The separatists cannot be appeased – more devo is not the solution

The separatists cannot be appeased – more devo is not the solution

by Ewen Stewart
article from Wednesday 27, January, 2021

THE UNION OF SCOTLAND AND ENGLAND has been a force for good, not just in Britain but globally over the last three centuries. It has helped provide mutual prosperity, security, benefits of scale, cultural creativity, leading science, industry and technology and family ties. And let’s not forget it led to the end of repeated wars between the two countries. It has helped achieve all those things by providing a stable and peaceful framework. Very few other nations, if any, have such a record of continuous peace and harmony. Regardless of what the Nationalists say we are a united people at so many levels. 

The Union has had overwhelming popular support throughout the UK for almost its entire history. Initial Scottish scepticism soon receded as Scotland flourished with free trade, peace and a much larger market for its ideas and products. Challenges to the throne in 1715 and 1745 were just that, the Old and Young Pretenders’ intentions were to change the monarch of Great Britain – not to break with the Union of parliaments of 1707 and establish political independence for Scotland. It was a very British civil war.

Today some polls suggest the separatists are gaining in strength. Some argue they have a majority. That is highly debatable but a nation that has endured so much in peace and war does not give up simply because the Sunday Times says so. 

The nationalists accepted the terms of the referendum in 2014. It was to be a “once in a generation event” – even “once in a lifetime” – end of. David Cameron gave them every advantage in allowing them to propose the question, the franchise and the timeframe. The media in Scotland gave the nationalists an easy ride. They lost.

Now they claim spuriously that the terms have changed. It was Brexit they say. Yet they were prepared to impose their own ‘Brexit’ to get ‘Scexit’. By leaving the UK, Scotland would automatically have left the EU. The SNP White Paper warned the UK would likely have an EU referendum (promised by Cameron in 2013) and could choose to leave. These facts were known and the Scottish public voted to stay in the UK accepting that risk. For Scotland the British Union came before the European Union.

If Brexit hadn’t been the SNP's excuse it would have been something else. 

The constitutional arrangements of the UK are the prerogative of the UK parliament. If reserved responsibilities can be decided by devolved institutions then nothing is reserved – which is so obviously false. The secessionist have no legal, or moral right to call a referendum and we must have nothing to do with it. 

Boris Johnson is right, referenda, are not like normal elections. Euro sceptics had to wait 42 years from 1974 for their chance. The SNP leaders must be held to account for their broken promises – trying to force a second referendum, or a third until they get the result they wish is not democracy. 

The SNP has failed on so many levels. Scotland gets a Union Dividend of £1600 ahead to spend on services. But are services better? I think not. Education is manifestly worse and even before Covid Scotland’s health record had and was continuing to deteriorate in many areas. Economic growth, despite this largesse, under-performs the UK and the state is now so dominant it accounts for almost 60% of the entire economy. The separatists dominate the media but their record crumbles at the first shred of scrutiny.

How dare they create grievance when there should be none. For a second time a decade it is British Chancellor of the Exchequer who has saved the day. Over one trillion pounds of assistance to the Royal Bank of Scotland and Bank of Scotland. A sum unimaginable to Sturgeon and only possible because the British economy is 10x the size of the Scottish one.

And now over Covid-19, Sunak’s furlough would have been simply impossible in a separated Scotland. The SNP Government is playing with fire.

To separate in the best of times would be folly. To separate now would be economic suicide. 60% of Scotland’s trade is with the rest of the UK – 4x that with their beloved EU. The pound sterling is where our savings and pensions are held. The Scots pound is a delusion dream which would result in the most severe austerity.  To borrow sterling, without being part of it, creates all the risks without any of the guarantees and the £15bn union dividend, equivalent to the entire spending on the NHS in Scotland, would have to be funded from where exactly? 

Did the EU bail out Greece? Did the EU not force Italian austerity? Did the EU not impose its own First Ministers in Italy and Greece? It is delusional to think they would stump up such a large sum for Scotland which would be one hundredth of EU GDP. Some swap. Genuine partnership in the UK with one hundredth of EU power. Delusional.

If the separatists get their way Scotland will face austerity which makes the problems of Greece look like a picnic. But the rest of the UK will be much poorer too. Not economically poorer but culturally and politically so. The splitting asunder of the British Isles will send shock waves around the world. One of only five permanent members of the United Nations broken. One of the most significant military and security forces greatly weakened. One of the cultural and educational bastions with an arm cut off. There are no winners from this debate. Scotland will be immeasurably and irreversibly poorer, but the rest of the UK too will be diminished.

Then we hear voices who should know better offering the route of appeasement. Give Scotland yet more power and magically the problem will go away. This is folly in the extreme. Devolution was supposed to kill the separatists. It killed Labour and emboldened the SNP. ‘The vow’ of passing more powers was again supposed to have the same effect. Of course all it did was to simply encourage the separatists further. They smelt weakness. Offer more and frankly you simply delay the inevitable. It is craven appeasement and a complete misunderstanding of human nature.

The United Kingdom will prevail because we are ultimately one people, with one language, a long, rich and shared culture and family history. But the greatest risk to its future is so called Unionist politicians panicking and throwing fuel on the fire. More Europe was the ‘solution’ that led to Brexit – more devo is a ‘solution’ that will lead to Scexit.

There is no crisis as there will be no Scottish referendum. The SNP Government promised to respect the result in 2014. It is good for its word surely? 

No, the fact is this Scottish Government has manifestly failed on almost every matrix. It is time for those who wish to see these Islands united to speak up. Of course aspects of devolution can be examined at the margin. The distorted Covid response in Scotland – where businesses have not had the UK finance passed on to them – makes that urgent but the case for breaking the most successful political, economic and cultural union that has delivered peace and prosperity is based on sand. Be confident, ignore the siren appeasers and don’t panic. 

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Ewen Stewart is a City Economist whose career has spanned over 30 years. His consultancy Walbrook Economics specialises in the interaction of macroeconomics, politics and capital markets and advises major pension funds, asset managers and hedge funds. He is Director of the think tank Global Britain and his work is widely published in economics and political journals.  

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