Unionists certain only about uncertainty


By Mark McNaught

The core of many of the arguments put forth by the Unionists, the better together campaign, as well as the Westminster parliament against independence revolve around the assertion that a ‘yes’ vote would lead to a period of great uncertainty for Scotland.

Could Scots remain in Europe? Could they keep the pound? Not knowing the precise and detailed answers to questions in advance will purportedly lead to economic chaos, businesses would leave, investors would not invest, unemployment would soar, yadda yadda, you know the tune. 

At this point, I observe no strategy of the unionists other than creating more uncertainty, rather than getting exact answers to these important questions.   Why else would they consistently hector Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon over whether the word ‘automatic’ or ‘negotiated’ was used in describing EU accession? 

Why constantly bring up this issue of a legal opinion about Europe, even though they never claimed it was an official EU opinion?  Aren’t there more important factors to consider for the future of Scotland?

Yes, the terminology changes as the situation develops.  Inconsistency in terminology based on the situation and information available is not tantamount to deceit.  If they applied the same standards to themselves, how would they fare?

Many unionists in Parliament are so focused on feeble attempts to undermine credibility that they miss the opportunity to get to the bottom of these fundamental questions.  They seemingly pin their hopes of continued union on erecting impediments to dispelling uncertainty, while maintaining that this same uncertainty is a reason to vote ‘no’.

If I was someone trying to cook up arguments against independence, I guess this is a logical course of action.  Continue to present the break-up of the UK as a calamitous event.  Somehow argue that Scots governing their own affairs will mean an end to British identity and cultural exchange.  Assert that these questions are SO big that they can only be decided with the assent of  Scots’ EU and UK overlords, because Scots are seemingly not capable of governing themselves.

As the debate proceeds in the run up to 2014, things will become clearer on these big issues, and the uncertainty over independence will dissipate.  Eventually, Barroso or the appropriate EU authorities will concede that no, there is no means to eject Scotland from the EU, and yes, there is a means to negotiate continued adhesion within the EU without ratification by all 27 countries.

Negotiations between the Bank of England and the Scottish government will eventually disclose that no, the UK will not deprive and independent Scotland of the use of the pound, and appropriate arrangements will be made to maintain it until Scots decide otherwise.

Unionists in parliament act as if these issues should be crystal clear, even though the Scottish government has only been able to begin officially communicating with these institutions in earnest since the Edinburgh Agreement was signed.

Neither the EU nor the Bank of England could have possibly begun before then.  This is the democratic process.  While it will appear as the proverbial sausage-making, these issues will be clarified, and this dreaded uncertainty over a ‘yes’ vote will be slowly lifted.

As it is reduced, it will become increasingly incumbent on the unionists to clear up the uncertainty about what a ‘no’ vote means.  Will Scotland be dragged out of the EU against their will?  Will Scotland ever get more control over its oil revenue?  What further powers will be devolved, as Cameron has hinted, and will there be a mechanism put in place to make this transfer legally binding in the event of a ‘no’ vote?

Will Westminster continue its policy of chronic underinvestment in Scotland’s infrastructure and social services?  Will Westminster punish Scotland for having the temerity to vote on independence?  Will Scotland ever again have a chance to vote for their independence, or will they be dominated by Westminster for eternity?

As Scotland’s constitutional future comes increasingly into focus in the event of a ‘yes’ vote, it is the Unionists who will have considerable uncertainty to clear up.

Mark McNaught is a member of the Constitutional Commission, and Associate Professor of US civilisation at the University of Rennes 2 France, and teaches US constitutional law at Sciences-Po Paris.