The SNP’s vision for an independent Scotland shares a worrying number of traits with the world’s less than successful new states.
Dependence on exporting one commodity.
The very expression Banana Republic derives from the over reliance many newly independent nations had on handful of primary goods. While the juntas of Latin America relied on cash crops, North Sea oil has become the fulcrum of the Yes camp’s short to medium term economic forecasts.
Ignoring the inherent volatility in the price of extractive resources, North Sea oil is expected to hit peak production as soon as 2018. Independent Scotland will then have to choose between growth crushingly high taxes, excessive borrowing, or the very austerity measures it currently balks at.
As a new nation, it’s important to establish credibility both at home and abroad. You won’t be seen as a ‘proper country’ until you at least have your own flag and guttural dialect.
The SNP have always been keen to play up the emotional as well as the economic case for reclaiming sovereignty. Having the word national in your name is a good start, but in appealing to the heart as well as the head, SNP leaders make an annual pilgrimage to Bannockburn, site of a battle with the English (and disloyal Scots) in 1314. Flags feature prominently at rallies, as does native poetry and traditional dress. This theater is all part of an effort to emphasis what makes Scotland distinctive and separate.
Advocates of freedom for their people never just come out and say that they rather fancy a spell as top dog. A shopping list of grievances and injustices invariably precedes proclamations of independence. For Americans it was the unfairness of taxation without representation. Colonialism offers a wealth of crimes, both real and perceived.
The SNP have broadly stuck to this script, with dog whistle politics playing on the idea that Westminster (read ‘the English’) are almost genetically predispositoned to conspire against Scotland. That ‘Scottish oil’ benefits the Chancellors coffers is a particular source of ire. Scottish jobs are somehow pulled south by a gravitational malice, and in return Scotland gets lumberd with looking after nuclear weapons it neither wants nor needs.
Populist spending sprees
It’s not enough for a break away republic to be free, it has to spend like a sailor on shore leave. This is a logical development for independence movements across the world, as so much of their narrative is based on selling the idea that ‘our people’ deserve more, and have always been short changed by the previous distant capital.
True to form, the SNP this week released their prospectus, detailing a preponderance of goodies, including child care, pensions and those on benefits.
Banana Republics were little heard of until the Cold War. Then, Moscow and Washington were falling over themselves courting, supporting, and finally propping up their pet strongmen in the global game of chess. Having a superpower buddy lends credibility at home, and lets you punch above your weight abroad.
Although Scotland will, if successful, be reborn into a post modern Europe, the SNP haven’t ignored the geopolitical imperatives of small nations. The SNP’s Scotland intends to remain part of Nato, which for all intents and purposes is America with a couple of Belgians getting in the way. This may come as a surprise to non-interventionists who convince themselves that so long as you don’t wade into other people’s backyards, you needn’t bother with a military at all. Scotland is hardly going to start a scrap with Russia, so why the alliance? Because real leaders know the world is too interconnected and Scotland too exposed to what happens beyond its borders to pretend it needn’t worry. Scottish businesses can only trade where Scottish businesses have licenses and permits to trade. They don’t appear by magic, but are rather the results of lobbying and international relations. And a Scotland allied to the US carries far more weight and can thus acquire far more favourable terms for its businesses.
Of course there are many ways in which Scotland won’t resemble the likes of El Salvador or Angola. There was no armed struggle, which is why career politicians and not colonels will be its first leaders. Scotland has a history as a sovereign state before English dominion. And the democratic seed is already deeply embedded in Caledonian soil. Yet if and when Scotland does regain independence, it would do well to avoid the temptations and pit falls of fledgling nations.
The world needs a few more Czech Republics, and few less Guatemalas.