Can the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge save the Union? Officials at Buckingham Palace are reported to be drawing up plans for the Royal couple to spend more time north of the border.
If so, it’s likely that Alex Salmond won’t be amused: the former first minister accused Prince William of ‘poor judgement’ for meeting Gordon Brown on a recent visit. Salmond, who is now the leader of the nationalist Alba party, also said it would be a ‘fatal error’ for the monarchy to allow the perception that they were taking sides in the debate
He need not be concerned. Pictures of William in a kilt trying not to look bored as he sits through his tenth Highland games of the 2022 season are unlikely to impact Scotland’s constitutional debate. More influential, as has always been the case, is the cold economic reality of separation.
The outcome of the Brexit referendum has skewed thinking about Scottish separatism. The assumption is that voters no longer care about economics. Identity and culture wars constitute the field of play. Rational economic assessments of the implications of separation are therefore pointless.
This is short-sighted. Of the two separation referendums held in the UK in the last ten years, the remain side, with a focus on economic arguments, lost one but won the other.
Polling meanwhile shows that when presented with the economic reality of leaving the UK, many Scots will swing towards staying put.
A poll conducted bySurvation last year found that 42 per cent of voters would be less likely to vote for independence if the outcome is a new Scottish currency replacing the pound; 43 per cent would be less likely to vote to leave if it meant a hard border with England; and 42 per cent would be less likely to back Scexit if it meant Scotland being outside of both the UK and the EU for several years.
In the case of Scotland potentially exiting the UK, it seems economics does matter. Besides, there could be a rational case for economics mattering for Scexit in a way it didn’t for Brexit. Why? Because the former means leaving a monetary and fiscal union, elevating the risks of departure. The challenge then is to get more Scots to grasp the reality of what leaving means. A good starting point is for people to understand how extraordinary secession would be.
If Scotland separated from the UK it would be a world first in economic terms. There are no examples of part of a modern, highly integrated open economy breaking away from its national base. Colonies becoming independent decades ago offer little by way of guidance. The same goes for communist states or recently ex-communist states breaking apart: how many Lithuanians had mortgages when that country broke away from the Soviet Union in 1990?
The fact there is not a single case study we can examine to get a sense of what the outcome of secession would be suggests a level of risk most people should feel uncomfortable with. Does the middle-class household that has diligently created a family safety net of sterling-based savings over the years really want to put that on the line?
When confronted with separation risks, the SNP like to point to countries like New Zealand and Denmark to downplay concerns. If they can thrive independently, then of course Scotland can, goes the argument. This is fatuous stuff designed to deflect from the risks of transition.
Think of it this way. You like the house you live in but you’re finding sharing with your neighbours increasingly intolerable, so you come up with a solution. You decide you will dig up the foundations of the house and have it transported a mile down the road where it will be re-established free of entanglement with the folks over the back fence. But then structural engineers look at your plans and warn that the process of digging out the foundations, putting the house on the back of a truck and transporting it down the road is highly risky. In fact, there’s a very good chance the walls will fall down around you during the transition.
‘Don’t be silly’, says our neighbourhood separatist, ‘can’t you see there are other houses a mile down the road and they’re standing just fine? Are you saying we’re uniquely incapable of having a house down there?’
The structural engineers are, of course, the experts warning about the risksof transition to independence. Scotland is the house the nationalists want to remove the foundations to; the people of Scotland the family sat inside during the move, praying the ceiling doesn’t collapse.
‘People live by narrative,’ Boris Johnson was quotedas saying this week.
That is true. But they also live by pragmatism, which is why the economic arguments remain so powerful in the battle for Scotland’s future. Prince William on his own won’t help save the Union.
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