The Scottish referendum on the 18th of September 2014 kept Scotland in the realm of the United Kingdom, but with the recent crisis in Catalonia, the issue is again at the forefront of the public attention. Will Scotland follow in the lead of its Spanish counterparts, or will it stay faithful to its long-standing commitment being a part of the Union.
The febrile nationalist ideas spread around Europe. Maybe, this is just a zeitgeist, or a temporary misunderstanding, but the real question here is whether Scotland would be better of being on its own.
A Bit of History
Originally Scotland was populated by the Picts who arrived there before the start of the Common Era. They fought bravely against the Romans who were even forced to build the Hadrian Wall to detach themselves from the fearless Highlanders. However, when the Vikings came, the Scots united with the Brits in the struggle against them, and later became heavily dependent upon them.
There were brief periods of uprisings and independence streaks. Most remarkably the Scottish created the Presbyterian religion which ran against the official British policy. However, despite the divide, in 1707 Scotland decided to unite with England, mostly because of its poor economic management. Later the country got stronger, but it was already too late to back out of the deal.
In 1999 in an effort to mollify the Scots, England allowed them to establish their own government. However, it did not grant the country complete autonomy, while the majority of significant issues were still being handled by the UK government in London. Nonetheless, it was a step which signified the UK desire to strive for a compromise and make some concessions to fortify the unity.
Why Fight for Independence?
On the 15th of October 2012 the already former Prime Minister David Cameron and the Scottish Nationalist Party leader Alex Salmond signed the Edinburgh agreement, which allowed the Scottish to hold a referendum which would establish whether they are to be a separate sovereign state.
The Scottish had their reasons for this move. First of all, they were dissatisfied with the fact that, even though they paid the most taxes, not all of them were used for the needs of the Scots. Secondly, even though the Conservative party did not fare well in Scotland in 2010 elections, they were the ones who controlled all the power. Thirdly, it was for many a simple historical justice to be served, as England did not always treat its northern neighbor fairly.
Alex Salmond often claimed that if Scotland was to become free from the overwhelming English influence, it would be able to better distribute its taxes and actually account for the needs of its population, and not just the desires of the UK MPs.
The Most Contentious Issues
After the referendum was announced, two campaigns were launched to either bolster or stunt the popularity of the idea. Alex Salmond predictably led the YesScotland propaganda, while the leader of the Scottish Labor Party Alistair Darling maintained that the two states were “bettertogether,” and Scotland should say “NoThanks.”
The debates engulfed the countries with three major issues being at the fore. First of all, there were doubts regarding the Scottish self-reliance if it was to secede. Scotland is even now heavily dependent upon its oil resources from the North Oil Sea. Nowadays, however, it is not a stable commodity, and it cannot guarantee a cloudless future. More and more countries are working hard to switch to cleaner renewable energy, which may make oil economically impractical in years to come.
Secondly, it was not evident what to do with the British pound. It is a currency which is used throughout the UK. However, if Scotland was to leave, would it change? The Conservative Party and the “bettertogether” supporters in the aggregate believed that Scotland should be barred from using the pound if it abandoned the Union. However, Alex Salmond wanted Scotland to make a fusion with the Bank of England, preserving the same currency.
He even went as far as to say that Scotland would default on its debt if England were to refuse. However, for any outside observer it is obvious that such a move would harm Scotland in the first place, as it would prevent investors from trusting the country to deliver on its promises. The third critical problem related to the nuclear military bases which England located in Scotland. Those were to either be removed which would be incredibly costly or maintained which Salmond vehemently opposed.
Why Did People Vote No?
85 % of the Scottish population went to the polls on the 18th of September. 55 % said no.
There were powerful arguments from both camps, but it was the uncertainty and insecurity which scared the Scottish off the independence. First of all, it was not clear whether the country would benefit at all from secession. The Scots are an ageing population, having the highest medical and social security expenses. Moreover, their NHS, although technically autonomous, turned out to have a huge gap which is routinely covered by the UK budget.
As it was mentioned before, the North Oil Sea, although an essential economic prop for now, cannot satisfy the budget needs of the Scottish people forever. The world has become so contaminated that more and more world leaders are starting to speak out for its preservation. Even China recently joined in the race to make the Earth a safer and cleaner place. So, even though in case of the breakup with other UK countries, Scotland will have gotten 91 % of the North Oil Sea, it is not clear whether it would be worth anything half a century from now.
One of the most convincing reasons to vote no was the potential international isolation which Scotland could experience in the aftermath of its decision. First of all, the EU would not be able to accept the country as an independent state, as Spain would most likely do its best to keep it from happening. Spain has its own separatist movement to tackle in one of its most prosperous regions – Catalonia. Secondly, if Scotland was to abandon its defense bases, NATO might not be happy about such a member. It would take years for Scotland to regain its status on the international arena.
Alex Salmond relinquished office soon after the results were announced. The UK remained unified, but the question is – for how long? With the recent reigniting of protests in Spain and the growing nationalist sentiment, for how long will the UK be able to stay unified amidst the febrile controversies.
Nonetheless, it is to be expected that Scotland would listen to the voice of reason and realize that despite paying the most taxes, it benefits greatly from being a part of the UK. First of all, it gives the country a powerful role to play in the international politics.
Secondly, Scotland can always count on the neighbors’ support in case of a financial or any other crisis. It is tempting to believe that others just exploit you without giving enough in return. It is much harder to see the situation from a wider perspective and analyze all the prospects with the cold mind.