Aye or Nay? Scotland’s Independence Referendum, September 2014

by Greta Gietz

 

“As a Scot and as someone with a lifelong love for both Scotland and the arts, I believe the opportunity of independence is too good to miss.” – Sean Connery, Yes Scotland supporter

“Whatever the outcome of the referendum on 18th September, it will be a historic moment for Scotland. I just hope with all my heart that we never have cause to look back and feel that we made a historically bad mistake.” – J.K. Rowling, Better Together supporter

On September 18th, the residents of Scotland will vote in a referendum answering the following question: “Should Scotland be an independent country?” This referendum will conclude years of heavy campaigning on both sides of the debate within the United Kingdom. Only weeks before the vote, the pro-independence movement appears to be losing steam, especially around the hot topics of oil and currency.

Scotland and England unified in 1707, prior to which Scotland had already existed independently for 800 years. Today, along with Wales and Northern Ireland, Scotland and England make up the United Kingdom. Several devolution movements over the last century demanded a separate Scottish Parliament, eventually established in 1998.

Due to devolution, the Scottish government holds power over education, transport, health, and justice in Scotland today. Since coming to power in 2007, the Scottish National Party (SNP), has worked for more national power and independence. In 2009 they published the Referendum Bill, but failed to gain sufficient support from the opposition. In 2011, after gaining parliamentary majority, the SNP obtained a mandate to hold an independence referendum. The following year, the UK government agreed to such a referendum to be held in September 2014.

The pro-independence Yes Scotland campaign and the SNP, led by First Minister Alex Salmond, are convinced that the union is holding Scotland back, keeping it in shackles. An independent Scotland, according to this group, could fulfill its potential to become one of the world’s richest countries with its oil wealth, similar to Norway. Salmond envisions “a strong and stable future [for the oil industry] in an independent Scotland.” With talk about “tax stability, understanding of the industry, an improved industrial base, and an oil fund,” Salmond promises the oil industry and his people a beneficial future.

The pro-union Better Together campaign and the UK government, led by Prime Minister David Cameron, believe that Scotland is stronger as part of the United Kingdom, a strong political and social union from which all its members benefit. Members of this camp believe that finite and remote oil reserves in the North Sea are a weak foundation for building independent Scotland. Cameron believes, “the ‘broad shoulders’ of the UK government are needed to support North Sea oil and gas in the future.” A case for independence in the 21st century should not be made on oil dependence, on reserves that will most likely be depleted in 30-40 years. Furthermore, the Scottish government has been criticized for being too optimistic about its oil reserves and predicted tax revenue. Under pressure, the government has reevaluated and lowered its predictions, estimating about £7bn a year and £34.3bn for the next five years. Still, the UK government’s Office for Budget Responsibility has much lower predictions of £15.8bn for the next five years. Instead, Scotland can continue to benefit from diverse industries in the United Kingdom.

After independence, the Scottish government plans to keep the Sterling Pound and stay in a currency union with the rest of the UK to avoid any post-independence disruptions in business, especially the extensive across-border trade between Scotland and the UK. Yes Scotland predicts that the Sterling Pound will benefit from a strong independent Scotland with its oil assets. Scotland represents 10% of the UK’s GDP and is therefore a significant part of the Sterling zone. They argue that currency unions are not necessarily synonymous with economic and fiscal policies, (the Euro is shared between 18 separate European countries, for example). Alex Salmond stands firm: “It’s Scotland’s pound and we are keeping it.”

Better Together pertains that Scotland will not keep the UK currency if independent; it would hardly be beneficial for the rest of the UK. Scotland should stay in the currency union as a part of the United Kingdom if it fears losing the pound. “A currency union can only work if you have increased economic and political union – the very thing that nationalism is dead against,” says Alistair Darling, Better Together leader. The UK government warns of the problems that come with a shared currency across country borders, especially evident in the Euro’s recent difficulties. By wanting to remain a part of the Sterling Pound, Scotland admits to being too weak for its own currency. Along these lines, former Bank of England executive director Brian Quinn said, “the current Scottish Government has effectively surrendered its freedom to determine monetary policy and severely circumscribed its freedom of action in the area of public finance.” Whether it will keep the pound or not, Scotland’s case for independence is weakened in this dispute over currency.

European Union membership regulations are furthermore dimming Yes Scotland’s case for independence. As any new state, Scotland will most probably have to reapply for membership if it leaves the United Kingdom, a process with a long waiting list that could take many years. The EU carries strict accession criteria and Jean-Claude Juncker, newly elected President of the European Commission, predicts, “over the next five years, there won’t be any new member states acceding to the European Union.”

The latest poll has 51% of Scots voting “no”, against independence and 11% are undecided. As the final weeks before the referendum wind down, time is running out for the pro-independence campaign and the movement is hardly reminiscent of the furious fights for independence earlier in Scottish history, as told in Braveheart (1995). The fear of losing the Sterling Pound and slim economic prospects will not convince the majority of 5.3 million people to vote “yes”, despite all patriotic sentiments.

 

After all, how will the Union Jack look without the Scottish flag?

 

 

Image source: Daily Mail

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