Please, Scotland, help me help you

Dear Scotland,

Rumor is you’re about to vote for independence from Great Britain. That’s great! I have to admit, I don’t have much of an opinion on this issue; it’s not that I don’t appreciate Scotland or anything, but the British Isles just aren’t really my area, you know. Anyway, reading this James Fallows piece yesterday (in which he mostly is quoting a letter from a reader who’s been living in Scotland for several years) really got me hoping you’ll vote to get the hell out of the UK. This really sounds like it sucks for you guys:

I think it is fair to say that, regardless of the outcome of the independence referendum, the results of the the 2010 general election and the 2011 Scottish election show that the majority of Scots want something different from the majority of English. This has been a trend that began in the 1970s and opened wider and wider over the subsequent decades. A majority of Scots want to live in a center-left society, while a majority of English want to live in a center-right society. 

In a federal state this would not be a problem. The domestic policies, discord over which forms the backbone of the nationalist movement, would be the responsibility of the constituent countries of the UK, and Scots could run their internal affairs without hindrance. But the UK is not a federal state, it is a unitary state with sovereignty and legislative authority resting in the Crown-in-Parliament. The authority of the Holyrood parliament is tenuous and could be curtailed or rescinded at any time, without judicial review.

The best case scenario would be devo-max or the federalization of the UK, but Westminster would not allow either to be on the referendum ballot. The prospect of full scale constitutional reform is not even under consideration outside of a few Lib Dem committee meetings. Scots have been put in a position where the status quo is unacceptable to them, and in which viable alternatives – devo-max and federalization – have been expressly refused as options. It is often said that, if devo-max were on the ballot, it would win. It isn’t on the ballot, because Westminster knew that and hoped that by denying a third choice, Scots would choose the status quo. Is that manipulation the kind of government you would want to live under?

It’s not, and so I say go for secession. But I’m afraid you’re about to follow up a secession vote with a real boneheaded move. See, Matt Yglesias over at Vox says that your pro-independence types are expressly not planning a return to the Scottish Pound or any other native Scottish currency, and are instead planning to either keep the British Pound or apply for membership in the EU, which will require adoption of the Euro. Don’t do this. Instead, read this Nice Thing I wrote a long time ago about how having your own currency is Actually Good, and how the Euro is Actually Kind of Bad. Print your own money! If you’re leaving Britain, really leave it! And if those EU dudes won’t let you in without forcing you to adopt their money, tell them you’d rather not become subservient to Germany’s central bank and then go it alone! It might cause you some pain in the short-term, but in the long-run you’ll be glad you took control of your own money!

Your friend,


P.S. If you’re not going to listen to me, check out what this Paul Krugman guy has to say:

Could Scotland have its own currency? Maybe, although Scotland’s economy is even more tightly integrated with that of the rest of Britain than Canada’s is with the United States, so that trying to maintain a separate currency would be hard. It’s a moot point, however: The Scottish independence movement has been very clear that it intends to keep the pound as the national currency. And the combination of political independence with a shared currency is a recipe for disaster. Which is where the cautionary tale of Spain comes in.

In short, everything that has happened in Europe since 2009 or so has demonstrated that sharing a currency without sharing a government is very dangerous. In economics jargon, fiscal and banking integration are essential elements of an optimum currency area. And an independent Scotland using Britain’s pound would be in even worse shape than euro countries, which at least have some say in how the European Central Bank is run.

He seems pretty smart.


2 thoughts on “Please, Scotland, help me help you

  1. Brilliant! My beloved Denmark kept the Crown when it joined the EU some twenty years ago, and that has turned out pretty well – not that the happy prosperous kingdom is in any way like Spain or Greece, with boring food and crappy weather but an economy that hums along on really sound fundamentals. Being self sufficient in food and energy gives you the option of closing the borders and telling the world to fuck off, which greatly enhances your bargaining position no matter what the specific issues might be.

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