Barack Obama has intervened in the debate on Scottish independence by saying his country has a deep interest in ensuring the UK remains “strong, robust and united”. At a joint press conference in Brussels with David Cameron, the US president said that the UK has been “an extraordinary partner” and has worked well as a unit.
Britain has often been referred to as the ‘51st state’, and indeed, figures in the Obama administration have expressed fears about the impact on US interests if the UK's influence and status in NATO and the UN were weakened by Scotland's independence and the loss of Trident nuclear submarines on the Clyde. And there’s the problem. It’s the potential weakening of a major US ally; the debate means little else to the President. It’s doubtful that a man so preoccupied with illegal spying systems and indiscriminate drone strikes has found the time to research the benefits of independence for the people of little Scotland – the people who should be doing the talking, and the people who, fortunately, are deciding for themselves.
If Cameron thinks he can spin this to influence voters in Scotland, who certainly don’t live in awe of Washington, think again. The desire to escape the UK’s global power games – including its plans to spend £100 billion on nuclear weapons this decade – is one of the main grounds for independence. Scotland plans to spend its £8 billion share more wisely. It plans to vote in its own interests.
These include, firstly, building a fairer society. By gaining independence, the Scottish can abolish the bedroom tax, the roll-out of universal credit and personal independence payments, the single household payments and the disincentives for second adults, usually women, from taking employment if they wish to. Scotland can only be free of Cameron’s austerity, by drawing up its own constitution.
Scotland also needs to be free of Westminster’s shocking state of finances. This month we learned that the deficit figures for April were terrible – in spite of supposedly strong economic growth - with the government borrowing £11 billion for the month, £2 billion more than a year earlier. Scotland, meanwhile, has one of the best sets of national accounts of any nation in the developed world. Freedom from Westminster, which has cost Scotland £64 billion (in debt interest) in the past 30 years, would allow it to spend more on things like the NHS.
Let’s put aside the recent claims that, after independence, Scottish families would be £2,000 a year better off. Of course, a certain amount depends on the post-independence policies of the new Scottish government. There are also the problems of international political influence to overcome.
But the unionists, and Obama, are relying on the argument that, as part of the UK, Scotland has real clout in the UN Security Council, NATO and the EU. That Scotland can enjoy strong links with the US and a powerful presence on the world stage. But these words mean little to a country that has seen the success of small self-determining states like Switzerland, Belgium and Norway. They mean little to a nation with more than enough human and natural wealth to prosper on its own. The economic benefits far outweigh the vague ramblings about potential losses of influence and culture.
However, Obama wasn’t going as far as addressing his argument directly to the Scots. In showing no acknowledgement of their perspective, he has reminded Scotland of how its unity serves only US interests. Apart from the depletion of international standing and the loss of missiles, the USA also fears that Scottish independence will encourage US separatists and fuel international instability: things which Scotland doesn’t give a damn about.
Scotland needs to embrace its own economic future, and to step back from the UK’s international commitments. Scotland needs to wriggle free of Westminster’s grip in order to blossom, and, inadvertently, Obama has underlined exactly why.
By Jacob Montgomery