Astonishing as it was to contemplate the breakup of Europe’s most stable nation-state threatened by last week’s Scottish referendum, we now have an even more extraordinary possibility. In the days since the Scottish voters rejected secession 55 percent to 45 percent, a new threat has suddenly appeared to blight Britain’s political and economic prospects for years ahead. It now looks like Britain may be dissolved by one rogue opinion poll.
The YouGov survey, released shortly before the referendum, found nationalists overtaking the unionists for the first time. (And, as it turned out, the last time.) This triggered total panic among Britain’s establishment politicians.
The outcome was a signed statement on the front page of the Scottish Daily Record by Prime Minister David Cameron, along with the leaders of Britain’s Labour and Liberal Democrat parties, promising immediate legislation to give the Scottish Parliament almost complete control over income tax, health and welfare policies — on top of the autonomy it already enjoys. They also issued a permanent commitment to channel £1,700 more per head in government spending to Scotland than to England, despite per-capita incomes that are approximately the same.
By signing the statement, Cameron and the other party leaders opened a Pandora’s Box of political and economic controversies that are certain to destabilize British politics. Businesses and investors who have viewed Britain as the most politically predictable and stable nation in Europe are in for a shock.
The Scottish vote, instead of confirming Britain’s historic stability, now looks like the prelude to a long period of constitutional, legislative and fiscal turmoil. This will certainly damage the current government’s re-election chances and could yet threaten a chaotic breakup of Britain.