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Analysis
Vote for common sense in Scotland

Vote for common sense in Scotland

Nationalists can profit from the fruits of non-independence 

by David Marsh in Montreal, Quebec

Fri 19 Sep 2014

In the end, common sense won. The bigger-than-expected 55% to 45% margin of victory for the No vote in Scotland’s referendum should be large enough to prevent the Scottish independence movement from becoming a running sore in British and European politics.

A lot of people will be breathing more easily. Sterling has predictably strengthened. The UK stock market has rallied. The Treasury and the Bank of England can leave untouched their contingency plans to damp potential capital flight from Edinburgh and all-UK financial market unrest. The hugely uncertain experiment of the Scots abandoning British monetary union and setting up their own currency and central banking arrangements will remain, thankfully, an untested option. 

The outcome has considerable European implications. European politicians who were worrying about a Scottish Yes reinforcing secessionist movements in places like Spain or Belgium will be mightily relieved. German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble told me last month that Germany wanted a No because it would be difficult to bolster international confidence in Europe if one of the most important EU members decided to dismantle itself.

British Prime Minister David Cameron can hang on to his job. Yet, reflecting the low esteem in which Cameron is held by many Scots, his own interventions in the campaign were distinctly lack-lustre. His predecessor Gordon Brown, who put up a successful last-minute barnstorming defence of the union in his native land, may be seen as one of the few political victors.

To counter Scottish Nationalists’ hotly disputed claims that a separate Scotland would profit economically because it would have full access to North Sea oil revenues, Cameron and the other leaders of the main British parties were forced to give hasty promises on more money and powers for Scotland if it decided to remain in the UK.

The Scots are being pledged gains from politicians they do not entirely trust, but they accord these promises greater credibility than the much vaguer prospect of windfall revenues from energy resources that many believe Nationalist leaders have greatly exaggerated. Cameron faces simultaneous pressure both from the Scots to implement the promises as soon as possible, and from politicians and public opinion in England, Wales and Northern Ireland for equivalent devolution and hand-outs for the other parts of the UK.

Staunchly royalist Canada, where Queen Elizabeth (including when she was a princess) has adorned C$20 banknotes since 1935, has followed the referendum campaign with great intensity, particularly in view of the on-off separatist movement in Quebec. In the last few days in Canada I have held many conversations on the possibility of a separate Scotland, with most interlocutors expressing concern over the prospect.

Longstanding Canadian Liberal party MP Scott Brison presciently pointed out in Ottawa on Wednesday how, in the 1995 separatist referendum in Quebec, opinion polls greatly underestimated the strength of No votes in the final stages of the campaign. Final polls in Canada predicted a four to six percentage point margin to give Quebec sovereign status, but in the end the No side won by 50.6% to 49.4%.

On Thursday, Scottish voters decided by a much greater margin to maintain an intact UK, yet it is one that comes with rich pickings. Alex Salmond, Scotland’s first minister (devolved government leader), has promised he will accept his compatriots’ democratically expressed rejection of separation. He will concentrate on the task of forcing Cameron to fulfil undertakings on money and power that could benefit the Scots far more than anything Salmond assured them would flow from a divided UK. Rescued from having to fulfil promises that were largely built on illusions, Salmond has lost the referendum but won the opportunity to profit from the considerable fruits of non-independence.

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