Better together after all.

Gaelic Lessons for the Rest of Europe

Mark Gilbert is a Bloomberg View columnist and writes editorials on economics, finance and politics. He was London bureau chief for Bloomberg News and is the author of “Complicit: How Greed and Collusion Made the Credit Crisis Unstoppable.”
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Valuable lessons abound in the aftermath of the Scottish referendum on independence, both for those regions that would secede and for the nations or institutions that would prefer to maintain a status quo. Some of them, moreover, need be learned rapidly.

The most momentous situation on the calendar still has the U.K. at its center. Prime Minister David Cameron has promised Britons a referendum on whether to abandon the European Union by 2017. EU apparatchiks are adamant that they want Britain to stay; Cameron himself says he doesn't want to leave, although he does want to renegotiate his membership terms.

QuickTake Scotland's Independence Bid

Whether or not Cameron is still in power to keep his word, the referendum will arrive much more quickly than he expects, just as the Scottish question caught his government unaware. Europhiles need to start accentuating the positives of EU membership now, and repeat the message insistently in the coming years. Cameron almost lost Scotland in large part because the unionist campaign focused almost exclusively on the negatives of separation; he mustn't make the mistake of trying to scare the electorate into sticking with Europe.

At the same time, if EU leaders are serious about keeping the U.K. in the family, they might have to start making more concessions that Cameron can claim as victories, particularly in financial services which are much more important to the U.K. economy than to those of its neighbors. The surprise nomination this month of Britain's Jonathan Hill as the EU's commissioner for financial regulation is a good start; resolving disputes over banker bonuses and taxing market transactions with a keen empathy for U.K. sensitivities would also help.

The person most urgently in need of Gaelic lessons, however, is Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy. He was quick to have his say this morning, saying Scotland had avoided grave consequences by rejecting independence. Trying to ignore the momentum in Catalonia, where demonstrators want a vote of their own on becoming a separate nation, is a mistake; as my colleague Marc Champion pointed out today, granting the option of self-determination can transform a would-be breakaway region into a willing constituent.

Finally, there's a lesson from the past few weeks about which crystal ball to rely on when trying to predict outcomes. Twitter analysis showed the "yes" camp with the upper hand; a slump in the pound suggested the smart money was anticipating at least a close call, if not outright secession. The 10-point win for the "Better Together" campaign proved both wrong.

The bookmakers, though, consistently backedthe "no" campaign, even after what now looks like an oddly rogue poll from YouGov at the start of the month that put the "yes" campaign ahead for the first time. "I've never met a poor bookie," my father, who had a small wager on horse racing almost every day of his adult life, used to say. In future, I'll follow the money via the oddsmakers, not the traders -- and not the psephologists.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

To contact the author on this story:
Mark Gilbert at magilbert@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor on this story:
Toby Harshaw at tharshaw@bloomberg.net