I got into a brief but interesting chat on Twitter the other day with someone expressing frustration that “Yes” campaigners for the forthcoming referendum were painting a prospective independent Scotland as some sort of utopia, where everything would be wonderful and everything would be possible; when in fact much of what would happen would be a matter of political opinion and conjecture.
It’s a fair point. Much as there will be significant benefit to being independent, making that independence work would still require some effort. It would be an easier job than making Scotland successful in its current constitutional situation, but it wouldn’t be a walk in the park.
I put some suggestions to the tweeter in question that there were certain things we could be assured of under independence, about which there could be no doubt. One of them was the removal of Trident. My co-conversationalist, quite reasonably, said that this was not an absolute cert because it would depend on the precise details of the negotiations.
I argued that it would be inconceivable that a Scottish government of any composition would accept Trident, but I do accept that it’s theoretically possible that a long-term transition, or perhaps occasional visits, could happen depending on the foreign and defence policy of a future Scotland and its relations with rUK. Who we have as our government ten, twenty or fifty years from now, or whether we change our constitution from how we start out, is completely unknown. Indeed, that flexibility and choice is part of the point of independence.
All that got me thinking. While so many of the advantages of an independent Scotland – such as the abolition of the bedroom tax, increased development of renewables, non-participation in illegal wars, and so on – are highly likely because of the way the political land lies at the current time, and it is reasonable to assume their eventuality, they are not absolutely, objectively, theoretically guaranteed. A future Scottish government may choose to go against these positions. Of course that’s so unlikely as to be pretty much inconceivable, but – and let’s be precise about this – it could technically happen.
Which raises the question – if we leave aside the benefits that independence offers Scotland because of the probability of certain policies, what are the unarguable benefits? Granted, we (at least on the pro-independence side) all expect that independence will lead to things like the abolition of the bedroom tax, or a positive engagement on the international stage, or a responsibly-managed banking sector, or the powers to fully address health and social inequalities. But those are matters of policy, and for the purposes of this line of thinking it’s fair and reasonable to dismiss them.
What, then, are the positive consequences of independence that are utterly beyond dispute?
I’ve got some suggestions – and no doubt you will too. Please add them in a comment below – though remember, no policy assumptions (they will all be scored out!).
- Scotland would be an equal member of the European Union. The precise terms and timetable of this membership can be a matter of debate, but that it would at least start out as a member once that timetable is complete, is beyond doubt. Within this, specific benefits include:
- The right of the Scottish Government to appoint a member of the European Commission.
- The doubling of Scotland’s number of MEPs. We currently have six, but comparably populated countries have 13.
- The participation of the Scottish Government as a full member of the Council of Ministers and other intergovernmental streams.
- Scotland would be a full member of the UN (and its associated agencies), the Commonwealth and NATO. Again we could choose not to be, and terms and timetable might be debatable, but for now we’d certainly be in.
- We’d have a foreign policy decided by the Scottish Government and accountable to the Scottish Parliament.
- We’d no longer be under the jurisdiction of the House of Lords. This would objectively make government neither better nor worse (most of us could argue it would be better, but it would technically be just an argument). But certainly cheaper because our share of its costs would be saved.
- There would be more money for public broadcasting. The amount Scotland pays in licence fees is greater than the amount spent on BBC Scotland. Obviously Scotland’s licence fees contribute to programming in the rest of the UK too, but – as with countries across the world, not least Ireland – we’d have access to that anyway.
- There’d be more money overall for Scotland, because it subsidises the rest of the UK (1|2|3). It has done for decades. If you’ve not read the MacCrone report, go read it right now, then come back here.
Those are just half a dozen immediate, utterly unarguable benefits of independence.
If you want to challenge those six, or add in other ones (which are, of course, factual and not policy predictions), then please fire away. It would be interesting to see what else people come up with.