Sep. 7th, 2014

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The independence referendum is 11 days away and I can't ignore it any longer.  By "ignore it", I really mean abstract myself from it and treat it as an intellectual curiosity.  It is now imminent and real and I have to face my reactions to the prospect.  I am quite worried by the potential consquences of a "yes" vote, which is looking more and more likely.

Basically, my worries haven't changed since the start of the campaign a year ago.  Scotland as part of the UK is currently a rich country.  Perturbing that relationship brings significant uncertainty into the economic future.  The independence campaigners insist that companies will not move their operations but this seems a real risk to me.  I'm reminded of the negotiations last year over the future of the Grangemouth refinery: the unions only realised at the last minute that, yes, Ineos really were prepared to close the whole refinery if they didn't get their way. Grangemouth was far more important to Scotland than it was to the international economy.  Grangemouth is a huge industrial complex which is expensive to recreate elsewhere; it would be much easier to move office jobs (such as the finance sector) south of the border if companies decided to do so.

My employer does particularly well out of the union.  We host the UK's national academic supercomputer and have a thriving business in high-performance computing on the expertise generated by that.  We host a substantial part of the UK's academic data centre.  We have a higher percentage of UK funding than Scotland's size relative to the UK.  We also receive substantial EU funding.  We can charge English students large fees. As far as I can see, all of that is at risk from independence.  On the social media boards, many independence campaigners have responded by saying that "research funding is international and will go to the best institutions", which shows complete ignorance of how research is actually funded. The SNP have promised to match lost research funding if they are returned to power, but that is as trustworthy as any promise from a political party looking to win an election.  In any case, if the economy takes a turn for the worse, cuts will have to be made somewhere, and I doubt that a Scottish government would prioritise research funding over health, care for the elderly, etc.

(My employer remains stauchly neutral in the debate so I should restate that these are my personal opinions and do not represent offical policy.  Other employees, including friends of mine, have different views).

On the particular issue of the EU, there is a risk that if Scotland remains in the UK, the UK will leave the EU anyway, taking Scotland with it.  I'd rather deal with that if and when it happens.  (If it did happen, I'd want the Scottish Government to start negotiations with the EU about the potential of joining as an independent state; I think other EU members would be more interested in this option in a situation where the UK had already voted to leave than in the current scenario where we are seen as a "region" looking to secede from an EU country).

To some extent, the above is a selfish view, looking at the risks that independence poses to me and mine.  But the economy is fundamental to the succes of the independence project.  Some people are voting for independence in part because they don't agree with the austerity measures imposed by the Westminster government.  The assumption is that an independent Scotland would be able to choose a better approach.  But if the economy worsens, the austerity will worsen too, and it will make no difference that it is a home-grown austerity.

I acknowledge that there are potential benefits to independence too.  I like the possibility of sending Trident down to Devon, even though I'm sceptical that it would ever happen.  If an independent Scotland joined the EU, we would probably have better representation there.  Economic decisions made locally may make small improvements.  A new constitution would (probably) be much better than the UK one.  But none of this allays my fundamental worries about the economy.

I hope that my friends reading this will credit me the ability to come up with these worries, risks and doubts on my own.  I didn't need the help of the (woeful) Better Together campaign to formulate these concerns.  And I have seen little from the Yes Scotland campaign to allay these fears.  Most of what the independence campaigners have produced regarding the economy could most kindly be described in project management terms as "optimism bias" - the assumption that things will turn out according to the plan.  In my experience, that rarely happens.

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