The Scotland of Tomorrow?


This blog post was researched and written by World Affairs Council inter, Erin Elliot.

Tomorrow Scotland will hold a referendum on becoming independent from the United Kingdom. Current political polling puts the referendum in a statistical dead heat: there is a 50-50 chance that tomorrow Scotland will be a brand new country.

Scotland has been part of the Kingdom of Great Britain with England and Scotland since the Acts of Union in 1707. Prior to then, it was an independent country united under a single monarch since 1603. The question of independence has always been present in Scottish politics but the recent bid was driven by the Scottish National Party after they won a majority of seats in the 2011 National Parliamentary election. The SNP has led the push for independence since it was founded in 1934 uniting the National Party of Scotland, a left pro-independence party, with the Scottish Party, who are more politically conservative but are in favor of home rule.

This vote is different than past attempts at independence. Prime Minister, David Cameron says the UK will not block the vote. This means that if the referendum passes, Scotland will be on its own once and for all. Given the gravity and finality of this decision, the referendum has the potential to ripple outward through continental Europe and into the rest of the world. There are already factions in Spain, Italy, and Belgium that are expressing interest in starting their own bids for independence. Just last week during Catalonia’s National Day in Spain, there were rallies in the streets of Barcelona. The Northern League in Italy and the Flemish community in Belgium are among others that have expressed self-deterministic desires.

Most observers are focusing on the economic implications of an independent Scotland. Many financial firms are nervous about the effect of Scottish independence on business and have relocated to Great Britain, including the Royal Bank of Scotland. Critics say that Scotland would face a long and difficult challenge in the monetary and fiscal issues alone. Some Scots maintain that they could continue to use the British pound, but Britain would have to give its permission which looks unlikely at this point. Scotland could adopt the Euro, but to do this they would have to join the EU. Also, given the instability of the Eurozone, it would be a risky monetary decision for a new country. They would also have the option of establishing their own currency.

Further analysis of the economic and political implications for Great Britain are equally complicated. If Scotland votes yes, Prime Minister Cameron will suffer political setbacks and pressure to resign for allowing the referendum in the first place. Additionally, if Scotland leaves the United Kingdom it will take the oil industry with it. Cameron’s criticism would be compounded by the loss of this asset. The loss of Scottish seats in British Parliament won’t have a detrimental affect; most of the Scottish seats are in the Labour party, but the Conservative party holds a majority even if Scotland remains in the UK.

On the other hand, Scotland requires a significant amount of British social welfare. If Scotland votes yes, the low income earners in Scotland will be the most vulnerable. Great Britain, however, will be at an advantage because they will no longer have a financial responsibility to Scotland.

There are also other questions about Scotland’s future, such as security, defense, health care, childcare, and education. Concerning foreign policy and international affairs, there is also the question of Scottish membership in the European Union and in NATO. Would independent Scotland seek to become members of either organization? If it did would it be able to join? How long would the process take and what would be the requirements?

Since there are so many practical concerns, it is interesting to see so much popular support in for the referendum. The Economist lends an interesting perspective to the drive for Scottish independence. According to the article, a sweeping sense of nationalism is the driver of the movement for self-determination; practical concerns like the economy and defense are in the periphery. The national identity of Scotland has always been strong, but genuine independence has continued to elude them. As the author suggests, this may be for historical reasons: unlike the Irish, the Scottish have had a relatively good relationship with the British. As such, the incentives to continue to be a part of the United Kingdom have tended to outweigh popular support for independence.

Even if Scotland votes no tomorrow, they still win; their government will become even further devolved from the British Parliament. Scottish Labour, Scottish Conservatives, and Scottish Liberal Democrats have laid out proposals to Scotland as contingency for a no vote expanding upon the Scotland Act of 2012. Most of the proposals would grant more taxation responsibility to Scotland while continuing to allow Britain to manage oil, defense, foreign policy and the economy.

Both sides of the debate have their own web presence and social media campaigns. Yes Scotland, the side favoring independence, and Better Together, the side favoring continued UK partnerships, have continual updates on each of their respective sites and social media pages.

The next twenty-four hours will be a very exciting time for Scotland and we eagerly await the results!