Scottish independence: Forget Yes and No, what about a United Kingdom of Independent States?

I think there is a third way for Scotland and England, one that keeps all sides happy

Ben Judah
Friday 19 September 2014 13:36
Yes supporters gather outside the Usher Hall, which is hosting a Night for Scotland in Edinburgh
Yes supporters gather outside the Usher Hall, which is hosting a Night for Scotland in Edinburgh

Let’s face up to the facts – the majority of Scots want to be independent. They really do – whatever way they vote come Thursday. And this is dead clear from the poll of polls: which shows the Unionists winning to keep us together by only one per cent.

Let’s be honest: that one per cent lead is not really a majority for the Union. That one per cent lead is all the No Campaign could muster for the Union, despite throwing the entire arsenal of City of London financial fear at Scotland. Those terrifying threats of collapsing banks and mystery currencies and runaway businessmen – well, they have only convinced a mere one per cent of Scots we are better together.

It's clear that without fear, there would be a Scottish majority ready to go. And that means the current Union 1.0 looks illegitimate. That works the other way too: any sudden surge for the No Campaign would hardly be lead to a legitimate Union either.

From what I can see, both options currently on the table look set to make millions angry. So what options are there that would work out in a way that made the most Scotsmen and Englishmen happy?

The main argument coming out of Scotland is they want to be a nation again – they want the symbolic side of independence – and they want complete freedom to build the more social Scotland the way they have always wanted. They hate neo-liberalism. And I’m convinced the majority of Scottish voters would choose to go if they knew there was a safe way to maintain a currency Union with England. And it’s fair to say: England doesn’t want to pay for this socialism.

Now what do they want down South? The real English thinking about why Scotland leaving is bad for England – though people seem unwilling to say it outright – is that severing the Union is a huge blow for our stature in the world. This is something to take very seriously. The wars happening right now in Eastern Europe and the Middle East are every bit as geopolitically significant as the collapse of the Soviet Union. And a weak, wounded Britain is exactly what Vladimir Putin and the Islamic State would want. Do Scots want that? I think no.

So are there ways we could give the Scots and English what they both want? This seems contradictory. The Scots want to be independent but what to keep the pound; the English want to keep the Foreign Office and the British Army but don’t want to pay for any of Scotland’s wasteful social welfare. And everyone, somehow, wants to keep being British.

I think there is a third way for Scotland and England. The funny thing about the whole referendum on Scottish independence and the breathless debate about the Union is that it appears to be taking place without any reference to what being independent actually means these days in the Europe of the European Union.

Scotland, if it becomes independent, will have to join the European Union. That means that Scotland will have to commit to eventually having a common currency with France, Germany and the rest, and of harmonizing its foreign policy with the rest of the bloc. Scotland would not be becoming independent again in the way it was in the past, but in the new way that European states are now.

There is a lot England and Scotland can learn from the way France and Germany are independent. The countries share a currency and have a closely coordinated common foreign policy. Are either really independent? Sure, on paper, but in reality their sovereignty is blurred in Brussels. Why can’t we do something similar under the old Union Jack?

Were both Edinburgh and London to be interested in working something out that would make the maximum number of happy Englishmen and Scotsmen they would probably do something like this. Whatever the result on Thursday they would declare a constitutional convention to dissolve Union 1.0 and set about creating a Union 2.0. But what might that United Kingdom look like?

I think this could take inspiration from the European Union – and take it much further. The outcome might look something like this. The old Union 1.0 would be dissolved and both England and Scotland would become independent. The new United Kingdom would then be founded again as a sort of super-tight European Union between two (or more, we’ll see) independent countries.

But what would we share in Union 2.0? To make it work, Westminster and Holyrood would both have to make a grand bargain. The Scots would get to keep the pound. That means there would be a currency union and a super-strict banking and fiscal union. The English would get to keep the British Army. That means there would be a super-tight defense, diplomatic and intelligence union. And of course, the Queen would still be the Queen, and everyone still British.

I’m well aware this idea is full of holes. I realise that the new United Kingdom would be tricky to work out. I’m not sure exactly how the foreign policy union with vetoes and all that would work. I’m also well aware that becoming attached to England with a shared currency - the way Italy is to Germany - is a rubbish deal for the Scots. But it seems strange this debate has to take place without talking about a third way.

The whole thing would be messy. But politics is messy. And any new 'United Kingdom of independent states' would need to have another referendum in fifteen years time to see if we are all happy with how things are going for us. Who knows what would happen.

The historian in me thinks that England’s refusal to think creatively about sovereignty has been a grave historical error for our power in the world. Looking back at the early twentieth century it is sad that Westminster was not interested in creating some kind of federation or common army with Canada, Australia and New Zealand when they would have happily entered one.

Union 2.0 is an idea not a plan. But there’s no reason we can’t give the Scots the triumph of identity and neo-liberalism they clearly crave and not keep something of the United Kingdom and the old British Army. Why not be messy and blur the borders of being independent and a federal state? What are we frightened of here?

Union 2.0 means being willing to break the rules and make some strange political beast together that might make no textbook sense and not be the best economic deal for everyone on this island. Who knows. We could even be cheeky and invite the Euro tired Irish to join with a specially negotiated opt-out on Her Majesty The Queen.

The Independent has disabled comments on all Scottish Independence Referendum articles while polls are open. The Scottish Referendum Act seeks to ensure the vote is unaffected by reports of how people are voting.

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