With the Scottish people voting in a referendum on whether Scotland should become independent this week, there has been undulating opinions in the polls. This week however, a few new pieces of information have come to light.
Alex Salmond’s plan to re-join the European Union in the next two years appears to be a dream rather than a plan following comments made by Íñigo Méndez de Vigo, Spain’s Europe minister. The Spanish minister has indicated that the Scottish plan to renegotiate in 18 months contains “”a lot of ifs” and “more ifs than a poem by Rudyard Kipling”. De Vigo also stated that the process was far more likely to take close to 5 years and suggested that an independent Scotland would not be able to keep the pound and would have to adopt the Euro.
You have to follow the rules,” he said. “You have to apply under article 49 and follow the procedure to become a member state of the European Union. It’s a process that takes more or less five years. I don’t see in the future for any member state to be granted that possibility if any member state puts that on the table, I can tell you that all member states will look at it very carefully.”
In response to these strong statements a Scottish National Party representative, Stewart Hosie indicated that a newly independent Scotland would not have to apply as a “new member” to the European Union viewing themselves as a returning member. He said: “The other side of the argument is that article 48 is negotiation within, which is under what it would be considered… We accept that, we have always accepted that to be negotiations, but it will be done under 48 from within, not 49 under new entry.” Article 48 deals with the method of treaty amendment; Scotland views their entry as an amendment to the treaty rather than as in Article 49 which deals with applications to join the EU.
Hosie also said that Scotland would continue to use the pound as an independent nation, he insisted that “Sterling is Scotland’s currency as much as it is anyone else’s.” This statement however seems radically problematic following a report released this week.
An independent Scotland it has been said “would fail within a year” if it kept the pound informally and refused to take on its share of the national debt; this is according to The National Institute for Economic and Social Research. They warned that such a move would lead to “unprecedented austerity in a newly independent Scotland”. The think-tank also indicated that keeping the pound risked isolating Scotland in Europe which could potentially set off a “domino effect” in Europe leading the other nations to default on their debts.
“If Sterlingisation is combined with repudiating Scotland’s fair share of UK debt, we expect this regime would fail within a year.” This quote comes from Mark Wilson, the head of insurance giant Aviva, he also warned that the cost of borrowing would “almost certainly go up to cover the increased risk of being a smaller independent country”. This comes as no surprise to economist who have been stating that hsould Scotland leave the safety granted by the UK they may be hung out to dry financially.
The three main parties in England have also stated in a currency union arrangement that, should Scotland become independent, they would not be entitled to continue using the pound. Pro-independence members however have stated that why would continue to use the pound “informally”. This led to a warning that should this become the case that close to 35 billion pounds would have to be accumulated which is simply not available to Scotland.
The leader of the independence movement however has not been taking this threat seriously, reportedly laughing off the question of how the Westminster government would react if Scotland refused to take on its share of the loan. He stated “What are they going to do – invade?” This failure to have an adequate solution should the pound not be available was used against him in the debates but as mentioned above could, more importantly, prevent Scotland from joining the EU.
There have also been warnings from Alistair Darling when it comes to the National Health Service. Alex Salmond has been stating for weeks that the only way to support the Scottish NHS would be to vote yes at the referendum; Darling has revealed that there is currently a 400 million pound funding gap and that massive cuts and tax hikes would be required in order to meet the shortfall. “Today we learned that Scottish National party leader and deputy, Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon, have been deceiving us. I find that quite appalling. After all these scare stories about privatisation they’ve known that these cuts are coming along, but we weren’t going to be told about it until after the polls had closed,” Darling said in an interview.
Speaking on the same programme, Salmond said it was “absolutely untrue” that there would be cuts to the NHS budget in Scotland, describing Darling’s argument as “totally mythical, totally made up and meant to misrepresent the situation”. When pressed on the subject Salmond stated “Unless we control the overall finances of the health service we’ll be left with the invidious position that even increasing health service spending in real terms, we’re faced with this appalling choice of having to increase taxation to fund the health service instead of making a real choice not to waste billions on nuclear weapons.”
This however again seems to be a lie of omission, if not an outright falsification, from the First Minister as the Institute for Fiscal Studies published the analysis showing that Scotland had been planning on cutting NHS spending by 1.2% in 2015 compared to an increase of 4.4% in England over the same year.
Despite all of these numbers going against the independence movement the polls have this race currently on a knife edge. The pollsters, barring partisan polls, are showing that this referendum is going to be decided by no more than 2 or 3 percentage points. The fact that it has closed up so quickly seems to indicate that there have been some blunders on the side of the pro-union side considering the commanding lead they held less than a month ago. There however must be something said for the strength of the campaign run by the Scottish National Party. They have made the people of Scotland believe that the benefits of an independent Scotland could outweigh those of remaining a part of the United Kingdom in spite of all of the challenges that they will face as an independent nation.
With the vote set to be held on the 18th we will not have to wait much longer to find out the fate of these British Isles and the future of the United Kingdom as we have all known it.