Off Her Majesty’s Secret Service
When Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman cast a former truck driver and coffin polisher from Edinburgh as James Bond in 1961, English public schoolboy and confirmed snob Ian Fleming opined that he was “an overgrown stunt man” and “unrefined.” Yet Sean Connery eventually won over 007’s creator, and Fleming was inspired to write a father from Glencoe and an education at Fettes into Bond’s backstory. A Scottish father, a Scottish school, and a Scottish actor – James Bond may not be as English as you thought. Of course, James Bond is not Scottish. A Scot, an Australian, two Englishmen, a Welshman, and an Irishman have portrayed him in the main film series. Far from being just another English gentleman, James Bond is quintessentially British.
The lineage of our favorite fictional womanizing alcoholic killer may not seem like a political issue, but it is – sort of. With their ancient “unwritten constitution,” their messy imperial history, and their mix of national identities, the British have learned to live with complexity. That has not stopped Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond and his Scottish National Party (SNP) from trying to make them uncomfortable with it. The SNP’s platform is nothing if not simple: Scotland should leave the United Kingdom. And with a referendum asking “Should Scotland be an independent country?” scheduled for September 18, the party leading the so-called “Yes campaign” may get its wish. Most Americans may not give much thought to British politics, but they have a huge stake in the debate over Scottish independence—and not just because James Bond’s national identity hangs in the balance.
April polls place the Yes campaign’s support at 46 percent, meaning that if the referendum were held today, Scotland would remain part of the United Kingdom. However, as numerous commentators have pointed out, the No side held a 24-point lead as recently as November. The trend line does not look good for opponents of independence. There are a variety of explanations for why the race is tightening. Some argue that the No campaign has been overly negative and has thus turned off a growing part of the electorate. It could also be that many voters are only beginning to pay attention to the debate, with the vote now just five months away. The most obvious factor, however, is the Yes campaign itself, and Salmond in particular.
The doughy first minister, labeled a “bandit” by one British government source in the pages of The Guardian, is writing checks his party cannot cash, whatever the result of the referendum. It is not enough to say that Salmond is engaging in the typical wishful thinking of the campaigning politician; he is willfully deceiving the people of Scotland. Some of the distortions and falsehoods he has promoted would be laughable, if the consequences were not so dire. Salmond’s case for independence rests on faulty evidence and flawed arguments, on issues ranging from the monarchy to defense to economic policy.
In the 20th century, it became common for nations within the British Empire to gain their independence while continuing to recognize the British monarch as head of state. Thus, Queen Elizabeth II is today the sovereign ruler of 16 separate realms. It is easy enough to imagine that Scotland could retain the queen in the case of independence. Indeed, from the accession of King James in 1603 until the Acts of Union in 1707, that is exactly the type of personal union the Scots had—it was not the first such union, and if Salmond has his way, it will not be the last. Or so he and his party claim. The SNP has a strong republican faction that includes some of the party’s leading members, and its younger members are almost uniformly anti-monarchist. Salmond may claim that an independent Scotland will keep Elizabeth on as Queen of Scots, and it will certainly have to do so for some time to avoid alienating voters, but the SNP is a fundamentally republican force. Its members have no great love for the House of Windsor, and their political aims are said to be anathema to the queen and other members of the royal family, who do not wish to preside over the breakup of their country. If Salmond’s manipulations were limited to questions surrounding the monarch, or his bizarre proposal that an independent Scotland would drive on the right side of the road, perhaps he could be forgiven. But even on more substantive, practical questions, the SNP refuses to tell the truth.
Scotland’s position in international organizations like the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the European Union would undergo fundamental changes if the Scots declare independence. Salmond and his party have tried to obscure this fact by making contradictory and false claims. For instance, the SNP maintains strict opposition to the presence of nuclear weapons on Scottish soil and in Scottish waters—a major point of contention in British politics, since the Vanguard-class submarines carrying the United Kingdom’s Trident nuclear missiles are based in Scotland. Scottish independence would see the newly-empowered Holyrood government demand that Westminster remove all British nuclear forces from its territory. The consequences of doing so would not be trivial.
Tucked away on the west coast of Scotland, Clyde Naval Base provides British nuclear submarines with quick and reliable access to the open waters of the North Atlantic. It is one of only three bases currently operated by the Royal Navy in the United Kingdom, and identifying and constructing alternative facilities would be expensive and time-consuming. The process might even disrupt Britain’s ability to hang onto its independent nuclear deterrent. As Lord Robertson, the former Secretary-General of NATO, has argued, “It is one thing to unilaterally disarm yourself but when you choose to unilaterally disarm your neighbor you are playing with fire.” The British military has been under fiscal strain for years—even before the current coalition government’s deep budget cuts, its core capabilities were eroding. Scottish independence would force the United Kingdom to reevaluate its status as a nuclear power, and more importantly, it would likely involve a major reorganization of the British military, since at least some of its units and hardware would presumably be transferred to the new Scottish state. The United Kingdom’s defense establishment, like that of the United States, is a vast national enterprise, and uncoupling Scotland from its neighbors would result in waste, duplication of efforts, and doubts about Britain’s ability to honor its obligations to its allies.
Applying for membership in NATO is not a rubber stamp process. Scotland would need the consent of every NATO member state in order to join the alliance as an independent state, and it would also have to meet specific criteria under a Membership Action Plan (MAP). One of the main requirements of the MAP framework, which has been used to bring seven countries into NATO, is that domestic legislation in the prospective member state cannot interfere with alliance cooperation. The SNP’s anti-nuclear policies will make it impossible for Scotland to comply with the rules of NATO, and it will therefore be excluded from—or rather, it will voluntarily exit—the world’s most powerful and successful collective security pact. Salmond would undoubtedly protest, but it is impossible for NATO to compromise on such an important issue. NATO members are under the US nuclear umbrella—no country should be able to benefit from that level of protection without full participation in the alliance. The irony of Salmond’s position is that, in the long run, the SNP stands a much better chance of getting what it wants – the removal of nuclear weapons from Scotland and continued membership in NATO – if the Scots vote against independence. London could eventually agree to relocate the nuclear weapons, perhaps in return for assurances that no additional referenda will take place anytime soon. Meanwhile, the United Kingdom would remain in compliance with its obligations under NATO. While imperfect, such a resolution to the nuclear question is preferable to Salmond’s preferred course of action, which would inevitably result in Scotland’s isolation from NATO.
Another international body which might very well turn Scotland away is the European Union. The SNP has repeatedly argued that it could enter the union “seamlessly” as a continuing member state under Article 48 of the Lisbon Treaty, something that both EU and British officials have categorically denied. Instead, Scotland would have to wait until 2016, when independence would take full effect, and then apply for accession under Article 49. José Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission, has said that it would be “extremely difficult, if not impossible” for the Scots to gain membership, which (as with NATO) requires the consent of every EU state. There is ample reason to take Barroso at his word. Kosovo still cannot join the European Union, despite being independent since 2008, because Spain does not wish to encourage the secessionist movements within its own borders.
Even if Scotland could win, in principle, the right to join the European Union, it would not be able to do so on terms acceptable to the majority of Scots. EU member states are required, under the Maastricht Treaty and subsequent revisions, to adopt the euro. The United Kingdom negotiated an opt-out agreement permitting it to retain the pound sterling, but this provision would not apply to an independent Scotland. Salmond insists that Scotland will not only be able to avoid adopting the euro, but that it will even be able to continue using the pound. The vehement denials of officials from the British government and the European Union alike (and since when do London and Brussels agree on anything?) should leave no doubt that the SNP is dead wrong about both the currency issue, and its status vis à vis the European Union. But Salmond has doubled down on his positions. Perhaps he believes that a resounding win in the referendum will give him additional leverage when the time comes to negotiate the details of Scotland’s independence, or that the Scottish electorate will not notice the growing gulf between reality and his rhetoric.
It does not take a genius, or even a trained economist, to understand why London will never share the pound with an independent Scotland. The British need only look across the English Channel to see what happens when monetary union is not accompanied by fiscal union, as was the case in the eurozone. Repeating the same experiment in the event of Scottish secession will surely result in failure. David Cameron is not a bully, nor are the officials of the Bank of England. They simply accept what Salmond cannot – that Scotland is fiscally out of step with the rest of Britain and is effectively subsidized by funds from Westminster. The left-wing state that the SNP wants to build north of the border is unsustainable absent English largesse, and no amount of North Sea oil revenue will change that.
Since declaring independence would require Scotland to give up the pound, the only apparent alternative would be to join the eurozone. Scots would overwhelmingly oppose this move, assuming the SNP even managed to negotiate Scotland’s entry in the first place. Most of Britain has watched the monetary meltdown on the Continent with no shortage of schadenfreude, and see the notion of spurning London in favor of Brussels (or is it Berlin?) for the patent absurdity that it is. Salmond and his compatriots probably do too, which is why they have to continue pretending that their new nation can have its haggis and eat it too. Indeed, the rosy economic future they envision for an independent Scotland is at the core of their campaign. In the end, however, they cannot escape economic reality. Scotland greatly benefits in material terms from its union with the rest of Britain, and secession would adversely affect Scots’ quality of life, regardless of which currency the new state ends up using.
On a variety of constitutional, military, diplomatic, and economic issues, Salmond is trying to mislead the people of Scotland. Unfortunately, he appears to be succeeding, at least for the time being. The nightmare scenario for unionists is that a mismanaged No campaign (currently dubbed “Better Together”) will not only antagonize the Scots, but also encourage some English conservatives to conclude that Scottish secession would be a good thing. Without Scotland in the union, there may be a permanent Tory majority in the House of Commons—a tantalizing prospect for some, even at the alarmingly steep cost of a diminished Britain less able to act on the world stage. And that Britain, a Little England with Welsh and Northern Irish appendages (which might experience nationalist resurgences of their own if Scotland votes Yes), will struggle to be an effective partner for the United States. While US government officials are understandably reluctant to comment on a foreign referendum—and any such interference could backfire horribly— Americans should not be in doubt as to their desired outcome.
Anything short of a resounding defeat for the Scottish secessionists would be a blow to America’s oldest and strongest alliance. The present global situation demands effective international cooperation, and while the United Kingdom is no longer a world power of the first order, it can continue to play a major role in a broader Western alliance. If London is preoccupied with the details of its divorce from Edinburgh, it will be forced to divert significant attention away from its regional and global responsibilities. This dismal state of affairs would have worldwide repercussions. The oldest and closest security relationships in the world today are those which exist among the English-speaking peoples of the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. The level of cooperation, integration, and intelligence-sharing among these countries is truly unprecedented in world history. As the long-term viability of existing international institutions is called increasingly into question, the United States will have to take the lead in their reform – but it must also redouble its commitment to those nations which have always and will always share its aims and interests most closely. The promotion of a strong and vibrant Anglosphere capable of acting forcefully and in unison across the globe should be a foundational principle of US foreign policy. Needless to say, if the United Kingdom ceases to exist in its current form in September, this important goal will experience a significant, even fatal, setback. Whatever sympathy Americans may feel for the cause of Scottish independence must be tempered by a clear-eyed appreciation of the American national interest.
The United States should not insert itself into the Scottish referendum, and the Obama administration’s decision to refrain from comment on the matter is a prudent one. Nevertheless, it is overwhelmingly clear that Salmond and the SNP are leading a campaign which is not only dishonest, but fundamentally at odds with America’s goals and its longstanding relationship with the United Kingdom. British identity has long been complex and multifaceted; Scottish pride is no reason to allow a relatively small group of deluded nationalists run the United Kingdom into the ground. The Better Together campaign has the facts on its side: if it can defeat Salmond in September, it would do much to discredit the independence movement’s most able and visible spokesman. The SNP will continue to advocate for secession, of course, but unless the vote is extremely close, it will struggle to justify another referendum in the foreseeable future. At most, they will manage to extract additional devolved powers from Westminster. The United Kingdom will move on – together – and with any luck, Alex Salmond will have met his Waterloo, or rather, his Falkirk.
On August 23, 1305, Sir William Wallace was hanged, drawn, and quartered in London for high treason against King Edward I of England. Generations of Scots to come would remember him as their national hero. But on October 21, 1805, or June 18, 1815, or July 1, 1916, or June 6, 1944, were the English distant and foreign oppressors, or were they loyal comrades in arms? Would it not detract from the shared sacrifices of all the people of Britain if they, having fought so hard and so long to protect their island and their way of life from invasion, lent more weight to the whims of a few short-sighted secessionists than to the blood of millions? English public schoolboys will always be snobs, but the Scots are much better off with them than without them. •