Scotland — the politics of spite

Much of the crux of articles about Scotland’s independence revolve around counterfactuals concerning what privileges citizens of a hypoethetical Scotland state would take with them.  Would they retain EU membership?  Would they be able to use the pound sterling?  Would they retain their claims to the oil deposits in the North Sea?

In general, the script for these articles is, for example:

Anti-independence blogger:  Scotland will have to negotiate entrance to the EU independently.  Obviously.

Pro-independence blogger:  Scottish citizens are currently EU citizens and will retain EU citizenship.  Naturally.

On the merits of the argument, I think that anti-independence articles tend to have it right: Scottish nationalists who imagine that they can completely freely pick-and-choose what parts of belonging to the UK they get to keep, and what ones they don’t, are likely to be disappointed.

(And, sidetrack:  The argument that if Scotland has to renegotiate entrance to the EU, then the rump UK would too, because they’re now two different nations than the one combined one that entered the EU, is bullshit.  If all UK citizens were voting on a referendum to break the country up, sure.  But Scottish residents do not get to strip the national identity of English, Welsh, and North Irish people who don’t even get a vote on the topic.)

That said, what’s the point of hassling Scotland about the EU?  Any independence process is not going to be instantaneous, and besides the hurt feelings of the English, it seems unlikely that there’s a compelling reason to keep Scotland out of the union.  Now, the hurt feelings of the English could carry the day, if those feelings are hurt enough, but let’s distinguish the politics of spite from rational policy.  England is not going to receive some massive advantage by hassling Scots at the border.

As to the pound sterling: you can construct a colorable argument that England would be best served by kicking Scotland out of a currency union, but if they did, what’s the result?  Scotland goes to the Euro.  Or possibly Scotland issues a Scottish pound that they peg to the UK pound.  And how do these result in horrible hardship for the Scottish citizens?  Whether they’re on the pound, the Euro, or a pegged fake pound, they’re on a strong, low-inflation currency.  Which, for better or worse, is what they want.  The Scots might grumble about having to convert to the Euro in that eventuality, but I don’t see a strong argument that they’d actually be much worse off.

(Another sidetrack: if they go to the Euro, and then suffer economic disaster for other reasons, they’ll be in the same situation that other weak countries in the Union are, which is that they won’t be able to inflate their way out of debt.  But the ECB seems committed to keeping countries in this situation in the Union, and it’s hard to imagine that if Italy and Greece are going to remain in the currency union and solvent, that Scotland will be the nation that breaks the EU’s back.)

North Sea oil is the only one of these issues that seems like there are really genuine advantages for the rump UK, or disadvantages for Scotland, for the issue to go against Scotland.  I’ll have to read more to understand how likely it is that this will break one direction or the other.


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