Yesterday I outlined a possible timetable up to the end of 2014 should Scotland vote yes. As with any speculation it was just that with huge gaps in it because of a lack of knowledge. However, already somethings I speculated about have started to come true. Firstly, and hardly surprisingly, the big beast of Scottish Finance have indicated if there is a yes vote they will be heading south across the border. What this actually means is unclear at the moment but should there continue to be currency uncertainty then it well lead to job losses in Scotland. The size and scale is unknown.
The secondly the cracks on the Yes side started to show. In the event of a yes vote then Alex Salmond believes he will have a negotiating team ready within a week. However, the Scottish Green Party, part of the Yes campaing, have indicated that their view of a future Scotland is diametrically opposed to Salmond’s – how this can be overcome in seven days after the Yes vote I do not know – one of the many issues where there is uncertainty.
Whether this means the rest of what I said is right or near right is a very moot point and I guess history will be the judge of that.
So the first three months of 2015. This assumes one crucial thing – that the current government has resisted it’s own contradictions and kept going – given the problems facing the two nations this is probably the most likely result.
In January the first real negotiations will start to take place. The run up to the end of 2014 would have been full of posturing and sizing each other up. There are two key decisions that will probably shape the whole of what is to come.
The first is money. At the moment the UK has said that should Scotland vote yes then they will have to come up with a new currency arrangement as they cannot continue to use the pound. This has been dismissed by the Yes side as scaremongering as it is in both sides best interest for the current situation to carry on. I cannot see that there is any chance that Scotland can continue to use the pound in it’s current way – as part of a wider currency union. The yes side have countered that if they aren’t allowed to do so then they will renege on taking a fare share of the national debt. This again is unlikely to happen as it would mean that the new country would start out as a defaulter country with no currency. Both positions are bonkers. I suspect there would be some form of agreement sort that is some form of middle road. Whether it could be sold to a now very distrustful House of Commons is another matter.
The second big decision is defence. This is not the abstract argument over Trident or the absurdity of just saying that Scotland should have 12 Typhoon jets without any real idea who will fly/support such planes. None of these things will matter a jot because there is one decision that has the potential the wreck everything – where will the new class of navel destroyers be built? At the moment they are planned to be built in Glasgow which, currently, is part of the UK. However, if Scotland votes Yes then Glasgow will be a foreign country and the Royal Navy doesn’t build warship in a foreign country. What this demonstrates more than anything else is that in a Cold War situation, which the Navy still is in, new ships are not really about defence but rather about subsidising well paid jobs. To add extra complexity to all this there are an awful lot of marginal seats in and around former navel ship yards in England which would gratefully receive the billions of pounds of investment that would come should they be asked to build the new ships. I cannot see the ships being built in Scotland for two reasons.
Firstly the UK government will have no control over the political landscape into which these ships are being built. I will give you an example – earlier I mentioned about the Greens and their divergent views with the main SNP. They have very clear views about defence spending which is not very positive, especially where nuclear weapons are concerned. Now should they form part of a new Scottish Government in 2016 how will this effect the building of war ships for a foreign power? A foreign power which still keeps its nuclear weapons in Scotland – suddenly the new warships being built on the Clyde could be an extra negotiating tool to get those Nuclear weapons out sooner rather than later. Is this likely? I don’t know but it is just one of the scenarios that make building war ships in a foreign country fraught with problems – just ask the Russians and their new aircraft carriers being build in France.
Secondly, there is an election due in 2015 for the whole of the UK – how could any party resist calls for defence spending to go to deprived former navel dock yards in the UK not a foreign country – Scotland?
The result of all this is that the ship building industry on the River Clyde would finally be killed off with the loss of thousands of jobs. Exactly how this dynamic will feed into the negotiations is impossible to say but I can’t see it being very beneficial and remember there are many solid Labour UK parliamentary constituencies in the Strathclyde region as well as Lothian – all would be directly effected by this closure. Even more complexities to add to an already complex situation
Of course this decision could well be put off until after the 2015 elections but that is just making matters worse as it would increase the instability and distrust in any negotiation. Whatever happens this has the potential the derail any negotiations for months.
So by the time of the 2015 election we could be facing a real breakdown in relations between the UK and Scotland which could well be voiced in the elections – with gains for the SNP at the expense of Labour, thus wrecking any chance of a Labour forming the new government in the truncated 2015 – 2016 parliament. Equally, UKIP will be only too willing to play the English card in their campaigning which may also destroy the Conservative’s chances. In short this will probably lead to a weak coalition government facing a more belligerent SNP – things could go very wrong and both sides will be the losers.
Having reread this I realise that it is very negative but given the heightened emotions that are running around at the moment I don’t believe it is totally out the question. Of course should Alex Salmond win the vote he might turn into some fair minded reasonable person who is willing to compromise. Viewed from south of the border that doesn’t appear to be the Alex Salmond I have come to know – hence the pessimistic view. I just hope and pray I’m wrong – so very wrong about all this.