Merryn's Blog

Scotland could be a 'completely new country'. But it won’t be.

The Scottish nationalists have squandered a golden opportunity to push for real change in an independent Scotland, says Merryn Somerset Webb.

Most relatively well-off people in Scotland are anti-independence. They are perfectly happy in the union, they think it is better for their businesses for them to stay in the union, and like most people, they hate uncertainty.No one wants to vote for something when they have no idea what they will get (currency, tax rates, defence, Europe, monetary policy?). But there's a hard core of the rich and influential who are all for it.

Ask them why and they will tell you that the UK is a disaster in the making. It has a huge and unsustainable debt and no real plans to cut it. It has an utterly out of control welfare system. It has a disgracefully bad education system. And it is becoming increasingly and unpleasantly unequal.They want to live somewhere better. And they reckon that a massive social and financial transformation is more likely to take place in a country with a tiny population such as Scotland than a huge one such as the UK.

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I like this view. Regular readers will know that we aren't exactly blind to the deficiencies of the UK and its economy here at MoneyWeek. But there's a problem with making any assumptions that voting for independence would be to vote for real and good change.

Right now, Scotland has all the problems of the UK and then some (a huge welfare state hamstrung by unaffordable health and pension obligations, high youth unemployment, inadequate education system etc). So, it makes sense that anyone pushing for independence should be, as Scottish journalist Hamish Macdonell puts it, leading a crusade "to create a completely new country".

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Alex Salmond could suggest a way to completely restructure the welfare state, to recognise and deal with the massive financial threat that is pension liabilities, to use oil revenues to create a sovereign wealth fund and to reform the tax system (he could dump all taxes in favour of a location value tax perhaps!) for starters. But he hasn't done any of those things; something that leaves most of Scotland with the vague idea that an independent Scotland would be just like today's Scotland, just with higher taxes. That's a shame and also a major reason why only 28% of people currently say they plan to vote to break up Britain.

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