2 Jan 2014

UK minus Scotland: rump or fillet?

Scotland’s “Year of Decision” just started. But what would a yes vote mean for the rest of the UK?

In Westminster at the end of 2013 you heard little talk of that. If you did hear chatter it was often Tories saying they didn’t greatly care if Scotland went off.

When I interviewed former Labour Foreign Secretary Jack Straw about the prospect he said he’d be sorry to see Scotland leave but on the measurements of wealth and global prestige it wouldn’t really make a difference.

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Some of this you could attribute to the polls putting “Better Together” (a group it must be said rarely seen together) ahead.

Some of it to short-term political advantage.

Some to what Professor Jim Gallagher, long the head of the UK Government’s Devolution Unit, calls a deafness in the London media.

Jim Gallagher agrees with Jack Straw that people exaggerate the impact politically of Scottish independence on the rest of the UK.

Peter Kellner of YouGov disagrees and says Scottish independence would wipe out the chances of majority Labour government for at least a generation and conceivably longer if the party failed to adapt to a new polity where the political centre of gravity was further to the right.

Even Jack Straw accepts Labour in “Rump UK” would have to be “more Blairite and less Brownite.”

Lord Haskins, long the Chairman of Northern Foods, says he thinks the north of England would feel more marginalised without Scotland and would get poorer as Scotland sealed business deals and sucked work from the north.

Once again, Jack Straw thinks the cannier Scots would be coming south to work and there would be no grave impact on north of England business.

John Major told a Lords Select Committeeonly in December about how he was convinced the world would look at Rump UK as seriously diminished. The Foreign Affairs Select Committee in the Commons has heard similar evidence.

When the integrity of the nation state is so central to a political establishment’s whole programme, you can easily imagine how the Chinese leadership, say, would be very unimpressed by a state that had very significant bits dropping off.


But would the Rump UK that remains hold together itself?

It would have no transport links to Northern Ireland except by a foreign country, Scotland.

Welsh Nationalists are convinced their faltering cause would stir again.

English regionalism might awaken, though all attempts to poke it into life so far have largely failed.

There’s a stark warning from Iain Paisley’s son, the MP Iain Paisley Jnr about what would follow in Northern Ireland. He fears that dissident republicans and others not reconciled to the Good Friday Agreement would stir again and feel a “yes” vote vindicated another push for a new settlement with violent consequences.

Then there’s the whole business of the Treaty negotiations for separation.

They could convulse politics in the Rump UK remnant nation for months on end. Dividing up centuries of inter-woven assets would be hard enough even if there wasn’t Trident to think about.


There’s a settled land border but as you look out from the barbed wire fence between two grazing fields north of Berwick that marks the border you gaze out at a maritime border that would pose plenty of arguments to keep lawyers busy – two academic lawyers recently suggested that not just oil but up to 10 years’ legal work lies in them there waters.

There’s a “Welcome to Scotland” sign on the footpath gate that welcomes you across the border into Scotland. Nothing of the sort to greet you if you are coming the other way. Because Rump UK or England is secure in its identity or because it hasn’t sorted one out?

The other thing that strikes you at this beautiful lookout point is just how coastal erosion challenges the East Coast mainline in certain spots. But that’s another story.

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