Both divorces were more acrimonious than any side thought possible. Like all such splits, it ended in some messy compromises, raggedy deals and weird, unexpected and unintended outcomes. Looking to the future, the strangest things may be these…
The hard border
During the debate on Scottish independence that began, again, in 2018, the question of the “Romanian electrician” started to loom large. When Scotland become independent, and therefore stayed inside the EU and accepted the principle of free movement – indeed invited anyone from the EU to come and settle in Scotland – Romanian and other Eastern Europeans started to pack the flights from their homelands to Glasgow and Edinburgh.
But when they got there they made for the train or bus station, and took the first service to London. Without any customs or border controls on the many crossings between England and Scotland, the arrangement made nonsense of the English desire to “take control of our borders”.
Border controls had to be introduced to prevent the free movement of people from Scotland to the UK, an unforeseen consequence of independence, and a great nuisance for businesses and tourists. Nigel Farage, still active, suggested the English put up a “big beautiful” border wall and send Scotland the bill.
The new money
Under pressure from both the EU and England, Scotland was forced to resort to a new national currency, pending full integration into the eurozone. Although there was no practical or ideological problem with Scotland continuing to use the pound after independence, the flat refusal by English ministers to permit the Scottish state to have an operational or policy role in the activities of the Bank of England made the proposition unacceptable to Edinburgh.
Reluctant to immediately join a still crisis-ridden eurozone, the Scots therefore proposed to adopt a new national currency of their own. If Denmark, with a similar population, can have their krone, then Scotland can have its own money too, went the argument.
A referendum gave the Scots the options of calling their new money either “Alba”, “Scottish pound” or “punnd”, and the latter won. The punnd was divided into 100 pennies.
The new subsidies
All too grateful that Scotland decided to stay in the EU, Brussels created a special “transitional relief fund” which more than made up for any shortfall in grants after the split from HM Treasury.
Across Scotland, new infrastructure projects sprung up, covered in the European flag and the Saltire, all symbols of the new cooperation between Scotland and the 27 other members of the EU. They helped boost Scottish economic growth to the top of the European league.
The new banks
Having refused to carry on supporting the Royal Bank of Scotland, the European Central Bank agreed to help out the troubled institution, while the UK government’s shareholding was transferred to the European Union, making this the first company to be directly nationalised by the EU.
A new team of Scottish and German management promised a more stable tomorrow by breaking RBS up into smaller, more competitive units. Looser regulation and ultra-low taxes helped tempt some banks to move from the City to a new financial hub in Renfrewshire. Branches of the English public schools opened nearby.
The auld alliance
Edinburgh’s property market boomed as never before after independence. Every EU member and many foreign governments upgraded their diplomatic representation in the new capital city, to give it a global character. Especially keen on making their presence felt were the French, many of whom migrated from their traditional homes in London’s Kensington to the New Town. French restaurants, bistros and cafes became a common part of the scene for the new “elite ecosse”.
The new party system
Faced with the monolithic SNP and its enduring dominance of Scottish politics, the former unionist parties in Scotland – Conservatives, Labour and Liberal Democrats – decided to sink their differences and form a proper opposition grouping. They named it the Scottish Democratic Party, or SDP. Its policies were remarkably similar to the SNP’s.
The Republic of Scotland (Poblachdas na h-Alba)
The passing of Elizabeth II gave Scotland an opportunity to rethink its relationship with the monarchy. SNP leaders declared that it was “no longer acceptable to have a head of state permanently resident in London”. A kilted PR campaign tour by King Charles, Queen Camilla and William and Catherine, Prince and Princess of Herefordshire (Wales having rejected their claim to the ancient title), failed to stop President Alex Salmond eventually taking the oath of office in his new ceremonial role.
Independence for Shetland and Orkney
Dissatisfied with government by a remote “swamp” in Edinburgh and determined to control what was left of their energy and fishing resources, the Shetland and Orkney Party (SOP) was formed to combat the “sheer arrogance” of “remote” SNP rule from Holyrood. They too sought independence within the European Union, arguing that if such status is viable for Malta, then it is viable for them too.
Out of Nato
After a series of wrangles with US President Pence, the Scottish government’s refusal to retain nuclear arms, to host US forces on Scottish soil or to devote 2 per cent of Scottish GDP to defence pushed the Edinburgh government towards formal neutrality on the Swedish and Irish models.
An increased incidence of the crews of Russian subs turning up unannounced in the Western Isles looking for whisky caused only wry amusement. Before its abolition, the Royal Scottish Air Force consisted solely of rescue helicopters. Most of the Scottish defence budget was transferred to overseas aid.
Into a new enlightenment
The influx of émigrés and intellectuals that followed President Salmond’s appeal at the UN General Assembly to “bring me your huddled masses” sparked a tumult in philosophical and artistic activity unseen since the late eighteenth century.
With a laser focus on promoting education at every level, in the year following independence, Scotland showed every sign of leading Europe in the arts and sciences. The immigration wave altered Scotland’s demographics markedly for the better, with a young workforce ready and able to provide to the traditionally ageing population’s calls on health and social care.
The second Scottish enlightenment is grudgingly acknowledged by the envious English.
Register for free to continue reading
Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism
Already have an account? sign in
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies