Sunday, March 3, 2013

Scottish Nationalism Update

I came across a couple of articles that pertain to the ongoing debate on Scottish nationalism/ independence/secession, so I figured I'd keep the series running. Here are the articles, and my thoughts.

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In January, The Scotsman reported that a defense expert recommended the Scots to head a hypothetical Scottish military force:

Professor Ron Smith, of Birkbeck College, London, who specialises in defence economics, told MPs one of the greatest problems faced by an independent Scotland would be finding people who were able to run smaller armed forces after working in the UK armed forces.

Speaking to the Scottish
affairs select committee yesterday, he likened it to “leaving a large corporation and joining a small firm”.

He added: “If I were them I would go for a foreigner to run it. Get someone from Ireland or Denmark, who actually understands how to run defence for a small country.”
As my own background is in defense and security issues, one of my biggest concerns has been how Scotland would handle defense and security matters should the Scots vote to secede. I haven't had a chance to read the relevant information on the RUSI website, but it's the SNP's lack of transparency on plans for substantive matters such as these that have led a number of the Scottish skeptics I've spoken with to doubt whether the SNP leaders are even serious about secession, or just using the whole thing as a ploy to boost their support among the electorate.

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The other article I saw recently comes from the BBC: Question mark over oil prospects. I've mentioned this concern before, as some of the secessionists' consternation at England and plans for the economy of a notionally independent Scotland center on the use of energy revenues. In fairness, I saw an article a few days ago that said an Abu Dhabi-based company had located a new oil field in the North Sea.

This is a topic I've discussed previously at the JTS, Ltd. blog. The idea that any rich source of oil "runs dry", or that we're approaching peak oil, tends to be overplayed by politicians and pundits. As we've seen from recent developments such as Canadian tar sands and the hydraulic fracturing of natural gas, unprofitable sources of energy and methods of energy/resource utilization tend to become profitable over time; either because more easily utilized sources are exhausted, or because technological developments make sources easier to exploit. I have no doubt that Scotland could benefit from this trend in the North Sea.

At the same time, the world has plenty of examples of good stewardship of energy resource income, and poor stewardship of that income. Kuwait, for example, has done a relatively lackluster job of investing the income from their massive energy resources, while nearby Qatar has made a much better effort at investing in its infrastructure and populace. Scotland might be more accurately compared to Oman, which is physically larger but has regionally modest energy supplies and a comparable population size (5.2 million to Oman's ~3 million). I don't know how the North Sea energy resources compare to Oman's; what I do know is that Sultan Qaboos has tried to use Oman's energy resources to improve the country's non-energy infrastructure, industry, and education services, rather than using it to finance things like social services. As an integral member of the United Kingdom, the average Scot enjoys what most would consider a better quality of life than the average Omani, and I think there's a really big question as to whether the Scots could afford that quality of life upon secession or not. The SNP assures Scots that their current quality of life will continue, but there are plenty of skeptics, and it's an issue that the SNP doesn't seem to have addressed with much granularity.

My bottom line: "We have oil" isn't a viable long-term energy or economic strategy for the twenty-first century.

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As I've mentioned before, I remain skeptical of the proposed Scottish secession referendum, but I'm also willing to be convinced that the SNP has a plan and a justification for secession. The wait continues.

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