It’s 2018, The United Kingdom of England, Wales and Northern Ireland is out of the European Union with an independent Scotland to its north. The BBC is trying to report all this despite being impoverished by the new subscription system.
I’ve feared this nightmare scenario for about two years and recent events confirm my fears. If you think I am scaremongering, don’t underestimate the political and commercial enemies of the BBC. Don’t underestimate UKIP’s Nigel Farage or the Scottish National Party leader Alex Salmond. Despite all the threats about the currency, major companies threatening to leave Scotland and the President of the European Commission saying it would be extremely difficult for an independent Scotland top join the EU, the polls are tightening north of the border and the “No” campaign is under heavy attack for its negativity.
So where is the debate in Manchester, Leeds and Liverpool? It’s about time business people in the north started to think about the employment and tax implications of an independent Scotland or even a Scotland with “devolution plus” powers.
In search of answers I went almost as far north as one can go in England to listen to a discussion organised by the Institute For Public Policy Research (North) on how we should respond to events beyond Hadrian’s Wall. In Newcastle at least the Geordies are giving it some attention.
There is a view that Alex Salmond didn’t want a vote on independence. It’s only happening because of the introduction of a system of electing a Scottish government by PR to ensure power sharing failed when the SNP got a majority in 2011. And why would Alex Salmond want independence when the other political parties are falling over themselves to appease the Scots’ thirst for power and money? Since 1999 the Scottish Parliament has exercised considerable power,and soon Scotland will set a Scottish rate of income tax and control Stamp Duty and the landfill levy. More is promised if the Scots vote no. The lesson is that the more noise you make, the more you get heard. But by contrast the North of England is bought off by City Deals, Combined Authorities, Elected Mayors, Local Enterprise Partnerships and Regional Growth Funds.
The Chief Executive of Newcastle City Council said these were the instruments she would be relying on as Scots’ power grows. She was challenged on the need for a powerful strategic Council of the North to bring everyone together from Carlisle and Newcastle to Hull and Liverpool.
Professor David Bell, an economics professor at the University of Stirling,said independence or even the extra powers I’ve listed above would leave an imbalance with the North of England that will be unsustainable.
Let’s remember that this demand for Scottish independence has been driven since the 1970s by economic grievances, largely centred on North Sea oil. In that it differs from independence movements in Quebec and Catalonia where political and cultural factors are more to the fore.
Then there is the dramatic effect independence would have on British politics. 59 Scottish Labour MPs would be out of Westminster. The party that relies on London, the north and Scotland to form a government would be very lucky ever to see power at Westminster again. The Tories, with their strength in southern England, would be bound to reflect those interests at the expense of the North.
We need to hope for a no vote, but prepare to welcome the headquarters of Scottish based multi nationals relocating in the North after independence rather than London and demand a Council of the North to give northern business and people real strategic and economic power here