Going solo: The Scottish dilemma

Updated 27 May 2012
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Going solo: The Scottish dilemma

In the age of globalization and big political and economic blocs, Scotland is trying its luck to break away from the United Kingdom to thrive on its autonomy as a society and a nation.
It is not that every day a 300 years’ old union is broken up, nor it is the first time for Scotland to try to go solo and have its impact on world stage.
Back in 1698, it tried to colonize the Isthmus of Panama and have a world role; the attempt backfired and few years later Scotland signed to join the UK.
Last Friday saw the first shot in a long campaign that will last more than two years to woo voters to side with independence or to continue the status quo of unity. Arguments look equal. To those who want unity with the British crown, whatever Scotland is going to gain in terms of taxes on oil is slated to loose in subsidies; while those favor independence think by having its oil for itself alone, Scotland stands good chances of booming and ally more with Nordic countries in northern Europe where a well-established welfare state is the envy of many.
So oil and economics are more or less in the heart of the debate.
It was the North Sea oil that has been fueling British economy for more than three decades.
Although recent figures speak of an annual 6 percent decline in oil production from the North Sea, attempts to write out its obituary had always proven to be premature.
Still basing the economy of yet to be born state on one commodity, highly affected by movements of world market, is an unhealthy development that would be compounded by the fact that Scotland has only a small population of merely five million people.
Because of that, stream of polls were trying to gauge the mood of the audience and how they will vote when the time comes in October 2014.
Interesting enough one of these polls found out that only 21 percent of Scots could vote for independence if it would leave them 500 pounds a year worse off; and only 24 percent would vote to stay with the Union Jack even if they would be less well-off sticking with Britain.
Aside from that, votes will go for independence if it would bring in enough cash to buy a new iPod and against it if it is not! Reducing a big issue to do with national independence to a personal preference like this is quite revealing of the general mood.
It is interesting to note that the program of those calling for independence looks for the same monarchy, the same currency at least initially, though a European Union membership and euro look like a possibility, but now it has started drifting away given the current problems of the euro zone.
Problems that may face independent Scotland are for its people to worry about, but the implications for such a step that are the source of concern to many.
A successful bid for a break up will encourage other minorities and groups around Europe and far away to try their luck also. High on the list are the Welsh and Irish. If that also is to take place, it will diminish British role not as a leading power on world stage, but even within its own borders. Add to that what could happen to Spain’s Basque or Catalans and a host of groups around Europe. Even far away Canada can feel the heat, though it had its chance and has managed to escape narrowly the independence drive by Quebec more than 15 years ago.
And if that is the case with well-established societies with mature political experience and traditions like the United Kingdom, where civil rights are respected, how about developing countries?
Last year’s break-up of Sudan and South Sudan, though conducted smoothly through a recognized referendum, later proved far away from a velvet separation — with Sudan getting into the worst case scenario of losing both unity and peace.
That is unlikely to be the case of Britain and Scotland, but with the European Union facing a tough choice of between breakups and moving toward a super state where other countries cede some of their sovereignty, the issue became more than a bilateral one. Europe’s attempt to integrate for more than 60 years is now being put to test; the same like the 300 years of British-Scottish union.
It is the age of globalization that has been raising the stakes and dictating a new game and its rules.
Ironically enough with the communication revolution that has engulfed the world and disintegration of the politico-economic order created by the industrial revolution, no new system has emerged to substitute what has been disintegrating. And what we see now between Scotland and Britain is only a symptom and a signal of what to come.
— Alsir Sidahmed ([email protected]) is media consultant, trainer and freelance journalist.


2 years on, Brexit vote has taken a toll on UK economy

Updated 23 June 2018
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2 years on, Brexit vote has taken a toll on UK economy

  • Big companies are sounding the alarm bell, with plane making giant Airbus this week threatening to pull out of the country, where it employs 14,000, if it gets no clarity on future trade deals
  • The governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, estimated recently that average household incomes are around 900 pounds lower than the bank was forecasting on the eve of the referendum

LONDON: While it’s still unclear what Brexit will look like when it happens next year, the decision to leave has already had a clear effect on the economy: households are poorer, companies are more cautious about investing, and the property market has cooled.
In the two years since the vote to leave the European Union, Britain has gone from being a pace-setter among the world’s big economies to falling into the slow lane. And the uncertainty over what relations with the EU will be when Brexit becomes official on March 29, 2019 could make matters worse.
Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservative government remains split on what those relations should be. There are those who favor a “hard Brexit,” a clean break that takes Britain out of the bloc’s free trade union but also gives it more freedom to strike new trade deals around the world. Others want to keep Britain as close as possible to the EU, Britain’s biggest trading partner, which could mean it has to obey more of the bloc’s rules.
Big companies are sounding the alarm bell, with plane making giant Airbus this week threatening to pull out of the country, where it employs 14,000, if it gets no clarity on future trade deals.
“Thousands of skilled, well-paid jobs are now on the line because of the shambolic mess the government have created over the Brexit negotiations,” said Darren Jones, the lawmaker for the community where Airbus has its plant.
Before the referendum of June 2016, the British economy had been one of the fastest-growing industrial economies for years. Now, it’s barely growing. In the first quarter of this year it expanded by just 0.1 percent from the previous three-month period, its slowest rate in about five years.
For most people, the first and most noticeable impact was the drop in the pound. The currency slid 15 percent after the vote in June 2016 to a post-1985 low of $1.21. That boosted prices by making imports and energy more expensive for consumers and companies — the rate of inflation hit a high of 3 percent late last year.
The weaker pound helped some companies: exporters and multinationals that do not sell mainly in the UK But it hurt consumer spending and businesses that depend on their shopping. The retail industry was hit hard, with high-profile companies like Toys R Us and Maplin going bust, and supermarket chain Marks and Spencer planning deep cuts.
While prices rose, wages lagged, even though unemployment is at its lowest since 1975, at 4.2 percent.
“After Brexit, prices definitely went up,” said Nagesh Balusu, manager of the Salt Whisky Bar and Dining Room in London. “We struggled a bit earlier this year, so now we’ve increased the prices.” The bar is next to Hyde Park, a popular destination for foreign visitors. “The tourists have a good exchange rate. They know they can spend a little bit more than they usually do. But the locals are coming a little less. They are starting to think about how much they spend.”
The governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, estimated recently that average household incomes are around 900 pounds lower than the bank was forecasting on the eve of the referendum.
The real estate market, meanwhile, has cooled considerably, with the number of property sales in London near a historic low last year, according to estate agent Foxtons.
While some foreign prospective buyers were attracted by the drop in the pound, others seem to have been scared off by uncertainty over what Brexit might mean for their investment.
House prices are stagnating after years of gains, also due to expectations that the Bank of England will keep gradually increasing interest rates.
Nic Budden, Foxton’s CEO, predicts that the real estate market will remain challenging this year, while Samuel Tombs, analyst at Pantheon Economics, predicts that house prices will flatline for the next 6 months.
Against the backdrop of uncertainty, businesses have become more reluctant to invest in big projects. Because Brexit could lead to tariffs on EU imports of British goods, companies are hesitant to spend big on British plants and office space before they know what the new rules will be.
Benoit Rochet, the deputy chief of the port of Calais, the French town across the Channel from Britain, complained to a parliamentary committee this month that “we know there is Brexit but we don’t know exactly what Brexit means.”
“You are not alone,” responded the Conservative chair of the committee, Nicky Morgan.