The Scottish referendum due in 2014 could see the creation of an independent and sovereign Scotland. The Scottish National Party (SNP) being the major spear headers of independence. In the 21st century, independence seems like a necessity for those who believe they are a nation in spirit. And who believe they have their own right to run that nation in practice. This is the sentiment of nationalists and everyone sympathetic to devolution, but when it comes to practicality, it is better for us to look at the economics of it all, major newspapers seem to report that Scotland would be economically worse off. This seems to be the prevalent view. I seek to contrast the Scottish situation with Nigerian independence in the 1960s. It will not be argued that Scottish independence can necessarily be achieved the way it was achieved in Nigeria, neither will it be argued that Nigeria is the example Scotland should take. Rather the thread that will run through this piece is one of reflection. Is the possibility of Scottish independence scary to the British Government? Like the independence of India was scary to Churchill? The answer is yours to determine, but only after you take into account the theory and practicality of Scottish independence. In other words, look at the big picture.
Scotland is part of the UK through the Act of Union. Scotland was not able to cope on its own after 1698. This necessitated the Union. Concerning the economics of independence, it is argued that the revenues from North Sea oil and gas will drive the economy, whilst the other side (Unionists) argue that Scotland is nothing but a “parasitic subsidy junkie” (The Economist). The Economist also argues that both views are wrong by suggesting that Scotland would gain almost as much in taxes as it would end up losing in subsidies from Westminster. Even if this is true, it must be recognised that North Sea oil will not last forever. North Sea production has been falling at about 6% a year. To make up for that eventual loss, it would make sense for the Scottish economy to thrive on foreign investment through low corporation taxes. Ireland is a good example of this. Compare this with Nigeria. Nigeria depends on oil, but it is quite a diversified economy. This is evidenced through its large agricultural sector. Now even though Nigeria looks like the thriving economy that will become an economic super power, the Scottish economy has foundational strength. Nigeria is indeed very dependent on oil exports, if this runs out; it can simply diversify into agriculture but it still lacks that foundational strength. The Scottish economy is dependent on North Sea Oil and intends to be dependent even after independence on oil production, but it can attract foreign investment. This is the big advantage it has compared to Nigeria where lacks of infrastructure will not open doors to investment.
Unlike Nigeria, Scotland is also a very generous state. Welfare spending is on top of the economic agenda, alongside free tuition fees for university and spending per head being about 13% more than Britain. Nigeria on the other hand, is quite frankly too disturbed by corruption for it to be as generous. The essential point to draw here is that the granting of independence is usually based on the democratic will of those who seek it. In this sense, the Scottish people can take advantage of Democracy internally through public support and externally through international support. In 1995, a report called “Scotland’s parliament. Scotland’s Right” was drawn up by the Scottish Constitutional Convention. The Convention urged Westminster to declare not to repeal an Act creating the Scottish Parliament. This was of course refused, but the Labour government of the time still went ahead with the devolution arrangements two years later. It is argued here that the fact that the devolution arrangements went ahead even though the government was aware of the Convention’s views means Scotland was indirectly sovereign. It can today exercise that sovereignty, that spirit of nationhood by gaining the democratic support of its population (through the 2014 referendum) and international support all across the world. This would be too strong a force for Westminster. When Nigeria was fighting for independence, blood was shed. Today, this independence is not as hard to attain as it was for a country like Nigeria. Scotland just needs to emphasise the fact that its population wants independence and this democratic will has strong international support.
Alex Salmond speaking at the London School of Economics and Political Science this February, argued strongly for Scotland’s dependence on oil. He quoted figures on how Scotland has 25% of Europe’s tidal potential power when it only constitutes about 1% of Europe’s population. His main argument however was the creation of an “Oil fund” to help future generations. This again shows dependence on oil and the only reason it is a fairly distinctive initiative is because the UK is the only country not operating an “oil fund” scheme, as Mr Salmond pointed out. Following on from this, Mr Salmond’s job now is to show Scotland that the nationalism which will entail economic struggles is worth it. The problem with this is that oil is the prevalent argument. We can talk about the financial sector but that is already very intertwined with the UK’s economy. Mr Salmond needs to get the politics absolutely right, in order to give the economics a go.
How would the British government feel if Scotland indeed gains independence? It would feel like it was losing another territory, the successive governments have wanted to hang on to the little bit of sovereignty it had, like it held on to the little respect (not sovereignty) it had when it colonized Nigeria. It is argued here that if a nation finds within itself the will and belief of nationhood, it needs to realise it. If this means the gradual break-up of the United Kingdom, so be it. It is the same way in which Britain lost its empire.