Sandra Song Western Europe

The Future of Scottish Independence

In May 2011, the Scottish National Party (SNP) unexpectedly won an overall majority in Scotland’s parliament. Following this historical triumph, First Minister Alex Salmond publicly declared that the SNP government would hold an independence referendum to dissolve the 300-year-old union with England. On 15 October 2012, the leaders of the United Kingdom and Scottish governments signed the Edinburgh Agreement– a deal confirming that London will provide the Scottish Parliament with the legal capacity to hold a referendum for Scottish independence.

The official voting date has been set, and the countdown has begun.  On 18 September 2014, over four million Scottish residents will be asked to cast their ballots for a six-word yes or no question.  Should Scotland be an independent country?

Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond (left) and British Prime Minister David Cameron

Pending Decisions

It is difficult to say with certainty if Scotland is in favour of separating from the UK. Based on collected data, figures have shown that about one quarter to one third of Scottish residents support independence. Based on a survey conducted by polling expert John Curtice, there has been no clear evidence showing growing or reducing support for independence.

There are many reasons behind the SNP’s decision to seek independence.  Scotland has considerable historic justification for independence, given the forced nature of the political union with England in 1706. Though permitted to preserve its legal system, Scotland’s political power was moved to London’s Westminster government.

Since reestablishing a Scottish Parliament in 1999, the SNP has sought a transfer of sovereignty from Westminster to the people of Scotland.  The argument is that Scotland must fulfill its potential by taking control of its territory and the values of its citizens. Through independence, the state is preparing to “create jobs, encourage sustainable economic growth, secure social justice, tackle inequality and promote fairness.”

The official pro-independence campaign, Yes Scotland, explains that the reason to separate from the UK is simple.  “It is fundamentally better for all of us if decisions about Scotland’s future are taken by the people who care most about Scotland – that is by the people of Scotland.” The Guardian outlined that the country wants full control over its taxes, political decisions and its geographic share of the North Sea oil and gas reserves.

The purpose of independence is not to cut all ties with England. Under Alex Salmond’s proposal, Scotland would have full sovereignty from England but remain within the Commonwealth with Queen Elizabeth as the head of state. As part of Scotland’s independence, there are plans to keep the sterling and the Bank of England as the state’s central bank, with the possibility of seeking a currency union with the rest of the UK, and cooperating on related defence issues. Some academics have argued that these intentions may not follow through as planned because Scotland could be forced to adopt the Euro, or agree to do so in the future as a condition of its potential EU membership.

The opposing campaign, Better Together, believes that remaining in the United Kingdom is the best possible choice for the future of Scotland.  The country’s economy can flourish and have strong international influences by remaining within a larger state.  Prime Minister David Cameron has said that Scotland should remain part of the UK because it would allow for the best of both worlds- a distinctive Scottish Parliament without losing the strength and security of the UK. If Scotland becomes an independent state, it risks economic instability, barriers for business, and decreased state security. One of the main reasons to oppose voting ‘yes’ to the referendum is because it will be a period of uncertainty while negotiating the terms of independence.

Learning from the Past and Looking Forward

There have been comparisons with Scotland’s future independence and Czechoslovakia’s Velvet Divorce.  The Czech Republic and Slovakia were able to achieve peaceful separation through negotiations.  Though the SNP may seem to be mirroring the successful features of the Velvet Divorce, Alex Salmond has changed one important feature: unlike Czechoslovakia, the residents of Scotland are being consulted about separation by holding an independence referendum.

If the referendum is passed next year, Scotland should prepare for the lengthy duration of negotiations with the Westminster government regarding the terms of independence. Some of the key issues to work through will concern the North Sea oil, the future of national defence. Once the administrative process is complete, there will likely be a second referendum asking the residents of Scotland if they agree with the terms of its state independence.  If Scotland votes ‘yes’, the country could gain full independence as early as March 2016.

Independence may have been successful in the former Czechoslovakia but it could pose some unexpected obstacles for the future Scotland. One question may be resolved in September 2014, but many more could emerge soon after.

It is now up to the residents of Scotland to decide which direction to take their country.

Sandra Song
Sandra is a Research Analyst at the NATO Association of Canada. She was the former Editor for the Canadian Armed Forces program, and she was previously a Junior Research Fellow for the Strategic Reserve Program in 2013. Sandra has a BA Bilingual Hons. in International Studies from Glendon College, York University. She recently completed her MA in International Conflict & Security at the University of Kent, Brussels School of International Studies. Her dissertation examined the political and legal perspectives of balancing security and liberty in the case of civilian aircraft hijackings that would be used as a weapon for terrorism. Prior to her time at the NAOC, Sandra was contracted as an Ocean Energy Plan Project Consultant for a non-profit organization in Belgium and the Netherlands.