Scotland's Independent Streak

Grousing about independence.

Photographer: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Only two years ago, 55 percent of Scots voted to remain in the United Kingdom, which was then part of the European Union. Since then, the U.K. has decided it does not want to be part of the EU, so Scottish nationalists now want another vote. If their fellow Scots agree, they should get it. Just not yet.

Scotland has legitimate concerns. Some 62 percent of Scots voted to stay in the EU in the June referendum on Brexit, compared with 48 percent in the U.K. overall. Meanwhile, U.K. ministers are signaling they will prioritize curbing immigration over access to the single market, and Prime Minister Theresa May is packing her negotiating team with euroskeptics.

The U.K. shouldn’t deny the Scots another referendum if they demand one. By now, however, the dangers of such votes are clear. Despite the different outcomes, the 2014 Scottish independence campaign was depressingly similar to this year’s Brexit debate. Both were short on economic facts, long on political scaremongering, and damagingly divisive.

Surely the main issue over any proposed departure from the U.K. is economic -- and there, what’s happened since 2014 reinforces the risks of going it alone. Scotland is reliant on trade with the U.K., the main market for the bulk of its 76 billion pounds ($92 billion) of exports:

By far the bigger economic challenge, however, is the collapse in oil prices. Scotland’s share of North Sea oil revenue was 76 million pounds ($101 million) in 2015-2016, down from 2.25 billion pounds a year earlier. As a result, its budget deficit for the most recent fiscal year was 9.5 percent of gross domestic product, more than double the U.K. shortfall.

Finally, there is the question of exactly what Brexit will look like -- and here, it’s just too soon to know. True, the rhetoric from 10 Downing Street is at worst discouraging and at best confusing. But the final shape of the agreement, which won’t be known for several years, is relevant to any debate over Scottish independence. Besides which, it’s not at all clear that a vote to leave the U.K. will automatically mean Scotland gets to stay in the EU.

The abiding desire of many Scots for independence isn’t just about economics, of course. But it’s essential that Scottish voters be fully informed about the potential economic consequences of secession.

To contact the senior editor responsible for Bloomberg View’s editorials: David Shipley at davidshipley@bloomberg.net.