1. Would you elaborate on why you are in favour of Scottish independence, in particular from your position as an economist?
I am in favour of independence primarily for non-economic reasons. If Scotland is really a nation then it should have all the characteristics of nationhood, notably self-government and representation in international organisations. However, I also believe that independence would have positive economic effects, for the reasons set out in my article in The Sunday Times (Scotland) of February 11th. Our rate of growth lags behind other European economies of similar size, and I think that this is in large part attributable to our culture of dependence.2. Some who favour independence have rejected joining the SNP because their policies are perceived as being anti-liberal. Do you think that there is any likelihood of a radical realignment in Scottish politics? I’m thinking of some kind of merger between the “liberal” forces in the SNP and those Scottish Conservatives who are frustrated by the current state of their party. Might we even see a low-tax, small government party in Scotland while England dithers under Mr Cameron?
Just as it is within the power of the people of Scotland to decide whether they wish to have political independence or not, so it is up to those who wish it to bring about the re-alignment that you describe. My impression is that the disenchantment with conventional politics that seems to affect much of the contemporary Western world means that there may be scope for some quite radical realignments. These might include, as Mike Russell has suggested, movements to return some political power from elected representatives to the voters. The success of a political party in Scotland running on a “liberal” platform would probably depend on the perceived success or failure of existing arrangements for delivering public services.3. Many English journalists, both in print and in the blogosphere, see Scotland as an economic basket case. It seems to me that the Scottish GDP per-capita isn’t too far from the UK or European average and that our problem is too much government spending and control rather than a fundamental weakness in our ability to produce. Do you agree?
I do not think we should pay too much attention to what English journalists write about Scotland. With one or two exceptions, they are usually not very well-informed. I agree with you that our businesses do not appear to suffer from an evident lack of capability to produce things that are in demand. I think the problem with Government in Scotland, (apart from the fact that the Executive lacks the power to promote economic growth in Scotland, and the Government in London lacks the will), is not that it spends too much money, but that it spends it very badly. What we need is not so much small government as good government.4. Many of the aforementioned English journalists are now calling for Scottish independence. Do you think that they would be quite so keen should it become apparent that England/England and Wales/England, Wales plus NI would have a reduced status in the EU and the UN?
I doubt whether the rest of the UK would suffer a loss of stature in the EU and the UN as a result of the departure of Scotland. So far as I am aware, the departure of Ireland in 1922 was not perceived by anyone as a loss of English international stature. And I don’t think that England feels that its influence in FIFA is diminished by the fact of separate Scottish representation.5. Sticking with Northern Ireland: In the event of Scottish independence, do you envisage the NI unionists moving towards a rapprochement with the Republic?
That is an interesting question. I think that here is already a slow but perceptible thawing of relations between the Northern Unionists and the Republic. For example, both agree to the existence of an electricity inter-connector between the Republic and the North, where electricity flows both ways at different times. (I am told that the southbound electricity is known as ‘Orange juice’, and the northbound as ‘Southern Comfort’.) But I think that resistance to the political integration of North and South is real, and doesn’t all come from the North.6. To what extent are you concerned that prominent Scottish companies – the Royal Bank, Standard Life etc. – might flee southwards if independence looked likely? What could be done to counter any such plans?
I worked for Standard Life for thirteen years. I can’t think of any reason why the fact of independence would cause financial companies to move their head offices south. What would drive companies out of Scotland, financial and non-financial ones alike, would be an environment of taxes and regulation that is unfriendly to business. An independent Scottish Government would of necessity value its major companies, and would scarcely impose upon them the hostile regulatory environment that many of them now suffer at the hands of the Westminster Government.7. I’m now thinking of my own situation. Like many born here I have English connections. My late father was English and one of my two sisters was born in England. Most of my adult life was spent in London. How can you reassure the many people like me who may be concerned about a splitting of family connections?
I don’t understand in what sense independence could possibly ‘split’ families? Most Irish people have close relatives in England. They are no more or less close to each other, whether Ireland is part of the UK or not. Nowadays, more and more people are choosing to migrate from one country to another. I have relatives in Canada to whom I am closer than I am to many of my relatives in Scotland. This has nothing to do with political boundaries.8. I now turn to foreign affairs. Assuming the Scottish people wished to remain in the EU, would the Union accept us? Would the rest of the UK (perhaps just England & Wales) be deemed to be the continuing UK?
I am not a lawyer, but my understanding of the situation is that, upon becoming independent, Scotland would be deemed to be still part of the EU, as would the Rest of the UK.
9. What should happen to the nuclear weapons based on Clydeside? Should Scotland lease the site to England?
If an independent Scotland voted against having nuclear weapons on its soil, then I think it is unlikely that it would wish to lease bases for nuclear purposes to another country.10. What should an independent Scotland do to alleviate poverty and welfare dependency in Glasgow and its surroundings?
The only way to alleviate poverty in Glasgow or anywhere else is to create jobs, and the only way to create sustainable jobs is to make the region concerned an attractive place in which to locate businesses.