Prime Minister Stephen Harper responded well to a question in London about the referendum on Scottish independence on Sept. 18. He acknowledged it is “ultimately a question for the Scots,” but he was right to express a Canadian perspective.
Both the United Kingdom and Canada have thrived from national unity, and they ought to continue to do so. The Acts of Union of 1706-07, that is, the union of the English and Scottish parliaments, which was accompanied by free trade, have served Britain well for more than three centuries – much like Confederation in Canada. The British North America Act partly followed the Anglo-Scottish model.
Many Canadians are of Scottish or English descent or both – like Mr. Harper himself – and still feel an attachment to the United Kingdom on the other side of the Atlantic.
Mr. Harper is not the only non-British politician to weigh in on the Scottish referendum. He can’t be accused of any unprecedented intervention, when Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and Jean Chrétien have done likewise.
Alex Salmond, the First Minister of Scotland and the Leader of the Scottish National Party, has not made much of a practical case for independence. His main policy claim is that it would protect the National Health Service, but the “devolved” Scottish government and parliament are already in charge of health policy – and an independent Scotland would mean a smaller tax base to pay for health care and the welfare state as a whole.
As it happens, Mark Carney, the former governor of the Bank of Canada, and present Governor of the Bank of England, has warned Scotland about the problems of trying to use the pound as its currency if Scotland becomes independent. Canadians have been through fraught discussions about the dollar, especially during the referendums of 1980 and 1995. More recently, the problems of the euro zone illustrated the difficulties of having a currency managed by a group of countries. Much the same would apply to a currency managed by one country – such as England and Wales – but used by another, smaller country, such as an independent Scotland.
Mr. Harper pointed out that the recent Quebec election showed that Quebeckers did not want another referendum, that people wanted to get on with practical life. Let’s hope that undecided Scots listen to him.