“To preserve a distinctively open-handed Scottish social model”, the UK may be the safest choice…

As per, Northern Ireland not included in these details, but The Economist as something of a rarity amongst London based papers notes that Scotland is the third most prosperous region in the UK:

Scotland’s accounts of revenue and expenditure, based on Treasury data, show that it is not a ward of the state, grossly subsidised from Westminster. In fact it performs better than all regions outside the south-east of England, and has done particularly well in the past decade (see chart). In 2010-11 Scotland’s GDP was £145 billion ($225 billion) including a geographical share of North Sea oil and gas, around 10% of Britain’s, with 8.4% of the population.

Historically Scotland has received bigger grants per head from central government than Wales, for example—in part a tacit acknowledgment that it contributes handsomely to oil revenues, which in 2010-11 amounted to £8.8 billion. An independent Scotland would lose that subsidy, but gain the right to collect taxes on hydrocarbons locally. For the moment, Scotland’s day-to-day accounts would look little different to now. But the argument does not end there.

Indeed. The article pulls out three issue for concern: one, the unpredictable and limited lifespan of North Sea oil; two, the capacity of wind and wave power to replace it as a primary economic activity; and three the degradation of performance (and loss of central control) Scotland’s financial services. The problem, the Economist argues, is that as Scotland’s economic staples fade there are not many rising options in evidence.

And, interestingly, it points to a new political dispensation that may be familiar to seasoned observers of the Irish Republic, but is not yet featuring in nationalist discourse in Scotland, that is the possibility that the many social protections currently in place in Scotland in the UK, may not be guaranteed come the tough choices independence will almost inevitably bring:

Scotland would take a per capita share of the national debt, reckons Mr Salmond. The tab for decommissioning its nuclear power stations is £4 billion. Other practical questions abound, such as who would pay out pensions agreed under Westminster’s auspices—as those of Scotland’s teachers and NHS staff currently are.

Such arithmetic calls into question not just Scotland’s economic future but its political one. Spending per head is currently 13% more than in Britain as a whole, supplying free university tuition, for example, which is not available south of the border. Welfare spending, which consumes a third of public funds, is 11% higher than in England and is rising faster as a share of public expenditure than any other category. The SNP hopes to extend state paternalism further, promising free universal childcare and more generous state pensions. Public sector employment, already 24% in Scotland compared with Britain’s 20%, would presumably increase. Mr Salmond hopes to fund all this by adopting low corporation taxes to pull in investment.

It remains a matter of judgment whether Scotland could go it alone. But after the banking and euro-zone crises, Scotland would be far more vulnerable to shocks as a nation of 5m people than as part of a diversified economy of 62m. There is an irony here: to preserve a distinctively open-handed Scottish social model, staying in the union might be the safest choice.

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty