After independence, Edinburgh might be more Vilnius than Vienna – John McLellan

Angus Robertson’s hopes for Edinburgh to rival Vienna’s status in international diplomacy after Scottish independence are met with scepticism by John McLellan.

Vienna is a city of 1.9 million inhabitants - far bigger than Edinburgh
Vienna is a city of 1.9 million inhabitants - far bigger than Edinburgh

An intriguing argument was advanced in this week’s Evening News that Edinburgh would become another Vienna if ever Scotland became independent. Better get set now, we were told.

“Austria is a country the same size as Scotland,” said ex-SNP MP Angus Robertson, referring only to land mass because there are 8.8 million Austrians compared to 5.3m Scots. Given his SNP friends in Edinburgh Council can’t cope with half a million inhabitants, who knows what they would do with Vienna’s 1.9m.

The assertion is that Edinburgh will automatically become a magnet for all kinds of international institutions under independence, and while it’s fair for the SNP to argue that all decisions affecting Scotland should be taken in Scotland, somewhat undermined by their intention to cede power to the EU, but it’s far from reasonable to argue that independence is a magic wand which would turn Edinburgh into the centre of the political universe.

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Like Scotland, Austria is heavily dependent on tourism and agriculture, but as a gateway to the new former-Communist eastern European republics also has a thriving services sector. Edinburgh is, as we know, also a successful financial centre, but its customers are predominantly in England. Edinburgh is a gateway to the rest of Scotland, not international markets.

With RBS now effectively the Scottish end of London-run NatWest, the hey-day of big Edinburgh-based financial institutions jostling for supremacy are long gone. Under the SNP independence vision, Scotland will end up trading with the euro or a valueless Scots pound; what’s left of Edinburgh’s financial sector would be reduced to branch offices serving the local market.

Ljubljana, Vilnius, Bratislava, Kiev and Chisinau are all new European capitals you might know from the Eurovision Song Contest, or places where Scotland lose at football. None are rivalling the former heart of the Holy Roman Empire on the international diplomacy circuit.

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Joy Yates

Editorial Director