“Of each particular thing ask: what is it in itself? What is its nature?”
– Hannibal Lecter, cribbing from Marcus Aurelius
A word on Scottish Independence: No.
I don’t usually focus on specific conflicts in these little blogs of mine, but I’ve spent a long time weighing up the pros and cons of Scottish Independence and I’ve reached my conclusions and I’d like to share them here with you. Scotland, for those of you unaware, is a small country to the north of the British mainland, famous for producing a number of the finest minds in history and some really staggering examples of alcoholism and violence. I live in and around Scotland and it’s not a bad country as countries go. It’s quite wet and the natives are generally stand-offish, but they do some very interesting things with oats.
In short, it’s like every other country in the world: a collection of different peoples with a vaguely shared history, a loose body of traditions and a few languages. It’s nothing special but, at the same time, it’s a lot nicer than Cambodia or Rwanda. That’s all that I can objectively say about Scotland. It’s a place and people live there.
Scotland is going through one of what could be called periodic fits of pique where it demands to be independent from its larger neighbor, England, a country that is known for having invented the most beautiful and versatile language in the world and invading every major landmass. Scotland and England have long been wedded in a political and fiscal union that started when Scotland went broke and had to be bailed out. For three hundred years England paid Scotland’s bills and, in return, Scotland provided it with engineers, mathematicians, economists, philosophers, chemists, physicists and empire builders. It was sort of the mother of all student loan schemes.
This is, according to the prime mover of the Independence bill – the Scottish National Party or SNP – a ridiculously unfair arrangement under which Scotland has suffered immensely. It has certainly been difficult for Scotland. Part of the largest and most profitable Empire in human history, protected from invasion by an alliance of strong neighbors through two world wars and an ideological conflict that lasted half a century, its coast protected by the strongest navy in the world, and introduced to the European Union, the Common Agricultural Policy and NATO through this alliance, it can be said that Scotland has done nothing but suffer for two hundred years. It’s been tough, not being invaded, subjugated, or bankrupted.
OK: enough sarcasm. Political arguments are the sort to engender heated debate and being snide doesn’t butter any parsnips. To refer back to my opening quote: of each particular thing as, what is it in itself? In order to break up the page a bit, let’s do a Q&A.
So, Scottish Independence – what’s that, then?
Scottish Independence is independence from the UK.
Very clever. What does that mean?
Astonishingly, despite years of argument, nobody really knows. Some say it means a fully devolved government, a separate monarchy, legal system, a new currency et al. Others are not so sure. It seems likely that at the least Scotland will have to seek re-admission to the European Union, as other breakaway states have had to do. Readmission to the EU means adopting the Single Currency, the Euro, since this is now required of new entrants. The Euro is a currency that spends half its time fluctuating wildly because it’s based on a complicated set of calculations that over-value some economies and under-value others.
To sum up, nobody knows what independence would mean, but some people like the sound of it. Others don’t. You’d think that, what with it being a large issue, people might have sorted this out, but the SNP recently released a 670-page summary that was 70% vague assertion and 30% hectoring. You may be able to read it here. If you’re lucky.
Okay, so who are the SNP?
Good question. The SNP are a party that campaign for independence: in fact, since they’re a centre-left democratic party, it makes up most of their platform. If you abstract the Independence argument from the SNP manifesto, the manifesto is virtually identical to Labour’s and very close to that of the Liberal Democrats.
So campaigning for Independence makes the SNP stand out?
Bit of a leading question there, but yes. Basically. Most of the other parties running in Scottish elections have constituencies in the rest of the UK and as such are more unionist than nationalist.
So the Independence argument is politically motivated?
Undoubtedly. If the SNP could secure Independence, it would give them immense political power and they would, in theory, dominate Scottish politics for the next quarter-century. More political power means more money, more prestige, and mo’ fine-ass bitches.
Crumbs. So with that in mind, does Independence have cynical motivations?
Depends who you ask.
I’m asking you.
Okay, since you asked, I think the SNP are leveraging Scotland’s future against votes.
Some say it means more control over Scotland’s future, but others scoff and say, “what future?”. Both sides reduce to the absurd: Scotland’s future is either impossibly wonderful and Utopian, or the desperate straits of a third-world economy. The fact remains that political parties generally use ideological platforms to take power, and the SNP has a history of doing so. In 2008 they provided £400,000 to the Scottish branch of the Islamic Foundation in order to secure the Muslim vote. The Islamic Foundation is, incidentally, a shell for the Muslim Brotherhood (جماعة الإخوان المسلمين, الإخوان المسلمون), a political organization regarded by the US, UK, Egyptian and Russian governments as a terrorist group with some very, very conservative opinions. You can read the report here
Indeed. The SNP has something of a history of broken promises, too. Part of the reason for its landslide in 2010 was a promise to eliminate student debt, which garnered them the youth vote. That hasn’t been mentioned since. The SNP has very little experience in managing a country, and it shows: their manfesto contains a number of anomalous financial calculations that have analysts worried.
You might say that Scottish Independence would be a good idea if the SNP weren’t managing it.
So Scottish voters are being manipulated?
You could say that. For all its hectoring, the SNP has its own interests at heart and their devotion to the cause is more down to the fact that it’s a subject that gets people talking about them, rather than any long-term interest in Scotland. Voters are, if we’re honest, being manipulated by large political bodies.
But things wouldn’t be so bad for Scotland if it was independent, right?
It depends on how much faith you have in the Scottish economy. Financial security, or so goes the argument, can be sustained by oil revenue. You may have heard that oil is a dwindling resource. It’s only been a key news story since 1970. North Sea oil, as that relates to the argument, is running out. Scotland’s finances are, in fact, heavily supported by the UK Treasury.
What does that Treasury support entail?
The wording of the Act of Union 1707 and its subsequent revisions is occasionally vague and elusive, but it breaks down as so: in return for ceding governance of its own affairs, Scotland is privy to a modified vassal status under the umbrella of the UK. It retains its own legal system, education system, local governance, the rights of royal boroughs, and freedom of trade and regulation in order to ensure equality of Scottish and English citizens.
That doesn’t sound so bad.
It really isn’t. Scots do fairly well out of the union: better than the English do, in fact. An average Scot has more tax money spent on him than an average Englishman. You’d think we could show a little gratitude once in a while, but no: it’s just bitch, bitch, bitch.
Ah, but no price is worth freedom.
Well, it’s worth pointing out that if Scotland cedes UK privisions, it will have to renegotiate its place in the EU, giving up many of the exemptions that the UK, being a founding member of the EU, put in place for its citizens. In effect they’d be trading being ruled by bureaucrats in London for being ruled by bureaucrats in Brussels.
Getting back to industry: Scotland has other industries, right?
Sure. But most of those industries are trans-national. A large portion of Scotland’s revenue comes from finance, as Edinburgh is a world capital of banking. But those banks are not owned by Scotland and, in order to maintain current spending, tax revenue would have to increase. In general, higher taxes causes large corporations to relocate. It’s sort of a trend.
No, I meant exclusive industries.
Not really. Whiskey, sort of, but there are two problems with that argument. One: other countries make whiskey, and a number of Scottish whiskey distilleries are foreign-owned. Two: there has never, and will never, be a first-world economy based on the production of an alcoholic beverage.
But there’s still tourism.
The same argument applies. Most tourists who visit the UK arrive through London airports like Heathrow, the busiest in the world. If they had to stop at the border for passport control, it might complicate matters further. Tourism is also a notoriously unreliable industry.
So what’s behind this whole argument?
That’s a complicated question. Scots have generally felt that they are controlled by the English, a position that goes back to the traditional rivalry between the two nations. The non-political Scottish argument is generally that the English are domineering wankers, as in this infamous scene from Trainspotting:
The Scots have a tradition of disliking bigger nations that meddle in their affairs, which goes back to the attempted Roman invasions in the first or second century AD. But really, anti-English sentiment is against the landowning class who now make up the Conservative party and, if pressed, most Scots would admit that they either have friends or family who are English. It’s more a posture than a standard to live or die by.
I guess you won’t be voting YES, then.
No, I won’t. I really think the age of countries is over. We live in an era of global connection, where we see that for all their different flags and languages the people of the world are just like us. Borders mean less and less every year thanks to advances in communication, and the insistence that a country can only find itself through individualism sounds very much like an old-fashioned idea. We are a global people and insistence on distinctions like national identify are, if not actively poisonous, at least backward.
This has all been very heavy and I may need to lie down for a bit. Can you give me a nice image to end with?
Sure! Here’s a kitten in a flowerpot.