Opinion: UK break-up – we’d all be losers

On the 6th May 2011 the Scottish National Party secured a historic majority for the next five year term at the Scottish Parliament. Their manifesto promised to freeze council tax, oppose tuition fees and set a renewable energy target of 100% by 2020. However, more crucially, one of the SNP’s most important pledges was to hold a referendum on independence.

The SNP is keen to emphasize its view that independence would make Scotland more successful; economically and socially. The SNP state that independence is the best choice for the future of Scotland and the issue should be decided by the Scottish people. However, recent polls put those who disapprove at 43% against 40% in favour. They argue that with independence comes greater fiscal powers which would give the necessary apparatus to create jobs and increase opportunities in Scotland for young people. Yet, they do not delve into the details of how they would achieve this.

The vision set out by the SNP includes universally free childcare, better state pensions and, most boldly, that Scotland can play an important role in creating a ‘more peaceful and stable world’. All of those commitments would entail extra public spending. How would the SNP pay for these grandiose objectives?

There is currently an expenditure gap between the total public expenditure in Scotland (£40bn) and the total income received from within Scotland (£27bn). In order to simply keep existing spending commitments that would mean finding an extra £13bn.This figure surely would to be larger with the SNP’s grand vision for an independent Scotland. What would the SNP have to do?

To afford independence they would have to make tough choices between higher tax rates or cutting public services. The same tax rates that they have committed to freezing and lowering and the same public services they have pledged to protect.

The Pro-Union campaign has so far focused on the economic arguments against independence. These economic arguments are perfectly sound but they are, however, negative. We should also look at the beneficial aspects of the union between England and Scotland.

Throughout the world we exert much greater influence on foreign policy as a United Kingdom; a strong, unified and integrated union which allows us to punch our weight on the world stage. Scotland has more influence as part of the union than it could ever have as an independent country. Married we can remain a pivotal player in world diplomacy and economics. Divorced we can hope to have nowhere near the influence we currently have and surely this current level of influence benefits Scotland. Scotland’s interests are better represented by a United Kingdom, and would not be well served by an independent Scotland, marginalised and sitting on the side lines of the world stage.

Both England and Scotland would be losers as a breakup of the Union. It would be divorce of one of the most successful marriages which has lasted for over 300 years, survived fights against fascism and fought through two world wars. The Union which once ruled one-fifth of the world’s population and one-quarter of Earth’s total land area. The current union makes us strong, dynamic and a force to be reckoned with.

The debate over Scottish independence is only set to continue and rise in importance as we near a referendum. We must now focus on the benefits of the Union, which by far outweigh the benefits of a break-up.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Malcolm Todd 23rd Jan '12 - 2:48pm

    Credit to you for dealing with the substantive issue — should Scotland vote for independence? — after so many have spilled so much ink over pointless process stories, about who has the right to hold a referendum and who should run the unionist campaign.

    However. I still don’t see any real substance in the arguments presented here, which seem to boil down to the following:
    1. Scotland has a huge deficit. Big deal. So does the whole UK. It’s more or less proportionate. Inside or outside the union makes little difference to the problem, only to who’s in charge of deciding how to deal with it.

    2. The SNP is making unaffordable or uncosted promises. Yep. Political parties do that all the time. (We don’t need any reminders of that here…) Again, nothing to do with independence or otherwise — there’ll still be parliamentary elections in an independent Scotland, where these arguments must be rehearsed. Perhaps Scots voters will be more willing to face up to them when they can’t just blame the English. (Though I wouldn’t guarantee it — independence doesn’t stop UK voters assuming that somebody else has to pay and that nothing is their fault, so I don’t see why Scotland would be any different.)

    3. Independent Scotland would have less influence in the world. Now this seems to be the main argument, and I still don’t get it. What “influence”? What do you mean? It may well be that the UK is more influential — that is, better able to get its own way in international negotiations — than it would be if it were smaller, or than an independent Scotland would be. But Scotland’s current influence in the world does not equate to the UK’s influence, because it depends on Scotland exerting influence first within the UK and then, through the UK, in the wider world. Can you be sure which will work better for Scotland? (Or for any other part of the UK for that matter — though it seems on the face of it likely that England does best in these terms from the union, since it has overwhelmingly the greatest weight in the union and therefore should mostly be able to wield the unified power of the UK in pursuit of its own interests.)
    Your arguments here are at least as light and insubstantial as you accuse the SNP of being over the benefits of fiscal independence: “we exert much greater influence on foreign policy as a United Kingdom” — who are “we”? How is this influence exerted? “Scotland has more influence as part of the union than it could ever have as an independent country.” — Again, how? Who notices Scotland’s views at meetings of the European Council or Commission, when nobody there specifically represents them? “Divorced we can hope to have nowhere near the influence we currently have and surely this current level of influence benefits Scotland.” — well, when your argument depends on a “surely” you’re on thin ground, overhanging a long drop.

    4. It would be the end of a Union that used to rule much of the world. So what? We don’t rule much of the world now (“we” — that is, our ancestors — were never entitled to anyway, but that’s another argument); history is not a reason to stay together. If continuity of the state that ruled an Empire were important, you should be arguing for an end to universal suffrage, the restoration of a fully hereditary House of Lords with rights of veto, and so on.

    The odd thing is I’m not a nationalist. Never was. Not interested in mystic notions of shared identity or historical destiny or inherited memory or whatever any of these twisted dreams of British and Scottish nationalists alike are based upon. But — given the clear existence of a political demos, a community of people in a defined geographical area who broadly identify themselves as having a common political culture within which they argue about the laws and governments that constrain and support them — I struggle to see any reason why they shouldn’t govern themselves, at the lowest practical level of government, or what essential role there is for the UK that makes it necessary to interpose a layer of government in between Scotland and Europe.

  • “On the 6th May 2011 the Scottish National Party secured a historic majority for the next five year term at the Scottish Parliament.”

    Looks like you know what happened on 5th May but you do not know why. The SNP majority government were elected in a system gerrymandered to try to ensure the SNP never achieved a majority because they spoke with a Scottish voice about the hopes and aspirations of the Scottish people.

    The three London ruled and dominated parties spoke only about what Scotland could not do and they all got the reward they deserved. The longer that Wallace, Alexander and Moore continue to deliver the torys message about what we cannot do the worse your electoral chances, which are bad enough at present, will become. It looks like even Cameron has finally go the message with his “I will not campaign on the notion that Scotland could not be a viable country if they go it alone. Looks like it will take the Lib Dems longer to catch up.

    The chances of Lib Dems retaining their present number of Westminster MPs at the next election are nil, with Moore and Alexander likely to not only to loose but loose their deposits.

    5th May may also go down in history as the high point of Lib Dem support at Holyrood.

  • What a strange article to read on LDV. It starts off reasonably well but then deteriorates into an appeal to glib British nationalism and nostalgia for the days of empire.

  • I think that the argument of losing influence is a valid one.

    We must focus on why the union benefits both of us and it does so with our influence on the world stage. Our permanent seat at the UN Security Council etc

    It is not so important that we used to be great, we should focus on trying to stay together which would be better than divided. Malcom’s arguments, especially 4 are not very substantive. I’m sure no one wants a fully hereditary house of lords again and to suggest such a thing is a hollow argument. I think the point was that we have been, continue to be and will be a strong country unified. Scotland has a defecit and so does England, it does matter and the argument by the SNP that North Sea Oil was stolen by the English is nosense also. The revenues went to the Treasury and Scotland got a higer level of public expenditure to compensate this.

    We need someone who is Scottish, who is popular in Scotland and who can lead a campagin for the Union and fight against independence. Gordon Brown? Maybe he can redeem himself a little…….

  • @Alex

    I think that the argument of losing influence is a valid one.
    We must focus on why the union benefits both of us and it does so with our influence on the world stage. Our permanent seat at the UN Security Council etc

    For this to make the beginnings of a cogent argument you’ll need to explain why “our” influence, or “our” seat on the Security Council, should be of any concern to the average citizen of the UK. The benefits to our politicians and to those with the power to directly influence them are obvious, but what benefit do you think you or I get from them? What advantages do the British people enjoy that the people of, say, the Scandinavian nations don’t?

  • Malcolm Todd 23rd Jan '12 - 5:09pm

    For this to make the beginnings of a cogent argument you’ll need to explain why “our” influence, or “our” seat on the Security Council, should be of any concern to the average citizen of the UK.

    Yes, exactly. Well put. What is this blessed “influence” that “we” supposedly have? And what do “we” want it for? The US has more clout, more “influence” than any other nation on the earth. Is that any damn use or ornament to some poor kid in a DC slum, or a Walmart till-jockey in Nowheresville, IL? “Vote Yes to the Union so that David Cameron can look in the eyes of the guys with the biggest shlongs in the room” — is that the best argument for keeping this show on the road?

  • Malcolm seems quite convincing to me. I’m not sure where the figures come from but a quick google suggests the figure of 13 billion excludes oil revenue and in actual fact Scotland’s deficit is substantially lower than the UK as a whole. Of course the oil will diminish over time but I imagine the SNP would argue that this means that it is even more important that Scotland asserts control over its own economic destiny. As to the ‘influence’ argument I would say as someone born in England but has lived most of my life in Scotland that Scotland’s influence on UK policy is difficult to discern. I’d be interested if anyone can come up with a Coalition policy or action on which Scotland has had any measurable influence or could give an example of where Scotland’s interests have been protected by the UK government in a way which couldn’t happen under independence.

  • Groundskeeper Willie 23rd Jan '12 - 6:52pm

    At this stage, why on Earth would Scots want to remain in the current Lib Dem/Tory “paradise” that’s come down from the heavens when we can have a much better go at tackling our problems on our own? The Coalition government is of very questionable legitimacy in Scotland, and the Lib Dems are a rump party after the 2011 Scottish Parliament elections. Neither of the parties in the UK government has much support in Scotland, so why should we put up with being dictated to by it?

  • @ Grounds Keeper Willie

    You do have something called a devolved government which is getting/ has got more powers from the Scottish Bill…..

  • Is says something about the debased nature of political discourse in this country that commentator after commentator is using an issue of such fundamental importance as the future of the United Kingdom as an opportunity to lob cheap political jibes. Let’s stand above that, please.

    The issue isn’t just about economics, who contributes the most, whether it is Scotland’s or Britain’s oil, who hates the Lib Dems more, etc, etc. It is about identity, what we feel we are as people. And that’s where I consider the nationalist case falls apart. England and Scotland have not only been married very happily for 300 years, they have actually grown into a conjoined entity. Many of us here in England are also Scots. And that is especially true of the movers and shakers, academics, inventors and entrepreneurs, those who have contributed most to Britain’s success both at home and abroad. What is to happen to people like myself, who are both English and Scottish? Am I to be half foreign? Must I choose which side of the Cheviots my loyalty lies?

    It needs to be said over and over again: England and Scotland are inter-dependent. Neither can do without the other.

    Let me give you an example. My great-great-great uncle, John Bell (1805-1881), came from a crofting family in Argyll and opened a butcher’s shop in Glasgow at the age of 22. In those days, meat was imported from Germany and Russia. It was stall-fed and therefore of inferior quality, and riddled with disease. So much so, that the government banned its import. John Bell discovered that the technology existed to ship high quality grass-fed meat from North America. So he did just that, and plugged a yawning gap in the market. By the end of his life he had a fleet of ships and over 300 shops dotted around the country. John Bell made meat accessible to the urban working-class throughout the UK and revolutionised international trade. And note – and this is very important – he could not have done it without the English market and the Royal Navy to protect his ships. The Bell family went on to be fabulously wealthy, with interests in banking and railways, and to open up Argentina and Uruguay to meat production. The Bells were one of countless Anglo-Scottish success stories who have helped make the whole of the country what it is today. Few of the Bell descendants live in Scotland. They are Anglo-Scots, like myself; and the Queen and David Cameron, to name just two others; they are both Scottish and English, and proud of it. If John Bell had lived in an independent Scotland, he would have ended his life chopping meat in Argyle Street for the tiny minority who could afford it. And England would have missed out on an important international trading opportunity.

    Keep England and Scotland united for everyone’s sake.

  • David Pollard 23rd Jan '12 - 9:21pm

    LibDems in Scotland are supporting Home Rule a positive devolution argument. The Commission under Ming Campbell is working out the details. According to opinion polls the majority of Scots want this option as well. Only the LibDems are are supporting this mainstream opinion.

  • If the Lib Dems (or anyone else) are planning on backing FFA/ devo max/ home rule as their defense of the union then I don’t think getting it on the ballot is a realistic prospect now, for lots of reasons, not least your leadership’s almost hysterical knee-jerk opposition to it this far. I reckon at this stage you’ll have to actually implement it within the next couple of years, possibly with a complete rewrite to the totally discredited and now largely irrelevant Scotland Bill, so that it becomes the status quo option in the referendum. Otherwise you’re going to be heading into the referendum with nothing but a promise to give people what they want if they’ll just trust you.

  • Malcolm Todd 24th Jan '12 - 10:11am

    “The argument for interdependence has already been won, all that remains is to decide on the structure of association.”

    I think that’s about right. What I’m struggling to see is what point there is in the UK government being interposed between a quasi-independent “devo-max” Scottish government and the EU.

    I think you’re muddling up self-identity, culture and political constitutions. With regard to being “half-English, half-Scottish” — so what? I would say that’s true of my children … except that it’s only true if I’m completely Scottish. As it happens, I do think of myself as completely Scottish (which doesn’t mean I think I’m a foreigner resident in England) — but my mother was born in Germany and brought up in England. Should I worry about being in a different state from Germany? Why?
    “It needs to be said over and over again: England and Scotland are inter-dependent. Neither can do without the other.” — it is said over and over again! It’s just never justified — and your historical anecdote about John Bell doesn’t do the job. Apart from being historical (do we need the Empire to have the same benefits as our ancestors had from the association? If not, why do we need the Union?), it seems to fail of its own accord: how come he couldn’t have traded successfully with England if Scotland had been independent, whereas he was able to trade very successfully with the USA, which hadn’t belonged to the British government for 50 years when he opened his shop, and had in fact been at war with the UK in his own lifetime?

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