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A Dream of Scottish Secession (Standpoint Mag Online, 9 Sept, 2014)

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A year after the UK signed the Separation Agreement with Scotland, and two years after the Independence Referendum, negotiations between the two countries are dragging contentiously on. The remaining nations of newly dismembered Great Britain are in the painful throes of constitutional reorganization. Relations between Westminster and Edinburgh are chilly at best.

Nevertheless, Scotland’s President, Alex Salmond, head of state as well as head of government, (and likely to hold power for at least five more years under the new constitution written by the SNP), is in an upbeat mood.

He has just returned from a triumphant foreign tour, during which he was greeted by adoring crowds in Barcelona, Corsica, Venice and Quebec. (His barring from San Sebastian by the Spanish government gratifyingly prompted riots throughout the Basque Country.) Salmond is now a bona fide international celebrity and beloved of secessionists everywhere. In the British Isles, his speeches to the Welsh assembly and to the Irish Dail proposing a Celtic Federation are front page news.

The trip has raised Salmond’s spirits after some months of uncharacteristic gloom. For much of 2016 Salmond faced the most difficult challenge of his extraordinary career. The problem was not Scotland’s exclusion for the time being from the EU and Nato, but its financial crisis. Those economic warnings from Better Together that played so badly with Scottish voters turned out to be true after all1.

Fortunately for President Salmond and his country’s financial health, Scotland is not without wealthy and generous friends abroad.

There are friendship treaties in the pipeline with Venezuela and Iran. And the first formal State Visitor of the Salmond presidency on September 15, 2016 is none other Vladimir Putin himself.

It is actually a return visit. Salmond’s second official state visit to another country as President was to Moscow. (The first was of course to Paris where he raised his glass to the “auld alliance” at dinner with a slightly nonplussed President Ségolène Royale.)

Visits to China, where his reception was insultingly low key (Beijing doesn’t like separatist movements) and to the United States, where he was accorded only an informal five minute chat with President Elizabeth Warren have been less successful.

Putin’s early invitation to Edinburgh is a thank-you for the discreet financial support of SNP activities and candidates by Russian businessmen over many years, and the encouragement of Scottish independence by officials at the Edinburgh consulate.

Putin, who has never before been to Scotland, is clearly delighted by his reception, not least by the kilt-wearing Black Watch honour guard.

Up in the Highlands with President Salmond, Putin stalks and kills a large stag that just happens to wander across his sights on the first morning. Naturally he poses with the body of the beast, and footage of him deftly gralloching it with a survival knife is broadcast around the world. A kilted, shirtless Putin is similarly successful fishing for salmon on the recently purchased Presidential estate (bought for a song from a departing aristocrat).

Putin and Salmond are then flown from Aberdeen to an oil rig where Putin publicly offers discounted Russian helicopters for air-sea-rescue and also hydrofoils to protect Scottish fisheries, and to patrol the disputed maritime border between Scotland and the UK.

Informed observers say the offer is really an attempt to test the public relations waters and that the state visit is a cover for intense negotiation between the two Presidents about a new strategic relationship.

For Salmond, billions are at stake. And so are principles, in particular the SNP’s commitment to provide free higher education and medical care to Scotland’s citizens and to pay generous salaries to Scotland’s public sector workers. 

For his part, Mr Putin is more than happy to bankroll this brave new Scotland. As he points out in a speech at the opening of the grand new embassy in Edinburgh, Russia’s connection to Scotland goes back many centuries. Indeed Russia owes an enormous historical debt to Scots like the generals George Ogilvy, James Bruce and Patrick Gordon who served Peter the Great and enabled his great victories over the Swedes and Turks.

Putin points out that both countries share the same patron saint, and recalls that one of his favourite writers, Mikhail Lermontov, was of Scottish descent (a Learmonth), He himself has had an admiration for Scots culture since reading Robert Burns in translation at university, he says, and like so many other people around the world was inspired by movies like Braveheart.

“Scots independence must never again be compromised, for any reason” Putin declares, to the cheers of his audience. It is therefore his great pleasure to announce a comprehensive North Sea Economic Cooperation and Security Agreement between the two nations.

From now on, Russia will guarantee Scotland’s treasured freedom. And with the aim of helping the Scottish economy Moscow will lease the former Royal Navy submarine base at Faslane, paying more than five times the rent offered by the UK during the stalled post-independence negotiations.

Having visited the dockyards on the Clyde, President Putin is also delighted to announce that vessels of the modernizing Russian Navy will undergo refits there. Russia may also redevelop the old naval base at Scapa Flow with a view to making it a winter home for the Baltic fleet.

Finally, to the benefit of local economy and population, Russia will save the old RAF base at Lossiemouth from closing and reopen the one at Leuchars that was closed by the Tory British government in 2012. The two air stations will be shared by the Russian Navy and the Scottish Defence Force Air Wing. Until the latter has its own aircraft, Russia will offer, on a purely temporary basis, to provide maritime air patrols.

Westminster is stunned by the announcement. The United States, already aware that its global influence has been adversely affected by the diminished influence of the divided UK, is furious. There is panic in the Baltic states. Norway calls an emergency meeting of Nato defence ministers. The Swedish, Dutch, Danish and even the German governments are in uproar.

The British Prime Minister sends an outraged demarche to Edinburgh, saying that the deal with Russia is a “breach of the spirit of the Separation Agreement”.

Salmond’s response is quick and sharp: Scotland does not yield to threats no matter where they come from.

He appeals to Moscow, where Mr Putin declares that Russia can be relied on stand by her friends. He orders the symbolic deployment of a battalion of Russian Naval Infantry – the same size as the detachment of US troops sent to Poland and the Baltics during the 2014 Ukraine crisis – to Scotland, plus a flight of Su-35 fighter jets and a mobile battery of S-300 anti aircraft missiles to protect them. Putin also orders a task force led by the aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov into the North Sea.

In Brussels Nato is divided between states calling for a general mobilisation and those who say that Scotland should immediately be invited to join the alliance to forestall a dramatic shifting of the East-West frontier into the North Atlantic.

Tony Blair writes an OpEd in The Times apologising for so carelessly setting in motion the process that led to Scottish secession.

A demonstration in Trafalgar Square by supporters of the new English National Party turns ugly, with hooligans kicking a well-known Scottish-accented BBC radio reporter.

David Cameron, widely blamed in the UK for losing Scotland, resigns his position as CEO (officially “Director of Dynamism”) of a leading public relations firm and quietly leaves the country.

As the UK considers moving a force of English and Gurkha (but not Welsh) troops to the border to symbolically counter what London claims is an illegal deployment of Russian forces in Scotland, the Russian-led successor to the Warsaw Pact, the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) extends a formal invitation to Scotland. Salmond expresses gratitude for the offer without accepting it. London decides against moving troops to Hadrian’s Wall2

But then a convoy of Scottish nationalist demonstrators drives across the border and into Berwick-upon-Tweed where they raise the Saltire and occupy the town hall.  

At that point the alarm goes off.


1] Since the contentious split of the oilfields with the rump UK, it is now clear to everyone that income from North Sea oil is insufficient to make up for the fledgling country’s low tax base. And already, thanks to one of the lowest credit ratings in Europe, Scotland has found it difficult to borrow money from the international markets. It took Salmond and his cabinet by surprise when so many UK citizens sold their businesses and left, prompting a sharp decline in property prices. (The Sloane Ranger colony in Edinburgh departed en masse). They were also dismayed by how many Scots, given the opportunity to chose UK citizenship, did just that after London made clear that dual UK-Scots nationality would not be allowed and imposed a three month window for conversion to UK citizenship. If that weren’t bad enough, SNP sloganeering about “Scottish jobs for Scottish workers” prompted a nervous exodus of immigrants, in particular non-whites, despite the efforts of Hardeep Singh Koli, a junior minister in Salmond’s government, to persuade them to stay. The emigration of productive citizens has actually increased now that there is talk in both capitals of tightened visa restrictions and the imposition of customs duties. Although Salmond initiated the tit-for-tat with his popular restrictions on land ownership by foreigners, he genuinely did not expect the retaliation that followed, nor the sting of the British prime minister’s jibe that Scotland had become “the Zimbabwe of the North.”  

[2] It shows similar forbearance when Salmond claims the tiny island of Rockall in the North Atlantic as Scottish territory. TV cameras cover the ceremony as his envoy, landed on the granite islet by Russian special forces deploying from a submarine, raises the Scottish flag. Not only is the Royal Navy powerless to prevent the occupation but one of its frigates is boarded and briefly taken over by Russian special forces in an incident that recalls the 2007 HMS Cornwall incident in the Persian Gulf.