Monday, September 15, 2014

UK Kilt - the Scottish Referendum

On Sept 18, Scotland will vote in a referendum on independence, the result of which rests on a knife-edge. Here's a look at what lies ahead depending on which way the vote goes

How support has shifted

BOTH the YouGov and ICM polls show that disdain for Westminster - either its politicians or its policies - is the key reason to vote for secession.

But YouGov credited former Labour prime minister Gordon Brown, a Scot who is the only British politician that Mr Alex Salmond is said to fear, with winning back support for the union.

"His warnings that independence would be bad for jobs and family finances have struck home," Mr Peter Kellner said of the 63-year-old former premier, who has hit the road in Scotland to give an impassioned defence of the union.

The latest polls showed that fears of what independence might mean for bank accounts in the event of a crisis similar to the 2008 turmoil, which Mr Brown grappled with as prime minister, was an important pillar of the unionist vote.

Sep 10, 2014

If the Scots vote YES: Labour and currency pains will be felt

A VOTE for independence from the people of Scotland will not only shatter a union with Britain which has lasted more than 300 years but will also plunge the rest of the United Kingdom into a political meltdown and send ripple effects throughout Europe.

The day after a "yes" to independence, Scotland's Chief Minister Alex Salmond who, until now, has been combative in his demands for separation will likely suddenly switch on the charm: it's in his interest for the lengthy and arduous divorce negotiations which lie ahead to be conducted as smoothly as possible.

But the government in London will be facing a huge backlash from an English-dominated electorate smarting after this defeat; the rallying cry will be that, if the Scots voted for independence, they should pay for it. Compromises won't come easy.

British Prime Minister David Cameron, who precipitated this referendum on the assumption that it will defeat the nationalists, will come under heavy pressure from both the opposition and his own party to resign.

A general election - now scheduled for May next year - is expected to be brought forward, with fresh elections promised less than two years thereafter, after Scotland gets its independence.

Although Mr Cameron's ruling Conservatives will be punished, first by the electorate, in the long run it is the opposition Labour Party that will suffer the most.

Labour relies on Scotland for at least 50 parliamentary seats and, once Scotland exits the UK, the party will have almost no chance of gaining power in London, unless it transforms itself into an English party. The political battle will, therefore, be not only between the Scottish and British governments, but within each party as well.

Fringe movements such as the UK Independence Party (Ukip) will emerge strengthened; Ukip's demand for a referendum on whether Britain should leave the European Union will be almost impossible to resist. London will also face almost immediate pressures from Wales for a larger measure of autonomy.

The negotiations with Scotland will be hard and ill-tempered, especially since international confidence in Britain will plunge, and the British stock market will be hammered after the referendum result is known.

The Scottish government will probably offer to retain Britain's nuclear submarine bases on its soil in return for economic concessions. But the biggest sticking point will be that of the currency.

London will maintain its refusal to allow Scotland to use the British pound; at best, a compromise will give Scotland the right to use the pound for a short period of a few years, after which the Scots will either be forced to issue their own currency or adopt the euro.

Scotland's independence will also encourage separatist movements in Europe. It will certainly embolden those pushing for independence in the Catalan region of Spain, where a referendum is planned for November.

Belgium may follow suit, and the ethnic Hungarians in Slovakia and Romania in Eastern Europe are almost certain to try to hold their own separation referendums as early as the end of next year.

Largely in order to prevent such developments, European governments will make it very difficult for Scotland to join the European Union.

It was always fanciful of the Scots to believe that they could join the EU on the day of their independence, and as part of the independence deal; it's far more likely that Scotland will need years before it is allowed to join, largely in order to persuade other European separatists that breaking up existing states carries grave consequences.

Officials inside the European Commission, the EU's executive, estimate that Scotland may have to wait five years; the Scots will purposely be made to sweat.

The rump United Kingdom, with its flag changed and its currency under attack, will soldier on as a diminished state.

But it will be seen as a country on the defensive, struggling to continue justifying its permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council, desperate to maintain its territory, resentful and suspicious of its neighbours.

It will be an inward-looking Britain, and it will be at least a decade before the country recovers its poise.

The negotiations with Scotland will be hard and ill-tempered...and the British stock market will be hammered after the referendum result is known.


If the Scots vote NO: Relief - but no jubilation for British govt

IF SCOTLAND ultimately votes against independence, the British government will breathe a huge sigh of relief, but there will be no jubilation.

For, as opinion polls indicate, the results will be very close, with only a few percentage points separating winners from losers.

Yesterday, the latest monthly TNS poll showed support for independence at 38 per cent, up from 32 per cent previously. Another 23 per cent of respondents were undecided.

Scottish nationalists will, therefore, be able to claim not only that their fight for separation continues, but that a fresh referendum could be held as early as 2016, should the Scottish National Party retain power in that year's regional elec-tions.

And it is possible that a narrow defeat for the current independence bid will embolden a more radical separatist movement in Scotland, one which accuses the current generation of Scottish politicians of being too moderate, and which advocates complete separation from the rest of the United Kingdom, including the election of a new head of state to replace the British Queen.

To prevent this, the British government will have to offer Scotland a very large measure of autonomy, including extended powers to change the taxation system, and keep most of the money raised in Scotland.

The Scots may also gain overseas representation, in the shape of Scottish diplomats attached to British embassies.

The negotiations for a new, expanded autonomy will begin immediately, but the Scottish government will have every incentive to reject the initial offer from London and ask for more; talks on the UK's internal arrangements will become a stage for the next referendum showdown.

As a result, it will be very difficult for Britain to avoid a wider debate about adopting a written Constitution which delineates the powers of each regional government; at present, the country is unique in Europe for having no such charter.

One option is to create a federal upper chamber of Parliament to replace the House of Lords, which is currently appointed.

And although British Prime Minister David Cameron will retain power if the Scots vote "no" to independence, his reputation will suffer a severe blow.

For he pushed for this referendum on the assumption that its result would be a clear rebuff to independence and put an end to Scotland's separatist movement for at least a generation.

But that clearly does not look likely now, and Scotland's aspirations to stand on its own feet will dominate Britain's domestic agenda for years to come.

Sep 13, 2014

Unionists back in the lead in Scotland

They hold 4-point lead, their 1st poll gain since early Aug
EDINBURGH - Pro-union supporters have clawed back into the lead, holding a 4 percentage point margin over secessionists, a YouGov poll has shown, as companies and investors shift their assets out of the country amid fears that the economy may shrink if Scottish voters opt to leave the United Kingdom.

With less than a week to go before Scots vote in a referendum on independence, results of the YouGov survey for The Times and The Sun newspapers released yesterday put Scottish support for the union at 52 per cent versus support for independence at 48 per cent, excluding those who said they did not know how they would vote.

"The 'No' campaign has moved back into the lead in Scotland's referendum campaign," YouGov president Peter Kellner said in a commentary on the survey. "This is the first time 'No' has gained ground since early August."

The survey polled 1,268 people in Scotland between Tuesday and Thursday.

Echoing the results, an ICM survey, a monthly poll of 1,000 people for the Guardian newspaper, yesterday put the Yes vote at 49 per cent and No at 51 per cent, after excluding undecided voters.

The indication that support for keeping the UK intact has drawn slightly ahead in Scotland is of meagre comfort to unionists; the broader picture painted by recent surveys is that the vote is still too close to call.

Pollsters YouGov and TNS have shown a surge in support for independence since late August as the secessionist campaign led by Mr Alex Salmond won over supporters of the traditionally union-ist Labour party and some female voters in Scotland.

The sudden collapse of the strong unionist lead has prompted investors to sell sterling, shares in companies with Scottish exposure and British government bonds on fears that the UK might break up. Economists at UBS AG said the country's economy may shrink by as much as 5 per cent in one go if voters choose to leave the UK.

The likely contraction would be triggered by banks moving to England after the vote, UBS said, adding to a raft of alerts this week about the economic consequences of a Yes vote.

Capital has already begun to migrate south to England and economic activity, jobs and tax revenues may follow in the event of a vote for independence, Credit Suisse said on Thursday.

Royal Bank of Scotland Group, Lloyds Banking Group and Clydesdale Bank said on Thursday they were making plans to move some operations out of Scotland in the event of independence.

Retailers Asda, John Lewis Partnership and Next said Scottish consumers face higher prices if they quit the UK.

If independence prevails in the Sept 18 referendum, Britain and Scotland would have to begin work on dividing up the US$2.5 trillion (S$3.2 trillion) UK economy, North Sea oil and the national debt, while Prime Minister David Cameron would face calls to resign.

Scotland would have to decide what currency it would use after London said it could not use the sterling in a currency union, while Britain would have to decide what to do about its main nuclear submarine base on the Clyde, which the nationalists would like to eject.

The pro-independence camp says it is time for Scots to rule their own country and build a fairer society without being told what to do by a political elite in London whom they accuse of mismanaging Scotland's wealth.

The unionist campaign, supported by the three main political parties in the Westminster Parliament, says Scotland is more prosperous and secure within the UK and that an independent Scotland would face serious financial and economic hurdles.

But Mr Salmond, 59, Scotland's First Minister, begs to differ.

"Scotland will vote 'Yes' next Thursday. And they'll vote 'Yes' because last-minute cobbled-up promises from the 'No' campaign which unravel at the slightest scrutiny will not fool anyone in this country, and neither will blatant bullying and intimidation of the Westminster government," he said.



Sep 15, 2014

Even before Scots vote, Salmond's a winner 

Nationalist leader has transformed his party and British politics
By Jonathan Eyal Europe Correspondent In London
HE IS a seasoned gambler on horses and, by all accounts, a successful one too. But later this week, Mr Alex Salmond, Scotland's regional leader, will be placing the biggest bet of his life, as his people vote in a referendum on whether they should sever their links with the rest of the United Kingdom and become an independent state.

The polls indicate a close result, although most bookies believe Mr Salmond will lose this particular gamble. Still, the man who fought against all the odds and who has already transformed British life will not give up that easily.

For he is by far the most accomplished of all British politicians, a reminder of just how significant the personality of one individual can still be in determining the fate of nations.

Alexander Elliott Anderson Salmond - as he is formally known - claims that his "pride in the Scottish nation" was imprinted on him by his parents in his modest home on a housing estate in Linlithgow, the heart of Scotland, where he was born in 1954.

Like many other claims by Mr Salmond, this one is not easy to corroborate: All we know is that his mother remained a lifelong supporter of the Conservatives, who abhor Scottish independence, while his father switched from Labour to the Scottish National Party (SNP) only late in life.

Still, the story of the young Salmond burning with patriotic fervour plays out well in Linlithgow, a town which takes all myths seriously: The place has even installed a plaque on the spot where the fictional Star Trek character Scotty was "born" in the year 2222.

The young Alex's life started conventionally enough: He earned a place to read economics at St Andrews, Scotland's oldest university, then got a job in the civil service.

Yet almost everything which followed was out of the ordinary. Soon after starting work, he married his office boss: He was in his mid-20s at the time; she was in her early 40s. The marriage remained childless but happy, although Mrs Moira Salmond, now in her late 70s, always keeps out of the limelight.

Mr Salmon also opted to ditch the security of his employment for the uncertainty of Scotland's treacherous politics. And he initially wanted the SNP to veer sharply to the left, just when most voters opted for Mrs Margaret Thatcher, the Conservative leader who decisively moved Britain's political centre of gravity to the right.

For a while, he proved such a nuisance that the SNP expelled him. Still, he bounced back, and got himself elected to the British Parliament in London in 1987. Three years later, he became the SNP's leader and not long thereafter became a national politician.

One of his strongest advantages is his image as a rotund, harmless uncle with a mischievous smile and the human touch. This is such an asset that when he left the SNP leadership in a huff a decade ago, the party begged him to return.

Mr Salmond is also a superb self-advertiser, a master of media-savvy gimmicks. He persuaded actor Sean Connery of James Bond fame to support Scotland's independence movement, conveniently glossing over the fact that Connery seldom visits his homeland, since he is a tax exile.

Mr Salmond also unfurled a Scottish flag behind British Prime Minister David Cameron in a prank worthy of a naughty schoolchild. And despite his avuncular image, he is notorious for his rude treatment of journalists and fondness for the company of billionaires such as tycoons Donald Trump and Rupert Murdoch.

But his biggest achievement was his refashioning of a Scottish nationalist party once dismissed as bigoted and racist into a positive movement which talks about progress and inclusive values. This has enabled him to present a "yes" in the independence referendum into another way of kicking out the London-based establishment.

And it has also provided Mr Salmond with the ultimate conjuring trick: The ability to claim that Scotland's independence is both an urgent and important project but that, at the same time, it will not change the life of the Scots or cost them anything, since they get to keep the Queen and the British pound, and nestle under Britain's military umbrella.

Other politicians may dismiss his proposals for breaking up the United Kingdom as deeply flawed or downright phoney. However, Mr Salmond knows the Scots prefer to vote with their hearts rather than their pockets. So, when he was recently cornered in electoral debates with awkward questions about his future economic policies, he just retorted: "Are you saying that Scots cannot be trusted to run their own affairs?"

As strange as it seems, he is guaranteed to win regardless of the result of Thursday's Scottish referendum. If his independence proposal is approved, he pledges that a new country will be born in not more than 18 months. But if it is rejected, he will bid his time, and hold another referendum when the opportunity presents itself or, more likely, when the English majority in the United Kingdom tires of his antics.

Like it or not, Britain's domestic politics will be shaped by him in years to come. And quite a few Scots are prepared to bet that Mr Salmond will ultimately fulfil his lifelong dream of becoming the father of an independent nation.

Sep 15, 2014

Worry, mystification in China over Scotland's independence vote

BEIJING (Reuters) - As Scotland heads to the polls this week to vote on whether to become independent, one country with restive regions of its own is watching the debate unfold with nervousness and some mystification - China.

China has every reason to look askance at the idea of regions separating. It is facing persistent unrest in far-flung and resource-rich Tibet and Xinjiang, and also the matter of Taiwan, the self-ruled island China claims as its own.

In 2005, China enacted an "anti-secession law" that allows it to use force on Taiwan if deemed necessary. The law was seen as a warning to Taiwan's then President Chen Shui-bian, who had angered the mainland with his independence-leaning rhetoric.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said during a visit to London in June that he respected the wishes of the British people but he hoped that Britain would remain united. Officially, China's Foreign Ministry is not commenting on the Scottish vote, saying it is an internal matter.

A diplomat in Beijing said all a "yes" vote for an independent Scotland would mean for China would be "another ambassador".

But China has in the past not been so tolerant of some independence movements around the world.

For example, China has yet to recognise Kosovo's unilateral secession from Serbia in 2008, though that came about after a war and in the teeth of opposition from Serbia.

Mr Wang Yiwei, director of the Centre for European Union Studies at Beijing's elite Renmin University, said the Scotland case would be different, as independence would be the result of a referendum supported by the central government. "If Scotland votes for independence and that's accepted by Britain then China has no cause to oppose it," Mr Wang said.

As China would never agree to referendums in Tibet or Taiwan, it need not worry about anything similar, he said. "The conditions simply don't exist for this to happen in China," Mr Wang said.

Chinese state media, though, has engaged in a degree of hand-wringing about the Scottish debate.

On Monday, the Global Times, an influential tabloid published by the Communist Party's official People's Daily, expressed worry about the precedent an independent Scotland could set for other countries, though it did not name China.

"An incredibly large number of nations will suffer from secessional movements if other nations follow Scotland's example," it wrote in an editorial in its English-language edition.

But China would not go down that path, the paper wrote in an editorial last week. "China, as a country with a complex history and numerous minorities, will certainly never play this game the British are playing," it wrote.

Despite often bitter disputes in recent years between China and Britain over human rights and the future of the former British colony of Hong Kong, China values Britain as a strong supporter of free trade, diplomats say.

A diminished Britain would therefore be bad for export-reliant China as it seeks international support against trade protectionism.

Chinese newspapers have given broad coverage to the huge economic and financial consequences of a Scottish independence vote, with some questioning why an apparently successful country would want to take such a risk.

The Beijing News wrote last week that if Scotland became independent then Britain would be reduced to the level of a "third-rate country", especially if a couple of years down the line it left the European Union.

"It will simply slip into being a tourist hot spot and a museum, no longer a centre of global politics, finance and culture," the newspaper wrote, in a commentary widely picked up on the websites of other Chinese newspapers.

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