At the heart of the nationalist campaign is the claim that Scotland would be a more prosperous and more equal country if it went solo. It is rich in oil and inherently decent, say the nationalists, but impoverished by a government in Westminster that has also imposed callous policies. They blame successive British governments for almost every ill that has befallen Scotland, from the decline of manufacturing industry to ill-health to the high price of sending parcels in the Highlands. Alex Salmond, Scotland’s nationalist leader, is broad in his recrimination: Labour and the Tories are of a piece, he suggests, in their disregard for Scotland.
But Scotland’s relative economic decline is the result not of southern neglect but of the shift of manufacturing and shipping to Asia. If Westminster has not reversed all the deleterious effects of globalisation and technology, that is because to do so is impossible. The nationalists know this, which is why, sotto voce, they would continue many of Westminster’s policies. Instead they make much of minor adjustments, such as abolishing the “bedroom tax”, a recent measure designed to nudge people out of too-large social housing. To break up a country over such small, recent annoyances would be nuts.
The nationalists’ economics are also flawed. Scotland would not, in fact, be richer alone. The taxes that would flow to it from the North Sea would roughly compensate for the extra cost of its lavish state, which would no longer be funded by Westminster (last year spending was some Â£1,300 per person higher in Scotland than elsewhere in Britain). But oil revenues are erratic.