Scottish Independence Referendum
"We are bought and sold for English gold. Such a parcel of rogues in a nation." - Scotland's famous bard Robert Burns. It is said that personal financial interests, triggered through the failure of the Darien Scheme, a colonization project by the Kingdom of Scotland, and bribery led to the Acts of Union between the Parliaments of Scotland and England on 1 May 1707. The two Parliaments united and formed the Parliament of Great Britain. Since then, many individuals and organizations have advocated the return of a Scottish Parliament. Moreover, some have argued for devolution - a Scottish Parliament within the United Kingdom - whereas others have demanded complete independence. While the first referendum on a stronger devolution in 1979 failed, the second one in 1997 has been a success, leading to the Scotland Act of 1998 being passed and the Scottish Parliament being established in 1999. After its formation in 1934, the Scottish National Party won its first election in 2007 and, again, in 2011, delivering the first majority government since the opening of Holyrood - the law making body of Edinburgh. With the overall majority, and the Scottish Parliament combined, the case for Scottish Independence strongly reoccurs these days. Alex Salmond, the leader of the Scottish National Party and current First Minister of Scotland, is one of the main proponents of Scottish Independence, now intending to hold a referendum on this issue in the autumn of 2014. There are several points speaking in favor of independence but equal as many against it. Before weighing the pros and the cons of the issue, I will start off with a narrow description of the voting system and the questions concerning the referendum bill in general.
The Date of the referendum is said to be in the autumn of 2014, which causes a major speculation and upset in the media. They report that the date was chosen because Scotland will host the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and the Ryder Cup golf tournament in Gleneagles in the months prior to the vote in order to "promote Scotland's cultural and political vitality, to build up support for independence" (Carrel). The 2012 Olympics have been a huge success, so why not these games as well? Although these claims have been denied by Alex Salmond, he is still determined to hold the referendum on this date, whereas other parties, such as the Unionists, prefer the referendum to be hold rather sooner than later. That is mainly because polls have revealed that currently only 39% of the people, who are able to vote, support Scottish independence, and only 3 out of 10 people from Wales and England, according to an opinion poll for The Independent (Grice). The people entitled to vote in the referendum are British citizens, Commonwealth citizens, citizens of other European countries and members of the House of Lords - all with residency in Scotland. Moreover, the Crown or military personnel serving in the UK or overseas, registered to vote in Scotland. Furthermore, the SNP leadership additionally wants 16 and 17-year-olds to be able to vote in the referendum, whereas the Unionists back the status quo with 18 and over. Alex Salmond has revealed the main question he wants to propose to the Scots on January, 25, 2012 "Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country?" (Bussey) as his preferred question. However, these days Salmond and David Cameron, the prime minister of the UK, are in dispute over whether the referendum should include a second option, called "devolution plus" or "devo max". It is not quite clear to the people, what exactly is meant by this "devo max," and there are several opinions on this case. Stewart Maxwell, member of the SNP and MSP, states that "the common understood definition of devolution max is that it is full devolution of all powers with the exception of defence and foreign affairs" (Buchanan). In addition to that, Ben Thomson, chairman of Edinburgh think-tank Reform Scotland, explains how it would work in practice: "Well in practice how it would work is in that the same way that Westminster reserves certain powers and devolves the rest to Scotland, Westminster would reserve certain taxes and the rest would be passed down to Scotland" (Buchanan). To conclude, the second question of the referendum is concerned whether Holyrood acquires more powers within the UK or not. While the Tories, Liberal Democrats and Labour offered to give Holyrood greater powers after the 2015 general elections anyway, they still insist that the referendum only includes one question on independence - a clear answer to whether Scotland does or does not want to remain in the UK. In contrast to that, Alex Salmond argues that the majority of Scots favour greater devolution over independence, and that is why he wants to include this second question. It is still unclear, whether the second question will be included in the 2014's ballot or not, since more options would mean a much higher complexity. To name an example, Adam Tomkins, law professor of Glasgow University, asked "what would be the outcome of a referendum with a 65% turnout, in which 35% voted for the status quo, 40% backed full fiscal autonomy and full independence was supported by 25%" (Scottish independence: 'No mandate' for multi-referendum). This example proves the complexity of more than one option in a referendum. If the SNP administration really wants to insist on this second option, it has to come up with a plan to evaluate every possible outcome fairly.
In case the aforesaid second option with the devo max comes into being, there are now two questions to be considered, bound with three different outcomes. The questions are: "Do you want a greater devolution of power?" and "Do you want Scottish independence?" to keep it simple. According to that, there are 3 possible results: the status quo, where the UK government stays in charge of most taxation, welfare and economy; the devo plus (or devo max), where Scotland has more control over taxation while keeping defence and foreign affairs at UK level; the full independence, giving Scotland control over all its taxes, laws and North Sea Oil. The status quo occurs with a NO/NO result, the devo plus with a YES/NO, and the full independence with a NO/YES, whereas a YES/YES would also be possible, yet again very debatable. Every option comes with certain arguments for and against it, and every option has its very own supporters.
The status quo, would mean no change at all for Scotland but is it really a bad thing? The UK is currently one of the most successful unions of modern times. Moreover, being in this union would mean domestic security and defence for Scotland, since it does not have an army and officer corps of its own. Establishing such kind of thing would mean a lot of money being spent on something, they had in the UK for free. Furthermore, Scotland trades more with England than with all other countries in the world combined. The question arising is: why should Scotland turn its biggest market into its biggest competitor? In addition to that, being in the UK would also mean shared risks. In October 2008 Scotland's banks were on the verge of collapse but the UK's size and strength stopped it from happening. On the other side of the coin, with the continuance of the status quo, Scotland would always feel disadvantaged compared to England. Since Scotland only inhabits 9% of seats in Westminster, its interests and aspirations would always appear secondary. Moreover, the UK is run by parties, which Scotland rejected - as a reminder, the Scottish General Election of 2011 was won by the Scottish National Party with 69 seats, followed by 37 for Labour and 15 for the Conservatives. Supporters of the status quo option are Ruth Davidson, the Scottish Conservative Party Leader, and David Cameron. Cameron obviously wants to avoid being the one Prime Minister in office presiding over the breakup of the UK. This would give him a bad reputation, and result in a probable failure of him being re-elected.
The second option is the devo max. With increased powers in taxation, Scotland is able to control its spending much better. It is able to raise or reduce taxes in order to match its spending, and furthermore able to establish reforms when needed, without asking for permission of the UK. On the one hand, the devo max is good for Scotland but on the other hand it would have tremendous consequences for all parts of the UK. Giving Scotland control over taxation and welfare would result in numerous reforms of the UK parliament in general. Furthermore, what would Wales and Northern Ireland say to that? If you give Scotland special powers, why not to them as well? The devo max certainly is very debatable and it could undermine the internal unity and harmony of the whole United Kingdom. Supporters of this option are surprisingly some parts of the Scottish Liberal Democrats:
"Much of the SNP’s success resulted from attracting our former voters. Many in that party share our liberal instincts. On several issues we should be natural allies: wrestling power away from a London-centric Westminster; seeking reform of the EU's CFP; and reforming social policy." (Cowie)
Alongside the Liberal Democrats is possibly Alistair Darling, the former Labour Chancellor of the Exchequer. He said, "the Scottish Parliament should be handed more powers - the so-called devo max option - if the First Minister's separatist agenda is rejected by the voters" but "if Scots vote to leave the UK then there is no point in discussing how to improve devolution" (Herbert).
Finally, the last option - Scottish Independence. Scotland standing on its own two feet, taking its full place in the world. Why Not? The country is blessed with its very own natural resources, such as the oil of the North Sea. If seen geographically, Scotland would get 90% share of North Sea Oil because "The Geneva agreement on natural resources under the sea dictates that they are divided by the median lines (...) Which gives Scotland 91% of revenues," states Angus Armstrong, author of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research (MacAlister). Full independence opens up many opportunities for Scotland. Joining the European Union and changing Scotland's currency from the British Pound to the Euro is now a real possibility. Moreover, splitting up from the UK does not mean that their good relationship has to end. Scotland and England would remain firm friends, and keep their trade habits. Coming to the points speaking against independence, a notable thing is the greater financial risk. Scotland is now all on his own without the security of the UK. As mentioned before, just a couple of years ago, Scottish banks were bailed out by the United Kingdom. Without this solidarity Scotland is going to face a hard time in the future. On top of that, Scotland has a rather small economy and financial centre. Most of its investors are English ones, and Scotland's corporation taxes are also very low. The only very lucrative income source is the North Sea Oil but even this source is in decline (Shah). Moreover, Scotland's plans of joining the EU on its own could marginalize it. Who says that Scotland would have more say in the EU than it had with entire Great Britain? No one knows. However, in favor of full independence are obviously Alex Salmond and his Scottish National Party and the Scottish Green Party.
As we have seen, the Scottish Independence Referendum of autumn 2014 is a very complex endeavour. Many questions have to be answered until then, and many options have to be discussed in order to grant a fair and above all simple outcome. Weighing the pros and the cons, I must say that the arguments against independence are stronger. To my mind, Scotland is not yet ready to stand on its own feet because they need the security they get through the UK. Otherwise, they needed to establish domestic security and an army of their own, and would also have to rely on a foreign bank. Also, it is not quite clear if Scotland and England would remain firm friends after the break up - they also could be in damaging competition with each other, with the probable better outcome for England. Therefore, I think that the devo max is a very good compromise. Scotland obtains more powers and responsibility and still has the backup security from the United Kingdom.
Carrel, Severin. "London's Olympic success boosts hopes for Glasgow Commonwealth Games."The Guardian. The Guardian, 13 Aug. 2012. Web. 18 Aug. 2012. <http://www.guardian.co.uk/sport/2012/aug/13/london-olympics-boost-glasgow- commonwealth>.
Grice, Andrew. "England and Wales want Scots to stay in the union, poll reveals." The Independent . The Independent, 7 June 2012. Web. 18 Aug. 2012. <http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/england-and-wales-want-scots-to- stay-in-the-union-poll-reveals-7821241.html>.
Bussey, Katrine. "Alex Salmond unveils Scottish referendum question." The Independent . The Independent, 25 Jan. 2012. Web. 18 Aug. 2012. <http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/alex-salmond-unveils-scottish- referendum-question-6294278.html>.
Buchanan, Michael. "Scottish independence referendum: What is devolution max?".BBC News . BBC News, 25 Feb. 2012. Web. 18 Aug. 2012. <http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-politics-17094333>. (Maxwell, Thomson)
"Scottish independence: 'No mandate' for multi-referendum." BBC News . BBC News, 15 Aug. 2012. Web. 20 Aug. 2012. <http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland- politics-19254307>.