Will the ghost of William Wallace finally see the British thrown out of his country once and for all? If the latest polls on the outcome of the September 18th referendum on Scottish Independence are any indication, Scots are in a dead heat over the political and economic future of their country.
Last weekend for the first time, polls showed that the majority of voters in Scotland were leaning towards independence. Since then new polls show the public vacillating between yes and no on a daily basis. The news has shocked the world and galvanized the three major British political parties to implement a no-holds-barred program of damage control.
The U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron, Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg and opposition Labour Party chief Ed Millbank dropped whatever they were doing and headed for the Highlands on Wednesday. The British leaders are pulling out all the stops in trying to convince Scottish voters to stay with the Union. Even Harry Potter has been enlisted or at least his author, JK Rowling, is backing the Union, which has been in effect for 307 years.
On the financial front, the polls caught “The City” (England’s Wall Street) by surprise. For months, European financial institutions had been discounting the referendum as a non-event, just another opportunity for those dour Northern people, who talk funny, to blow off a little electoral steam. No one seriously considered that Scotland would actually embrace independence.
For most of the week both the British pound and the UK stock markets have been declining. And they should, because if Scotland does decide to fly the coop, there will be severe economic consequences for all parties concerned. No less a presence than billionaire fund manager George Soros has weighed in warning Scotland that now would be the worst possible time to leave the UK.
A group of big global bank experts also joined the fray arguing that Scottish independence could threaten the UK’s economic recovery, weaken the sterling by as much as 5% against the dollar, throw Scotland into a deep recession, and wipe billions off the value of big Scottish corporations.
Those for independence argue the positives outweigh the negatives. Exports would grow. North Sea oil revenues, they also contend, would be Scotland’s and worth billions, even if energy production from those deep, cold waters is peaking out. Scotland would be able to tax its citizens and determine how that money would be spent. Investments, jobs and future productivity would be for Scotland’s benefit alone, not simply as part of a greater United Kingdom budget plan.
Of course, the Scotts would have to come up with a new currency. U.K. politicians have already said they would be against the use of their own currency in the event Scotland went its own way. The Euro would be out of the question, since Scotland would first have to petition and wait for membership in the European Union before using that currency.
Scotland now represents just under 10% of Britain’s GDP. Independence would pose a potentially lethal blow to the UK’s fragile recovery. The loss of billions of dollars in oil revenues alone would throw the country into a much larger deficit. It would also jeopardize the Labour Party’s chances of winning the next election. At present, Labour leads in the polls for parliamentary elections that are scheduled for next year. Of 59 Scottish seats in Parliament, Labour holds 41 of them. Independence would at best reduce the race to a tie between Labour and the reigning Conservative Party of David Cameron.
The Scots are sitting in the catbird seat. As it is, the politicians have promised the Scots more autonomy on everything from social to economic issues including income tax, housing and transportation. The people of William Wallace might demand even more and receive it. By next Thursday’s vote, it could be that the canny Scots, without raising a sword, could come away with independence in everything but name. And for you of Scots birth– “Alba gu bràth.”