Dr Lee Rotherham is an author, historian and political campaigner, who has served as a TA reservist on three overseas deployments. His books include the Sassenach’s Escape Manual.
At the outset of my beardy student days and as a newcomer to London, I went for a roam – as any wide-eyed tourist would. Strolling outside Parliament for the first time, contemplating the general Gothickness of it all, across my path breezed Alex Salmond.
Perhaps I should have intercepted him and challenged him on a few points. He might since then have had time to come up with some solid answers. To be fair, it might well be that I’m not fully percolating in the ripe Alban juices of the referendum debate, but even so it does seem that there are a few key questions that even now have been met with little more than Delphic mist.
Or perhaps they have been answered, but only in size six font – because the answers themselves raise more complex questions only a subject matter specialist who understands the physical complexities of deep sea cabling can properly comprehend.
Anyhow, as the vote itself approaches, here are a handful of questions I should perhaps have tasked Salmond with at the time.
- If you are bigging up your role in defending the NHS in Scotland, why have you not explored what the impact of divorcing it from the rest of the NHS would mean in terms of patients getting priority specialist health care south of the border?
- (Deep breath) How can you argue you’ll keep the Pound Sterling and still keep a straight face over issues of sovereignty? Is your actual ambition a Britain of 1706 rather than 1602? If so, how does that match your rhetoric? If not, how can you claim Scotland would be economically independent when it would have no influence on monetary supply? One example: what would physically happen in Scotland when its £20 bank notes (the one with Adam Smith on) were next replaced by the Bank of England? Would you be happy with the seigniorage loss? What about forgeries? More importantly, would you really be content to let interest rates effectively be set at London, by decision makers who would no longer need to keep your interests in mind? It would be far more logical to set up your own currency – but then that would need time, has direct and indirect costs (including for changing vending machinery), and this new currency would float, which means initial export uncertainty to the old home markets.
- With respect to your broader plans on who is eligible for Scottish nationality, including EU and non-EU nationals, but as well as expats and descendants – how do you think these would impact once the RoUK* changes residency rights (up to of course what is currently permitted under EU rules)?
- Have you factored in the Spanish vetoing Scottish accession to the EU (since you are so keen on that institution); more specifically, have you confessed the price of your accession would be to Scottish fishermen who would be surrendering even more of their fishing rights? What would the effect be on Scotland of joining the Euro?
- On fisheries, by the way, what do you think would happen to the 6000 square miles of English fishing grounds off Berwickshire, and to the visiting Scottish trawlers that currently enjoy access?
- Can you explain how policing would operate across borders; how would issues of hot pursuits, jurisdictions, and criminal surveillance get any easier?
- Quite how would this policing and security work with counter terrorism? (That includes looking after your new oil rigs by the way.)
- You’d presumably have a number of staff moving north and moving south. How would you manage shortfalls, knowledge loss, your equality obligations and the like? What about the costs and complications of the employment appeals process?
- How would you be seen as a reliable and robust NATO partner – because, if you were not, bang would go access to intelligence sharing? What would keep the Russian aircraft at bay? If the Baltics are your role model, they don’t have any air forces. How many serving personnel would want to transfer to a ceremonial military when they could get the job variety as Tartan Ghurkhas in RoUK?
- If the submarine berths aren’t vacated in time, would you sanction a deal similar to that once drawn up for the Irish Treaty ports one, or perhaps balance your books by renting them to the French (if they make an offer)?
- How would the British railways network now operate? That includes Railtrack Scotland’s relationship with Network Rail, subsidised routes, and cross-border franchises – and all the cables that stretch along with it?
- What would independence mean for those eligible for those with the other passport, and who currently work on the wrong side of the border in areas that need some form of vetting?
- Have you factored in who would pay public sector pensions?
- Presumably you would have to rebuild a number of databases from scratch, such as those that deal for passports and driving licences. Or are you planning to magic your way around data protection laws by the dextrous use of an illicit memory stick?
- How much would it cost for you to pay for RoUK students who would be eligible for tuition fees? (Bearing in mind that you barred them on cost grounds in the first place.)
- How would you manage the break up of the BBC? I know you don’t like it right now but, if it splits, the incentive for the RoBBC to stay fee-sponsored is greatly reduced. So you’ll end up with a rump state-run SBC being outbid by the bigger neighbours.
- Looking at the electoral maths, there’s a strong likelihood of some border communities and outer regions voting majority No. That’s not quite a MacDonestsk situation, but it will still be pretty awkward if, in the event of a Yes vote, they start arguing they want you to recognise that local democracy trumps a distant capital – since that’s exactly the argument you’ve been using. Again, how do you match your railings against the metropolitan elite with the fact that, since a large proportion of Scots live in the Central Belt, many other Scottish voters will feel that you have merely replaced one dominant metropolitan electoral bloc with another?
- What about your projected revenue streams if Shetland and Orkney say No? I’ve seen some pretty whacky arguments put about on territorial waters; the Yes defence seems to be based on a Channel Islands model. But this is to forget that they have Brittany and Normandy hemming them in, which projects France’s waters out. However, even if you’re right – and even if these islands instead became independent rather than stay with RoUK – they would unquestionably gain their own full territorial water rights. They have a Udal Law tradition; the Faroes are nearby as an inspiration; and international law covering their annexation (which has officially happened twice, underlining the ambiguity) remains peculiarly controversial.
- Any comments on the fact that large chunks of Scotland would still be physically owned by expats, or are you holding that back for a later announcement next week?
- What are you expecting to happen to the UK’s remaining golden shares, which cover companies with sites in Scotland?
- Have you undertaken even a preliminary audit of which state assets that are not physically bolted down should remain in Scotland, and which should be transferred there? Helpful hint: even without the national treasures, and just dealing with the big stuff, this process is going to be complicated (since there don’t tend to be spares). If you did get them, where do you expect them to be maintained?
- Which embassies do you have dibs on? Because you’d need to buy your own space for holding diplomatic Hogmanays everywhere else.
- “The global footprint of the British Embassy network, with its excellent local connections and knowledge, as well as commercial diplomacy expertise, supports the industry’s market access agenda.” (Scottish Whisky Association). Would you expect RoUK embassies to stand up for your interests, particularly in reducing tariffs on whisky and food exports?
- Meanwhile, have you factored in that while Edinburgh gains direct taxation revenue from its distilleries (and would possibly be tempted to over-exploit it), London can further top that off at EU rates? Incidentally, current EU exemptions for the UK whisky industry might also lapse. Overall, across all of business, you are moving from an absolute UK free trading common market to a partially-implemented EU model.
- Which treaty obligations do you intend to honour or denounce – as in, say, Cyprus? As Richard North is particularly fond of underlining, what bits of international treaties such as airline agreements do you expect to breeze into, and which are you anticipating a bit of an issue over, because another signatory raises an objection?
- Subject to WTO and EU rules, what taxes and tariffs are you actually expecting to raise? Have you informed the relevant business leaders? Or, again, is the threat part of your game plan to neuter them?
- With a different economy and tax system coming in play, you can expect similar dynamics to operate as per the Ulster-Irish border. Are you ready for cross-border shopping to get round differential tax rates, or will you try to suppress it?
- Do you really expect to get off scot free with the National Debt? Presumably you are seeing your present position as a negotiating tool and, in reality, understand that the Chancellor – or his successor – might simply reverse his earlier position. Are you even aware how much your share is? By the time the divorce ink dries, this will be £118 billion based per capita – or £450 billion, in the unlikely eventuality you send a county councillor to negotiate, and he goes along with an agreement based on landmass. If you try playing hardball for even a moment, how is that going to affect your own credit rating?
- If it turns out that none of these questions are an issue because they are all covered by low-key devolved institutions no one has ever heard of – such as Scotland’s distinct Vetting and Barring Scheme – why is there any need to have this debate at all?
- Since they are your colonists, how about you now deal with and pay for Ulster?
Readers could no doubt easily draft more. As I say, some of these may have been settled. Many seemingly have not. But it would be nice to have an idea 20 years on what that breezy Salmond has always had in mind.
* Rest of UK – to keep to the acronym actually used during the Québec independence debate for the Rest of Canada (RoC)