I was so shocked by the rise of the Scottish National Party in last week’s elections that I have had to retreat to the Andes to get some perspective on the situation. I am writing this from an internet cafe in Cusco, once the Inca capital, in Peru. Perhaps, it is the high altitude or the benefit of distance, but I feel I am now seeing the situation in Scotland with new clarity. My view is that, even though the SNP now control the Scottish parliament and have promised a referendum on independence, Scotland will choose to remain part of the UK.
There are four basic reasons for thinking this:
1. The opinion polls – they currently suggest that only one-third of Scots want independence. Of course, this can change – and Scottish opinion may swing against the Union as a Tory-led government in London cuts spending, but it´s still a huge poll lead to change around.
2. Ireland – the example of Ireland used to be held up as a wonderful advertisement of the benefits of independence for a small Celtic nation. Now Ireland’s fate looks more like an awful warning.
3. The oil – There isn´t much left. Scottish independence would have been much more attractive thirty years ago, when the Scots could have grabbed most of the oil wealth. The Nats even used the slogan, “It´s Scotland´s oil”. But the riches of the North Sea have been run down.
4. The euro – One of the most powerful arguments that the Nats used to make was that Scottish independence would leave England more isolated from Europe than Scotland. That is because the Scots would join the euro, while the English clung onto the pound. But the euro, like Ireland, is looking less attractive.
So, all in all, I don’t think the Scots will do it.
And, oddly enough, I have found a Peruvian angle on the Scottish question. Today I went to buy one of my sons a replica Peru football jersey. It’s a very fine design – white, with a diagonal red stripe, and it brought back vivid memories of when the Peruvian team was in its pomp. In the 1978 World Cup, Peru beat a wildly over-confident Scotland side, managed by Ally McCoist – the Alex Salmond of his day. I can still remember the fantastic free kick that Peru’s Cubillas bent round the Scottish wall, with the outside of his boot, leaving the Scottish goalie floundering. Happy days.