It is scary these days how much success is based around perception. Fact doesn’t come into it, perception is enough to destroy a reputation, a business, a market or even a country. You can see this in Scotland. Despite the hard cold facts around unanswered question and terrifying risk, the SNP and the YES campaign have succeeded in creating a perception that life in the brave new Scotland will be great and that all Scots have to do is to reject partnership with England.
In playing this card the Yes campaign and the SNP in particular, have stoked fires that have been unlit for 300 years. With yesterday’s absurd comparison between modern Scotland in the union and apartheid South Africa, Alex Salmond has succeeded in seriously pissing off your common-or-garden English voter. I am no fan of The Daily Mail, but many people are and a column today encourages England, Wales and Ireland to tell Salmond where to stick it. The Scots do not have a monopoly on national self determination and they are prodding a slumbering ogre in baiting the English nationalist in this way. Not content with winning the vote in Scotland, it seems that Salmond wishes to cheese off their best customers to the point that the rest of the UK decides to drop Scotland. With the perception that this behaviour is causing, who could blame them?
So, what for us in Northumberland? Well, the anecdotal evidence is that there are many Scottish businesses who are confidentially looking south. I personally know of six companies, employing a total of 300 who are actively in the process of moving south and will confirm in the event of a YES vote. one of those has decided that the ‘Scottish based’ brand is now too toxic for their majority English customer base and is closing down and moving lock stock and barrel to England.
In the event of a YES vote, we in Northumberland must steel ourselves for significant impact. There is the very real prospect of a closed and controlled border, Scotland would likely have to leave the EU which would legally oblige us to control the border in the same way that Poland polices the Russian border. Northumberland based companies who have large customer bases or suppliers in Scotland will have to take measures to protect their businesses. What these measures would be is difficult to second guess because so many questions remain unanswered.
A YES vote could have a huge impact on Northumberland brands, the division being stoked by the YES campaign could easily result in a cultural backlash to things Scottish, including Scottish products, foods, drinks etc. This could result in a great opportunity for those parts of rUK which produce similar products. Northumberland and Cumbrian beef, Lamb, seafood, beer, cheese. Could fill the void and as Scotland would no longer be a part of the EU we would have a larger market and our producers could be protected by tariffs on Scottish products these could be likely if Scotland reneges on its share of the national debt.
The whole referendum question has put a shot across the bows of the London based state that the rest of the country can no longer be ignored. Even in the event of a NO vote, the scampering of the three leaders to Edinburgh today in an effort to save the union is a wake up call to the London establishment that there are parts of the UK, outside London which feel neglected and under-invested and are only seen as the playground of the Londoner, where they come and spend half-term in pretty hills and beaches rather than a place of innovation and industry.
Whatever happens in Scotland next week, the impact on Northumberland will be significant. We must prepare ourselves to make the exodus of Scottish investment, businesses and talent welcome in our county. Northumberland would welcome you with open arms, you can keep trading in Sterling, keep your UK markets and your EU membership.
However, there is a darker side to this. If the predictions of the pessimists are correct then the Scottish economy could collapse and drag the rest of the UK into recession. In the event of this we would have to brace ourselves for a flood of economic refugees, who were recently our fellow countrymen. It will be a strong test of our humanity whether we open our borders to them or, jealously protect the nation that they rejected.
We certainly, as Confucius once said, ‘live in interesting times’