September 12th, 2014
in Op Ed
by John Mauldin, Outside the Box
The United States is just starting to think about the upcoming elections (for whatever reason, the vast majority of people don't focus on politics until after Labor Day), but there is another election happening "over the pond," where the polls have just made everybody do a double-take. I am of course referring to the referendum on Scottish independence, which will be held next week. Voters opposing the measure were a clear majority for months, but their numbers began slipping a few weeks ago; and as of last few days the contest is basically even, with the election probably to be decided by the undecided.
A "yes" outcome would have significant ramifications not just for the United Kingdom but for all of Europe. Can a region of a country just decide it wants to be independent? You take a vote and that's it? To everyone's credit in the United Kingdom, they are being quite civilized about it. However, I imagine if Scotland votes to leave, the negotiations will be rather less cultured. There will be a big bill to be paid before everybody gets to leave the restaurant. Just who ran up what part of the tab over the last 300 years is an issue that has the potential to turn into a rowdy soccer - pardon me, football - match.
In today's Outside the Box we explore a few aspects of the potential break-up. And not just what it would mean for the United Kingdom (it would not be good) but for all of Europe. Note that Spanish bonds are beginning to fall as people wonder what it might mean for Scotland to be allowed to declare independence. There are a couple regions in Spain that would very much like to do the same. And frankly, the Catalan region has a much better economic rationale for being on its own than Scotland does. (From this side of the pond, I cannot see what Scotland would have to gain economically from independence. They are a net consumer of taxes. But the whole independence thing is clearly about more than just economics, so this is one bar fight among friends where I think I'll just retreat to my corner and watch.)
First, let's look at a few comments from Bloomberg:
Spain's government bonds fell, undermined by the Catalan region's crescendoing push for independence, as polls 1,000 miles away in Scotland showed increased support for its own bid to break from the U.K....
"It's a question of raising the flag to more event risk," Harvinder Sian, a fixed-income strategist at Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc in London, said today by phone:
"Where the U.K. government has decided to guarantee all government debt, the Catalonia region is too large for the rest of Spain to absorb. It's a much more problematic issue for Spain with regard to its debt markets."...
"If Catalonia were to become independent it would be a strong drag on Spain's growth and doubts would resurface regarding the sustainability of Spanish public debt," said Marius Daheim, a Munich-based senior fixed-income strategist at Bayerische Landesbank. "Liquidity rules."
Today's OTB features a piece by Stratfor's George Friedman on the implications of an independent Scotland. Do the Belgians get to split their country in two? Which regions of Spain might move for independence? How about the Northern League in Italy? What about the rest of the world? Can parts of Ukraine simply take a vote and leave? Where does it end?
Then Anatole Kaletsky over at GaveKal thinks about the implications for British politics. You could have the odd situation of Scotland's representatives in Parliament, who are overwhelmingly from the Labour Party, voting with a possible labor majority to put into place a very liberal policy agenda and then leaving Parliament after less than a year, which might then leave the Conservatives in the majority. Were those votes really legitimate if it was already known that Scotland was leaving? Exactly how does that work?
Before putting you in George and Anatole's capable hands, let me offer two additional links, from opposite sides of the political spectrum. The first is from my friend Niall Ferguson, here, musing back in 2007 on the question of what it takes to make a nation-state. Then, I offer this link to Paul Krugman's blog in the New York Times. Paul gets my vote for best line I've read so far about the election:
Well, I have a message for the Scots: Be afraid, be very afraid. The risks of going it alone are huge. You may think that Scotland can become another Canada, but it's all too likely that it would end up becoming Spain without the sunshine.
Spain without the sunshine, indeed. This may be one of the few occasions on which you will find Niall Ferguson and Paul Krugman in agreement.
Right now the London bookies still think the vote for independence will fail. I think that conclusion is largely based on the assumption that many Scottish citizens who say they are "yes" voters today will go into the polling booth and realize at the last moment that their personal economic interests lie in remaining in the union. But as of today, it looks to be very close. Just the fact that they can take a vote on such a question is really rather remarkable. I don't remember there being a vote in the movie Braveheart.
My father told me that our family was kicked out of Scotland and then kicked out of Ireland before we made it to the colonies (back when they were still colonies). The name was Muldoon in Scotland and Ireland and was Americanized when we hit these shores. We can't find any records to prove the family legend, and it's been a few centuries since anyone in the family had the right to vote over there. But there's a part of me that might be looking at the numbers a wee bit sentimentally, so let me close by wishing my Scottish friends Go n-éirí an bóthar leat! (That's Gaelic, which is as close to an ancient Scottish language is there is, though it's more commonly thought of as Irish.)
Your wondering if I'll need a passport to see Edinburgh again analyst,