David Cameron’s hamfisted intervention in the debate on Scottish independence confirms that the British ruling class is getting worried about the outcome of September’s referendum.
Probably the most important reason for this is that the gap between the “Yes” and “No” votes in opinion polls is narrowing.
John Curtice of Strathclyde University wrote recently, “There are now thorough consistent signs of movement in favour of a ‘yes’ vote, movement that follows on from the publication of the Scottish government’s White Paper on independence at the end of November.
“In the most recent poll, conducted by ICM, there was no less than a six point swing to ‘yes’. At 46 percent that poll’s estimate of the ‘yes’ vote among those voters that have made up their mind was the highest yet to be recorded by any independently commissioned poll—and put it not that far from the 50 percent winning post.”
This is much too close to comfort barely six months away from the vote. Particularly once the formidable political skills of Scottish first minister Alex Salmond are fully mobilised to tip the balance in favour of the “Yes” camp.
Even a split along the lines of the ICM poll would be bad news for the unionists. “What I fear is a 55-45 result,” a “senior Tory” told the Observer’s Andrew Rawnsley. Rawnsley explained, “A close result would give the Nationalists every incentive to keep returning to the subject.”
In another sure sign that the establishment is worried, the Financial Times has been running a massive and detailed series around the theme “If Scotland goes.”
One of the most interesting pieces demolished the constant theme put forward by unionists such as “No” campaign leader and Labour ex-minister Alistair Darling that it will be back to the Stone Age if Scotland spurns the economic support it gets from south of the border.
If Scotland’s geographic share of North Sea oil and gas is taken into account, its gross domestic product per head in 2012 was 19th in the world, ahead of that of France, the present United Kingdom, and Italy. That same year it exported £60 billion worth of goods and services, which would make it the 34th biggest exporter in the world.
The Financial Times adds, “An independent Scotland could also expect to start with healthier state finances than the rest of the UK. Although Scotland enjoys public spending well above the UK average—a source of resentment among some in England, Wales and Northern Ireland—the cost to the Treasury is more than outweighed by oil and gas revenues from Scottish waters.”
It’s true that Salmond scored an own goal when he suggested that an independent Scotland would keep the pound.
George Osborne sent his tame new governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, to Edinburgh to announce that such an arrangement would mean the Bank vetting Scottish taxing and spending. But there’s a perfectly viable alternative, which is for Scotland to have its own currency and tell Carney and Osborne to get lost.
The most telling moment in Cameron’s speech was not his embarrassing announcement of “seven months to save the most extraordinary country in history”, but the admission, “We would all be deeply diminished by the loss of Scotland.”
When he says “we” he really means the British imperialist state. Controlling Scotland isn’t the same strategic necessity as it was when England had to secure its rear against first Spain and then France. But Britain’s Trident nuclear submarine fleet would lose its base if Scotland broke away.
The loss of Scotland would further undermine the international credibility of a British ruling class that is becoming increasingly isolated within the European Union. Washington is beginning to get worried.
“Given that the UK has been a linchpin of cross-Atlantic relations, its break-up is bound to have an impact on the future of Nato,” Fiona Hill, director of the Brookings Institution Centre on the United States and Europe told the Financial Times.
But “seven months to save British imperialism” doesn’t have much of a ring to it.