In a week’s time, Scotland will not hold a referendum about becoming independent. Everybody is describing it as such. But what is being voted on – and only by those who actually live in Scotland – is separation from England. Understand that and much that is otherwise inexplicable falls into place. The SNP is the voice of anti-Englishness. Like Edward II, another English ruler, arrogant in certain victory, Mr Cameron has walked straight into a long-planned ambush. The year, carefully chosen by Mr Salmond, celebrates the one unequivocal Scottish victory in the long antagonism between the two nations, at Bannockburn in 1314.
To make matters worse, the PM himself precluded “devo max”. The Scots have no way of keeping a UK link while extending the powers of the Scottish Parliament. I believe this option would have won the day but thanks to Mr Cameron, it is not on offer. The choice on the ballot plays into Salmond’s hands: vote to stay subject to the English toffs at Westminster who stole their country under the threat of bankruptcy 300 years ago – the Act of Union – or vote to throw off the hated English yoke.
These terms make it pretty difficult for Mr Cameron to campaign in Scotland and my experiences confirmed this. The hoodlums who sought to break up my meetings and confined me to a pub told me to go back to England; to them, an Englishman should have no voice in Scottish political debate. Their position is merely the extreme end of Mr Salmond’s.
The problem for the Scots, though, is if they vote ''yes’’ next week, they will not get independence. Rather, they are voting for rule by Brussels. As Mr Cameron has brutally discovered, no EU member is truly independent.
“Better Together” cannot, of course, say this. To do so would be to admit how little freedom of action the UK retains. A Scotland outside the UK, but in the EU, can no more have its own trade, agriculture, fisheries, immigration, environment or justice policies than any other EU member.
This is where Salmond has not been open with the Scottish voters: he is not admitting the consequences of EU membership. These have a direct impact on people’s lives. The wage compression effect of open-door immigration turns the minimum wage into a standard or maximum wage: the immigrants or even just the threat of them ensure that millions of workers have no realistic chance of negotiating higher pay.
But, wages aren’t the worst of it. The EU is run by the “big battalions” and one in particular – Germany. The euro, a currency union without a debt union which is pursuing unpopular austerity policies, is run largely to suit the interests of Germany. Angela Merkel is a clever operator but the policies of the eurozone are those needed to suit the needs of her German voters.
Even Mr Cameron who represents, at least until next Thursday, a country of over 60 million people and a vital eurozone export market, has minimal negotiating leverage in the corridors of Brussels.
This is the issue that pulled me away from the City and into politics. As a trader, I will always be aware of the central role of currencies in all economies. This is where Salmond’s thinking is most muddled and his comments most duplicitous.
The history of the development of money as it moves beyond coinage is about the links between currencies, banks and states. All currencies must have a lender of last resort. Sterling’s long success and recent failures are all linked to the Bank of England having this role. No serious financial institution can be the lender of last resort without any control over taxation or spending. The Scots are deluded – and Salmond misleading them – if they think anything else: it just will not happen.
If the Scots do vote to separate then they will have to decide on a currency. Sterling, while genuinely independent, is not an option: it cannot be because of the role of the lender of last resort. The UK Government has ruled this out. Scotland could set up a new currency. But this would cause a flight of both capital and financial institutions that would hole the new currency below the waterline before it had floated off the dock.
Or, they could join the euro and replace a relatively sympathetic Westminster and Threadneedle Street with a more distant Brussels and Frankfurt.
The Scots’ rejection of the way in which Westminster operates is not unique to them. The English and Welsh feel it, too. Millions of voters are rejecting the entire British political class. Next May, at the general election, these people have a wonderful opportunity to express their discontent.
Meanwhile, with the referendum polls so close, no one knows what will happen next week. But I do know that the Scottish electorate has been sold “a pig in a poke”.
The vote is about secession from England and Mr Cameron epitomises all that the Scottish people viscerally loathe about England. The cunning and duplicitous Mr Salmond is using this to his advantage. But if they do vote to leave, I believe they will suffer a fate of which Aesop warned in one of his most famous fables. The frogs complain so much that Zeus replaces benign if boring “king log” with “king stork” who, you will remember, gobbled them all up!
If being part of the UK is the former, I think the Scots would find Brussels very much equates to the latter.