ANYBODY who believes that Chancellor George Osborne, Labour shadow chancellor Ed Balls and Liberal Democrat Treasury Chief Secretary Danny Alexander are all bluffing should realise that, in this case, no really does mean no.
Much has been made of the fact that if Scotland leaves the UK, then the rest of the UK (rUK), along with other states – on issues such as Nato and European Union membership – will act in pure self-interest and not give Scotland what it wants simply because that is what Scotland wants. However, there is another motive growing in Westminster, which will influence rUK policy should Scots vote Yes.
The UK government and Labour reckon Whitehall analysis papers have conclusively proved what they always believed, which is that it is in Scotland’s and rUK’s best interests to stay together. They believe the battle of the head is won. They also feel that they bend over backwards to keep Scotland happy so it will stay in the UK through devolution, a generous settlement in the Barnett Formula and a high representation in Westminster. This is not to say that they think they have won. Where they think they could lose is in the battle of the heart. This is why Prime Minister David Cameron made his appeal for the rest of the UK to love-bomb Scotland. But this analysis is leading to a conclusion, not publicly expressed, that if Scotland does leave, then it is because Scots simply do not like their neighbours – a view fuelled by SNP rhetoric.
SNP Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon visited London last week to give a powerful speech, saying the relationship with rUK will be “healthier and stronger” after independence. But she could not hide the fact that rUK students would be discriminated against by Scotland with tuition fees.
It has not gone unnoticed that SNP Scottish education secretary Mike Russell has said that UK immigration policy is being driven by “xenophobia”. And now Alex Salmond says an independent Scotland will not take its share of the national debt. Given this mood music in Westminster, if Scots do vote Yes, there is likely to be a ruthless assertion of national interest by the larger state.
So saying “no” to sharing the pound is just the beginning. Tory Home Secretary Theresa May has talked about border posts, Tory Defence Secretary Phillip Hammond has questioned allowing Scotland into Nato, Lib Dem Business Secretary Vince Cable has talked about moving Royal Bank of Scotland’s headquarters to London.
If Scotland does not share the debt, there could be worse in the form of a total asset grab, potentially even including North Sea oil and gas which, courtesy of the Callaghan government, is in a fifth part of the UK – the continental shelf – and not formally part of Scotland.