Saturday, May 19, 2012

If There’s One Thing We Can Depend On, It’s Uncertainty

In recent weeks there have been a number of Scottish-based businesses expressing concern about the supposed “harm” that the prospect of an independent Scotland is causing their businesses. Companies such as the Weir Group and Maitland Mackie have both expressed concerns.

Such fears, however, appear to be largely based on a somewhat outmoded view of what independence actually means. National independence in the 21st century is a very different animal to the ring-fenced, tariff-imposing states of the 19th Century and early 20th Century. As a result of both globalization and the European Union, we now have free movement of people goods and services across Europe.

Under independence, Scotland will keep the Pound and will continue to be linked by good road and rail links to England. Moreover, movement across the border for both people and goods will be unaffected. Talk of having to show passports at the border is simply nonsense spouted by desperate Unionists who like to pretend that they haven’t travelled anywhere in continental Europe in the last decade. There simply are no physical borders in Western Europe any more.

There really is no rational reason not to invest in Scotland either now or after independence. Yet for those who remain unconvinced, it might be worth taking note of what Philip Grant, of Lloyds Banking Group had to say recently to MSPs. According to Grant, rather than being a hindrance to the economy, the issue as regards Scotland’s constitutional future has actually helped to boost Scotland’s profile internationally. The reason for this is simple: people are beginning to realise that there really is a country out there called Scotland and that its not just a northern outpost of England.

For those amongst you who are old enough to remember, who can seriously say that they were aware of either Latvia or Estonia prior to the break-up of the USSR? The reality was that, for most people, Russia and the USSR were simply one and the same in much the same way that people today treat Holland and the Netherlands as being the same. Likewise, beyond the shores of the British Isles, the terms Great Britain, The UK and England are pretty much synonymous. Take, for example, the recent Olympic propaganda video from Argentina showing one of their athletes training in the Falkland Islands. At the end of the video it says: “To compete on English soil, we train on Argentinean soil”. The Olympics will, of course be held on English soil, yet the point of the video is to clearly make the point that they don’t consider the Falklands to be English soil. And nor should they: the majority of settlers came from Scotland and Wales. Indeed, why would any Englishman have left their green and pleasant land to settle in some barren remote archipelago in the South Atlantic when there were plenty of economically disadvantaged Celts to do the job for you?

The reality is that Union with England resulted in Scotland getting the shitty end of the stick. It gave up its name and identity. It also gave up its parliament, choosing to be ruled directly from England’s parliament. And those who choose to believe that there is such a thing as a “British” parliament are deluding themselves. The Palace of Westminster and its historic traditions all predate the Union of 1707. Westminster Palace, for example, was built in 1097, over 600 years before the Treaty of Union. Moreover traditions such as the prayers before each sitting of the house and also the position of “Black Rod”, the usher who summons the House of Commons to the State opening of Parliament, both predate the Treaty of Union by centuries.

Both Scottish Independence and the publicity generated in the lead up to the referendum on independence, clearly has its benefits. If you’ve ever been to Dublin Airport and wondered why it would easily dwarf the size of both Glasgow and Edinburgh airport combined, the answer is really quite simple. People tend to visit countries they know to exist as opposed to ones they don’t. Likewise, multinationals have a tendency to locate in countries they know to exist. As a dependent region, Scotland has to compete against the likes of Humberside, the West Midlands and East Anglia. Certainly, under independence, it would have to compete against these areas too, but it would have the weight of its own state behind it, with a direct voice at the top tables of Europe and the United Nations. Furthermore, it would have the tools and resources to attract inward investment (like, for example, the ability to control its own corporation tax). Yet, perhaps most importantly, it would be counted equally among the community of nations as a contender with which to invest in and do business with, and not a mere peripheral region of another state.

The Unionist naysayers may do well to look at the vast European trade hub that China is proposing to build in Athlone, Ireland (pictured above) The argument given for citing the trade centre in Athlone was that it was geographically in the centre of Ireland and served by good road and rail links to Ireland’s capital. A Scottish equivalent would perhaps be Falkirk, located between Glasgow and Edinburgh and served by excellent road and rail links between the two. Yet China would never have built the project in Falkirk, or indeed anywhere in Scotland. To the Chinese the Scotland is simply a remote outpost of the UK (during the 2008 Beijing Olympics, for example, the Chinese media referred to the UK team as English). The simple truth is that the good road and rail links between Scotland’s biggest city and Scotland’s capital really city count for nothing when Scotland’s capital is little more than mere provincial city of the UK.

Both Scotland and Ireland, in European geographical terms, could be considered to be remote nations on the North Western fringe of the continent. Yet only one of them is a member state of the EU in its own right, something that gives it the ability to punch above its weight. And when it comes to Chinese investment, this clearly makes all of the difference.


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