30th Nov 2022


Scotland on verge of 'independence lite'

  • Opinion polls are too close to call (Photo: Valentina Pop)

Travelers to Scotland, beware. In buses, pubs and street rallies, people have only one thing on their mind these days: Scottish independence. They wear bumper stickers with “Yes” or “No thanks”, dye their hair white and blue, sing folk songs and hand out leaflets. Posters are everywhere.

For the yes camp, it is about a nation going its own way, breaking away from a political elite in Westminister.

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  • Runner in Edinburgh: soon the capital of a new country? (Photo: Valentina Pop)

To “naysayers”, it is a foolish decision instigated by populists, that will ruin two nations for generations to come.

Both camps are virtually equal, with pollsters saying the referendum on Thursday (18 September) can go either way.

The referendum will also have an impact on other independence-minded regions in the EU, such as Catalonia in Spain and Flanders in Belgium.

Scotland will set a precedent for how Brussels deals with territories breaking off from an EU member state.

Aye or nay

Any person over 16 who resides in Scotland, irrespective of their nationality, will be allowed to answer the question: “Should Scotland be an independent country?”

Several foreign students and an English shopkeeper told this website they will not cast their vote, however, because this is a “Scottish matter”.

But David Warren, a 50-year old accountant who is originally from Trinidad and has been living in Edinburgh for over 20 years, said he will vote yes “because I want Scotland to experience what my home country experienced in 1962 when it became independent from the UK”.

(Photo: Valentina Pop)

Alfred P., a 47-year old gas engineer from Dundee, told this website that he will “definitely vote no, mega-no”, because he is afraid of what a nationalist government led by Alex Salmond may do. “I don’t want my country to turn into a dictatorship, into another Zimbabwe,” he said.

Tom Gallagher, an Edinburgh-based political scientist who in 2009 published a book on Scottish nationalism called "The illusion of freedom", told this website that critics dismissed his warnings at the time about Salmond's quest for independence.

"I did not think that polarisation within Scotland and discord with the rest of the UK would intensify so quickly," Gallagher said.

In a televised debate against the chief No-campaigner Alistair Darling, Salmond on Sunday said that he is aiming for a “substantial majority” and promised to end the division after the referendum.

“If we win, there will cease to be a 'Yes' campaign and a 'No' campaign - there will be a Team Scotland,” he told the BBC.

Darling for his part warned that if voters say yes to independence, “there is no way back” and that breaking the 307-year old union would come with “risks to jobs, to the funding of pensions and the health service, uncertainty about the currency.”

The government in London meanwhile has promised to give back more powers to the Scottish government if it stays in the union.

Darling said the details of what this further devolution of powers would entail will have to be proposed by the three parties that are against independence - the Conservative Party, Labour and the Liberal-Democrats.

Independence lite and Europe

Outside observers are likely to be surprised to find out that even if Scotland votes in favour of independence, it still wants to keep the queen and the British pound.

“It is independence lite, the diet version. And that is a conscious choice of the Scottish Nationalist Party,” says Daniel Kenealy from the University of Edinburgh.

He said that the SNP for decades only managed to convince around 35 percent of the electorate to back the independence cause. So in a bid to get the undecided on board, Salmond promised that they will keep the pound, the queen and a close cooperation with the British army.

As for the EU, Kenealy said it has a less negative image in Scotland than in the rest of the UK because of the agricultural subsidies and structural funds that have poured into many constituencies.

“The main political forces in Scotland - SNP and Labour - are much less eurosceptic than the Conservatives,” he said.

The main grievance in Scotland is the relationship with London, not Brussels, with the parallelism that Salmond wants to get back powers from London or break away from Britain just as Cameron tries to get back powers from Brussels or leave the EU.

It’s the economy, stupid

Much of the campaign has revolved around Scotland’s offshore oil and gas reserves and how it will manage to keep and even increase welfare spending and free education.

Salmond has spoken of a “seamless” transition of 18 months in which he will negotiate the terms of separation with London and also negotiate EU membership.

But EU membership talks are unlikely to be wrapped up that quickly, with another transitional agreement likely to be put in place until 2020. Over that period, London will still represent Scotland in the EU.

During the transition phase, London may also cut back on the subsidies it transfers to Edinburgh each year, while uncertainty about the legal status and the currency might scare off investors.

Leading economists oversea are at odds over the perspectives of an independent Scotland.

Joseph Stiglitz has countered the view of fellow Nobel prize-winning economist Paul Krugman, who recently warned that an independent Scotland would face “huge risks” of which voters should be “very afraid.”

Stiglitz agreed that there would be risks in the event of a Yes vote, but argued that the risks of Scotland remaining in the union and UK leaving the EU would be “significantly greater”.

One way or another, Edinburgh University lecturer Kenealy predicts dire times ahead for the Scottish public finances.

“If we vote 'No' there will be cuts to the Scottish budget by the UK government as austerity continues. If we vote 'Yes' then an independent Scotland would likely have to raise taxes or cut expenditure just to balance the books,” Kenealy concludes.


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