Independence: The unthinkable becomes real

It was impossible only a few months ago. Trying to contemplate what Scottish independence means for the rest of the UK was like jumping off a high ledge for the first time: it feels unworldly and silent, lasting a mild eternity, but you know you’re obliged to fall, and suddenly the hard, scratchy, gravelly ground beneath you becomes the only thing you focus on.

It was difficult to believe the official lines produced by either side, especially if defence and security is the subject you write about most. There’s little incentive for a sovereign power to admit its defences have weaknesses, potential or real, or for the architects of a new nation to admit that it may not be quite as secure as the last one.

But much of that was theory anyway, devilishly hard to pin down as a writer and probably a bit too airy for a reader to grapple with enjoyably.

The tendency towards fantasy was perhaps best demonstrated by the arguments over moving the Trident nuclear deterrent. At first official hints suggested it would cost over £20 billion to move, but more recently some of the most believable academics on the subject said it might only cost a tenth of that.

Other cracks have snaked into the media monologue. Would Scotland be able to join Nato if it became independent? It might take a while, but realistically, yes. Because what would the UK and other members gain from keeping it out?

2014-10-10 - soldiers image

Joining the EU is different – it could remain an unlikely and drawn-out process, mainly because of the fear held by some member states about their own secessionist regions, and importantly all member states would need to agree to Scotland joining. But it needs to be seen separately from the Nato question: there are different machineries involved.

But the greater consequences, beyond Scotland, are becoming much sharper. If Scotland does break away, what would it mean for Wales – and indeed England?

And what about military forces and intelligence on these shores? Is there greater benefit in working together, or in maintaining a wary acquaintance when proper collaboration would be far more preferable?

In quiet asides, the Yes camp keenly promote the benefits of military co-operation to both sides, while the UK establishment stays firm in its refusal to contemplate it. There’s obvious advantage in the nationalists encouraging people to imagine Scotland as independent, thus better to make it real – but there are also practical benefits to joint security operations if separation occurs.

More hints of a new reality are trickling out fast as the possibility of separation becomes considered, savoured and almost tangible in the minds of Scots and their fellow countrymen.

Westminster denies making plans for a post-independence UK, saying its job is to work on the assumption that the UK exists.

I’m not sure I believe that one either.

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