Next year, the people of Scotland will vote whether to become an independent nation state, and leave the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. A referendum is being held on the 18th September 2014, asking the simple yes/no question: “Should Scotland be an independent country?”
Though England and Scotland were originally independent nations, Scotland has shared a monarch with England since 1603. Upon the death of Elizabeth I of England, James VI of Scotland also took the English throne to become James I of England. In 1707 the link between the two countries was formalised with the Treaty of Union.
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, which is the full name of our nation state (but usually shortened to the United Kingdom), combines the countries of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, following the Republic of Ireland obtaining independence in 1922. Though we refer to these states as ‘countries’, they are not currently ‘nation states’ and are more akin to states in the United States of America. However, if the people of Scotland vote for independence, then Scotland will be a nation state of its own.
Of the four constituent countries of the UK, Scotland is the most autonomous. For many years it has had a separate legal system, with its own laws and courts, which differs from England, Wales and Northern Ireland. It also has its own government; following an earlier referendum in September 1997 the Scottish Parliament was established in July 1999. This means that, at present, Scottish voters elect candidates for both the Scottish Parliament and the UK Parliament in Westminster. By contrast, Wales and Northern Ireland have Assemblies, with more limited decision-making powers, and the same legal system as England. England does not have its own parliament or assembly, though a plan for an assembly for the north-east region was rejected by voters in a 2004 referendum; subsequent planned referendums for other regions didn’t take place.
So that’s the background. By now, you may be wondering what my opinion is about Scottish independence, and I’m afraid I’m going to disappoint you by sitting on the fence. I’m not Scottish and I don’t live in Scotland (so I’m not eligible to vote), and the outcome of the poll probably won’t affect me much. I can also see both advantages and disadvantages to independence, so I’m going to stay neutral. I’ll let the yes campaign and the no campaign give you their views instead.
The main advantages that I can see are greater autonomy and stronger identity. For example, though Scotland has its own government, it doesn’t collect taxes from its own people. Instead, this is done by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, as it is in the rest of the UK, although regardless of the referendum result the Scottish Government will be able to its own rates of tax from April 2015.
If independence is obtained, then residents of Scotland will be able to have a Scottish, rather than British passport – although it’s probable that Scots will be able to retain their British nationality as well, at least initially. They will be able to produce their own coins (Scottish banks already produce their own banknotes) and stamps. And they will be in charge of their own immigration, armed forces, and natural resources. The latter could be a major bargaining tool as this may include quite a bit of the oil in the North Sea.
On the other hand, with all of the extra power that an independent Scotland would have, comes the extra responsibility. Scotland will have to set up organisations to handle the administration of its borders, collect taxes, mint coins, and do all of the other things that are currently provided by UK-wide bodies. Whilst this will employ many people, it will also cost a lot of money, and is arguably less efficient than the current situation where resources are pooled across the UK (indeed, this seems to be the ‘no’ campaign’s main argument). Scotland is also home to the UK’s nuclear weapons, and the Scottish Government has stated that, following independence, the UK military would need to move them, or disarm and dispose of them.
And some things won’t change. The plan is for the Scotland to continue to use Pound Sterling as its currency, in parity with the rest of the UK, and it will retain the Queen as head of state as now (like Canada, Australia and New Zealand do). It’s likely that Scotland will remain part of the Common Travel Area, allowing free passage across the borders with the UK and the Republic of Ireland. And it also intends to remain part of the European Union and United Nations, though I’ve heard conflicting statements about how this will work.
In nine months’ time, we will know what the Scottish people decide. At present, opinion polls show that a ‘no’ vote is most likely, but a lot could change in the meantime. If, however, Scotland does become independent, then the next few years could prove to be very interesting indeed.