European Secession Votes and Market Implications: Scotland

Stuart QuintStuart P. Quint, CFA, Senior Investment Manager and International Strategist

This first blog in a two-part series will examine the Scottish secession vote coming in September and the potential implications for financial markets. The second blog will delve into the Catalan vote in November.

“There is the real possibility of one or several national divorces being initiated in Western Europe in 2014,” opines Nicholas Siegel, program officer at the Transatlantic Academy, a U.S.-European think-tank based in Washington.[1]

Secession votes will be held in the UK in September over the future of Scotland and in Spain in November over the future of Catalunya. It appears unlikely that either will result in a real separation of the regions from these nations. However, financial markets should still monitor the progress of these votes. Markets appear to discount a rejection of secession. If voters in one of these regions were to vote for secession, that could trigger near-term volatility. Regardless, these votes highlight fragility in the fabric of the European Union that warrants monitoring.

Voters in Scotland will elect whether to remain a part of the United Kingdom or to secede and claim independence. A “Yes” vote would lead to binding negotiations between the Scottish and UK Governments for eventual secession. Recent polls suggest pro-independence voters will not succeed as a plurality of voters leans against independence.[2]

Quint_SecessionScotland_8.19.14In the event of a vote for independence, complications both for the UK and Scotland could ensue. The size of the economy and population of Scotland is less than 10% of the UK; yet, these statistics conceal a few hurdles. Much of the energy produced within the UK falls within Scottish jurisdiction. Many UK financial services companies are based in Scotland (though the majority of their revenues derive from outside Scotland). Moreover, the Bank of England has stated that Scotland would have to use its own currency instead of the British Pound Sterling.

The costs of independence could bring with them financial turmoil at least for an independent Scotland. However, the UK itself might not go unscathed as the British Pound Sterling is a reserve currency that could lose support. Major corporations, such as Standard Life, could relocate from Scotland back to the UK

Even a “No” vote, though, does not necessarily put an end to the matter. A narrow vote could give way to a second future vote and have repercussions for future votes on the UK remaining in the EU and general elections in 2015. A “No” vote that fails to win overwhelmingly could potentially accelerate the timing of the referendum for whether the UK remains in the EU.

In terms of financial markets, the closest recent comparable is Canada, which experienced two failed referenda regarding the secession of Quebec in 1980 and 1995. In both instances, markets did not underperform global markets leading into and post the referenda. Although markets shrugged off the referenda, over time many large Canadian corporations relocated their headquarters out of Quebec.

[1] “Is Secession the Answer? The Case of Catalonia, Flanders, and Scotland”, December 2, 2013 retrieved on http://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article/secession-answer-case-catalonia-flanders-scotland/ .

[2] Lukyano Mnyanda, “Scots Anti-Independence Camp Gains in Poll amid Pound Doubts”, August 13, 2014, Bloomberg News.

The views expressed are those of Brinker Capital and are not intended as investment advice or recommendation. For informational purposes only. Holdings are subject to change.

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