Scotland’s governing party urges split from U.K.

Stephen Beard Oct 21, 2011

Scotland’s governing party urges split from U.K.

Stephen Beard Oct 21, 2011

Bob Moon: There’s a big gathering in Europe this weekend, where politicians will talk about their political and economic future. I don’t mean the big eurozone meeting in Brussels. I’m talking about the annual conference of the Scottish National Party, where the rhetoric just might sound like something out of “Braveheart.”

“Bravehart” clip: Go back to England, and tell them there that Scotland’s daughters and her sons are yours no more.

Well, maybe not quite so harsh. But recent polls show wide support for Scotland to break away from the U.K. altogether. And the leader of the Scottish National Party says a break-up is “almost inevitable.” From the Marketplace European Desk, Stephen Beard reports.

Stephen Beard: Alex Salmond has always seemed immensely pleased with himself. But now he has good reason. This summer, his Scottish National Party won full control of the government of Scotland.

Alex Salmond: The Scottish Party, the National Party, carries your hope and we shall carry it carefully and make the nation proud.

And, he might have added, “independent.” Salmond’s dream of a separate state is edging towards reality. Some financial independence is already on the way. The Scots will soon be able to issue their own government bonds — dubbed “Braveheart” bonds, after the movie about Scotland’s historic struggle to free itself from the English.

“Braveheart” clip: They may take our lives, but they’ll never take our freedom!

Red-blooded Scots may be thrilled by the talk of freedom and independence, but opinion polls still show a majority against it. Out on the streets of Glasgow, many people fret about whether Scotland could afford to go it alone.

Man 1: No, I don’t think Scotland could cope with that. I don’t think Scotland can cope.

Beard: You need England?

Man 1: Yeah, I’m afraid so.

Beard: Do you think Scotland could survive economically on its own?

Man 2: Probably not.

Many Scots feel more economically secure within the United Kingdom. Magnus Linklater is Scotland editor of the Times newspaper.

Magnus Linklater: I think the experience of our two main banks has really brought that home to people.

He says the Scots only have to think back to 2008 and the rescue of two enormous banks by the U.K. taxpayers: the Bank of Scotland and the Royal Bank of Scotland.

Linklater: I think people think, ‘hang on, if Scotland had been independent around that time, who would have bailed out our banks?’

The one o’clock gun fires out from Edinburgh Castle. Rich in cultural history, this ancient city was nicknamed “The Athens of the North.” That link with Greece would have had a horrible resonance if an independent Scotland had had to bail out its own banks.

Economist Brian Ashcroft says Scotland would have suffered a worse fate than other heavily indebted European countries. He says the Scots should count their blessings.

Brian Ashcroft: Scotland would have been in a worse-than-Iceland situation, when within the United Kingdom, we’re actually doing relatively OK.

In fact, he says, Scotland is doing better than the U.K. as a whole, in terms of public spending. It’s much more lavish than in England — free university tuition, free social care for the elderly — all subsidized by English taxpayers to keep the kingdom united.

Ashcroft: Those who wish to keep the union together wanted to keep the Scots comparatively happy.

Beard: It’s the squeaky wheel getting the grease?

Ashcroft: Absolutely. No U.K. prime minister wants to preside over the break up of the union.

The Scottish National Party claims an independent Scotland could still afford its extra public spending — it pulls a million barrels of oil from the North Sea every day. Most of that revenue would pour into Scottish coffers and not into the British Treasury.

When the Scottish parliament opened 12 years ago, a folk singer sang “A Man’s a Man for A’ That,” the national hymn to equality. But critics say the campaign for Scottish independence is the road to ruin. North Sea Oil is an uncertain resource, production has peaked and is declining. The critics say if the Scots really want equality with the English, they’re much more likely to get it within the United Kingdom.

In Edinburgh, I’m Stephen Beard for Marketplace.

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