Alex Massie

Financial Crisis: Cui Bono?

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Unionists of course. That. at any rate, is Alan Cochrane's argument in the Telegraph today.

With his acknowledged acumen in this field, Mr Salmond has tried to put himself at the very epicentre of this crisis but with every day that passed he has looked more and more like a spear carrier in a major production being directed by people altogether more powerful than he.

HBOS and RBS may have their brass plates in Scotland, but the measures needed to cope with the crises afflicting them required action on a scale far outwith the capabilities of one small nation. Mr Salmond’s actions have looked increasingly puny, revealed for what they are — mere whistles in the dark of a global disaster...

With the oil price shooting up and down like a yo-yo, it has already been difficult to see how the SNP can base Scotland’s economic future on North Sea Oil revenues. Gordon Brown, who faces a difficult by-election in his own back yard four weeks today, will be hoping that the banks’ fate — unhappy and unsettling though it undoubtedly is — will prove to be another nail in the separatists’ coffin.

It's an ill-wind that blows nobody any good, right enough. And for sure there's quite a bit to this. After all, Iceland and Ireland aren't looking like such good examples any more. Equally, the current financial crisis does seem to offer some support for the "safety in numbers" school of political thought. This is no time for wee boats to be out in the open sea, you may feel. (Of course, nationalists would say that an independent Scotland would be sheltered by EU membership.)

Nonetheless, Mr Cochrane (a friend and former colleague I should mention) comes perilously close to advancing the case that the collapse of HBOS and, especially, RBS would at least have the cheery upside of denting the nationalist case for independence. Never mind, for a moment, that the largest and most important company in the country (RBS) would have disappeared. See the nationalists squirm instead! Now I doubt that Alan would want this, but he comes closse to making this argument. This is the logic that says my enemy's enemy is always my friend. But this is not necessarily so.

And it is also a narrow, negative view of the Union, that still sees Scotland as being too poor and too hapless to be its own wee player on the international stage. In other words, Scotland remains a palsied infant. Maybe she is of course. But if so then that's scarcely an enthusiastic endorsement of nearly 300 years of Union. No, the case for the Union needs to be made positivey and not merely by harping on what Scotland would lose with independence. Alas rather too often Unionist logic at the meoment suggests that they would rather see Scotland poor and unhappy and in the Union than rich and successful and "independent".

But then that's the distorting impact of the constitutional debate. Everything becomes a zero sum game that either aids or hinders the nationalists. This creates perverse incentives that do few folk much credit and no-one any real good. Maybe Gordon Brown and the Telegraph will take some grim conslation from the financial hurricane approaching Edinburgh, but that risks formenting an ugly backlash, blaming England and the English for mistakes made in Scotland. Such a backlash is likely to do more harm than good. As so often then, be careful what you wish for...

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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