Abolish the Monarchy, Alex Salmond, Choosing Scotland's Future, Credit Crunch, Deficit Reduction, Edinburgh, Falkland Islands, Financial Meltdown, Glasgow, Humor, Imagined Communities, Independence, Islas Malvinas, Leith, Nationalism, Opinion, Politics, Republicanism, Scotland, Scottish Nationalism, Scottish Parliament, U.K. Deficit, Unionism
One should look for more imaginative and certainly less painful ways to “service” the national debt than by merely sacking thousands of public servants. The first thing to go – and by far the easiest national asset to relinquish – would be the Falkland Islands, or the Islas Malvinas as they would be renamed. The three thousand or so residents of this godforsaken spot would be summarily informed that they are actually as South American as Hugo Chavez. The Malvinas would be floated on the open market, and if Argentina could not afford to buy them, then America would be the most likely purchaser – not so much of the Malvinans’ inconsequential civic society, which is little more than a gigantic sheep farm, but of the 60 billion barrels of oil which purportedly lie beneath their coastal waters.
The Gibraltarians and their platoon of Barbary Macaques would also be given their marching orders. We have over six hundred thousand square miles of Antarctica to flog – with “global warming” on the cards, this could conceivably supply lucrative farmland in the coming centuries. Our Caribbean territories could be sold as holiday properties – with Bermuda as a second home, you would be the envy of Islington! – and the British state could finally profit from assets such as the Cayman Islands by formally selling them to the corporations which use them as tax havens.
But this fire sale would only raise piddling amounts of money. If we are getting serious about the Deficit, then we need to think big.
One solution would be to charge Scotland for its membership of the Union. Northern Ireland’s demented population would cough up billions rather than see Belfast handed over to Ireland, but it is more instructive and interesting to imagine what would happen if Scotland had to pay hard cash to avoid an enforced independence.
Scottish Independence vies only with Proportional Representation to be the most monumentally boring political question of the day. After the recent publication of the white paper “Choosing Scotland’s Future,” the demand for Scottish Independence rose to an almost-audible listless grumbling. Amongst its adherents, such a demand always equates to little more than an opportunity to posture as a somewhat unlikely victim – a spectacle which contrasts painfully with the supposed masculine grit of the Scottish character – but it also involves forgetting a lot of history. In a cultural sense, Scotland has never convincingly resembled a nation since its Lowland cities collaborated with the English in order to crush the Highlands, or since the entirety of Edinburgh waited anxiously for their civilisation to be judged permissible (ie. sufficiently English) by a visiting Samuel Johnson.
Scottish Nationalists have never produced a compelling, or even an interesting, vision of an independent Scotland. Their dreams of the liberated nation rarely stray very far from the model of the old British version, rendering the seizure and establishing of independence a rather trivial messing about (and a procedure which all of the proper nations went through over fifty years ago, after defeating some genuine imperialism.) Moreover, if the logic of Scottish Nationalism was pursued to its conclusion, then there would be nothing to stop similar regions such as Cornwall and Norfolk from securing their own autonomy, until Britain was reduced to the nation of London, a Singapore-style financial powerhouse with a motley assortment of pauper neighbours. But not only is the campaign for Scottish independence largely apolitical, but when contested it soon degenerates into a lot of petty speculative accountancy about how Scotland might afford to pay for its own public spending. It is boredom incarnate.
But I wager that if Scotland was threatened with independence, there would be an immediate, automatic panic throughout the land. The nation would find itself on the brink of an uncertain economic experiment, all of that North Sea oil would seem suddenly like a thin, meagre comfort blanket, suspicions that Holyrood’s parliament was little more than a jumped up county-council would appear to be increasingly realised, and how much confidence would remain in its insect politicians? First Minister Alex Salmond is so physically unappealing that in three hundred years time he can hardly stand in statue form – as a mythical founding father – in town squares across Scotland. Aside from him, it is unlikely that the majority of Scottish voters can name a single MSP. Since 1707, the most ambitious and intelligent section of Scotland’s ruling class has been established in London, and these lions would assuredly find the prospect of a real solidarity with their homeland to be most disagreeable.
Like a teenager finally kicked out of the parental home, Scotland would discover that life is a lot more complicated and frightening when you are on your own. London would best manage its levy through imposing it city by city. Edinburgh would be undoubtedly the first to stump up the cash. Edinburgh University – the biggest landowner in the city – cannot afford to bite the hands of the rich English students who supply so much of its revenue, whilst the immigrant population who create so much of the city’s wealth would be anxious to avoid the annulment of all their visas. Both the ruling class and the working population would shirk from the sheer headache of independence, and they could easily come up with billions of pounds worth of Union fees. In any case it is only through historical accident that this Northumbrian city was ever a Scottish property in the first place. Perhaps the only exception amongst Edinburgh’s wards would be Leith, which – with its famed community spirit – would probably declare itself a sovereign state, and become a shining communist utopia.
Once Edinburgh had paid its way back into the Union, Stirling and Glasgow would have to compete to be the capital, whilst most of the government administration would still be exiled in post-Scottish Edinburgh. The immediate consequence would be political anarchy – in all practical respects, the new nation would be ungovernable – and it would suffer a wholesale flight of investor and consumer confidence. The Holyrood parliament would make a handsome Tesco – Edinburgh would have sold this now-redundant building in order to pay the Union levy. On the plus side, however, Balmoral would become the official residence of President Alex Salmond. Post-industrial Glasgow is economically and culturally depleted, and so it matters little whether or not it is in the Union, but if this city could raise the cash it would probably opt for the Union’s security. I imagine that as Scotland fragmented – with nobody knowing on a daily basis which towns, cities, and islands were Unionised, and the Scots having to produce their passports at virtually every train station – all but the most determined of Scottish communities would join the stampede back home.
Britain could potentially raise over fifty billion pounds from the Union fee, and service a sizeable proportion of its national debt. Haunting Scotland with the spectre of its independence would, of course, be something of a hoax – London would have bailed out the ruined Edinburgh banks, regardless of whether or not Scotland was independent, because their collapse would have injured the whole British economy. But I think that, when tested, Scotland would prove entirely unprepared for independence, and its nationalism would not be ideologically robust enough to found and build a nation.