Scottish Independence

English nationalists made us vote blind on Brexit.  Our eyes are now well and truly open. The SNP ask us to vote blind on independence in May.  They offer no plan.  They can’t. For the foreseeable future, leaving the Union would be a disaster for the Scottish people.

Scottish Government figures for 2019/20 expenditure and revenue show a deficit of 8.6%, about average for the last five years.  Our expenditure per head at £1,633 was about 12% more than the UK, and we paid £380 or 2.5% less tax, including oil and gas.  The rest of the UK envy our free university education, prescriptions and home care.  UK subsidies by the Barnett formula underwrite our jobs, health, pensions, education, social security and other public services.  According to the 2018 SNP Commission, an independent Scotland would need 5 to 10 years of austerity to replace them.

The First Minister should not deceive herself about early admission to the EU.  Our deficits fail the criteria.  We would not qualify for the euro, and our use of sterling would be rejected.  The EU would wish to avoid a hard border in Scotland, similar to Ireland.  And they would certainly not recognise Scotland following a disputed “plan B” referendum.

So, an independent Scotland would be out of both the UK and EU, with hard borders for both 60% of our exports to the UK and 19% to the EU.  Our unofficial use of sterling would limit our ability to borrow and support our banks and financial institutions. They might well go South.  The business activity would decline, and deficits increase.  Jobs, pensions, mortgages and public services would be hit, and ordinary people would suffer.  The UK would be hostile and difficult in negotiations about the border, sterling and institutions, liabilities, and assets. Scottish and English nationalists would almost certainly quarrel, risking unrest.

Now Covid has made independence unthinkable.  The Scottish Government have yet to give us figures for 2020/21, but the Institute of Fiscal Studies used OBR figures to calculate that our deficit may reach 26 to 28%, possibly falling to 11% by 2024/25.  Scotland can’t borrow nearly enough for that.  We must rely on the UK and Bank of England, as we did with the Royal Bank crash in 2008.

We must find a better way.  Lib Dems should lead a cross-party for a Royal Commission on the Constitution to recommend devolution throughout the UK, whether regional or federal and reform the Lords and the electoral system.  The Commission must examine any proposal for a constitutional referendum and report to the electorate before a vote is held.

That will take time.  The overwhelming priority is Covid.  The Scottish Parliament already has all the powers it needs to get on with the task.  But the SNP are distracted by illusions of independence and a civil war that is damaging the Scottish Parliament’s reputation.  They must make way for a Government that will concentrate on our huge problems with vigour, truth, competence and humanity.


* David is a Lib Dem member in Edinburgh and last stood for Parliament in 1974

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  • I’m afraid the tone if this article is entirely the wrong way to tackle the question of whether Scotland should become an independent country. Yes, as of now, Scotland has a large budget deficit…but so does the whole UK. Yes, Scotland’s deficit is currently larger proportionately than for the UK as a whole, but this changes over time – for most of the last 50 years Scotland has been a net contributor to the UK finances and was often subsidising the rest of the UK. But this debate gets us nowhere. If there is no intrinsic reason why Scotland can not be a successful economy like other similar sized countries in Europe, the question then becomes why it is better to remain part of the UK and subject to UK governments we routinely reject. For the record, Scotland last voted for a right of centre party in 1955 but have had Conservative governments for most of the past 70 years. The only way to avoid this ongoing democratic deficit is to have the fullest federal system possible or even confederalism…or independence

  • Andrew Tampion 10th Mar '21 - 11:26am

    I do not accept that the so called English Nationalists made us vote blind on Brexit. At most success at the polls revealed that the was substantial anti EU opinion which required a referendum because none of the major Westminster parties where in favour of leaving. This meant that represntative politics could resolve the issue in the usual way. The Conservative Party which brought forwardx the referendum was pro EU. They decided not to put forward or even prepare a plan for leaving the EU if that was the way we voted. I don’t know why the Conservative choose not to have a contingency in case of a leave vote. I suspect the reason was that they were worried that the act of developing a plan to leave would enbolden some people to vote remain who might otherwise vote leave.
    Nor do I accept that the SNP is asking the Scottish people to vote blind on independence. The SNP are asking for a mandate for a second independence referendum. If they succeed and if the UK Parliament agrees then a question will have to be agreeed. Further the UK Parliament could require two referendums. One on the principle of independence and one to approve the agreed terms.
    Whatever you think of Scottish independence it is clearly a matter for Scotland to decide.

  • Little Jackie Paper 10th Mar '21 - 2:03pm

    I have no problem with a second Scottish referendum however there should be a mechanism to see that a second vote to stay in the UK really does close the issue.

  • I am afraid this proposal misses three essential points:

    a. there is no significant interest in devolution let alone regional federalism in England so no votes in it for the major two parties in England.

    b. the current devolution settlement is being dismantled by the Conservatives and there seems little protest about that from the other two British nationalist parties, Labour and the Liberal Democrats.

    c. there are risks in remaining in the UK. In the past two decades we have had an illegal war, unnecessary financial austerity ( supported by the Lib Dems) as result of Westminster failure to regulate the financial sector effectively, and Brexit. Looking forward we face a right wing and increasingly authoritarian government which will be in power for at least another decade which has already unlawfully prorogued the Westminster Parliament, legislated to break international law, is restricting judicial review and attacking devolution.

    Overall, there is no time to waste for a Royal Commission which won’t happen for a decade as the Tories will never support it, won’t report for years even if they did and which even if implemented won’t bring about any changes probably within 15 years. The chances are there won’t be nay devolution by then at all.

  • John Marriott 10th Mar '21 - 3:08pm

    We missed a trick after WW1 and, by pandering to Carson and his supporters, ended up with a divided Ireland. I am not a great expert on constitutional affairs but I was always under the impression that, had the Lloyd George coalition continued to pursue the Liberal aim of Irish Home Rule, we might now be enjoying the kind of Federal UNITED Kingdom, which might have been the result. However, it’s not too late to get the next best thing, unless, of course, you’re Ms Sturgeon and her SNP.

    Be that as it may, is it not possible that the offer of Devo Max might be just what it takes to keep Scotland on board? Then we could grapple with how we make sure that England, by sheer size of population and GDP, doesn’t smother the other three in a putative Federation of U.K. nations. That has surely got to be by dividing the former up into six or seven regions, each with its own legislative body – call it ‘government’ if you must. A similar arrangement would ensure that, at Federal Government level, there would be more or less a level playing field.

    I’m not optimistic that any of what I have written will stir many people. Perhaps it really is too radical and outside of the box. However, I always thought that this kind of thinking was what made Liberals different from others.

  • Little Jackie Paper 10th Mar '21 - 4:02pm

    John Marriott.

    More government layers. Please no. I think that I’d rather read my own obituary.

  • @Little Jackie Paper
    In a democracy, it is not possible to say to voters that there is no political route to seek a political outcome they seek because a referendum on that same issue previously came to a different outcome. That would be as undemocratic as, for example, deciding the party that wins power the next general election should be allowed to stay in power for ever without further elections. i.e completely unacceptable….

  • Little Jackie Paper 10th Mar '21 - 5:26pm


    A reasonable argument and one that I have sympathy for. However on a constitutional issue such as this people have a reasonable expectation that after two referendums a matter should be settled.

    This of course is the big problem with referendums. They just become neverendums.

  • John Marriott 10th Mar '21 - 6:52pm

    No, Mr Paper. Not in MY version.

    Let’s look at Marriott’s version of federalism. Each voter has potentially FOUR layers of governance for which they would be entitled to vote. First of all the Parish/Town/Neighbourhood Council, secondly the Unitary Council, third the Regional Assembly and finally the U.K. Federal Parliament. If we were to have a secondary revising chamber, like the German Bundesrat, its members could be nominated by the four U.K. nations, in England’s case by the five or six regional assemblies. There would be no PCC elections as policing matters would be largely devolved to the English Regions.

    At present, where I live, we have potentially elections for the Parish/Town Council, the District Council, the County Council, the PCC and the national government. I make that FIVE elections and five layers of administration. So no more layers, in fact one LESS!

  • Little Jackie Paper 10th Mar '21 - 7:34pm

    John Marriott.

    Sorry, Honah Lee cut down the politicians so the UK can too.

  • The points about the EU are just wrong.

    There is no reason why the EU wouldn’t – at a minimum – give a soon-to-be-independent Scotland the same deal as it has as part of the U.K. (ie the U.K.-EU FTA), and, if Scotland has expressed a strong interest in joining the EU, a better deal than jt currently has (ie something more along the lines of what Switzerland or Norway has).

    Likewise, the same applies to the Euro. A country can unilaterally link its currency to another if it so chooses or even adopt it. Obviously that wouldn’t be done with the official sanction of the adopted currency country (or countries), but it can and has been done.

    Lastly, the border situation for Scotland is completely different to that in Ireland as no one is suggesting that the presence or absence of a physical border between Scotland and England is likely to spark a significant flare up in violence.

  • David Franks 11th Mar '21 - 10:09am

    Our party is struggling to get any serious media coverage because our leaders are afraid to say anything brave and bold in case someone gets upset. I don’t care if we upset people who will never ever vote for us anyway so why are our leaders not shouting as loud as they can about our federal Britain policy.

  • David Gracie says ‘ For the foreseeable future, leaving the Union would be a disaster for the Scottish people.’ His view finds little support among those commenting. He doesn’t understand that the disaster of a hard Brexit foisted on the Scottish people by our English Nationalist government is a game-changer.
    The great Liberal vision of home rule Parliaments for the British isles, including those for the English regions, is sadly now history and break up of the UK is on the cards.
    David underestimates his own countrymen in believing that an independent Scotland with its huge natural resources and fine education system cannot thrive as a Scandinavian style country as part of the EU.
    As an envious Englishman I ask what the Lib Dems should be saying. What is our USP in this great debate? As Labour looks away, should we be making the case to rejoin EFTA/EEA?
    The European Economic Area (EEA) unites the EU Member States and the three EEA EFTA States (Iceland, Liechtenstein, and Norway) into an Internal Market governed by the same basic rules. These rules aim to enable goods, services, capital, and persons to move freely about the EEA in an open and competitive environment, a concept referred to as the four freedoms. It does not mean adopting the Euro but is a step towards closer links with the EU and making such a proposal will get us back into the debate about our future of our nations.
    More of the same or tinkering around, our current line, has no cut through and the future of our party is bleak if if we have no innovative ideas to offer in this vital debate.

  • Can it be that from an historical point of view, Liberal Unionism lives on in Clifton Terrace – even though that particular party merged with the Tories way back in 1912 ?

    But, Barry Lofty makes some interesting points about Scottish resilience…..

    I’d just add, who’s going to be bothered about the advantages of an English Freeport system (Boris’s cure all) if they could have access to the EU through 11 major ports in Scotland (defined as regularly handling over 1M tonnes per year).

    About 544,000 results (0.87 seconds)
    The Proclaimers – Letter From America
    The Proclaimers – Letter From America – YouTube › watch

  • Peter Hirst 11th Mar '21 - 4:56pm

    Thanks for a dose of realism. I think that talking about business relocating is relevant considering what is happening to financial services amongst others following Brexit. I’m not convinced however that rationalism will win the day if there is another referendum. Better to put some concrete proposals to the Scottish people in terms of a federal constitution.

  • Paul Fisher 11th Mar '21 - 8:39pm

    Fascinating read, the comments I mean. English nationalism is the issue; I mean should England leave the UK? Read Gavin Esler’s The End of Britain.

  • Anne Cunningham 12th Mar '21 - 9:08am

    “The SNP ask us to vote blind on independence in May.” is blatantly incorrect. Even if the SNP and the Scottish Greens won every seat, Scotland would not get independence. They are asking us to vote for the right to hold a referendum which they aren’t even legally entitled to grant. But the predictable scaremongering has now started and desperation appears to have set in aleady!

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