In just one week’s time Scotland will vote in one of the most tense and important referendums of recent years. The Scottish will be deciding whether to stick with the centuries old United Kingdom or to go it alone as an independent nation. The referendum has fired up British politics, with all three main political leaders journeying to Scotland to raise support for the “No” campaign, while the Scottish National Party (SNP) leader Alex Salmond continues his “Yes” campaign for the world’s newest state. So what do the Scottish want? What will an independent Scotland look like? And will it live up to the bright promises of Alex Salmond?
Scotland has been an uneasy part of the United Kingdom ever since 1706, when they were joined with England under one parliament in Westminster. Since then they have become an integral part of the country, but still retained their own identity as the Scottish nation. The trend in recent years though has been more and more towards more autonomy, with Scotland getting its own parliament and power over certain aspects of government. This desire for more independence has been increased thanks to conservative governments like that of Margaret Thatcher, seeing as Scotland votes solidly on the left for Labour. Up until a few weeks ago it was believed that the result would be a No, but the UK was shaken by an opinion poll last week showing the Yes campaign narrowly ahead. This referendum will go down to the wire.
If Scotland does vote for independence though, there’s controversy over what that will look like. Some things are certain. The country will be social democratic, gain its main income from oil, and be rather insignificant on the world stage. However, on certain vital issues the promises made by Salmond aren’t at all that assured. For example, according to the SNP Scotland will easily be able to join the EU. However, it isn’t yet clear how easy this will be according to EU law. Making things worse is the fact that Spain, concerned with their separatist minded province of Catalonia, have hinted they could make things difficult for Scotland.
The most important issue though is that of currency. Salmond has repeatedly stated that Scotland will use the pound in a currency union with the UK (like the Eurozone). However, the government in London has said that they don’t particularly want a currency union. This might just be scare tactics, but as we’ve seen with the Eurozone, currency unions don’t work well without political unity as well – to which London says “that’s what the United Kingdom is for”. If they can’t have a currency union, Scotland could
- Try to join the Euro – but this is very unpopular
- Get their own currency – Salmond has already said this isn’t a good option
- Use the pound anyway. This is possible, but it means that Scotland has zero control over the strength of its own currency – their monetary policy would basically be controlled by the Bank of England, a foreign power.
This leaves Salmond with no real options if the UK refuses a currency union. Even if they accept, it would involve Scotland giving up some independence in terms of monetary policy – which seems strange coming after a referendum for sovereignty.
What is certain though is that independence will mean a difficult economic transition for Scotland. The uncertainty could drive investors away and they would go from part of one of the world’s biggest economies to one of the least important countries in Europe. These may be logical arguments, but they don’t take into account the heart of Scotland. Throughout the ages the Scots have had their own history, culture, politics and even language. Nationalism is a powerful force, and many in Scotland feel that this is their time to finally become a true nation. In one week from now we’ll know what wins out – head or heart.