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The Great Debate

from Breakingviews:

Applying corporate finance to nations

By Rob Cox

The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own. 

It is generally accepted on Wall Street that breaking up bloated and unwieldy companies is a good thing. Division makes them easier to manage, more accountable and allows them to deliver greater value to their many constituents. On the eve of Scotland’s historic vote on independence, it’s worth considering whether the same logic might also be applied to nations.

Scotland will vote on Thursday whether to spin itself off from the United Kingdom. Catalonia is planning a similar, but not legally binding referendum on leaving Spain in November. If both go their own way, other European nations could end up splitting into smaller new political units.

There are few precedents, at least in the developed world, for them to emulate. The history of corporate finance may provide some useful insight. Of course, it is hard to imagine any legislator anywhere in the world exhorting voters to stake their futures to a Wall Street construct. But the philosophical underpinnings to breaking up companies and countries share many similarities.

In the corporate world, the logic starts with the premise that these actions will, first and foremost, benefit shareholders. The gains include allowing management to focus on what it is best at and improving the ability of the organization to respond to the needs of customers and the marketplace. These can outweigh the economies of scale that companies often hope to extract from greater size.

Why vote yes? Scotland’s voice is drowned out in the United Kingdom.

'Yes' campaign people gather for a rally outside the BBC in Glasgow

There are hours to go until people in Scotland answer the question posed to them in an historic referendum: “Should Scotland be an independent country?”

Some weekend polls revealed a lead for No, while others put Yes ahead. With the race too close to call, what is clear is that a pro-independence vote, once considered fanciful, now is a serious possibility.

So why has support for Yes grown with such momentum?

There are obvious economic gains to be had from independence. Domestic oil reserves combined with well-developed service and manufacturing industries would help make the country one of the wealthiest in the world. But the gains in democracy are just as alluring as the economic ones.

from Anatole Kaletsky:

Why breaking up Britain could tear apart the EU, too

A bunch of 'Yes' balloons are seen as Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond campaigns in Edinburgh, Scotland

While recent opinion polls have swung slightly back toward the "no" camp, there remains a distinct possibility that Thursday's Scottish referendum will trigger a previously unthinkable breakup of Britain.

If this were to happen, the biggest risks for global businesses and investors do not lie in the economic problems created by Scotland’s choice of currency or the inevitable arguments about sharing North Sea oil revenue and the British national debt. These are crucial challenges for Scotland and have been much discussed in financial institutions and think tanks. But the crucial issue for the world economy and financial markets is about the resulting impact on the European Union -- and especially on Britain, which would remain the world’s sixth largest economy even if Scotland departs.

These political risks, which I discussed here last week, can be broken down into four questions: What would Scottish independence, if it happens, mean for British politics and economic management over the nine months, until the May 2015 general election? What effect would it have on the election results? How would all this turmoil affect Britain’s fraught relationship with Europe? Would Scottish independence act as an inspiration for secessionist movements in other European countries?

from John Lloyd:

No gimmicks, just 10 good reasons why Scotland shouldn’t leave the UK

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Readers of a romantic bent, perhaps Scots or descendants of Scots, may think that it would be cool for Scotland to vote for independence from the United Kingdom next Thursday.

If so, here are 10 reasons why they’re wrong. It would mean nationalism  – the call to old loyalties deeper than any civic and cross-national identities – would win. The Scots nationalists are nothing like the proto-fascist groups at large in Europe: indeed, their party is social democratic, liberal in social policy. But the demons unleashed will be stronger than their politics. The countries of Europe have many secessionist movements. Spain has two, in Catalonia and in the Basque country. Belgium is divided between the French Walloons and the Dutch-speaking Flemish. Italy has an old secessionist movement in German-speaking Alto Adige and a new one in the north, claiming a territory called Padania. France has an occasionally violent movement in the island of Corsica. Others will come along. All would be hugely encouraged by Scots independence. It would consume Europe for decades. The UK has been, in the past century, an imperial power, claiming ownership of large parts of the globe, fighting and imprisoning those who sought liberation in Africa, India and elsewhere. U.S. President Barack Obama’s grandfather, Hussein Onyango Obama, was imprisoned and tortured by the British in Kenya because he was suspected, it seems wrongly, of being a member of a militant pro-independence group, the Mau Mau.But in the latter part of the 20th century and in the 21st, Britain ceased to be part of the problem and strove to become part of the solution. The ‘solution’ is to find a way to manage the world out of confrontation and division into a common effort to attack its real problems – ecological damage, poverty, drought, Islamist and other terrorism. The loss of Scotland would diminish it, weaken its presence internationally, weaken what it does and can do for global governance. The UK is a major and founding member of NATO: it’s a nuclear power. Yet all of its submarine-based nuclear armament is based in Scotland, at a base near Glasgow. Moving it – as an independent, anti-nuclear Scottish government would demand – would take years and many billions of pounds to execute. And this at a time when NATO is seeking more commitment, more defense spending from its members to counter the growing threat from Russia. The United States, presently blamed by critics inside and out for being weak in the face of global challenges – from Islamist terror, from Russia, from China – has under Obama’s presidency sought to convince the Europeans that they must take greater responsibility. Scots independence would be an example of a people taking less: it would present the malign example of a region, by claiming independent status, ducking out of taking the hard choices in the world – while seeking protection from those still constrained to make them. The UK has been a large part of ‘the West’ – that group of nations, which include ‘Easterners’ like Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand and others – that privilege democracy, a strong civil society and rule of law. For the UK to lose Scotland would point up to a failure of democracy, at a time when the growth of China and the challenge of Russia is putting it’s primacy in doubt. With the discovery of major oil reserves off Scotland in the early 1970s, most of the UK’s oil has come from the fields off the Scots shore. There are still large reserves – how large, is still being proven. Scotland would demand total control of these reserves – they would be mainly within its territorial waters. It’s another malign example of a region rich in mineral reserves severing links with the larger state of which it was part in order to enjoy the easy income. It’s what the Oxford economist Paul Collier called, in a recent talk, ‘a dirty little resource grab’ – one sure to be copied elsewhere. Scotland has a large financial sector, even after the near-collapse of the Royal Bank of Scotland, still one of the world’s banking giants. The turbulence and uncertainty which independence would cause would prompt several big banks and financial institutions to relocate to England: and foreign-owned businesses would also take precautionary measures. It wouldn’t be disaster: but it would mean that the UK, presently growing more strongly than any other European state but still recovering from recession, would be badly knocked back. Modern terrorism has targeted the UK: it’s seen by radical Islam as both a threat to their plans to create a fundamentalist Caliphate and to make of the Moslem populations round the world – there are nearly 3m Moslems in the UK – adherents to their cause. As UK security chiefs have warned, an independent Scotland with  new and small security services would be hobbled in efforts to combat extremism – and would be seen as a pressure point. Finally, there’s the more indefinable damage: to civility and to common culture. The nationalist campaign has raised tempers on both sides of the divide – within Scotland itself, and between Scotland and the rest of the UK, especially England. Nationalists like to see England as still an imperial hangover, un-modernized, run by ‘posh’ Conservatives for whom most Scots didn’t vote. Independence would make this still worse: many English say they want Scotland to go, because they’re tired of their complaints. It would be a long time before that died down: and something precious, a recognition of difference within unity, would have been lost.
This much is at stake. The world will not benefit, now or in the future, from an independent Scotland. But there’s nothing it can do about it, but wait to see what choice that nation makes.

This much is at stake. The world will not benefit, now or in the future, from an independent Scotland. But there’s nothing it can do about it, but wait to see what choice that nation makes.

PHOTO: 'No Thanks' badges are displayed during campaigning by Alistair Darling, the leader of the campaign to keep Scotland part of the United Kingdom, in Edinburgh, Scotland September 8, 2014. REUTERS/Russell Cheyne 

Scotland can expect one heckuva hangover after independence vote – yes or no

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Scotland will soon be suffering from a monumental hangover. There will be a lot of hurt heads, a lot of tears and, without a doubt, an immense amount of anger that will last who knows how long — weeks, months, maybe even years — if Alex Salmond’s dream of independence comes true.

The Sept. 18 referendum on independence is quite unlike any other United Kingdom election I have witnessed. It is much more visceral, with so many complicated currents swirling beneath one simple question: Is Scotland in Britain or out of it? There are a lot of people going with their gut instinct, and you sense that if the outcome goes against them, the simmering rage will finally bubble over.

Rioting in the streets? Perhaps.

The problem for the Unionists is that nothing they can say will ever match that magic potion being served up by the Scottish Nationalists — that beautiful policy that can be summed up in one sweet word: “change.” 

from John Lloyd:

‘Braveheart’ they’re not. What’s Scotland’s problem with a United Kingdom?

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The collapse of empires has been regarded as a good thing for at least a century, much strengthened by U.S. president Woodrow Wilson’s efforts at the Versailles Peace Conference after World War One, where he sought to inscribe into international practice and law the right of all peoples to achieve a national state.

The lifting of the incubus of Soviet Communism in 1991 from the states of Central and Eastern Europe was opposed only by a few worried political leaders and rather more dispossessed Communists, but even they either put on a smile or kept their heads down. George H.W. Bush, in the White House when the Soviet center would no longer hold, tried to stem the communist tide by embracing his new friend, Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, to avoid chaos in the east -- in vain. Nationalism, which the Soviet Union’s ideologists had regarded as one of the cardinal sins and had filled the gulags for decades with those suspected of harbouring its sentiments, triumphed.

Now comes Scotland’s turn. The residents of Scotland, on Sept. 18, will vote on the simple question: “Should Scotland be an independent country?”

from John Lloyd:

No Union, please, we’re English

The opinions expressed are his own.

In France, it is les Anglais. In Germany, die Engländer. In Italy, gli Inglesi. In Russia, Anglichane.

The peoples of the United Kingdom, for most other peoples, are habitually “English.”

Not unnaturally. The English part of the UK accounts for close to 90 per cent of the country’s population; the language is English; the capital is London, long the English capital; the accents heard are overwhelmingly English; the long-held stereotype of the country is an upper-class English gent, snobbish, prudish and insular.

from The Great Debate UK:

To satisfy its aspirations, Scotland needs independence

paulscott1- Paul Henderson Scott has written numerous books on Scottish history, literature and affairs, including 'A 20th Century Life' and its sequel, 'The New Scotland'. He has been Rector of Dundee University, President of the Saltire Society and of Scottish PEN and a Vice-President of the Scottish National Party (SNP). The opinions expressed are his own -

My most recent book of essays had the title, 'The Age of Liberation', because many of them considered the transformation of the world by the recent dissolution of all the empires and most of the multi-national states into their component parts. So far Scotland has been left behind.

This is surprising since Scotland is one of the oldest nations of Europe with a strong cultural and intellectual identity. We have made a remarkable contribution to the world. The American historian, Arthur Herman, in his book, 'The Scottish Enlightenment', said: ”As the first modern nation and culture, the Scots have by and large made the world a better place.”

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