In the days of yore, gaining national independence meant starting anew: all traces of the old regime were to be eradicated, to be replaced with new symbols, institutions and names. Alex Salmond, Scotland’s First Minister and leader of the Scottish separatists, has no time for grand gestures of that sort: his main selling point for Scottish independence, an issue to be settled by referendum in September, is that almost nothing will change after a Yes vote. Yes, there will be a new country, but it will look exactly like the old one. And beware anyone wishing to tell him otherwise.
Consider the latest kerfuffle on currency: Salmond always insisted that the new Scottish kingdom would continue to use the pound sterling. The British, who are naturally not keen to share their currency and preferential lending rates with a fiscally profligate breakaway, said thanks, but no thanks. Bullying! Shouted a hundred Nationalist politicians from Edinburgh. Of course, they protested, Britain had to accept: if the British Government was saying otherwise, it was simply the Conservatives bullying Scottish voters. Then the Canadian governor of the Bank of England and the leaders of all major opposition parties agreed with the Tories: the Scottish people can’t have their haggis and eat it too. If they want to be independent, don’t expect London to beg them to accept a currency union.
It is baffling that Scottish nationalists thought the British would ever accept a monetary union. A union is to Scotland’s advantage, as it will be able to borrow money on very favourable terms and to use a stable currency from Day 1. The rest of Britain will gain nothing: in fact, they would be subsiding Scotland to the tune of several billion pounds a year. One also presumes the remaining Brits will not be overflowing goodwill towards Scotland. Short of a streak of masochism, there is no earthly reason for the British to share their currency.
Now, Salmond is reduced to fall back to his Plan B: keep using the pound without British approval. That would put an independent Scotland in the same category as Panama and Montenegro, meaning it wouldn’t be much of a country. It also means that Scotland will not have any control over its fiscal policy. Using someone else’s currency is the kind of thing a genuine banana republic like El Salvador might be able to live with, but not one that still sees itself in Braveheart terms can accept without loss of face.
But Salmond’s fondness for British currency shouldn’t surprise anyone. Reading his White Paper about the benefits independence, one wonders if he really wants to create a new country. In addition of keeping the pound (or so he wished), his brave new Scotland will also keep the Queen, Britain’s EU membership, and even Doctor Who on television. Dual citizenship will be allowed: in fact, Salmond told voters they could still refer to themselves as British after independence, since Britain is not a 307-year political union but a “geographical expression.”
Incidentally, the President of the European Commission said it was very unlikely Scotland will be admitted as an EU member: the Spanish wouldn’t hear of it. More bullying, of course. Or, as senior SNP figures put it, “preposterous” and “nonsense”. What would the head of the EU’s executive know about the EU, anyway? Scotland could always applying for admission anew; but with Spain’s fierce opposition, it has less chance of succeeding than Formosa. No EU means no Common Market and no visa-free European travel. And no Euro for Scotland – that was Salmond’s original monetary plan B.
There are a few things that will really change after independence. The White Paper promises more entitlement payments, more social services, and larger pensions. The Royal Mail will be re-nationalized. And Home Rule of sorts: swapping the slate of politicians in London for another slate of politicians in Edinburgh. In short, an independent Scotland will look exactly like Scotland today, give or take a couple of sovereign defaults – this new social spending isn’t going to pay for itself. But it will essentially be the old country with a new name. More crucially, Alex Salmond will become Prime Minister rather than First Minister. Maybe that was the real point all along.
-Yuan Yi Zhu