Scotland

I know what you’re thinking: Alex Salmond doesn’t need political advice. He is a MacMachiavelli, a crafty schemer, “the best politician in Britain”™.

But if the referendum on Scottish independence due September 18 were held tomorrow, the Scottish National Party leader would lose, opinion polls suggest.

What to do?

I don’t claim to support this idea but what if the SNP leader were to pledge a second vote after negotiations for independence were concluded? Scots could better understand what it is they are actually voting for and perhaps those inclined towards Devo Max would find it an attractive option. Read more

Like many people from Edinburgh, I once worked at Standard Life. It was the summer of 2001 and I spent an enjoyable few weeks opening, sorting and delivering mail alongside a pony-tailed Australian with a fondness for somnolent afternoons. Working for the big fund manager full-time was a popular idea among my peers; it was a running joke at my school that the careers advice office should be renamed the Standard Life recruitment department. My neighbour with the nice car worked for the company.

The point of these hokey anecdotes: Standard Life is a big employer in a city where one in ten people work in financial services. I suspect most people will know someone – or know of someone – who works there. The charts below from Edinburgh City Council show the capital’s top companies by pre-tax profits (2011) and employment (2012). The latter also includes public sector organisations; Standard Life was the sixth biggest employer and the third biggest private sector employer in Edinburgh as of 2012.


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In the film There Will Be Blood, Daniel Plainview, a monomaniacal oilman played by Daniel Day-Lewis, tries to lowball the Sunday family, whose hydrocarbon-rich land he covets, by claiming that he wants their acreage for quail-hunting. But Eli Sunday knows Plainview’s real intentions. He asks for $5,000, ostensibly to invest in his evangelical church. Many years later, Eli, who never received the money from Plainview, tracks the multi-millionaire oilman down in his Xanadu. Eli complains of past grievances and brings a quixotic plan for future exploration of the Sunday land.

I won’t spoil the ending but there is something – an admittedly tenuous something – of the Eli Sunday in the Scottish National party’s arguments about North Sea oil and gas. Alex Salmond’s party is right to be critical of how opportunities were wasted but it is too sanguine about what oil and gas would offer an independent Scotland. Read more

Alex Salmond’s speech on Monday was billed as a response to George Osborne’s rejection last week of a formal monetary union between an independent Scotland and the rest of the UK. But this formed no more than a quarter of the first minister’s speech. Mr Salmond was keener on rejecting what Mr Osborne said in 2010 (announce cuts to public sector spending) and what David Cameron said in 2013 (promise a referendum on UK membership of the EU), than what they said in 2014. Read more

In a lecture last year, Sir Nicholas Macpherson, HM Treasury permanent secretary and perhaps the most powerful old Etonian in Britain, explained the “Origins of Treasury control”. Sir Nicholas said that Treasury’s power came from three sources: conflict, links to Parliament and being able to outwit the rest of officialdom. All three were in evidence this morning, as George Osborne cited his top official’s advice and told Scots they can have independence or the pound – but not both. Read more

An independent Scotland would be refused entry to a monetary union with the rest of the UK, according to reports on Wednesday. George Osborne, Ed Balls and Danny Alexander – a Cerberus of currency doom – are later this week expected to individually reject the Scottish National party’s proposal for a formal sterling union. I do not know whether this means a monetary union would be ruled out under any circumstances – but words being used by those involved in the interventions include “definitive” and “emphatic”. So far, the chancellor has said that a monetary union would be “very difficult”. Read more

The Scots who have yet to make up their minds ahead of September’s referendum are the most important people in Britain. They will decide whether the 307-year old political union will come to an end. In the third of our videos for the FT’s Scotland series, I tried to figure out who they are and what they want.  Read more

On Wednesday, Mark Carney made a speech about the issues an independent Scotland would have to consider if it were to seek a currency union with the rest of the UK.

Although the Bank of England governor insisted that his remarks were of the technocratic variety, their political implication was obvious: a currency union would require the ceding of sovereignty by the newly independent country. There would need to be a banking union, “shared fiscal arrangements” and an agreement over how the BoE would provide facilities to Scottish banks as lender of last resort. The history of the eurozone gave Mr Carney’s speech its context; it was one of the best that Jean-Claude Trichet never gave. Read more

The FT is running a week-long series entitled “If Scotland goes“. As well as an interview with Alex Salmond, Scotland’s first minister, there will be news, opinion and analysis concerning the independence referendum.

For my part, here is the first of three short videos filmed last week. I argue that Scottish nationalism – note the small ‘n’ – is often caricatured. It is not the tartan-clad, Braveheart-quoting jingoism of stereotype. It is, ahem, a post-modern nationalism with some pre-modern symbols: dependent more on sentiment and residence than on ethnicity and language, hallmarks of 20th century nationalisms. Read more

The Scottish National party today launched its white paper for an independent Scotland. It takes the form of a 670 page collection of FAQs, which on the face of it is more suggestive of a complicated electrical appliance than a manifesto for a new nation. Nevertheless, this is a historic and important moment in the history of Scotland. Read more