Ross Clark on Scottish Independence

loch09:09 Wednesday 20th August 2014
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

[A]NDIE HARPER: English voters overwhelming favour Scotland remaining in the UK, but if it opts for independence, they want to exact a heavy price, by rejecting a currency deal and opposing its membership of the EU and NATO. That is according to the Times today. In a month’s time we’ll know the result of the referendum. My question to you: do you feel the vote either way will have any effect on your life? For example, will it make any difference to the economy here? Let’s talk to the Cambridge business journalist Ross Clark. Ross, good morning to you.
ROSS CLARK: Good morning.
ANDIE HARPER: Interesting to hear that the majority of English voters overwhelmingly favour Scotland remaining part of the Union. I suppose the status quo is the easiest thing to settle for. But if Scotland does go it alone, the there won’t be too much co-operation from the English if they have their say.

ROSS CLARK: Well you mention the choice of English voters. Of course the majority of Scottish voters are against independence as well. I’ve never seen a poll which suggests this referendum could be won. But if it were won, I think the effects on the economy probably are a little overstated. We’re not going to end up with export tariffs and trade barriers, any of that sort of thing. The big unknown is the currency, isn’t it, but assuming Scotland did carry on using the pound, we might find it ended up doing what the Irish did after Irish independence and have an Irish pound which was actually linked 1:1 with sterling. So I don’t think that there’s going to be a huge effect on the economy. There have been threats by companies like Standard Life that they’ll leave Scotland if it becomes independent, but I think when the time came that would prove to be a bit of an empty threat. And I think for the most part businesses will just carry on trading across the border and there’ll be free movement of people , and things will carry on as before. I think there might be one or two exceptions to that. The defence sector, I think defence businesses would move South, because most defence of the spending spending would be by England, and they would want a share of the English market. Obviously for security reasons defence spending tends to be within the country as much as it can be. Tourism industry in Scotland I think would probably actually benefit from independence, because if it became the world’s newest country it would attract a lot of interest.
ANDIE HARPER: You mention the pound, and Alex Salmond has always made it plain, well fairly plain, that he wants to keep the pound. On the other hand, the three major party leaders south of the border say no, you can’t have it. Is it as simple as that? If Scotland voted for independence, and the Government of the day backed by the Opposition and other party leaders said we’re throwing you out of the pound, we’re throwing you out of sterling, could that happen?
ROSS CLARK: Well it could happen.
ANDIE HARPER: Well would it be practical in other words?
ROSS CLARK: And Scotland could carry on using the pound without our permission. Panama uses the US dollar without America’s permission. One or two other countries do as well. So it can be done. I think it would be an appalling state of affairs though for a newly independent Scotland to carry on using the pound against the will of the British. But what would happen after a referendum of course, and whatever the noises are made beforehand, would be a negotiation, and there would have to be a negotiation of what slice of UK debt went to Scotland. And obviously that negotiation would be part of the general negotiation whether to keep sterling or not. And I suspect what would actually happen is we probably would end up with a Scottish pound, but it would be pegged to the English pound.
ANDIE HARPER: At the outset you said well really and truly no opinion polls have suggested it’s going to be anything other than a ‘No’ vote. That the trend has been fairly steady over the last few months. Do you think however that if it were to be a ‘No’ vote, this would be the end of it? Or do you see post-referendum this constant nibbling at it, people just trying again and again?
ROSS CLARK: Well I think obviously some people would carry on, carry on campaigning for independence, but it would be impossible to hold another referendum for another generation really. You can’t hold a referendum on Scottish independence every couple of years, and keep on doing it until you get the right answer. It would be over for another generation, as it was with devolution in 1978 when that vote was lost. Then we didn’t have another vote on it until 1997.
ANDIE HARPER: Just finally, we’re asking our listeners today, if Scotland were to vote ‘Yes” or indeed ‘No’ for that matter, would it have any effect on your life. That’s our question to our listeners. Would it make any difference to you personally, whichever way the vote goes? Put aside politics and the broader picture, would it make any difference to you personally do you think?
ROSS CLARK: Not at all really. No. I go up to Scotland all the time. I love the place. I love going climbing in the mountains, but I’m not expecting to have to show my passport at the borders.
ANDIE HARPER: (LAUGHS) Every time you go up Ben Nevis. No. So in other words, you think probably not, on a direct level.
ROSS CLARK: No, I think it will have very little effect on the lives of us down here, and I think to the Scots as well. There’s this impression that Scotland would become very left wing after independence, though I don’t think even that is certain. I think actually in time you’d get the same centre-left, centre-right divide that you get in Britain now. Intriguingly I think the SNP would probably become the centre-right party, because they’d have to have somebody to oppose the centre-left Labour Party.
ANDIE HARPER: Ross, always good to talk to you. Thanks for joining us this morning.
ROSS CLARK: Thank you.
ANDIE HARPER: Cheers. That’s Ross Clark the Cambridge business journalist. You can read him in various publications.