DANIEL JOHNSON: I love the Union. But it’s time to give Nicola Sturgeon the referendum she craves — and let her live with the consequences. My bet is the result would be no again
Few things have made my heart sink as much as the news that Nicola Sturgeon is starting a new campaign for Scottish independence.
Like most Englishmen, I love Scotland and I admire the Scottish people. I believe in the Union. The United Kingdom is more than the sum of its parts.
But every time the headmistress of Holyrood pops up on television to bang on about her wretched referendum, I reach for the remote. Nicola Sturgeon gets my groat.
The leader of the Scottish National Party might have learnt her lesson from her predecessor and mentor, Alex Salmond.
Had he not lost the last vote on Scottish independence just eight years ago, she would not now be Scotland’s First Minister. Mr Salmond, too, was confident of victory. Instead, his credibility and his career were destroyed.
That 2014 referendum, in which the nationalists were decisively defeated by 55 to 45 per cent, ought to have been the end of the matter for at least a generation. Those, indeed, were the terms on which it was granted.
Few things have made my heart sink as much as the news that Nicola Sturgeon is starting a new campaign for Scottish independence
No sooner had the SNP lost, however, than they demanded to re-run the vote. When Ms Sturgeon was re-elected last year, she claimed a mandate for a new referendum.
So far, Boris Johnson has politely told Ms Sturgeon that her ‘Indyref 2’ (as she likes to call her vanity project) is just not going to happen. For a Scottish referendum to be legal, the UK Government would have to grant a Section 30 order, as it did in 2014. In practice, this means that the Prime Minister has a veto — and he intends to use it. Labour and the Liberal Democrats have no appetite for a second plebiscite either.
Yet this apparently insurmountable legal obstacle has not deterred her. Nicola won’t take ‘no’ for an answer from Boris, claiming that he ‘doesn’t respect democracy’. Who is she to talk?
This week, the First Minister published a White Paper intended to ‘navigate a way forward that delivers a lawful process’. That’s about as likely as a sighting of the Loch Ness monster.
But it is clear that under her leadership the SNP is like a Scottish terrier with a particularly obnoxious bone.
Reluctantly, therefore, I am coming round to the idea that Westminster should give her what she wants — and see how she likes it.
Unionists like me have been putting up with Scot Nats demanding ‘their’ North Sea oil and protesting against ‘our’ nuclear deterrent for more than half a century.
Yet the oil and the nuclear base at Faslane are two sides of the same coin. Scotland benefits from the defence provided by the UK, while the costs and benefits of exploiting our natural resources are also shared.
Nicola Sturgeon has never accepted that British sovereignty has its advantages. She never has a word of thanks for the £41 billion that the Chancellor pledged to Scotland in the last Budget.
For every £100 per person spent by the UK Government in England, the Scottish Government receives £126 from Westminster for each Scot. Pretty handsome, I’d say. If Scotland goes it alone, that money would not be forthcoming.
Without the unquestioning fiscal generosity of the English taxpayer, the devolved administration that has been dominated by the SNP for more than a decade would by now be bankrupt.
It is currently running a deficit of £3.5 billion, but even that figure would be far worse had it not been for London’s support during the pandemic to pay for necessities such as vaccines, or the furlough and loan schemes.
A good example of the financial incompetence of Ms Sturgeon’s rule is the Caledonian ferry fiasco.
In 2017, she launched the Glen Sannox, the first of two new ferries to serve the Scottish islands.
Amid the razzmatazz, observers noted that the ship’s windows were only painted on and that she could not, in fact, float.
Nicola Sturgeon has never accepted that British sovereignty has its advantages. She never has a word of thanks for the £41 billion that the Chancellor pledged to Scotland in the last Budget
Five years and hundreds of millions later, the Glen Sannox is still not seaworthy. She remains unfinished, moored in Port Glasgow while the islanders make do with the same old tubs as before. The final cost of this white elephant is expected to quadruple to more than £400 million.
Like Indyref2, the Caledonian ferry is yet another of Miss Sturgeon’s vanity projects.
But the greatest scandal of her eight years in office has been the neglect of Scotland’s schools and hospitals. Once admired for the quality of its education, Scotland now has the worst results in the UK. Under the SNP, it has turned its back on ‘knowledge-based’ teaching and failed a generation of pupils.
On health, Ms Sturgeon’s record is lamentable. Less affluent Scots can expect to spend a third of their lives in poor health.
Glasgow has long had the lowest life expectancy in Western Europe, but healthy life expectancy right across Scotland has fallen steadily for the past four years.
Instead of tackling these and other urgent issues, the SNP blames everything on the Tory Government in Westminster — yet expects it to keep bailing them out.
Meanwhile, the dire demographics north of the border mean that an even bigger pensions crisis is looming for the Scots than for the younger, healthier English. How does Nicola Sturgeon suppose the munificent public sector pensions enjoyed by people like herself would be paid for outside the UK?
It has been estimated that an independent Scotland would soon find itself saddled with a 200 per cent public debt to GDP ratio — worse than that of Greece.
When Ms Sturgeon boasts of rejoining the EU, Scots should ask themselves whether Brussels would welcome another liability.
So my guess is that if Boris gave Nicola her heart’s desire, we would end up with the status quo. I certainly hope so
The vision offered by the First Minister in her White Paper on a second referendum is of a ‘wealthier, happier, fairer’ society, on the Scandinavian model.
She has cherry-picked all the European countries with higher GDP than the UK to ask: ‘Why not Scotland?’
But before Miss Sturgeon fantasises about starring in a real-life Borgen, the political drama series set in Denmark, she should ask herself why Scotland resembles a backwater in the Balkans rather than a Scandi utopia.
If something is rotten in the state of Scotland, it is the tendency — hugely exacerbated by the SNP — to whinge about anything and everything, while evading responsibility for doing something about it.
Take Brexit. Yes, Scots did vote differently from the English.
But remaining in the EU in an independent Scotland would mean a hard border with England — which would be a disaster for the Scots, who do three times as much business with the rest of the UK than with Europe.
What about Nato? The Uk is its most important European member state, and it would be the height of irresponsibility to break up the union while Putin is waging war in Ukraine and China is menacing Taiwan.
Even though the polls now show Scotland pretty evenly divided on independence, my bet is that if voters were forced to decide, the result would be no again.
The key question to which Alex Salmond had no answer last time and Nicola Sturgeon sidesteps in her White Paper is: what would be the currency of an independent Scotland? The pound — or the groat?
Scots are canny people. They won’t vote for an independent state that used the pound, over which they would have no control. Such ‘Sterlingisation’ would be a recipe for permanent austerity — hardly the SNP’s cup of tea.
Nor would they fancy a brand new currency of dubious credibility. The groat might turn out to be a grotty investment.
So my guess is that if Boris gave Nicola her heart’s desire, we would end up with the status quo. I certainly hope so.
But if ‘Nippy Sweetie’ (her Scots nickname) is crazy enough to go through with her Indyref 2 and if, by some mischance, she were to win, the exodus of Scottish talent to London would soon make those left behind rue the day.
Not for nothing did Dr Samuel Johnson assure his Scottish friend James Boswell: ‘But, Sir, let me tell you, the noblest prospect which a Scotchman ever sees, is the high road that leads him to England!’
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