DEBATE: Can Scotland survive and thrive as an independent nation?

Luke Ashton and Noah Khogali

April 2, 2021

Luke Ashton, an economics graduate student at George Mason University in Virginia, argues YES. 

Scotland and England are each other’s closest economic partners. Scotland must show England it is a good partner by becoming economically competitive and addressing its impending deficit through economic reform. If the SNP were to plan on joining the EU as soon as possible, switching to a Scottish currency would be the short-term economic solution.   

Scotland could look to its Celtic Neighbour in the 1990s. Ireland took drastic measures, opening its ports to free trade and lowering regulations for businesses. As a result, Ireland became known as the Celtic Tiger, seeing GDP growth rates of between 5 and 10 percent in the early 2000s. By following Ireland’s example, an independent Scotland could find itself in the same situation. A Scottish government willing to cast off the royalty, remove regulatory barriers to entrepreneurs and reduce taxation could establish itself as an economic oasis in Europe. 

If Scotland does leave the UK, it shouldn’t then join the EU. Scotland’s biggest trade partner is the UK, which accounts for 60 percent of its exports. The EU only gets 19 percent of Scottish exports; the rest of the world gets 21 percent. Entering the EU would create questions over a hard border between Scotland and England. How would trade move across this border? Would there be free movement of people? This would surely spark debates (to put it mildly) similar to those on Northern Ireland during the Brexit negotiations. In EU membership, the SNP sees an economic silver bullet where none exists. Instead, Scotland should compete with both, ensuring any agreements on trade and borders are resolved with the rest of the UK before it even considers EU membership.  

Scotland needs to be secure, but it doesn’t need a large army or nuclear deterrent to achieve this. Current international tensions simply do not necessitate Scotland maintaining the same level of security as the UK. Unless Scotland allows itself to be dragged (by the UK) into foreign wars a small security force (reinforced by NATO membership) dealing in counter-insurgency and maintaining its land and sea borders would suffice. The only sticking point is Trident – a system unnecessary to defend Scotland’s territorial integrity. Maintaining a military based on a historical standard is a sunk-cost fallacy. Independence offers Scotland a chance to completely redesign its defence. 

Splitting up doesn’t mean closing the book on Scotland and England’s shared history; it just means starting a new chapter. 

Noah Khogali, the national policy director at Conservative Friends of the Commonwealth and a Young Voices contributor, argues NO.  

The case for Scotland being successfully economically independent in the immediate future is flimsy. Scotland is currently running a deficit of -8.6%. That’s bigger than the three largest EU deficits combined — France (-3%), Spain (-2.8%) and Hungary (-2%). Given an independent Scotland would not only have to roll over its existing economic commitments but also undertake immense investment in its own version of the NHS, Armed Forces, Civil Service and other key infrastructure and services, prospects for Scottish Independence are poor. 

To combat the above, Scotland’s trade strategy post-independence would have to be unequivocally fantastic. Yet, research has found that the effects on the Scottish economy of Scotland leaving the UK would be three times that of the economic impact of Brexit on the UK as a whole. Importantly, joining the EU would do little to mitigate it.  

It would also prove problematic to the trade relationship between England and Scotland, which is 7.8x higher than ordinary trading neighbours. Any additional friction could be devastating. But when challenged on this, the SNP’s response is to refute the narrative rather than the facts. Its leaders simply point to other small countries, who perhaps aren’t economic calamities, as proof that an independent Scotland could thrive.  

 In addition to the massive social and political disruption that an emerging Scottish border would cause, an independent Scotland would be left quite literally defenseless. During the 2014 referendum, the SNP repeatedly argued that it would be owed a portion of the British Army’s manpower and infrastructure. This is doubtful. Scotland would be entitled to no troops, infrastructure or assets.   

 Scotland and England have a shared language and a long history of deeply intertwined cultures, cemented by the Treaty of the Union that has persevered for 300 years. Ultimately, the SNP are presiding over a minority government — any claims that this demonstrates a decisive difference of political ideology are unfounded. 

Author

  • Luke Ashton is an economics graduate student at George Mason University in Virginia. Noah Khogali is the national policy director at Conservative Friends of the Commonwealth and a Young Voices UK contributor.

Written by Luke Ashton and Noah Khogali

Luke Ashton is an economics graduate student at George Mason University in Virginia. Noah Khogali is the national policy director at Conservative Friends of the Commonwealth and a Young Voices UK contributor.

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