In a YouGov poll published on Saturday, support for Scottish secession from Great Britain had risen to 49%, up 4 points from the last YouGov poll, published in June 2018. Saturday’s poll also showed both the Conservative and Labour parties losing political support in Scotland.
While 53% of respondents expressed the view that there should not be another referendum on Scottish independence in the next 5 years, Scotland’s First Minister, Scottish National Party leader Nicola Sturgeon, is in favour of another referendum in 2021, when the current Scottish parliamentary session ends.
On Saturday, the SNP leadership also proposed that, in the event of Scottish independence, Scotland should continue to use the British Pound until such a time as it could introduce its own currency, based upon such a hypothetical currency passing 6 different economic criteria. Most of the rank-and-file SNP membership is in favour of a more pressing timeframe concerning the currency-issue.
When the first referendum on Scottish independence was defeated by a margin of 55% to 45% in 2014, the core-concerns which drove the vote were economic and, at this stage, we can be confident that the concerns which have prompted this resurgence in the Scottish independence-movement are also primarily economic, at least in the broader sense.
Firstly, there is the obvious point that Scotland possesses a disproportionate share of Britain’s natural resources. This point has always been a source of serious grievances, considering that the average Scot’s material standard of living and median income in Scotland have always been lower than for their English counterparts.
In economic terms, Scotland has always been treated as an internal colony, a zone of cheap resource-extraction, by Britain’s political elite. While Scotland’s North Sea oil-production has been in decline since 1999, Scotland remains the EU’s largest petroleum producer. In addition, Scotland boasts a disproportionate share of the United Kingdom’s renewable energy-resources, in particular wind-energy.
Secondly, there are perfectly good economic and social reasons why both a majority of Scots and a majority of people in Northern Ireland voted to remain in the EU in the June 2016 Brexit referendum. Britain’s joining the European Economic Community in 1973 was quickly followed by an ideologically driven campaign of deindustrialization from 1979 onward, upon Margaret Thatcher becoming British prime minister. This has been far more socially catastrophic for the regions than it has been for southern England.
The widening gap in median income between southern England and all other geographical regions of Britain has closely correlated with the financialization and deindustrialization of the British economy. Furthermore, the British government has for decades largely abdicated any responsibility for regional development in Britain to the EU. Without EU-structures filling the gap, Britain simply doesn’t have a regional policy. In historical terms, Scots have good reasons to be fearful.
It is arguable that Brexit may actually strengthen the British financial sector, but it is very likely to economically decimate regions of Britain whose GDP is still accounted for to a significant degree by manufacturing and agriculture. Financial products permeate borders much more easily than physical ones do. This is especially the case when the City of London’s core activity is to wash money transferred through the global archipelago of British tax-havens.
Offshorization has been Britain’s biggest economic activity for decades. It is estimated that at least 60% of all offshorized assets worldwide are held in British protectorates or former British territories. The city of London’s access to that money may be made even easier after Brexit. The expanded blacklist of 15 tax-havens which the EU published on March 13th includes 7 current or former British territories.
This point cannot be emphasized enough – illicit money travels all the more easily in the absence of international treaties, regulatory frameworks, etc. In the long term, Britain’s financial sector may very well benefit from Brexit. Britain is already the world’s #1 money-launderer, having overtaken Switzerland a long time ago, but Brexit will bring Britain’s economic dependence on offshorization to a historically unprecedented level. Every other sector of the British economy is likely to suffer badly. This imbalance between the financial sector and every other sector of the British economy maps closely onto disparities in median income between Britain’s regions.
However, we should not ignore the long historical view – Scotland’s economic and social grievances can be dated back at least to the beginning of the industrial revolution. Between 1750 and 1860, in order to feed the process of industrialization, there was a transition to large-scale pastoral farming in Scotland. This involved field-enclosures and the eviction of tenants, which resulted in widespread famine in Scotland. Britain’s industrial revolution was made possible only by a humanitarian catastrophe.
The highland clearances are a dark episode in Scotland’s social history. To all intents and purpose, they constitute a genocide. It should also be noted that the population of Northern England didn’t fare much better. The average life-expectancy of a child born in Liverpool in 1805 was 28 years, the lowest it had been since the bubonic plague pandemic of the 14th century. It is simply impossible to overstate the humanitarian cost of industrialization in 19th century Britain.
All of these factors are deeply ingrained in the historical consciousness of the ordinary Scot, so when we consider the motivations driving the resurgence in the contemporary Scottish independence movement, we should look beyond Brexit, and beyond immediate considerations of economic self-interest.