Leading article: Alex Salmond's separatists have a head start

 

Share

The campaign for Scotland to remain within the UK has some catching up to do. So far, Alex Salmond, Scotland's First Minister and the leader of the Scottish National Party, has made all the running, having seized the initiative in the first place by announcing a referendum to take place in two years' time.

Yesterday's launch of the all-party, pro-union "Better Together" campaign, fronted by Alistair Darling, is to be welcomed, then. It is good, too, that the former Labour Chancellor is committed to accentuating the positives of the unionist cause. He started well by acknowledging that although Scotland can well survive on its own, the question is, rather, whether it is in the country's interests to do so.

While the desires of the Scottish people must, of course, be respected, this newspaper would strongly argue that the answer is no. In part, the issue is an economic one, and in this regard the SNP's assumptions about the bounty from Scotland's oil and gas deserve some scrutiny. Not only are North Sea hydrocarbons a finite resource, but even in the short term they leave the country unduly reliant on a commodity whose price is subject to sharp fluctuations.

There is also a careful judgement to be made as regards the 30,000 civil servants that the UK Government currently employs in Scotland; far more than the 17,000 retained by the Scottish Executive.

But that is not all. Scotland, through the UK, has a seat in the United Nations, is a major shareholder in the International Monetary Fund, and wields more influence in the EU than other European countries of comparable size. An independent Scotland could not have bailed out the Scottish banks as the UK Government did. Its cost of borrowing would also be higher, with a knock-on effect on interest rates and mortgages.

Then there is the thorny issue of how the SNP's proposal to stick with sterling might be made to work, with the euro crisis exemplifying in such awful detail the dangers of an attempt at currency union without full political integration. And that is before the practicalities of unpicking everything from monetary policy, to immigration, to military co-operation, to reciprocal health and welfare provision, are considered. Let alone whether an independent Scotland would inherit all the UK's existing obligations, opt-outs and international treaties, or would need exemptions of its own.

Scottish nationalists cite the Arbroath Declaration of 1320 as a beacon of freedom – a reference underscored by Mr Salmond's timing the referendum to coincide with the 700th anniversary of Bannockburn. In response, Mr Darling insists that Scotland now has the best of both worlds, with a fair degree of autonomy, yet still girded by the security that comes from being part of a larger bloc: Scotland is stronger within the union just as the union is stronger with Scotland. How right he is. For all the tricky politics involved, it is a case that the Prime Minister must also help him make.

But the arguments in favour of retaining the union are not all focused on economic and political realities. The strongest of all are those of the emotions. After 300 years of shared history, the ties between the two countries run deep, for all the routine Scottish cheers in support of the England football team's opponents. Being Scottish, or indeed English, has never before been mutually exclusive with being British. It need not be so now.

Thus far, the debate has been largely restricted to either narrow nationalist tub-thumping or low-down political tactics such as the wording of the referendum. Mr Darling et al must raise the stakes if the union's cause is to stand a chance, with so formidable a political campaigner as Mr Salmond.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Management Accountant - North West London, £35-40k

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Management Accountant (ACCA / CIMA, ...

Recruitment Genius: Female Care Team

£11 - £12 per hour: Recruitment Genius: A 10 year old girl who has profound an...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager - Manchester - Urgent Requirement!

£30000 - £35000 per annum + 20 days holidays & pension: Ashdown Group: Marketi...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Development Manager ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Mr Osborne’s Economic Experiment: William Keegan’s new book

John Rentoul
EastEnders needs to review its take on Cockney life  

Ending the watershed is crossing the line of our TV culture

Jane Merrick
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness
Homeless Veterans appeal: Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story

Homeless Veterans appeal

Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story
Front National family feud? Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks

Front National family feud?

Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks
Pot of gold: tasting the world’s most expensive tea

Pot of gold

Tasting the world’s most expensive tea
10 best wildlife-watching experiences: From hen harriers to porpoises

From hen harriers to porpoises: 10 best wildlife-watching experiences

While many of Britain's birds have flown south for the winter, it's still a great time to get outside for a spot of twitching
Nick Easter: 'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

Nick Easter targeting World Cup place after England recall
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore