support of  Labour leader Ed Miliband as he aims to save the union. Cameron must now not only make a case for the UK to Salmond but also to the Scottish people themselves. Scottish independence would signal the end of Great Britain, and start the break up of the UK as it has been known for years.

The UK’s presence risks being weakened politically, especially in the EU where the UK would end up with 25 points under qualified majority voting rather than 27 points with Scotland’s support. No matter how anti-EU the current Tories are, they nevertheless realise that it is easier to control the EU by being part of it, rather than being an outsider trying to establish links with its neighbours.

On the other hand, can Scotland afford to be independent from the UK? Figures from Oxford Economics indicate that Scotland would be in an annual deficit of a little over £13 billion if they did not receive financial aid from the UK to manage their existing UK debt.

Last year alone, the UK government spent £10,212 in Scotland per person which was £1,624 more than in England, due to the generous Barnett formula which dictates how much the Treasury is to give to Scotland for public spending.  Were Scotland to become independent, it would have to find another way to obtain this money, and in today’s recession prone Europe this seems increasingly difficult.

There are further issues of university education and the NHS, which Scotland would ultimately lose if it was no longer part of the UK. Whilst protests on funding cuts reached a high in England, this was not mirrored in Scotland who benefits from free healthcare and free university education for its national students. Although Scotland currently has some form of tax raising powers, it has not needed to use it before as the UK’s financial help has been quite substantial. However, without this flow of financing, Scotland might have to raise its own taxes, which might not be a popular move.

Whatever happens, an independent Scotland is currently not looking like a good idea for either side. Once Salmond’s independence dream comes into being, he will have to start thinking of new ways to solve the potential problems listed above. Salmond’s rise could quickly be followed by his demise as the Scottish people realise that they might have been better off with the UK’s support.

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