Scottish Referendum Hasn’t Settled United Kingdom’s Future

Statue of a unicorn in Edinburgh, Scotland, March 11
Statue of a unicorn in Edinburgh, Scotland, March 11 (byronv2)

A 55 percent majority of Scots rejected independence on Thursday but the future political structure of the United Kingdom is still in doubt. If Scotland gets additional autonomy, as promised, the remaining three parts of the island nation may expect the same.

With 3.6 million Scots turning out to vote in a referendum that Alex Salmond, the Scottish National Party leader, had described as a “once in a generation, perhaps even a once in a lifetime opportunity,” the result was decidedly in favor of keeping the union with England, Northern Ireland and Wales. Read more “Scottish Referendum Hasn’t Settled United Kingdom’s Future”

Scottish Referendum Raises Questions About Nationhood

Statue of a unicorn in Edinburgh, Scotland, March 11
Statue of a unicorn in Edinburgh, Scotland, March 11 (byronv2)

The polls are closed, but that doesn’t mean an end to the Scottish referendum in the news. Even by tomorrow night, there will be plenty more to say (and repeat) on the issue which, either way, will change the United Kingdom — either destroying it or keeping it together with new expectations of devolution among its constituent countries. Read more “Scottish Referendum Raises Questions About Nationhood”

Scots Reject Independence in Referendum

View of the Balmoral Hotel in Edinburgh, Scotland, November 16, 2011
View of the Balmoral Hotel in Edinburgh, Scotland, November 16, 2011 (Wikimedia Commons/Ronnie Macdonald)
  • 55 percent of Scots have voted against leaving the United Kingdom in a referendum.
  • Turnout was 84 percent, or 3.6 million.
  • Scottish independence could have made a British exit from the EU more likely.
  • Prime Minister David Cameron has called for a “balanced settlement” that is fair to Scotland as well as the rest of the UK. Read more “Scots Reject Independence in Referendum”

Scottish Referendum: A Testament to British Civilization

The flag of Scotland
The flag of Scotland (Paul Morgan)

However Scotland votes on Thursday, the simple fact that it will have a referendum on independence peacefully and only after careful deliberation testifies to Britain’s greatness.

It wasn’t so long ago that the peoples of Eastern Europe fought and died to liberate themselves from Soviet oppression. Only in recent years has the unrest that accompanied separatism in the Basque Country calmed down yet to this day, the rest of Spain refuses to give the Catalonians even the choice to secede. In the Middle East, the Kurds are on the verge of gaining their own state but only after decades of violent struggle. The people of eastern Ukraine have to defend their independence from another state altogether.

The Scottish referendum is almost unique in that the breakup of a country would be accompanied without bloodshed. It is also almost unique in the sense that the rest of the United Kingdom is willing to let the Scots go their own way, should they choose to do so. No one doubts that on Friday, the English, Northern Irish and Welsh will accept and respect whatever decision the Scots have made.

There has been bitterness and vitriol on both sides. Scottish independence is an emotional issue. But it is a far cry from the turmoil that accompanies separatism elsewhere. And by far most Scots, and most other Britons, have engaged in an inspiring debate about what it means to be Scottish and what it means to be British.

For all the pros and cons of independence — which many Scottish voters are weighing as they make up their minds today — it is this question that is central to the referendum: Does the Scottish nation need a state of its own?

Few peoples ever get to make that choice and when they do, it is rarely with the blessing of the state they live in. That the Scots now have this opportunity shows how seriously Britain takes its commitment to freedom and self-determination. That is something to be applauded.

Salmond Confident Independent Scotland Could Join EU

British prime minister David Cameron and Scotland's first minister Alex Salmond shakes hands in Edinburgh, October 15, 2012
British prime minister David Cameron and Scotland’s first minister, Alex Salmond, shakes hands in Edinburgh, October 15, 2012 (Scottish Government)

Scottish leader Alex Salmond expressed confidence on Sunday his country would be welcomed into the European Union if it voted to secede from the United Kingdom, arguing that its rich fishing waters and energy potential could make it a valuable member of the bloc.

While an independent Scotland, with over five million inhabitants, would have only 1 percent of the European Union’s total population, Salmond pointed out that the country has 20 percent of the bloc’s fish stocks, a quarter of its renewable energy potential and 60 percent of its conventional oil reserves.

“I don’t think that anyone in the rest of Europe is wanting to exclude fish-rich, energy-rich, renewable-rich, oil-rich Scotland,” the Scottish National Party leader told the BBC’s Andrew Marr in Edinburgh. “I think that is a ridiculous proposition.”

But when Marr pressed Salmond on the concerns of especially Belgium and Spain, which worry that Scottish independence could embolden separatist movements within their own borders, the Scottish first minister was not very forthcoming, merely saying he had spoken with leaders from those countries.

Spain is among the fiercest critics of Scottish independence, given that Catalonia, its richest region, is likely to see a successful separation from the United Kingdom as a template for its own ambitions.

Catalonia has a population of over seven million and an economy the size of Denmark’s. Scotland’s economy is closer in size to Portugal’s.

European Union membership could be vital for Scotland if the rest of the United Kingdom refuses to continue to share the pound sterling with the independent country. Although Salmond said in the interview a currency union was viable, British leaders have ruled it out.

Scotland could also be forced to adopt the euro as a condition for membership. As part of the United Kingdom, it enjoys an exemption from joining the single currency which many Britons, including many Scots, see as the source of the continent’s economic problems.

Scots will vote on independence in a referendum on Thursday in what Salmon described as a “once in a generation, perhaps even a once in a lifetime opportunity.” Opinion polls suggest Scots are nearly evenly divided on the question with opponents of independence leading narrowly.

Earlier this month, a YouGov poll for The Sunday Times for the first time found a 47 percent plurality of voters in favor of secession.

As Scottish Referendum Nears, Tempers Heat Up

Scottish unicorn Edinburgh
Statue of a unicorn in Edinburgh, Scotland, March 11 (byronv2)

With Scotland’s referendum on whether or not to secede from the United Kingdom under two weeks away, the rhetoric from both sides of debate has become fierce. One Scottish women, a nationalist, recently accused Alistair Darling, the former Labour chancellor who leads the “Better Together” campaign, of being a liar, saying, “He can’t be trusted”. While on a recent episode of Question Time, one of the BBC’s flagship political programs, taped in Inverness in the Scottish Highlands, an audience member said he would give his life to keep the union together.

The heating up in the debate has been noticed by the Scottish police. The chairman of the Scottish Police Federation warned both campaigners and members of the public to not use “intemperate, inflammatory and exaggerated language” after a senior “no” campaign source suggested that polling day could descend into “absolute carnage.” Although he was quick to point out that the debate has been temperate so far and that it would be a disservice to let the last days go by in any other way. Read more “As Scottish Referendum Nears, Tempers Heat Up”

Scottish Referendum Raises Risk of British EU Exit

Statue of a unicorn in Edinburgh, Scotland, March 11
Statue of a unicorn in Edinburgh, Scotland, March 11 (byronv2)

If Scotland votes to leave the United Kingdom later this year, it could put the rest of the country on a path to leaving the European Union.

An Ipsos MORI poll released on Thursday found that 54 percent of Brits want to stay in the EU. When the pollster asked the same question in November 2012, just 44 percent said they backed membership against 48 percent who wanted to get out.

Two other polls published in March by YouGov also found that most voters support staying in the bloc. Read more “Scottish Referendum Raises Risk of British EU Exit”

Scotland May Not Fare Better Outside United Kingdom

Eilean Donan Castle in Loch Duich in the western Highlands of Scotland, July 27, 2006
Eilean Donan Castle in Loch Duich in the western Highlands of Scotland, July 27, 2006 (Dave Conner)

In less than two years’ time, the people of Scotland will decide in a referendum whether to stay in the United Kingdom or not. Despite intense debate between opponents and proponents of secession, how the ordinary Scotsmen might fare under independence is less clear.

A recent University of Edinburgh study is fairly devastating for the ruling Scottish National Party which advocates secession. It polled a thousand teenagers who would be just old enough to vote in the 2014 referendum and found that 60 percent wanted to stay in the union. 21 percent backed independence. This is the very demographic the nationalists fought to extend the vote to.

The past year seems to have reinvigorated a sense of Britishness across the United Kingdom. For the Diamond Jubilee, the Union Jack was waved by old and young all over the Scotland as a symbol of celebration and unity while the London Olympics only made it better to be British.

What of the institutions that both countries in the union use, from the sterling to the armed forces? While the Scottish nationalists would like to keep the pound and be locked into a monetary and fiscal union with a rump Britain (not very independent really), all the signs point to the chancellor of the Exchequer not allowing this. Moreover, if an independent Scotland were to join the European Union, one of the entry requirements would be to commit to adopting the euro.

With regards to the military, a report (PDF) published by the Scotland Institute think tank found no reason to believe that slicing up a competent military force would benefit an independent Scotland or the rest of the country. Indeed, there are very real risks to the people of Scotland, be it from the loss of jobs and the local economic impact that the inevitable removal of the Faslane Naval Base would bring, the costs involved in building armed forces from the ground, the loss of access to sensitive intelligence and the inevitable dilution in the quality and number of the armed forces of the island. Atlantic Sentinel editor James R. Pritchett made the very point earlier this year.

The economy of Scotland would be interesting to see. In 2008, First Minister Alex Salmond said, “Scotland looks out to an arc of prosperity around her. Ireland, Iceland, Norway, Finland and Denmark, all are small independent nations. All are stable, secure and prosperous.” His arc looks far less prosperous today. The Celtic Tiger lies slain and Iceland had little choice but to embrace the European Union after a banking crisis nearly bankrupted the island. Salmond and his party hoped to copy the Irish economic miracle. Before the crash, the size of the Scottish financial industry was lauded. But an independent Scotland’s banking sector would be more than 1250 percent of its gross domestic product, potentially leaving the Scottish state unable to bail out the industry if things were to go wrong, like they did in 2008 and 2009.

Since the financial crisis, Alex Salmond has preferred to hail Norway as an example. It has offshore oil and gas sources like Scotland although it’s unclear how much of the revenue that is derived from drilling would be an independent Scotland’s and not the rest of Britain’s.

The newfound emphasis on a successful country also cannot hide the fact that the under nationalist rule, an independent Scotland would have followed Ireland’s example and possibly ended up facing near or total bankruptcy. While part of the United Kingdom, Scotland’s banking sector was bailed out by the very government in Westminster the nationalists despise.

If the outcome of the referendum is a “yes” vote after all, it would leave Scotland in limbo. For what would happen to all official documentation? Would they automatically secede to the European Union? Would they keep sterling? How would their economy fare? And from a military point of view, they want a nuclear free Scotland yet remain in NATO — are these aims compatible?

A “no” vote wouldn’t necessarily mean the end either. As Alistair Darling, the former Labour chancellor, said last month, “The nationalists only need to win once by one vote and there is no going back, so that is why we need to win this campaign and win it well.” To settle the independence question once and for all, the “no” vote has to be big, otherwise, within fifteen or twenty years, the United Kingdom might be facing the very same threat of disintegration it thought it had averted.

Ahead of Referendum, Confusion Over Scottish Oil

Oil platform in the Cromarty Firth, Scotland, June 19, 2011
Oil platform in the Cromarty Firth, Scotland, June 19, 2011 (Dave Conner)

North Sea oil and gas will likely be one of the most divisive issues in the 2014 referendum on Scotland’s independence. Who does it belong to and do they own all of it?

The first North Sea oil came ashore in June 1975 and production is believed to have peaked in 1999 with more than forty billion barrels extracted so far. There are arguments about how much oil is left but historically high prices have made it feasible to drill for reserves that are harder to get with new and expensive technologies.

International convention says that a maritime border between two countries is an extension of the frontier on land. The land border between England and Scotland points upward on both the east and west coast. The maritime border used to follow this convention, putting a large portion of North Sea hydrocarbon reserves in English waters.

However, the maritime boundary was tweaked years ago, without consulting the English, to give the “Scottish sector” more of the oil. Which isn’t a problem as long as Scotland remains in the United Kingdom, since revenues flow to London and are then distributed across the country. But if Scotland decides to secede, the English might demand that the boundary is corrected.

Scottish nationalists argue that the region’s resources are subsidizing the rest of the kingdom, omitting mention of the revised maritime border. It could be argued that Scotland’s oil is really England’s, given to the former region to pacify nationalists there.

Confounding the issue is the Treasury which says that the oil really belongs to no one. The department in Whitehall argues that the continental shelf where the oil is located should be treated as a separate region. To what effect is something of a mystery since the area is obviously devoid of human population.

The Scottish National Party seems determined to fight all the same for what it sees as Scottish oil and gas. It has good reason to. Without the North Sea revenue, projected this fiscal year to be £33 billion, it’s far from certain whether the sparsely populated region could maintain its high living standards.

Independent Scottish Defense Would Amount to Little

Britain’s defense secretary, Philip Hammond, made light of Scottish plans for an independent defense on Thursday, arguing in an interview with The Daily Telegraph, “Taking random units and putting them together does not make an army. Half a destroyer would be no use to anyone, neither would be one frigate.” If crude, it is a fair assessment.

The Scots will vote in a referendum next year about whether they wish to secede from Britain. Opinion polls show there isn’t majority support for independence although the separatist Scottish National Party is by far the dominant political force in the region. It promises to commit £2.5 billion per year to defense if Scottish voters decide to break away from the United Kingdom.

Paul Cornish, a professor in strategic studies at the University of Exeter, writes in The Daily Telegraph that that’s significantly less than the £3.3 billion that Scotland currently contributes to British defense spending, totaling some £35 billion — which is hardly enough to finance the country’s defense needs as is. Read more “Independent Scottish Defense Would Amount to Little”