Friday, 30 May 2014

The Positive case for No

You Don't Know What You've Got. Till it's Gone

"Our two economies benefit from a flow of people, goods, investment, capital and ideas on a scale that is rare even in this era of global economic integration"
Scotland's Future: Your Guide to an Independent Scotland p.248

The quote above (from a joint statement made by David Cameron and Enda Kenny relating to British/Irish relations) is taken directly from the White Paper; my natural reaction is:
  • If that statement accurately describes British/Irish relations, how much more accurately does it describing existing rUK/Scottish relations?
Of course we could look at data relating to those flows to show how much more true this is for rUK/Scotland (e.g 70% of Scotland's exports go to rUK compared to 15% of Ireland's going to GB) but that is misleading and a distraction from the main argument. If you do want to be distracted I have included an addendum at the foot of this post.

In addition to the economic and social benefits of this "free flow" within the Union we need to consider the "pooling & sharing" benefits most pithily summed up by the Better Together campaign:

"...our vision based on a strong Scottish parliament backed up by a system of pooling and sharing risks and resources across the UK."
Gordon Brown, 21/04/2014

Through the process of writing this blog and engaging in this debate I have found a number of (to me at least) quite compelling positive reasons for Scotland remaining in the United Kingdom which I'll attempt to list here. If you think I've missed some, do let me know.


As I explain clearly in my bona fides, I entered this debate as someone who was instinctively in favour of the Union and could see practical downsides from a possible Yes vote for the (Scottish) businesses I'm involved with.  My starting point was the White Paper and then (because I don't see much merit in reading materials that are designed to reinforce my view) I focused on the pro-Independence media and engaged in debate with Yes proponents.  This approach has (probably inevitably) led to me picking apart the pro-independence arguments more than making the Unionist case. I will attempt to address that balance in this post but can't resist making the following points first;
  • The question has been formed as a Yes / No question; those arguing to maintain the Union are seeking the answer "No". It's quite hard to argue that case without sounding - um - negative.
  • If you're arguing to change something that has worked for 300+ years then the burden of proof is yours; you are obliged to make the case for change.  If you'll forgive this Scottish Island boy a little pretentiousness: semper necessitas probandi incumbit ei qui agit (the necessity of proof always lies with the person who lays charges).  Pointing out that the burden of proof has not been met by the arguments presented - that the arguments simply lack logical sense, appear based on irrational resentment, involve sums that don't add up or are based on wildly optimistic assumptions - may be negative, but it's hardly inappropriate.

  • Given we start with the benefits of Union, it's pretty hard to argue against separation without pointing out what will be lost, the downsides of separation. If that's being negative well - again - it's hardly inappropriate

  • There's a wider, relevant point here: it's always going to be harder to get people exercised and engaged by the positive arguments in defence of the Status Quo
    • What do we want?
    • The Status Quo!
    • When do we want it?
    • errr... we've already got it

  • It's possible to look at any success achieved within the Union and blithely assert "we could have achieved that without being in the Union"  (in the same way some point at any political failings in the past 300 years - there have been plenty - and say "that's the sort of thing that wouldn't have happened if we were independent").  I will not preemptively counter-argue that in every case; you can take it as read that I believe that all of the positives listed here have been at the very least helped by the existence of the Union and in some cases are achievements that would be unimaginable without it

  • The benefits of Union listed here flow both ways.  How the benefits are shared is a different and wider question, touched on by this post >  Oil & Gas (Part I): For Richer For Poorer

  • It can be argued that these benefits could - at least in part - be maintained through negotiation and agreement.  Where that is the case it simply reinforces the fact that these are benefits of Union; we achieve those benefits without the "arm's length" contractual negotiations that would be required between iScotland and rUK.  Anyone who believes that those contractual negotiations will be straight forward has - I would suggest - not been paying attention.

The Benefits of Union

Ironically perhaps the White Paper is a great place to look if you want to find some of the benefits of Union. If the White Paper talks of the need to negotiate agreements, divide assets, create on-going asset sharing agreements or invest in new infrastructure you will probably be looking at a benefit of the Union behind it all. [All quotes highlighted thus are taken directly from the White Paper]

  • A single currency
    • "These will include the arrangements for the Sterling Area, the role and governance arrangements of the Bank of England, a fiscal stability pact and Scotland’s share of the UK’s £1,267 billion of net assets"
    • This has been such a contentious issue exactly because it is such a great example of a benefit of Union.  There has been plenty written on this topic and I think the jury is in: at best there will be a significant economic cost to an iScotland of any agreement to "keep" the pound (or to pursue "dollarisation" whereby Scotland pegs to the pound). There are plenty of self-explanatory links on this topic in the Who Can We Trust section of this blog (focus on IOs and RIBs, don't get too easily swayed by the Lone Wolves just because they say what you want to hear!)

  • EU membership and opt-outs
    • The EU opt-outs currently enjoyed by Scotland as part of the UK are an asset, a benefit of Union  
    • I've covered this topic at great length under Independent Scotland and the EU; given the real politik of the negotiations triggered by a Yes vote it is hard not to conclude that Scotland's relationship with the EU has benefited from being part of the Union.

  • Borderless Trade
    • If you doubt the scale of this benefit I 'm guessing you have not been involved in making high volumes of shipments outside of the EU. For most of this debate I'm a curious observer, learning as I go; but on this topic I will claim a significant level of experiential knowledge, some of which is covered in my post Independence and Scotland's Trade with rUK .
    • I cite borderless trade as a benefit distinct from EU membership itself because a "benefit of Union" is that we can't end up with a "one of us in, one of us out" scenario.

  • Inward investment
    • All of the above adds up to make Scotland an attractive location for inward investment.  It would be hard to dispute that sharing a currency and EU membership with the rest of the UK adds to our attractiveness as an inward investment location.
    • "Inward investment projects coming to Scotland are at their highest level for 15 years.  Scotland is ranked number one for inward investment projects outside London, up from number two last year and we have maintained our consistent place as one of the top performers when it comes to attracting employment"

  • Royal Mail
    • Given Scotland's relatively lower population density (not to mention number of islands) - and therefore higher cost-to-serve - in this case there can be no debate about "who gets the benefit" -- Scotland benefits from the Royal Mail's Universal Service Obligation (one price goes anywhere, meeting specified minimum service levels)
    • The controversial privatisation of the Royal Mail is a separate issue (I don't like it); the USO is still protected so the privatisation issue is relevant only to the wider political arguments about independence and I'm sticking with the task in hand here: the Royal Mail Universal Service Obligation is a benefit that Scotland achieves within the Union

  • A Single Energy Market
    • This is a huge issue and worthy of a post all on its own; the quotes below from the White Paper do a pretty good job of listing the issues. I think we can chalk the existence of the single energy market, integrated transmission networks and shared support for renewables up as a benefit of the Union.
    • "The Scottish Government plans to establish an Energy Partnership with the Westminster Government, ensuring that we jointly steer the approach to the energy market"
    • "Under these proposals, the current market trading arrangements for electricity and gas will continue, with the aim of maintaining a competitive market for energy throughout these islands. This meets the legitimate expectation of consumers, suppliers and generators of energy across Scotland and the rest of the UK."
    • "This Government proposes that a single Transmission Operator will continue to balance supply and demand across Scotland and the rest of the UK"
    • "The continuation of a system of shared support for renewables and capital costs of transmission among consumers in Scotland and the rest of the UK is a reasonable consideration for meeting the UK’s ongoing green commitments"
    • "Achieving security of supply for Scottish consumers will be the central priority for an independent Scotland. This Government proposes that, provided this is not jeopardised, Scotland will continue to participate in the GB-wide market for electricity and gas, reflecting the integrated transmission networks between Scotland and the rest of the UK. There is a common interest in sharing our energy resources with our neighbours ..."
    • This article by Brian Wilson is recommended further reading > Storm Clouds Gather Over Energy
  • Global Diplomatic and Trade Network
    • Scotland benefits from the UK's Embassies & High Commissions and diplomatic infrastructure. 
    • The White Paper recognises the need to replicate this but suggests doing so only partially " providing for a streamlined system of overseas representation focused on Scottish citizens and priority business sectors"

  • The BBC
    • The White Paper implicitly recognises the value of this asset (although some of the more paranoid pro-independence campaigners don't) even going so far as to - hilariously - name check specific programmes.  I mean seriously? They didn't find time to add up the cost implications of the White Paper promises but they name-checked Strictly ...
    • "Agreements will also cover other national assets and institutions (for example official reserves, the BBC and its archives..."
    • "We propose that the SBS enter into a new formal relationship with the BBC as a joint venture, where the SBS would continue to supply the BBC network with the same level of original programming, in return for ongoing access to BBC services in Scotland"
    • "The maintenance of access to the BBC will ensure that the people of Scotland will still have access to current programming such as EastEnders, Doctor Who, and Strictly Come Dancing, and to channels like CBeebies"

  • Shared Assets & Government Agencies
    • At the time of writing this is a very hot topic because of disagreements about the costs required to recreate these assets and agencies in Scotland. Neither side comes out of the debate well. I expand here > Lies, Damn Lies & Cost Estimates
    • The fact that all we can know is the the number probably lies somewhere between £0.25 and £1.7bn is symptomatic of the data void that this debate operates within. I'm busting my pipe trying to get the issues straight with this blog, chasing primary sources and continually checking the robustness of numbers being used .... and with all the time and money invested by the Scottish Government to make this case they haven't even bothered to do any proper analysis on costs of independence (or none that they dare share, anyway). Rant over. Bringing us back to our topic at hand; read the following quotes and you are reading a laundry list of (the flip side of) the benefits of Union      
    • "In an independent Scotland, we will establish a new security and intelligence body, a Scottish Border and Migration Service and a Scottish Motor Services Agency."
    • "Agreements will also cover other national assets and institutions (for example official reserves, the BBC and its archives, and UK and GB-wide systems for administering welfare and taxation, wherever located). Scotland’s share of UK assets will be realised in a combination of ways – through physical assets, cash transfer and continued use of assets through shared service agreements".
    • In addition, agreement will be sought on issues including: the continued delivery of services across GB and the rest of the UK where this is in the interests of service users and the two governments, either for a transitional period or in the longer term operational agreements for cross-border services (for example, for health treatment, for intelligence sharing, for mutual aid between police forces and health services) based on existing arrangements where appropriate
    • This would include physical assets in Scotland, such as Jobcentre Plus, DWP and HMRC offices, the Crown Estate and the defence estate. It will also include assets outside Scotland in which Scotland nevertheless has an interest as part of the UK, such as the overseas missions of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

  • Defence Alliances
    • I'm too tired to work out if I think these are a benefit of Union or not. You decide
    • Agreements will also be reached in relation to [..] membership of other international bodies, including the United Nations, NATO, the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank Group and the World Trade Organisation. Both the Scottish and Westminster Governments will be involved in these negotiations with our international partners

  • Distinct Cultural Identity
    • The Union structure has allowed Scotland to retain a distinct National identity and for our unique culture to not only survive but thrive. That we share the benefits above whilst maintaining this identity is a benefit of Union in it's own right
    • "Scotland’s strong and vibrant culture is one of our most enduring and powerful national assets. Our rich heritage gives Scotland its sense of place and underpins our understanding of our past, our present and our future. Scotland’s creative communities – our artists, writers, poets, dancers, directors, musicians and designers – provide new insights and drive forward new ideas. They help us see ourselves in new ways and present Scotland in its many dimensions to the wider world. 
      Scotland hosts more than 200 cultural festivals a year. The 2012 Global Culture Summit, held in Edinburgh and attended by 33 nations from across the world, demonstrated that Scotland can facilitate and shape international cultural dialogue."

Personally, I think that's not a bad list.


Comments welcome.


Flow of goods comparisons: Ireland/GB versus Scotland/rUK
  • Checking CSO figures and research from MIT we get see that from an Irish perspective UK represents 13 - 16% of exports and 34 - 36% of imports
  • Using the Quarterly National Accounts Scotland) and summing last 4 quarters' Trade in Goods & Services data (Table G)  shows from a Scottish perspective rUK represents 70% of exports and  74% of imports  (some caveats are worth noting via Full Fact)
There are geographical factors at play here of course (Ireland is after all "across the water") so I've checked the Canada/USA trade stats and they show from a Canadian perspective the USA represents 75% of exports and 65% of imports [relative population sizes are similar; Canada is 11% of USA, Scotland 9% of rUK]. I'm surprised the UA/Canada example is not cited more often by the pro-independence campaigners to be honest; maybe that's a debate for another day


Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

I wondered what the SBS might be like compared to the BBC so I looked at what RTE, the Irish Broadcaster offers. Dave (with a smattering of Reporting Scotland)would be the closest I could come up with. Losing the BBC would remind Scotland that being part of a bigger entity can actually raise the standard all round. There will be many disappointed YES voters if the SBS is anything like RTE.