This week Trafalgar Square and Edinburgh’s Usher Hall hosted rallies for the respective Yes and No campaigns, as they prepare to go head-to-head for the final leg of what could be the most important political poll in our lifetime. The Scottish independence referendum, taking place today, asks every person living in Scotland aged 16 and over: “Should Scotland be an independent country”?
While the rest of the UK looks on as Alex Salmond throws drams of Scottish patriotism, pride and emotional history onto what is shaping up to be Westminster’s poorest performance to date, an exclusively postcode-qualifying poll (Scottish non-residents do not qualify, let alone the rest of the UK) will decide whether to call time on 300 years of unity.
Why should London care? Here are five things that Londoners may want to consider...
Great (British) minds think alike?
“Independent London!” war cries may provide satirical breaks from the UK’s crescendoing funeral march, but it is not a bid for UK freedom that unites London and Scotland. While the sample was a small one, a recent poll from YouGov shows that Scotland and London have the same views on EU membership (being in it), leaving the North, West Midlands and Wales, and the rest of the South to convene in the ‘out’ club.
Now, while it doesn’t take McSherlock to sniff out Scotland’s Yes campaign’s firm pro-EU stance, the important bit here is the EU-exit sentiment that appears to exist between the M25 and Gretna Green*. Further results from the same poll also suggest that both London and Scotland were more supportive of ethics-driven foreign policy than the rest of the UK. Perhaps something to keep in mind when the haggis starts a-slinging post referendum.
*please note: these locations do not represent an accurate geographical source of data.
It’s the economy, ya’nessy!
Salmond’s Yes campaign insists that being independent will make Scotland’s economy stronger through full control of tax, welfare and regulation — not to mention the hotly-disputed quantities of North Sea oil. But the claims have been shaken over the last few weeks by warnings from banks RBS Group and the Lloyds Group, that both would move headquarters south of the border (most likely to London), to seek the protection of the Bank of England. They are not alone — Standard Life, John Lewis and others have all pealed the alarm bells.
What does this mean for London? Plenty. The City reckons that this week could be the shakiest for the the Pound Sterling since the 2008 financial crisis. Moreover, if an independent Scotland seeks to join the EU it will have to adopt the Euro — this is non-negotiable. Whether its an ’ay or n’ay, in the wee hours of Friday morning the City will be waiting for the world’s financial markets to react to the result.
When a moat just won’t cut it
West coast Scotland’s Clyde Naval Base is currently home to the UK’s Trident nuclear deterrent, which will move over the border, most likely to England, if the Yes campaign wins. As well as the small ethical problems associated with wheeling weapons across borders and declaring nuclear disarmament, there are major financial and security implications too. Firstly there is the cost of moving the nuke (around £2-3bn) and the impact this would have on future defence budgets. Then there is the question of where it could relocate to and still hold the same strategic sway internationally; the UK’s loss of nuclear capability would almost certainly lead to anxiety among allies.
There are also wider, more long-term implications. It is probably best not to attempt to work out how to divvy up the armed forces; anyone who has ever done the post-break-up CD collection smash-and-grab can vouch for this. Nor is it clear cut whether or not NATO would want an independent Scotland; Trident is part of NATO’s collective deterrent and has long underpinned London’s diplomatic and military power. While nuclear disarmament is a nationwide issue (no plans for Trident Island from City Hall, as yet), Londoners have some pretty strong views. In a poll by WMD awareness this summer, more than half of Londoners said that Trident should be disbanded or reduced in size and three-out-of-five Londoners believe that there should be an international convention banning nukes altogether. If Westminster finds itself making nuclear-shaped decisions, maybe we will see a fresh residency at Parliament Square?
Empty chair in City Hall?
While the Greater London Authority (GLA) will not be directly impacted by tomorrow’s referendum, there will almost certainly be some overtime in the pipeline for a certain goldie-locked soon-to-be MP. Would a Yes vote call for the resignation of a Prime Minister who has lost a third of the country’s landmass and almost a tenth of its people under his watch? Who knows, but the Conservative and Unionist party (to give it its full, wonderfully pertinent title) might find itself hopping the Leadership Fling. For the Labour opposition the loss of 41 Scottish MPs will be felt sorely, a general election result win is still possible - only three times historically would the exclusion of Scotland have tipped the scales in favour of the right - but a tall order. The ‘nooooooo’ placards will probably come in handy at Labour HQ, if Scottish independence is the outcome.
First Minister of Scotland and Yes-campaigner Alex Salmond famously nicknamed London the “Dark Star” of the British Isles, at the start of this year. Far from referring to the capital’s craft beer brewing trend, this Scottish champion of independence, locality and innovation (I know it’s sounds similar, but we are still not talking about craft beer) accused London of "sucking-in people, resources and energy from the rest of the UK". This may all sound a bit Darth Vader, but a serious chunk of the emotion-driven Yes-vote rhetoric is rooted in the reality of Scotland’s ‘brain drain’. Each year significant numbers of young Scots migrate south to join the thousands of Scottish-Londoners who make up the city’s population. This will come as no surprise to, well anyone, but especially any Londoner who has attempted to make it in to work post-Burn’s night knees-up (why is it always on a school night?). Whether or not Scotland’s independence would mean fewer or more Scots is yet to be seen (although in the short-term at least it is unlikely that there will be a mass exodus from the capital). For the Scottish-Londoners who were not allowed to vote, but consider themselves Scottish, British and a Londoner, they could find their identity changes overnight.
All that said, there really is not a lot any of us can do about it. All that’s left is to find one of the city’s cosy Scottish pubs, pour a Scotch and feel sorry for whoever has to redesign the flag in the event of a Yes vote. Seriously, how would that look?
Tell us what you think about the Scottish referendum in the comments below.