Friday 10 July 2020 12:12 pm

Nicola Sturgeon talks a good game, but Scottish independence would be a catastrophe

Bill Blain is market strategist and head of alternative assets at Shard Capital. He writes a daily market commentary called The Morning Porridge

For everything Boris Johnson does, you can be certain Nicola Sturgeon will announce something different. 

While Boris blusters, Nicola states clearly and simply why and how her policies to protect Scotland are going to happen. Where Boris is distracted, she is focused. She’s a highly effective politician, who misses no opportunity to distance Scotland from England. 

And she’s leading the SNP’s any-cost independence campaign towards an inevitable second referendum.

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Scotland’s first minister is having a very good pandemic. I know that because my mother, in Edinburgh, previously dismissed her as a “gallus wee-nyaff” but is now a passionate supporter — not of the SNP, but of Nicola herself. One of her grandkids recently asked rhetorically why we can’t have her as Prime Minister of the UK.

Sturgeon has successfully set a new narrative: everything wrong in Scotland is London’s fault — not her administration’s. If her popularity continues to rise, and the effectiveness of her divisive policies continue, she’s on course to win.

The SNP is single minded about restoring Scottish freedom after the English brutally crushed our rights and history in 1707. But the picture Sturgeon and her followers paint is about as accurate history as the film Braveheart portrayed — utter nonsense.

The Scottish nationalists don’t talk about how the Act of Union bailed out a bankrupt Scotland from financial disaster following the Darien Venture — our misguided and bungled attempt to build our own trading empire. Instead, they talk angrily about English oppression, play the Jacobite card and fixate on the brutal crushing of the clans at Culloden, and neglect to mention that more Scots fought with Butcher Cumberland that day than against him. 

They won’t discuss how the end of centuries of cold and hot wars between the nations allowed Edinburgh to become the prosperous epicentre of the eighteenth century enlightenment, the home of Adam Smith, the driving force of a new technological age in power, pharmacy and medicine, and how expatriate Scots became the shock economic troops of the UK’s mercantile success.

The union was great for Scotland, but the SNP blames London for everything — from the collapse of shipbuilding and the dismantling of Scottish industry, as thought it were Scotland alone that the Thatcher years blighted. 

And as London has thrived in recent years, Scotland’s decline must be England’s fault — they argue. They talk grandly of an independent Scotland assuming its place as a proud independent nation within the European Union. It’s not entirely clear how replacing London with Brussels will make things any better.

Still, the battle rages on. If you think the Brexit civil war has been bitter these past few years, it is nothing to the increasing angry sectarianism between unionist and independence supporters that already exists in Scotland. 

The nationalists know the economics just don’t stack up — independence is apparently worth bankrupting the nation again. They know Scotland depends on English remittances. Left to its own devices, it will be left with a massive budget deficit to fund, and if it takes the option of adopting the euro (which the EU will insist upon as a term of membership) the nation will have zero control of its currency. As Italy and Greece have discovered, the shared currency means losing the ability to finance yourself out of crisis.

There are all kinds of rumours of how the EU is supporting Sturgeon. She is said to be particularly close to the French, who historically have never ever missed an opportunity to be beastly to the English. This is meant to be reassuring.

The SNP argues that Scotland will match the success of other small independent nations like Norway and Ireland with the human capital and natural resources to succeed. Again, a history lesson is needed. What sank the Scots in the seventeenth century was navigation acts which forced Scottish vessels to pay customs in English ports, putting the nation at a massive disadvantage concerning the terms of trade. A glance at the map will show that trade with Europe will have to go through England. An independent Scotland will be needing that hard border with England again (time to buy cement and bricks).

For the last 300 years, the Scots have done extraordinarily well from the union. In return, Scotland provided much of the inventive and innovative brain power, plus the military and industrial muscle that fuelled the UK’s success. 

At a time when the UK has a new opportunity post-Brexit to carve itself a new place in the global economy, why would Scotland choose to put itself in penury and become a statistical failure in the emerging European superstate?

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Main image credit: Getty

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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