The Scottish independence referendum is slated for September 18. The issue was initiated in 2007 by Alex Salmond, the leader of the Scottish National Party. Back then his party received majority in the Scottish parliament to make him First Minister of Scotland. In May 2011 he announced the intention to hold a referendum on independence. He used ideology, history and legal grounds to perfectly substantiate the idea. London could not prevent the plebiscite. The only thing British Prime Minister David Cameron could do was to call for «Nay» vote.
Scots’ calculations and hopes
In a few days it will become clear if Scots are ready to follow the Cameron’s call to reject separation. There is only one question to be answered, «Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country?» According to the local government plans, the pound sterling is to be the national currency and Her Majesty the Queen is to remain the head of state. Scotland plans to have its own armed forces. Scottish ministers say the UK's nuclear deterrent - the submarine-based Trident - will be banished from Scotland if it becomes independent. But the UK government says there are no plans to move it. The Scottish local government says independence will make wages go up and taxes slide down etc. And the new country will never enter into what Scots call «illegal wars» like Iraq and Afghanistan.
Scotland has its own currency - the Scottish pound. It’s inconvertible and used inside the Scotland only. The independent Scottish pound is what the country has to bank on in case the United Kingdom refuses the plans to use it as Scottish national currency.
Scotland is an economically developed country. With the population of 5, 3 million (8, 5%) it accounts for 10% of national GDP. High-tech branches of economy, including software production, are on the rise making up almost 50% of the country’s exports.
Energy is a great hope. The Scottish share of total oil production in the UK is over 90 %. In Edinburg they believe that with oil revenues staying inside Scotland the living standards would be much higher that the UK average. The overall value of North Sea oil is about 1.5 trillion pounds. Add gas production to it. Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond called for a Norwegian-style approach under independence. Asked whether an independent Scotland could withstand volatility in the oil market, Mr. Salmond told the BBC: «Of course people in Scotland, in Aberdeen in particular, just look across to Norway where a country smaller than Scotland, more oil and gas dependent than Scotland, has handled its resources infinitely better than Westminster». He pointed out that oil and gas account for a larger part of Norwegian economy in comparison with Scotland. Norway is the only country in Europe without budget deficit. According to him, «Norway established its oil fund in 1990, although it did not start transferring money into the fund until 1996. The fund is now worth £450 billion, equivalent to £90,000 per person in Norway, and is the largest Sovereign Wealth Fund in the world».
The rapid economic development spurs great hopes. The economy reached the pre-crisis level much sooner than experts had believed it would. According to the Financial Times, Scotland’s economic growth is faster than in the rest of the kingdom. Accordingly the living standards exceed the UK average with 26, 4 thousand pounds against 22, 3 thousand. If independence becomes a reality the per capita GDP index will go up to the 28,344 pounds level.
Historic memory stronger than turn of events
History is an important factor. Just remember Robert Burns and his famous lyrics «Welcome for Scottish will stand being true to the Scottish flag». The flag has common features with the Russian Navy ensign. The Scottish Saltire (crux decussata or white Saint Andrew’s cross) with blue field. The Russian navy flag has a white background with two blue diagonal bands, forming a saltire, called St. Andrew’s cross. The celebration of great military victory gave a powerful impetus to the rise of national feelings. The Battle of Bannockburn (24 June 1314) was a pitched fight resulting in a momentous Scottish victory in the First War of Scottish Independence and a landmark in the country’s history. Those days Scotland secured its status of independent state. The battle went down in history as a symbol of national unity exerting great influence on the making of the nation.
The ‘Yes’ campaign has taken a 2 point lead - which means a statistical dead heat at this late stage. The latest survey, conducted for The Sunday Times with less than two weeks to go until voting day, has «Yes» at 51% and «No» at 49% – the first lead for the independence camp registered by Yougov since regular polling on September 18th’s referendum began. Only one month ago the opponents of independence led by 22%.
The evident success of those who stand for independence makes London catch at a straw. The British government is scrambling to respond to a lurch in the opinion polls towards a vote for Scottish independence this month by promising a range of new powers for Scotland if it chooses to stay within the United Kingdom. Britain’s government will set out plans in the coming days to give Scotland more autonomy on tax, spending and welfare if it rejects independence in a referendum on Sept. 18, British Chancellor of Exchequer George Osborne said on September 7. He was speaking to BBC television after supporters of Scottish independence took their first opinion poll lead since the referendum campaign began. «You will see in the next few days a plan of action to give more powers to Scotland, more tax powers, more spending powers, more... powers over the welfare state and… that will be put into effect the moment there is a ‘no’ vote in the referendum», he noted. Osborne said the plan was being agreed by all three major political parties in the British parliament. With a carrot in hand he also used a whip. The pro-independence side has said it believes the rest of Britain would agree to a currency union in the event of a Scottish breakaway, allowing the new state to use the pound. But this has been rejected by Britain's three main political parties, and Osborne remained adamant on the issue. «No ifs, no buts, we will not share the pound if Scotland separates from the rest of the UK,» he said.
Secession related problems
If the outcome of the referendum is «Yes», the country will become independent on March 24, 2016. Until then Edinburg and London will have to discuss the conditions of divorce. The public debt will have to be divided. According to the London’s vision, the Scotland’s share is 8, 4% (estimated per capita multiplied by the number of people becoming citizens of the new state) or 143 billion pounds (240 billion dollars). The figure is impressive. According to the London-based National Institute for Economic and Social Research (NIESR) it accounts for 86% of Scotland’s GDP (280 billion dollars). For comparison, the Scottish government spent 65 billion pounds in the 2012-2013 fiscal year.
The advocates of independence believe that the oil income taxes paid by Scotland to the UK to fill the kingdom’s budget since the 1980s should be taken into account. It reduces the debt share to 100 billion pounds or from 86% to 60% of GDP. The Scotland’s government believes the NIESR estimates to be incorrect. It says Scotland has been paying its share as taxes and any future financial settlements should be agreed on as a result of talks on assets and debts. The issue is very much controversial, so there is a heated and long debate expected to take place in case Scotland decides to leave.
The second issue is the European Union’s membership. European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso has said it would be «extremely difficult, if not impossible» for an independent Scotland to join the European Union. According to him, an independent Scotland would have to apply for membership and get the approval of all current member states.
Jean-Claude Juncker, who was elected by the European Parliament as President of the new European Commission on July 15, expressed a different point of view. According to him, the expansion of the European Union and the independence of Scotland are completely different issues. David Cameron said Great Britain will hold a referendum on the EU membership till 2017 in case he wins the 2015 parliamentary election. There is a reason for bringing the issue to the fore before the election as only every third citizen of the UK supports the idea of EU membership. The EU membership has solid popular support in Scotland, so the national referendum would be a chance to re-enter the Union soon.
Her Majesty's Naval Base Clyde (HMNB Clyde; also HMS Neptune), one of three operating bases in the United Kingdom for the Royal Navy, is another problem. The British nuclear weapons system - currently made up of four Vanguard-class submarines which carry Trident strategic missiles - has been based at HM Naval Base Clyde on Scotland's west coast since the 1960s. The base also serves as home base to Britain's fleet of nuclear attack and conventional submarines supported by the Fleet Protection Group of Marines. According to experts’ estimates, moving naval forces to another homeport will incur the expenditure of around 5 billion dollars.
Washington is evidently concerned over the possible changes. It has been sticking to wait-and-see policy. The US interference will be damaging for the UK interests. The voters may say «No» only to express discontent with US meddling into the country’s internal affairs. American media informally expresses the administration’s views. In particular it voices concern over the damage to be inflicted by the partition of the country which is a key ally. The US and other countries oppose the idea of the United Kingdom leaving the European Union; the division of Great Britain would have a shocking effect on others. Washington would like to see the UK nuclear naval forces remain is Scotland. The base could become kind of a British Gibraltar-type enclave. The United States would like Scotland to remain a NATO member.
All told, if the advocates of Scotland’s independence win it will significantly reshape the European political landscape.