If I had a vote on Scottish Independence, it would be no

Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond holds a Q&A session during a visit to the Scottish Youth Theatre in Glasgow

Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond holds a Q&A session during a visit to the Scottish Youth Theatre in Glasgow

First published in Columnists
Last updated
by , Court reporter

SINCE Scotland is going to feature a lot on television in the next two weeks, I thought I would write today's column on Scottish independence, a debate that always evokes sensations of deja vu for me. I was in Czechoslovakia before, during and many times after its split into the Slovak and Czech Republics.

The most obvious difference is that Czechoslovakia didn't have a referendum. They had no tradition of referenda. The Communists didn't ask their people what they thought, they told them. Instead, the Czechoslovaks had a general election.

From the moment the Slovaks first raised it shortly after the Velvet Revolution, the question: "one country or two?" dominated serious discussion in any group of people, when they weren't watching the television blockbuster of the time – a documentary series of Czechoslovakia's history through non-Communist eyes.

Every political party, all 42 of them, regardless of their ideology, had to have a position on the issue.

When the results came out and it was obvious that the two-country parties were in the majority, everyone knew that the only job for the newly elected MPs was to draw up two constitutions and agree on how to split up national assets such as the armed forces.

The Czechoslovakian decision was taken by the whole country and turned into a dissolution because the country ceased to exist.

The UK decision, on the other hand, will be taken by about eight per cent of the population and the UK will still be around afterwards. That will make Scottish independence, if it happens, a secession, where part of a country removes itself from the rest.

Splitting a country has all sorts of consequences on everyday life for ordinary people, some predictable, some not .

It took exactly three months for the Czech and Slovak republics to decide that neither Government could control its own economy without control of its own currency, and to split the Czechoslovak koruna into Czech and Slovak versions. Anyone who thinks that Scotland can control its own economy and share the pound is living in cloud cuckoo land.

The Slovak koruna sank faster than the Czech which inevitably led to higher prices and lower wages in Slovakia.

In both republics, hundreds of thousands of people suddenly discovered they were foreigners and therefore in urgent need of a residence visa to live in the place they had lived for most of their lives, because their birthplace was in the other republic. They could apply to change their nationality and if you think British bureaucracy is bad, it's a model of simplicity compared to the Czechoslovak version.

Even after nationality issues were sorted out, so many families were left on both sides of the border that visits to grandparents, Christmas family gatherings, funerals etc, are now complicated by the need to look out passports, foreign currency and the correct motorway toll badge. In some cases, the daily commute to work means crossing an international border.

As each country developed their own laws, regulations and ways of doing things, the many businesses in both republics had to work out what they could do where.

There are advantages to being two countries. The Czechs and Slovaks now have two voices at international tables and two sets of competitors at international sporting events, instead of one. They are on both sides of the Euro debate (Slovakia is in, the Czech Republic out).

Splitting a country has far reaching and lasting consequences and should therefore only be taken with very strong public support. It is not to be done lightly or without good cause. When South Sudan seceded from Sudan in 2011 in a southern Sudan only vote (one/third of the total population), 98 per cent voted in favour.

I doubt if the Scottish outcome will be anything like as decisive - and it will only be taken by eight per cent of the population. For that reason alone, I would vote No, if I had a vote.

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