Scottish Independence Referendum

The United Kingdom’s uncertain future

Scotland prepares to vote on national independence

September 7th 2014 | Brussels | Bartu Kaleagasi

Photo by Stuart Forster

Photograph by Stuart Forster (REX)

In 1707, the Kingdom of Scotland joined the Kingdom of England to form one country: the United Kingdom.

In 2014, this 300-year old union as we know it could come to an end. On September 18th, Scottish residents – including those who only hold EU citizenship – will be voting on a referendum with the question “Should Scotland be an independent country?”.

If over 50% of people vote ‘YES’, the UK government has stated that Scotland would “become an independent country after a process of negotiations”. The campaign in favour of Scottish independence has been led by “Yes Scotland“, whilst those who are against the idea of dismantling the UK have been represented by “Better Together“.

Today, for the first time ever, an opinion poll by YouGov predicted that 51% of the electorate would vote ‘YES’, with only 49% voting against Scotland’s secession. However, the latest average of all polls, issued by Professor John Curtice of Strathclyde University, still suggests that only 45% of people would vote in favour of Scottish independence, with over 55% voting ‘NO’.

Although many Scots are keen to enjoy greater national sovereignty, the question of independence is marred with several issues such as currency adoption, EU membership, oil reserves, and university fees. Yet, Scottish independence has grown to become more than just an economic debate; it represents Scotland’s desire to break free from the influence of Westminster and obtain greater democratic power.


Currency

Pound sterling, the official currency of the United Kingdom, is used in England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. This begs the question: what will Scotland use if it declares independence?

At the parliament in Westminster, New Labour, Lib Dems, and Conservatives have all agreed not to allow Scotland’s continued use of the pound if it decides to leaves the UK. Whilst most unionists support this decision, separatists are in complete disagreement. According to renowned economist Joseph Stiglitz, Westminster is simply bluffing its opposition to economic union with an independent Scotland. He argues that, given how intertwined the English and Scottish economies are, the UK will allow Scotland to continue using the pound regardless of the referendum’s outcome.

Another option, known as ‘sterlingisation’, would be for Scotland to continue using the pound without any explicit permission from the UK. Advocates of this approach, such as the Adam Smith Institute, have cited  the ‘dollarisation’ of nations such as Panama as successful examples of this method. However, unionists have pointed out that the lack of a Central Bank would limit Scotland’s ability to bail-out its financial sector and would also be problematic with regards to EU membership.

As a last resort, Scotland could also either join the euro, or establish its own new currency. Yet, both of these propositions are relatively risky. Adopting the euro, despite its many benefits and historical legitimacy, is not a popular policy in Scotland – mainly due to fears arising from the recent Eurozone crisis. As to the prospect of floating a new currency, it would lead to higher transaction costs with England – Scotland’s largest trading partner – as well as substantial transitional costs in the short-run.


The European Union

EU membership is another area of concern for Scotland’s independence, and several conflicting statements have been made on the issue so far.

Vivian Reding, Vice-President of the European Commission, stated that “EU treaties would no longer apply to a territory when it secedes from a member state”. Furthermore, Jose Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission, announced that “an independent Scotland would have to apply for membership, while the rest of the UK would continue to be a member”, and reiterated that Scotland joining the EU would be “extremely difficult, if not impossible“. According to this view, if Scotland declares independence, it will have to go through a lengthy and complicated process of accession into the EU.

However, EU court judges and legal scholars have disagreed. Given that there is no case precedent for partial secession of an EU member-state’s territory, it has been argued that EU law takes a pragmatic and purposive approach and would thus amend its treaties to accommodate Scotland’s unique circumstances. According to this view, EU nations would make sure that Scotland retains membership even if it does separate from the UK.


Devolution

Even if average poll predictions are correct and a majority of Scotland votes ‘NO’ on this referendum, the UK government will still be devolving several powers to the Scottish government.

This agreement, which was reached between the two governments through the Scotland Act of 2012, is a strategic move by Westminster to convince Scotland to stay in the United Kingdom. Although it may be true that these powers will be passed on to Scotland, separatists are clearly looking for more independence and greater democracy than what the UK is willing to give up through devolution.


The result

Above all, Scottish independence would be a substantial victory for the nation’s progressive movements. For decades, Scotland’s political representation has been tied down to Westminster’s neo-conservative Parliament. An independent Scotland would offer an unprecedented opportunity to rebuild the welfare safety net, prevent the privatisation of the NHS, remove corporate interests from politics, and keep the austerity agenda at bay.

We do not want to see the United Kingdom torn apart, we do not want to see it lose its position as a global superpower, and we do not want to see its 300-year old political union with Scotland take a massive step backwards. However, if an independent Scotland means more democratic representation – which it might – then we fully support whichever decision the Scottish people choose to make on September 18th.

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