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Scottish Independence Referendum

Third Time’s a Charm?

Scottish and British flags, photo by The Laird of Oldham

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On September 18, 2014, the people of Scotland will take to the polls to vote on a referendum question: "Should Scotland be an independent country?" Currently part of the United Kingdom (which also includes England, Wales and Northern Ireland), Scotland stands at a crossroad: remain a part of the United Kingdom, or become an entirely new, sovereign state. This is a big deal, deciding whether to dissolve a 307-year- old political union. But the idea of independence has both distant and recent precedent. Heavy with symbolism, the referendum comes 700 years after the Battle of Bannockburn, the legendary Scots-over-English victory led by Robert the Bruce. In 1979, 52% of voters came out in support of a Scottish parliament, which didn’t actually materialize until 1997 when almost three-fourths of Scots voted for their own parliament. Today, the Scots are represented--as described by the Scottish government’s website—“. . .with devolved powers exercised at Holyrood and reserved powers exercised at Westminster.” In other words, the UK parliament at Westminster has reserved the right to exercise power over Scotland in a long list of areas such as constitution, political parties, defense, trade, energy, and transport. Those matters that are not reserved fall to the parliament in Scotland (known as “Holyrood”), including education, environment, health, local government, and justice.

Voting Yes

To those “celebrating” the battle of Bannockburn instead of “commemorating” it, the Yes vote might come a little easier, for throughout the independent Scotland platform runs a current of nationalism that sometimes erupts as anti-English sentiment. But there are plenty of current issues for supporters to get behind, regardless of their views on historic tensions. Since 2010, the majority of Scottish MPs (members of parliament) have consistently and vehemently voted against the “bedroom tax,” the “poll tax,” Trident replacement, austerity cuts, and privatization of Royal Mail--measures that passed easily in Westminster simply because of the composition of parliament. Currently, Scotland sends 59 MPs to Westminster while the rest of the UK sends 591. Scotland will always be outnumbered.

Another fear is the possibility that England will petition to remove itself from the European Union. The UK Independence Party (UKIP) believes Britain should part ways with the EU. In May 2014, UKIP enjoyed a historic victory, capturing the most Members of European Parliament (MEPs) than any other party. An independent Scotland would rely upon EU membership to keep trade healthy and remain fiscally sound. Finally, Scotland is quite proud of its North Sea oil and is confident that billions of barrels remain to be captured and the fields should be productive for decades to come. Those that say “Yes” want to capture the resources, human and natural, that Scotland proudly produces.

A Vote for No

Behind the “Better Together” campaign are leader Alistair Darling, lots of money—including a $1.7 million gift from J.K. Rowling, and support from big business. The Nos point out that public spending in Scotland is the highest in the U.K. and their utopian ideas of a true socialist democracy are going to be very hard to support financially. As for arguments, the No vote boils down to a “why wreck a good thing” mindset. The document “Scotland analysis: Devolution and the implications of Scottish independence” prepared for the Crown by the Secretary of State for Scotland, puts it this way: “A strong Scotland is good for the whole of the UK, and a strong UK is good for Scotland.” The No argument uses the referendum itself as a case in point, for it is thanks to the devolved powers of a “system of government that is flexible and responsive to changing needs and circumstances,” that the UK government “was able to deliver its commitment in the Edinburgh Agreement to transfer to the Scottish Parliament the power to hold a legal, fair and decisive referendum on independence.” Independence would be complicated; an independent Scotland would have to go it alone and reevaluate her position in thousands of treaties. An independent Scotland would have to create her own system of currency. An independent Scotland would not have the U.K. to fall back on in the case of military threats, violations of national security, or economic challenges. Scotland would have to build up her infrastructure, her credit, and her reputation at home and abroad.

Two Futures

The polls show an interesting trend. In Sept. 2013, the online tracker at WhatScotlandThinks.org (an average of polls taken by Angus Reid, Ipsos Mori, TNS-BMRB, Panelbase, Lord Ashcroft Polls, YouGov, ICM, Progressive Scottish Opinion and Survation) recorded the greatest spread for the month as 27% Yes, 59% No. The same tracker two weeks before the referendum, shows 42% Yes, 48% No.

Alex Salmond, the leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP) has produced a 667-page plan for independence called “Scotland’s Future” that answers 650 questions posed about Scottish independence. So many questions, yet the summation is simple: “Scotland’s referendum on 18 September 2014 is a choice between two futures.” Will Scotland become the 194th independent nation? Clearly, it won’t be an easy decision.

by Catherine McNiff

Information Please® Database, © 2007 Pearson Education, Inc. All rights reserved.

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