MAY 2021 IN

Scotland’s Secession Timetable

Scotland is again on its way to seceding from the United Kingdom and becoming a separate country, and sentiment has shifted so quickly that the question now is less about whether Scotland will make this move, but how quickly.

The mere fact that the campaign to keep Scotland in the United Kingdom is coming from London tells you that, in energetic terms, the decision has already been made. Everyone involved is positioning over the details while conceding the basic fact of the upcoming split.

There are a great many details to be determined. London would like to slow everything down for management purposes, quite aside from the economic impact on England and Wales. One difficulty for London is that a split with Scotland would hasten an already likely departure by Northern Ireland, which faces an uncertain future in its current position on the border between the EU and the UK.

Another is the possible fate of Royal Bank of Scotland, which could fail along with its parent company NatWest if depositors moved quickly to shift deposits to a bank that was based in Scotland in actual fact and not only in name. That could require London to engineer another complicated and embarrassing bank bailout. Yet the movement of deposits may be hard to avoid, as Scotland will soon need a strong domestic banking system to support its new national currency.

The hardnosed and bungled British exit from the European Union cost many workers in Scotland a month of pay as delays in export paperwork idled fishing fleets and other businesses for weeks at a time. This economic blow may prove to be the deciding factor when the secession question next comes up for a vote.

The main strategy in London may simply be to delay any such vote for as long as possible. Subtlety is key, as being too obvious in the foot-dragging tactics would stoke resentment.

For Scotland, there are risks in moving quickly, but the greater risks probably lie in remaining tied to London. The risk is that London could create new economic obstacles for Scotland without warning. Probably the best thing London can do at this point to slow down the secession process is the create the appearance of a return to good order. But in a government that has other priorities, that may be hard to do.

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