by Colin Campbell
I BELIEVE independence won’t happen in my lifetime – I’ve hopefully a few years to go yet – and when I’m six feet under in Kilmorack cemetery the issue is unlikely to trouble me too much.
But among those who think like I do am I entirely alone in harbouring a nasty niggle of curiosity at the back of my mind, namely just imagine if it did.
It would be a horrible morning-after nightmare to wake up to, for many literally the worst day of our lives. But although that would take its toll and a very heavy one at that, once the oppressively heavy dark clouds had begun to lift a little, would watching the fallout with a certain detachment in any way make life worth living again? It would be interesting, to say the least.
However, inevitably, even with the threat as remote as it currently is, first and foremost there would be a tendency to examine how it would affect you personally.
Having worked all my life I now have no job to lose. So that’s not a problem. I have no mortgage left to pay. So that’s not a problem. Like hundreds of thousands of others, all my savings such as they are would be heading from a bank based in Scotland to a bank in London.
Something I was unaware of until I read about it a few months ago – in the days leading up to the 2014 referendum the Bank of England had billions at the ready in the event of a run on banks in Scotland with people turning up en masse to withdraw their money and send it south to a safe haven. That would have been a panicked reaction but it undoubtedly would have happened.
A session with a financial adviser, probably the best job to be in if independence became seriously threatening, would surely work out a way to ensure private pensions would continue indefinitely to be paid in sterling. How to maintain the value of your property? There’s probably no way to do that. But it would be passed on to younger folks anyway and they’d just have to take the hit.
The state pension would be a worry. But there would probably be some arrangement in place to ensure it remained at the UK level at least for several years before being cut, perhaps drastically cut, with the brief explanation: “These are difficult times for everyone but Scotland did vote for independence and the burden has to be shared, unfortunately with no exceptions.”
That’s the bad news. Unfortunately it’d be all bad news, but much worse for other people.
Amid utter confusion over currency, with the loss of extra financial support from the rest of the UK, a hard border with England, trade tariffs, widespread business uncertainty, and a new policy of uncontrolled immigration – just some of the upheaval that would lie in store – the turmoil created would be on a seismic scale.
Public services slashed, public sector jobs axed by the tens of thousands, private sector jobs not far behind, schools in rural areas across the Highlands being closed, potholes deepening by the month, a housing crisis becoming a rooflessness one with no room for people in overflowing emergency shelters, the health service falling apart and higher earning taxpayers fleeing to England having secured permanent visas to live there.
In 2014, days before the independence referendum, Pulitzer Prize winning New York Times economic commentator Paul Krugman wrote, entirely objectively: “Next week Scotland will hold a referendum on whether to leave the United Kingdom. And polling suggests that support for independence has surged over the past few months, largely because pro-independence campaigners have managed to reduce the ‘fear factor’ — that is, concern about the economic risks of going it alone. At this point the outcome looks like a tossup. Well, I have a message for the Scots: Be afraid, be very afraid. The risks of going it alone are huge.”
And what followed in his view incorporated all of the above, only worse. What he’d think now of such a move in the midst of the worst health and economic crisis for 100 years we can only guess at. Inclusion of the phrase recklessness bordering on insanity would be my guess.
And as for the hospitality industry, particularly important to the Highlands, it would be in a worse state than with the virus. English folk, already showing clear signs of being offended or even sickened by a hardcore of English hating nationalists, would question in their hundreds of thousands why they should go on holiday and spend money in an unfriendly country that did not want them.
But then again it might all work out fine. Or everything would be fine at least among the “freedom at any price” brigade, those who currently believe it’s Scotland that’s propping up England financially, that furlough payments would have been far more generous for everyone if we were independent, and who insist that an independent Scotland would have had the financial clout to secure unlimited supplies of the virus vaccine much earlier than the UK Government did. However, the prospect of these ignorant plonkers going around feeling happily “free” might not be adequate compensation for the level of mass poverty and suffering.
I watched on Youtube Andrew Neil grilling Andrew Wilson, head of the SNP Growth Commission and the nearest to a big financial brain they’ve got. This was on Spectator TV and is easy to find. Neil is a formidable interviewer and he’s left many of those he’s questioned struggling badly. None ever more so than Andrew Wilson. Left in ruins, he had no even half-clear answers on anything.
The only other thing that does arise is, when the consequences of what had happened in a new gloriously “free” Scotland really set in, would Sturgeon, Blackford, Hendry and co still be around to face up to them? Or amid the appalling chaos and vengeful recrimination from those who’d believed and backed them, would they have quickly faded into the deep background, and scuttled away from it all? Denied the ultimate cop-out of blaming everything on Westminster, their current life support system, I believe they’d be gone, probably to some highly paid quangos on transgender rights or non binary equality or whatever else.
But no, there would be no real satisfaction in watching the disaster unfold. It would be an X-certificate catastrophe stretching years ahead. By then, for me, at least Kilmorack would be beckoning.
But it won’t happen. And it is best to believe that the nightmare really will not happen. And to sleep soundly at night.