Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Would a Scotland yes vote be good for London?

Having just got back from Edinburgh, I was sitting on the plane taking in some of the conversations I've been having with Scots on my visit. I was trying to think what I could possibly add to the debate. It occurred to me that no one has really focussed specifically on what a Yes vote would mean for London. On a purely economic level it is 100% clear that a Yes vote would be excellent news for London. We've already heard various banks have contingency plans to move head office functions to London. This can only mean more jobs and more prosperity for the capital. It is also likely to mean  a redistribution and rethink of priority for infrastructure projects, which is again likely to be concentrated on London and the South East.

At present we only have three fully electrified High speed main line railways in the UK. Two go to Scotland and one goes to France. I do wonder if the Govt would have bothered to electrify the East and West Coast mainline to Scotland if it had been independent. My guess is that one effect of Independence would be to ensure that HS2 never reaches Glasgow and Edinburgh. Whilst this is very bad for the concept of the UK, it is very good for London as it means huge amounts of capitol will be available for local projects. Roads and Rail infrastructure spending is likely to be spent where it will deliver the most benefit to the most people, which in the UK is in the South East. Once Scotland is taken out of the picture, the picture gets radically redrawn. If the banks have moved to London, then that means that the people who provide the finance for infrastructure projects have no vested interest in spending that money north of Carlisle and Newcastle. In fact I think areas such as Carlisle and Newcastle will be huge losers in this process. It seems likely that they'll be far less well served when the cash is splashed. By default such areas have hugely benefitted when the routes to Scotland were improved.

What about the social effects of devolution? These are far less easy to read. Presumably once the BBC is split into two, there will be far less interest from the corporation in Scottish news and events. Culturally one wonders whether the UK will get behind events such as the Commonwealth games in the way they did for Glasgow. I hugely enjoy the Edinburgh festival, but I can't see how devolution will really help it to maintain its profile.I suspect that the fallout in London will actually be positive as the arts community looks a little bit less north. I don't expect this to mean the demise of the Edinburgh festival, but it would mean that London would feel no qualms about setting up its own rival, should it so be inclined.

I've many Scottish friends living in London and most of them are bemused by the swing towards Yes. Most are proud of their Scottish heritage, but don't associate themselves with the Salmond brand of pride in their nation. Many have said that it has actually made them appreciate London even more.

I was trying to think of a negative effect of the vote. One effect of devolution has been that far less Scottish students come to London to study, as they get a free education North of the Border. I don't think this can be  a good thing, but it is already happening. It will only make the Scots more insular and inward looking, which must be a bad thing in the global economy.

You may think that with this in mind, I'd be supporting independence, as I am a Londoner through and through. Not a bit of it. I believe London is the capital of the world and a little bit of the world will get a little bit further away. When Alex Salmond talks about the oil wealth and how rich Scotland is, he neglects to mention the fact that the real losers if he keeps all the oil money will not be London. London has a booming economy. The losers will be deprived English regions on the periphery of the country. These are the real victims in all this, if you take the economic view. Salmond would clearly say "So what, that is an English problem" Whilst on one level he's right, I believe in the long term he's very wrong. We are stronger and better together. Salmond may cherish the flower of Scotland, but what happens to a flower that is cut off from its roots? I guess the big difference between my viwpoint and Salmonds is that whilst it is clear that a Yes would be good for London, I think it would be a tragedy for the Scotland and the rest of England and so I cannot possibly support it.

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