Fraser Nelson

The odds on independence

The odds on independence
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Whenever a London bookmaker made odds on Scottish politics, my former colleagues at The Scotsman used to make easy money*. The world of Holyrood, where yours truly served a one year tour of duty, has its own political weather system that it’s hard to understand from a distance – so likelihoods are given very high odds. But today Ladbrokes gives odds that I think are pretty fair: 20-1 on independence before 2015.

The SNP’s rout in Glasgow North West a fortnight ago is part of a wider reluctance to separate from England. The financial crisis, and the way that RBS somehow became the new Darien Scheme, has spooked everyone. Salmond is praying that a posh English PM like David Cameron will make people vote for independence just to get away from him: but Cameron (whose own name hints at his Scottish heritage) is not and will never be as loathed in Scotland as Thatcher once was. What's more, Salmond has made enough of a horlicks of Scotland to deter people from giving him greater powers.

The Scottish voters will never, in my opinion, vote to make foreigners our of our friends and family in England. Support for independence did, in a Braveheart-inspired peak, break 50 percent in the mid-1990s. But a Mori/Sunday Times poll now has it at 20 percent.

I don’t take this for granted: English indifference is, I think, the greater threat to the union. But the most Salmond can realistically hope for is that Scotland is granted financial independence (so-called “fiscal autonomy”), which I believe would do it the world of good – forcing the government to spare a thought for the tax-generating part of the economy. But independence? Ladbrokes says 5 percent chance. And I’ll bet that they are right.

* When Alex Salmond announced his candidature for the leadership in 2004 (making history in being the only leader to welsh on a Sherman denial) the London bookies had him at 3-1. The Edinburgh-based hacks made a packet.

P.S. Scotland’s economic performance since devolution has ranked amongst the worst in Europe (see below chart). But what do you expect when state spending is up at East German levels?

Written byFraser Nelson

Fraser Nelson is the editor of The Spectator. He is also a columnist with The Daily Telegraph, a member of the advisory board of the Centre for Social Justice and the Centre for Policy Studies.