Roosevelt Institute | Cornell University

Could Scotland have gone it alone? Yes. Should it have? No

By Jordan JacksonPublished October 24, 2014

With questions raised on oil revenues, readiness to address the Eurocrisis, as well as economic stability at a level to effectively "go it alone," a YES vote in the Scottish referendum for independence would have been bad for the U.K and very bad for Scotland.

By Jordan Jackson, 10/24/14

As the Scottish referendum for independence passed, the U.K — not to mention every member state of the European Union — stood weary of the possible ramifications a ‘yes' vote would have had for a union tracing its fiscal ties back to the Enlightenment. A brewing voice of discontent had substantiated as many of the United Kingdom's central banks and businesses expressed caution at the possibility of Scotland going it alone - especially heightened by the fact that the U.K has no written constitution to govern the process. Questions of austerity, the "hegemony" of London over U.K economic and social policy, deindustrialization, as well as oil revenue loomed. A vote for independence in Scotland held both a promise of autonomy for a country where a marginal majority sought to end interdependence with Westminster, as well as the possible inheritance of an economy the Scotts would have been unprepared to handle. Luckily, the U.K and the European Union were spared from this potentially economic destabilizing development — and appropriately so.

Because of the dictation of London as the epicenter of international trade, business and policy, the strength of an independent Scottish economy was questioned from the get-go. Edinburg is the second largest center for business and financial services outside of London, and Aberdeen claims the oil industry - not to mention promising revenue from biomedical and aerospace. But like most of northern England, Scotland still bears scars from the 1980's deindustrialization that an economy lacking diversity would have certainly failed to shoulder. Improvements in fiscal productivity couldn't have happened overnight, and the oil reserves from the North Sea wouldn't have promised as high a payout as they were initially believed to — at least without considerable tax breaks to levy the increasing cost of drilling; breaks that a nationalist Scottish majority with a strong hands-off, non corporate favoritism manifesto would have certainly within reason opposed. The North Sea use to provide a booming source of revenue for the U.K at the start of the decade; But with resources drying up, revenues from the North Sea oil and gas fell from £4.7bn in 2013-14, down from £6.1bn

Further adding to the list of cons that weighed against Scottish independence was the fact that the U.K lacked a written constitution to easily expedite minute, yet essential details for a Scottish independence. Furthermore, in the international arena, what line would there have been for a region to simply vote it quits from its sovereign state? The EU, already digging it way out of a precarious financial state that saw inequality increase across most of central Europe, would have had the task of adding a fledgling Scottish economy. The addition of Scotland to the EU would have meant the adoption of new economic policy for the nation. This policy would have needed to align with that of the other member states of the EU in terms of addressing the coordination of stable prices, monetary conditions and public finance to address the Euro crisis.

On both sides of the yes-no movement, tax incentives, rosy socioeconomic policies, attractive mortgages as well as deregulation were offered as constituent stimulus for a vote. But with a majority of Scottish financial services located in London, such tax incentives and deregulation afforded by the U.K would have failed to hold much popular traction in an independent Scotland, increasing the price of goods, mortgages, and interest rates.  

Should Scotland have gone it alone? No. It is true that years of British austerity policies have taken the toll on parties north and south of the border, and the counterargument that Scotland would have needed the U.K outright lacks validity - poorer nations have certainly succeeded. Yet, the point is that with Scottish independence would have come a command over an economy most people and officials may neither have wanted, nor be would have been prepared to handle. An inferred consensus is that it would have been bad for the U.K and very bad for Scotland, and quite frankly, there could not have been a more lucid collation to date.