Scottish Independence: The Issues

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Tomorrow, the 18th September 2014, a Union that has lasted three centuries will be tested to its limits when Scottish people go to the polls. The question: should Scotland become independent? Bizarrely, though, there is no question regarding devolution, now being dubbed ‘devo max’ by the media and politicians. This would have been a sensible alternative.

During the past few months and weeks of this debate, there have been many claims and counter claims made by the likes of Alex Salmond and Alistair Darling which could be seen as scaremongering. After all, whatever happens at the polls tomorrow, nobody can predict what the future holds for Scotland as an independent state or not. Ultimately, this is a gamble of enormous proportions being made by the Scottish people in the hope that, should the yes camp win, Scotland will become a more prosperous and fair nation.

The key issues then, in my opinion, that could be key on whether this gamble pays off are:

Oil- there have been many statements made regarding the prospect of Scotland effectively relying on oil revenues to get through what will probably be an incredibly difficult period when Scotland goes independent in 2016. Indeed, it is likely that on Friday, if the Yes camp win, there will be a major impact on the financial markets almost immediately. It has been reported as such in The Times that investors have already begun fleeing the UK markets and have already dumped £17bn. On the Yes side, Salmond stated that oil accounts for 15% of the economy and he has compared it to Norway which has a 20% economical dependency on oil. But take this further and, according to a Bloomberh comparison, Norway has the highest gas prices in the world while the UK as a whole has the 13th highest (or lowest if you look at it that way) (http://www.bloomberg.com/visual-data/best-and-worst/highest-gas-prices-countries). If Scotland goes it alone, it could find itself near the top of the list for oil prices and as such consumers may see a rapid increase in the amount they spend on gas. This gives a strong argument on the No side that Scotland will face a problem when relying on depleting stocks of oil, estimated to run out around 2050. BP has echoed this warning and Darling has warned previously that oil revenues in recent years have been 5% less than expected. Verdict: Short term financial stability but long term challenge.

Currency- This issue has been at the forefront of the referendum ever since the UK Government categorically stated that if Scotland goes it alone it can forget any notion of sharing Sterling as its official currency. This is probably the most confusing aspect. On one hand you have the Yes side stating their intent to the use the pound anyway and on the other you have the No camp denying that this will be allowed to happen due to the lack of a central bank. However, if you look at the Euro, which has been tipped as the most likely currency Scotland will use alternatively (not confirmed), this runs on a contributory basis and member states are relatively free to fund their departments as they please. This gives Scotland three choices- use the pound unauthorised, join the Euro or create a new currency which is an incredibly risky option and would impact Scotland hugely with estimates that it would drop 15% against the Sterling immediately. Verdict: Unclear currency provides a substantial case for voting No.

Defence: Trident, it is either the bane of a country or the saviour by deterring an attack. Although controversial, it has worked in preventing the outbreak of a world war. Scotland have been warned that armies do not grow overnight and that defence is a vital part of the economy. One question left unanswered is what will happen if Scottish troops currently employed the MOD and who serve Britain as a whole who wish to transfer to Scotland’s own armed forces, which are likely to be weak. Currently the UK has a very large defence budget, about £34bn. The White Paper on defence states that the Scottish budget will be £2.5bn, which in comparison to other countries is small, and the force size will be 3,500 (land), 2,000 (sea) 2,000 (air), again potentially inadequate to protect the country. I question whether the minuscule budget will cover the employment of 15,000 people plus operational costs and it is likely it has been vastly underestimated. Furthermore, if Scotland were to get rid of Trident it would likely lead to job losses. Verdict: Serious questions remain over the viability of SNP’s plans for a Scottish Defence Force (SDF). Furthermore, it would be a huge mistake to the think getting rid of the nuclear deterrent at a time when the world seems to be on the knife edge of something big will allow Scotland to defend itself to its full capability.

NHS: The main argument here is that Scotland does not yet have control over the NHS and that due to privatisation it is vital that Scotland acquires this to ensure it remains a public service. At the moment, Scotland has a budget of circa £12bn for the NHS. To contrast Norway, whom Salmond seems to admire, the budget there is NOK 800m (£76406964.23) and the WHO has ranked it number 11 in terms of performance out of 190 nations. The populations of both countries are very similar. I am therefore of the opinion that an Independent Scotland may need to increase its budget for the NHS as the population ages and this will inevitably, if the figures re oil do not hold weight, lead to higher contributions by the public. Verdict: Scottish people should vote yes if they believe the SNP will keep the NHS public but they should be prepared to face increased contributions.These issues and the conclusions are not those of an expert, I cannot state categorically that the figures will hold up. However, I do believe that given the serious questions left unanswered and unlikely to be answered provide a strong case for voting No. Inevitability this is an issue for Scottish voters and whether they are willing to gamble their future on the promises made by Alex Salmond. Maybe it is your destiny to take control of your country and , hopefully, witness something that you may never see again in your lifetime. It is an exiting but terrifying prospect.

I love the United Kingdom. It is something to admire when we stand undivided and face the challenges we face together. I really do hope that Scottish people vote to remain united with us. However, this is a democracy and whatever happens tomorrow, I wish you all the very best as you take whichever path you choose.

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