As someone who himself has taken part in a Yes campaign in a national referendum, I can guess what those battling on the side of Scottish independence are thinking and feeling this morning after the three main British parties united to scupper the idea that an independent Scotland could simply expect to continue using the pound as its currency. Roughly speaking, something along the lines of: “We’re royally screwed.”
The moment for the Yes to AV campaign when this occurred was the day the No campaign released the baby billboard. For those of you who don’t remember, it depicted a very small infant being cradled by a pair of gloved hands while a caption read: “She needs a maternity unit NOT an alternative voting system”. We all knew it was a game changer. That as much as we might try and fight against it, it had set the tone for the rest of the debate. Osborne’s declaration of monetary reality may have been more technocratic and subtle than trying to equate the health of a single child with the cost of general elections, but no less effective in doing its intended job. Alex Salmond has described the announcement by the Chancellor as a move that will backfire, but he’s wrong. It is the nail in the coffin for Scottish independence, at least this for the next generation or two. And the reason is because it strikes at the very heart of Scottish fears around independence and what it might bring with it.
The reason the SNP decided that an independent Scotland would continue using GBP as its currency was simply down to not wanting to scare the horses. Saying they would adopt the Euro in the case of independence was a risky move, even in a so called pro-EU nation such as Scotland (on this point, I believe the destruction of the Tories in Scotland helps disguise a lot of anti-EU sentiment). Saying that Scotland would simply create its own currency, even something as simple as the Scottish pound, which would start at level pegging with the British version and then go off on its own, also seemed too radical. I’m sure they focus grouped this stuff to death and it all came out negatively – thus the idea that the pound would be kept. I can see why the SNP took this road. But there were always three gaping problems with this strategy.
One, if Scotland was going to become an independent country it has been acknowledged far and wide that it would seek to immediately join the European Union and that hopefully that would happen in 2016 alongside the end of negotiations with the United Kingdom and the formal breaking away of Scotland from the Union. If this were to happen, then surely Scotland would be forced, just like every other ascension country, to set a timetable for when they would adopt the Euro. This situation was always waiting there and Salmond simply tried to fudge it with the “let’s keep the pound” temporary fix.
Two, and this cuts deeper to the whole problem the Yes campaign faces, surely a nation’s appetite for its own currency is a good indicator of its corresponding desire for independence? The fears around having its own money must in some way mirror the people’s anxiety about Scotland becoming its own sovereign country. Or at the very least it wouldn’t be a significant factor in the independence debate if this were not the case.
And finally, there was always a good chance that the three main parties would come together in the name of the Union and say, “tough luck, Scotland – we’re not letting you have the pound. And it is completely our choice in case you were wondering.” Which they have now done. All that’s left is for the SNP to panic – which they have done. Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s deputy first minister, went spastic in simply glorious style, threating that if Britain wouldn’t allow Scotland to use the pound then the newly independent country would renege on its portion of the national debt. Always a great way to start a country, by defaulting immediately on outstanding loans. Really makes those investors come running, Nicola. She went on with her suicide note: “It is a bluff, because if this was to be the position of the Westminster government then it would put them in a position that’s at odds with majority public opinion in Scotland; it would put them at odds with majority public opinion in England.” She’s completely wrong on the second point, and knows it. As for the first point, it seems to be spoken by someone who does not even realise the implications of that which she is campaigning for. In the event of the Yes campaigning winning, Scotland would be a separate country. Why would Westminster politicians then care about what the Scottish public thought? When coming up with policy ideas, no British government ever says to itself, “Yes, but what will people in Luxembourg think?” What is it about the concept of “independent nation” that the deputy first minister fails to understand?
My only words of consolation are these: losing isn’t as bad as you think. Life goes on. You spend a few days in a drunken haze and then life returns to normal. There are always consolations. Like the fact that at least Scotland gets to keep the pound.