The Blog

Scotland's Referendum: The Absent Voices Will Not Forever Be Silent

One of the truisms of the Referendum campaign is that the vote on 18 September will decide not just the future of Scotland, but also that of the rest of the United Kingdom (rUK). It is thus important to realise that, while it has been decided that only the Scottish electorate will have a vote on the matter of Scotland's independence, others will also have an important voice in what happens afterwards.

It is thus something of a surprise that so far in the campaign itself, those other voices have largely been silent and almost totally ignored. Many in rUK are diffident about being seen to speak on what is often painted in Scotland, especially by those in favour of independence, as "a decision for Scotland, and Scots alone to make"; and when they do speak they are often not listened to or told that they do not understand the issues.

However, life will not stop when the last vote is counted and the result declared. Indeed, whichever way the vote goes, but especially if it is for independence, it will be the first day of Scotland's new relationship with rUK, and there will be much to discuss. And in those discussions, Scotland will find that those it is negotiating with also have views and objectives, and those views and objectives may not coincide with Alex Salmond's, and Alex Salmond's wishes may not always prevail.

Nowhere is this likely to be more true than in the field of financial and economic arrangements with what would be the continuing UK. The First Minister has stated firmly that he hopes to conclude a common monetary area with the continuing UK, enabling an independent Scotland to retain the pound, the services of the Bank of England and the financial underpinning of the UK treasury for Scottish financial institutions. And to support this he has stated that it is in everyone's interest that it be done.

It is indeed almost certainly in Scotland's interest to conclude such an agreement. But it is not in Alex Salmond's power to do so single-handedly. It requires the agreement and consent of the continuing UK government, and it is nothing like as clear that, viewed from England, Wales and Northern Ireland, a common monetary area with an independent Scotland is desirable.

Politically, agreeing to a monetary union with another state would involve the continuing UK giving up some of its sovereignty in monetary and fiscal policy - something the UK is conspicuously unwilling to do with its EU partners.

Economically, the Scottish economy is small in comparison with what would be the continuing UK (while rUK accounts for 70% of Scotland's trade, Scotland accounts for 10% only of rUK's), and isn't particularly similar. In particular, it would be much more dependent on oil exports, to the extent of responding in entirely different ways to an oil price rise.

Financially, the continuing UK would comprise around 90 per cent of the sterling area total GDP, and would therefore bear the lion's share of any financial bail-outs, whichever side of the border they were caused. It is not clear that a responsible continuing UK government should accept this risk, that their taxpayers' money could be called upon to resolve issues arising in a foreign state.

And psychologically, any negotiators from England, Wales and Northern Ireland will have to be conscious of the popular mood amongst their electorate. At the moment that mood is relatively benign, but in the aftermath of a Yes vote this may change, and a harder attitude may emerge - we didn't want you to leave, the English may say, but if you go, you go: no hanging on to the best bits of the Union, no residual calls on the English, Welsh and Northern Irish taxpayer, no complicated inter-state arrangements, just go.

At the moment, it suits the Nationalists not to allow voice from elsewhere in the UK too much of a platform. But if Scotland votes Yes, they will have to allow the rUK to speak, because you cannot negotiate with someone to whom you do not allow a voice. And if the Nationalists will have to talk to rUK after a Yes vote, it might be advisable to know what they are thinking and listen to what they are saying before it.

Even if - perhaps especially if - they do not always, as Salmond is finding, agree with his views.

John Nugée is a former Chief Manager of the Bank of England and Executive Director at the Hong Kong Monetary Authority