What would an independent Scotland look like?

I want to imagine that independence could be a success - but grubby, difficult questions about money, jobs and services are not going away.

I want to imagine a world where Scottish Independence is not the disaster some think it will be. I want to imagine a world where it is a success.

Imagine that Scotland enters a phase of unprecedented economic growth, spurred on by the oil revenues that have been diverted from it for all these years. Coupled with the lowest corporation taxes in Europe, the Scottish economy is thrumming along with luxurious healthcare, free education up to and beyond graduate level, a supportive welfare state and pensions that are the envy of the world. Tax revenues from oil and corporation tax help the budget deficit stay in check. Even though there is a heavy dependency on the oil price, the markets give Scotland the benefit of the doubt – the sovereign credit rating of Scottish government debt is higher than the UK and their government bond yields trade well below that of the UK gilt market.

Meanwhile, in England and the rest of the United Kingdom, the government badly miscalculated the benefits Scotland brought to the Union. Bereft of trade and oil revenues the provision of local and national services has gone into a rapid generational decline. Taxes are high for individuals and businesses in a vain attempt to balance the budget, which is continuing to rise to record levels, while the cuts to government spending only serve to exaggerate the decline.

People and businesses have been voting with their feet for some time now. Migration from the once prosperous South of England is increasing at an alarming rate; both businesses and the most talented people are leaving in their droves, sending English property prices, which peaked just before the referendum in 2014 into a long-term secular decline. Meanwhile, Scottish property prices continue to make new highs each month. This is causing problems not least of which is the increase in inequality of wealth distribution in Scotland as house building can’t keep pace with the growing population.

The Scottish government is struggling to control the effects of house price appreciation because it has retained the pound and tied itself to UK interest rates. Much as Hong Kong experienced when tied to the US dollar and it had US interest rates and Chinese growth rates, Scotland now has a high growth rate and generationally low interest rates. Inflation differentials are rising between Scotland and the UK; inflationary Scotland habitually has a cost of living much higher than the deflationary UK. Broad money supply is growing at an uncontrollable rate. There are concerns over Scotland’s financial institutions. There are dark mutterings about the “Darian Scheme” – the financial disaster that drove Scotland into the arms of the English in 1707.

At the same time South of England immigration is having a profound impact on the political landscape; the history of Scottish voting patterns since the Second World War shows that Scotland hasn’t always been a centre-left country as some assume. There was a time when it was split 50/50 between Labour and the Conservatives (see graph). The latent conservatism of Scotland has now been unleashed mainly because it is dissociated from English conservatism but also because the new immigrants have a tendency not to vote for Labour or Scottish Nationalists. Scotland has become Conservative while the UK, because of its problems, now habitually votes Labour, a reversal of the pre-referendum status quo.

Scotland had been exporting some 30,000 people annually until the late 1980s. However, this tailed off and as the referendum approached Scotland had already become a net importer of people. Official estimates of population growth had already expected the Scottish population to rise above 6m in the years following the referendum. But global recognition that “Scotland has done something right” has led to an influx of Scottish talent that left the country in the thirty years prior to the referendum. First and second generation Scots have returned and converted their nationality from Australian, Canadian, New Zealand and US back into Scottish passport holders, further pressurising housing shortages and claims on the state. Scotland population swells from 5.3m in to nearly 8m in just fifteen years...

It’s quite good fun to do this; to go into a world of utopian Scotland and a dystopian UK, and one could go on for some considerable time. We haven’t even imagined a Scottish financial system (would it cheapen the argument to be the first to call for the Scottish stock market index to be called the SNP500 or their government bonds Scottish Guilts?) But what does emerge is that if you think independence can be seen merely as an exercise in democratic extension, that it isn’t about grubby things like money and jobs and services, then you should think again. A fully independent Scotland will have profound effects on the very nature of Scotland for generations to come, not all of which were obvious at first sight or, ultimately, a price worth paying.

The headquarters of the Yes campaign in Glasgow. Photograph: Getty Images.

Head of Fixed Income and Macro, Old Mutual Global Investors

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Erdogan’s purge was too big and too organised to be a mere reaction to the failed coup

There is a specific word for the melancholy of Istanbul. The city is suffering a mighty bout of something like hüzün at the moment. 

Even at the worst of times Istanbul is a beautiful city, and the Bosphorus is a remarkable stretch of sea. Turks get very irritated if you call it a river. They are right. The Bosphorus has a life and energy that a river could never equal. Spend five minutes watching the Bosphorus and you can understand why Orhan Pamuk, Turkey’s Nobel laureate for literature, became fixated by it as he grew up, tracking the movements of the ocean-going vessels, the warships and the freighters as they steamed between Asia and Europe.

I went to an Ottoman palace on the Asian side of the Bosphorus, waiting to interview the former prime minister Ahmet Davu­toglu. He was pushed out of office two months ago by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan when he appeared to be too wedded to the clauses in the Turkish constitution which say that the prime minister is the head of government and the president is a ceremonial head of state. Erdogan was happy with that when he was prime minister. But now he’s president, he wants to change the constitution. If Erdogan can win the vote in parliament he will, in effect, be rubber-stamping the reality he has created since he became president. In the days since the attempted coup, no one has had any doubt about who is the power in the land.

 

City of melancholy

The view from the Ottoman palace was magnificent. Beneath a luscious, pine-shaded garden an oil tanker plied its way towards the Black Sea. Small ferries dodged across the sea lanes. It was not, I hasten to add, Davutoglu’s private residence. It had just been borrowed, for the backdrop. But it reminded a Turkish friend of something she had heard once from the AKP, Erdogan’s ruling party: that they would not rest until they were living in the apartments with balconies and gardens overlooking the Bosphorus that had always been the preserve of the secular elite they wanted to replace.

Pamuk also writes about hüzün, the melancholy that afflicts the citizens of Istanbul. It comes, he says, from the city’s history and its decline, the foghorns on the Bosphorus, from tumbledown walls that have been ruins since the fall of the Byzantine empire, unemployed men in tea houses, covered women waiting for buses that never come, pelting rain and dark evenings: the city’s whole fabric and all the lives within it. “My starting point,” Pamuk wrote, “was the emotion that a child might feel while looking through a steamy window.”

Istanbul is suffering a mighty bout of something like hüzün at the moment. In Pamuk’s work the citizens of Istanbul take a perverse pride in hüzün. No one in Istanbul, or elsewhere in Turkey, can draw comfort from what is happening now. Erdogan’s opponents wonder what kind of future they can have in his Turkey. I think I sensed it, too, in the triumphalist crowds of Erdogan supporters that have been gathering day after day since the coup was defeated.

 

Down with the generals

Erdogan’s opponents are not downcast because the coup failed; a big reason why it did was that it had no public support. Turks know way too much about the authoritarian ways of military rule to want it back. The melancholy is because Erdogan is using the coup to entrench himself even more deeply in power. The purge looks too far-reaching, too organised and too big to have been a quick reaction to the attempt on his power. Instead it seems to be a plan that was waiting to be used.

Turkey is a deeply unhappy country. It is hard to imagine now, but when the Arab uprisings happened in 2011 it seemed to be a model for the Middle East. It had elections and an economy that worked and grew. When I asked Davutoglu around that time whether there would be a new Ottoman sphere of influence for the 21st century, he smiled modestly, denied any such ambition and went on to explain that the 2011 uprisings were the true succession to the Ottoman empire. A century of European, and then American, domination was ending. It had been a false start in Middle Eastern history. Now it was back on track. The people of the region were deciding their futures, and perhaps Turkey would have a role, almost like a big brother.

Turkey’s position – straddling east and west, facing Europe and Asia – is the key to its history and its future. It could be, should be, a rock of stability in a desperately un­stable part of the world. But it isn’t, and that is a problem for all of us.

 

Contagion of war

The coup did not come out of a clear sky. Turkey was in deep crisis before the attempt was made. Part of the problem has come from Erdogan’s divisive policies. He has led the AKP to successive election victories since it first won in 2002. But the policies of his governments have not been inclusive. As long as his supporters are happy, the president seems unconcerned about the resentment and opposition he is generating on the other side of politics.

Perhaps that was inevitable. His mission, as a political Islamist, was to change the country, to end the power of secular elites, including the army, which had been dominant since Mustafa Kemal Atatürk created modern Turkey after the collapse of the Ottoman empire. And there is also the influence of chaos and war in the Middle East. Turkey has borders with Iraq and Syria, and is deeply involved in their wars. The borders do not stop the contagion of violence. Hundreds of people have died in the past year in bomb attacks in Turkish cities, some carried out by the jihadists of so-called Islamic State, and some sent by Kurdish separatists working under the PKK.

It is a horrible mix. Erdogan might be able to deal with it better if he had used the attempted coup to try to unite Turkey. All the parliamentary parties condemned it. But instead, he has turned the power of the state against his opponents. More rough times lie ahead.

Jeremy Bowen is the BBC’s Middle East editor. He tweets @bowenbbc

This article first appeared in the 28 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Summer Double Issue