Sunday 22 May 2011

Scotland - Independence Lite Anyone?

The shockwaves from the SNP’s recent electoral tsunami continues to reverberate around the media.  The latest wheeze is that an independent Scotland will not actually really be fully independent.  Why, Scotland might continue to share lots of things with England and whatever remains of the UK.  This notion has so excited some Unionists and most journalists that it does make you wonder about the sanity and intellectual competence of some of these highly paid and supposedly well- educated people.  We have even had the spectacle of that old warhorse, Jim Sillars, riding forth to give his imprimatur to all this nonsense.   Alex Salmond and his gang must be delighted with all these Unionists running around like headless chickens.
What seems to have confused all our oh so bright journalists is that the establishment of independence necessarily involves two distinct negotiating strands.  The first strand will deal with what I term the Independence Settlement - basically what assets and liabilities Scotland will have at the moment of independence.  The second strand will deal with all those matters that have to do with the post independence situation.   For most of these matters there will be no change at all.  Under devolution the Scottish parliament and government already have responsibility for most matters - education, health, social services, police, the law, local government etc.  Independence in itself will make no difference to these areas.  Where it will make a difference is in the other areas of government which are currently known as reserved matters and as such, dealt with by Westminster and the UK government.  These areas, such as economic and fiscal policy, foreign and defence policy will, on independence become the responsibility of the Scottish parliament and government.  
This is where the confusion seems to lie.  As there can be no hiatus before independence, this second strand needs to be sorted out before independence becomes reality.  Hence the fact that this second strand of negotiations will need to take place in parallel to the first set of negotiations.  In addition the two strands will be intimately linked.  Nevertheless they will be distinct negotiations.  Let us take a brief look at a couple of the issues that this second strand will have to look at.
An independent Scotland will need to have a currency in place at the moment of independence.  There would seem to be three options - 1. set up our own Scottish currency; 2. use sterling;  or, 3. use the euro.  From all the indications given by the SNP, they favour option 2, at least in the medium term.  Scotland would then continue to use the pound sterling as its currency for the payment of salaries and all other financial exchanges.  In this case, there would of course need to be extensive negotiations between the Scottish government and the Bank of England and the UK Treasury.  These negotiations may well result in some formal arrangements or even a treaty between Scotland and England, or whatever the rest of the UK is to be called.  Now clearly this would mean that Scotland would not have full control over an important part of its economy.  Just as is the case with all those countries, such as France, Germany, Italy etc who are part of the Eurozone.  Whether this would be a good decision is not relevant to this post.  What is relevant is that it would be a decision by the government of an independent country.  And as such could only be taken once the decision to become independent had been taken and agreed.  Though this decision would come into force at the same time as independence, it would not be part of the independence settlement, but rather an arrangement entered into post independence.  And unlike the independence settlement arrangements, this one can change.  At some point in the future a Scottish government may decide to issue its own currency or to join the euro.  The kind of decision that all independent countries can make.
Another area where some kind of sharing arrangement may be put in place is defence, and in particular the various military bases in Scotland.  The government of England may want to use one or more of these bases and the Scottish government may agree to this.  In which case, to ensure continuity of use, there would again need be parallel negotiations on this matter, alongside the negotiations on the independence settlement.  As with the currency issue, this arrangement can change in the future.  Other countries may want to use bases in Scotland and it would be up to the Scottish government to decide whether to agree to such a request or not.  Once again the power to decide would rest with Scotland.
Now some people may want to call all this independence lite, in which case virtually all countries are only “litely” independent.  Last I knew for example the USA continues to have the use of bases in the UK.  Does this mean that the UK is not fully independent?  Or what about Germany, which also has US bases in its country and shares a currency with 20 or so other countries.  I am not sure what independence lite really means, but I am more than happy for Scotland to have the same kind of independence that Germany or the current UK has.  Unionists can call it what they like.  

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