On 18th September 2014, people of Scotland are going to decide through voting if they want to remain with the United Kingdom or be an independent nation state. Analysts are comparing only two major issues that are said to be creating most of the uncertainty and are more immediate in importance with respect to the expected independence. These two major issues are: the currency of the newly independent Scotland and the UK’s national debt. I disagree with limiting the scenario to these two while ignoring another important aspect- the distribution of resources. For those unfamiliar with the relation between the two issues, Scotland wants to enjoy the same currency i.e, the UK Pound Sterling after its independence; major reason being avoidance of instability arising from the uncertainty that will surround a new currency. Chances of the new country being allowed to go for Euro are too slim to be relied upon. As uncertainty looms over the prospects of Britain allowing the newly independent Scotland to continue using their Sterling as currency, the SNP (Scottish National Party) which is the main advocate and flag bearer of independence of Scotland doesn’t agree with such an uncertainty as it thinks it has a bargaining chip- the sharing of UK’s national debt. While coming up with this bargaining chip, they are overlooking important dynamics of the partition, in my humble opinion.
Though the famous Scotch Whiskey which is also a matter of national pride for the Scots is one of the main exports of Scotland, the revenue it generates for the economy cannot help much with the economic push that is required to present to the Scots the better and prosperous Scotland being promised by Scottish National Party. The party’s leader Mr. Alex Salmonds is confident (over confident according to many experts worldwide) that oil and gas reserves in the North sea will play a major role in the new country’s economic progress, as the opponents of partition are hurling at him questions about economic survival. There have been rough estimates about the total hydrocarbon reserves of the North sea that the independent Scotland will be able to exploit. The fight surrounding estimates has been rougher than the estimates themselves. Mr. Salmonds came up with the figure of 15-24 Billion barrels of oil equivalents citing a UK’s organization and then highlighted the upper tolerance figure i.e, the 24 Billion figure more than the 15 Billion one so as to strengthen his political case. Playing with figures like this is the hallmark of politicians all around the world. However, it cannot be overlooked when the same SNP presents the oil and gas reserves as the major part of its post-independence economic plans, so much so that now without these reserves, the economic scenario becomes colorless enough to make a Yes vote for independence look like a self-written invitation to trouble. This figure of 24 Billion barrels includes the “proven, probable and possible reserves … as well as further exploration”. Furthermore, renowned oil & gas expert Sir Ian Woods has also challenged the idea of something as serious as declaration of an independent country based on these figures which he described as misleading. A paper by Professor Alex Kemp of the University of Aberdeen which highlighted many “viable” and “expected” findings of oil and gas reserves was welcomed by the SNP, thus intensifying the debate. Furthermore, what is missing in the SNP’s agenda is how the new country will be able to exploit these reserves without the backing of a much stronger UK. These oil & gas extractions will help in the long run but what about the more lucrative tax and other incentives that will have to be given to the extraction companies? Scotland does not have any indigenous oil exploration and development company. This issue however ‘might’ not actually challenge the ‘survival’ of an independent Scotland. The more immediate issue, therefore, is that of the currency which coupled with other issues, may result in setbacks. As discussed above, proponents of independent Scotland are pressing for UK Sterling to be continued as the currency of Scotland. However, the Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat parties all rule out allowing a Scottish state to share Sterling. Thus as bargain, the SNP has threatened to not share Britain’s national debt. Materialization of this threat would increase Britain’s Debt-to-GDP ratio from 0.77x to 0.86x. There is however a third aspect too which is being ignored: The distribution of resources.
Scotland already has its own Police and Health-care services separate from the rest of UK. Nuclear assets will remain with London, not to forget that the independence campaign included reservations over some 250 Million pounds per year being the cost of Nuclear weapons that is being borne by Scotland under UK. Nuclear weapons are also not being expected to be needed by the new country. But there will be other areas w.r.t distribution of resources, an important one being “intelligence”. A nascent Scottish intelligence agency will not be short of human resources for long, given the universities like St Andrews and Edinburgh will provide the “bright” ones that are needed in the intelligence business. But though human resource is a vital part of an effective intelligence organization, systems and technologies have their importance too. They have become much more significant in today’s world, where even the non-state actors have the ability to afflict damage using sophisticated and advanced technologies. In 2013, the UK government was spending 650 Million pounds in lieu of only upgrading its systems so as to cope up with the increasing threats of Cyber-terrorism. That was UK- the 6th largest economy of the world. Will the newly born Scotland’s economy allow spending humongous amounts for building up such intelligence organizations and their systems? (Yes organizations with an “s”. You need different types of them- like the British MI5 for internal security and MI6 for external operations and missions). While no one expects the Scottish versions of MI5 and MI6 to be as extensive and effective as the British, they will need to be efficient enough to provide the new born country with sufficient intelligence to safeguard its primary security interests. The last thing a newly independent Scotland with a sensitive economy would need is some terrorist activity or any other form of security threat. A vacuum is further created as the British have expressed (and are expected to continue to express) disapproval of the idea of the same level of intelligence sharing be continued after the Scottish independence. The MI5 and MI6 then, will be running without the Scot taxpayers’ money. Of course this will have implications for these British agencies as well but that doesn’t at all help with the shortfall at the then nascent nation’s end. Keeping in view the geographic location of Scotland, it is pertinent to mention that sea-based Al Qaeda operations have already made some news. Though it’s safe to say that in the short run there’s very low chance of some sea-based terrorist threat challenging Scotland since terrorist activity in that proximity has been non-existent till date, nevertheless a less-secure newly born country with a very new intelligence and security setup in its early stages might sound appetizing to those outfits who want to make their point to the world through militancy. Thus guard needs to be up against all kinds of security threats and therefore, distribution of resources and the resultant security apparatus will be important not only in asserting Scotland’s role as a separate nation in the international arena but also in defining the economic future of the new nation state.
Given the geographical dynamics of Scotland, it is obvious that the armed force requiring major focus would be the navy. And as a matter of fact, maintaining a navy is costlier than maintaining the other two armed forces. A submarine alone costs more than tens of fighter jets. But the navy is essential for economies of nations having borders in the seas. There has been no single entity (like a corps or separate Scottish command) in the UK’s Royal Navy that may be identified separately as the Scot arm of the Navy. However, there are UK’s naval bases in Scotland and therefore, again the important issue of distribution of resources comes into play. In view of all this, it is necessary that the distribution of resources be discussed first and voting be done afterwards so that the Scottish masses know better about the future they are going to choose for themselves and their upcoming generations. Being major determinant in apportioning of resources, the United Kingdom has an upper hand and she can neutralize any ‘bargaining chips’ the SNP claims to have.
To sum it up, there is no doubt that the idea of independence and creating one’s own destiny is attractive to the common man. But more educated assessment is the need of the hour. Nationalistic slogans are magical enough to materialize the dream of independence by attracting votes, but not magical enough to solve all the practical problems awaiting partition. The common Scot needs to demand answers to these questions along with a more detailed sketch of the different dynamics of the new state.