Photo: Flickr – The Laird of Oldham
Why doesn’t anyone want to be a part of the UK anymore? The Republic of Ireland left in 1922, now Scotland wants to follow suit.Scotland, which retained its own legal system after the 1707 induction into the United Kingdom, controls its own policies on health, education and prisons, as opposed to deferring to Downing Street. Scotland even has its own flag.
But the Scots want more…
How much support is there for independence in Scotland?
An Ipsos MORI poll last month found that, among Scottish voters certain to vote in a referendum, 38 per cent would vote for full independence while 58 per cent were opposed.
A YouGov poll conducted in April 2011 put support lower than that — 28 per cent — with 57 per cent opposed to breaking up the UK.
So what’s all the hullabaloo about?
Alex Salmond, Scotland’s current First Minister, wants the nation to have its own armed forces and foreign policy. Salmond also told Reuters last year that Scotland would be entitled to the majority of the North Sea oil revenues if the split took place.
Salmond’s Scottish National Party (SNP), which came to power in May 2011, promised to hold a referendum on secession in the second half of a parliamentary term, lasting until 2016. And while UK’s Prime Minister David Cameron is against the split, he has agreed to a referendum — with strings attached — leading Salmond’s deputy, Nicola Sturgeon, to say, “Here we go again… another Tory-led government interfering in Scotland.”
The UK government’s position
The government has firmly stated is that it takes two to tango: secession from the UK will not affect Scotland alone, so the matter cannot be decided by Scotland alone.
The three biggest political parties — the Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and labour — as well as Cameron, are opposed to a break-up of the United Kingdom. Cameron says the split, as well as “uncertainty” over the vote, was damaging the UK’s economy by deterring investment, according to the BBC.
While Cameron may believe that the earlier a referendum is held, the better the chances are of Scotland staying in the Union, he can’t push too hard — he could actually increase support for a split by being construed as a “meddler”.
It had been reported that Cameron was in favour of holding a referendum in the next 18 months — earlier than the SNP would like, but government sources later denied the existence of such a “sunset clause”, especially if powers were granted to the Scottish government to make a binding resolution.
The government also favours a yes/no vote — do you want to stay in the UK or not — effectively ruling out a third option: “devolution max”, which would offer more powers for Scotland, just short of complete independence.
The SNP’s position
While the party did not suggest a date for a referendum, the preferred date is thought to be in 2014, according to the BBC — much later than the date Cameron was allegedly pushing for.
Lord Forsyth, a former Scottish secretary, told the BBC this was because the SNP knew the majority of people were currently opposed to full independence and “they are afraid they will lose it [the vote].”
“They want to spend the next two or three years creating resentment on both sides of the border,” he told BBC Radio 4’s World At One.
The party may be hoping to exploit two events in 2014, the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn, where the Scots defeated an English army, to drum up support for a break.
The SNP also favours a simple yes/no vote, but they accept there is “a significant body of opinion” in Scotland which wants more economic and financial powers, but not complete political independence.
Scotland’s next move
Scotland can go ahead with a non-binding referendum on its own, without asking for approval from the UK government in Westminster, although this could be subject to legal challenge.
Since separating from the Union is a constitutional matter, any decision reached at such a referendum need only be considered in an advisory capacity by Westminster. Only the UK government can make the final decision on such matters, so a referendum would be more like a plebiscite to gauge public opinion, and not something that could necessarily alter policy.
However, the Scottish government’s website states that even in the case of a non-binding referendum, “The moral and political force of a vote for independence would be enormous, and impossible for a future government to ignore. A negative vote would similarly have a political consequence.”
The UK’s next move
UK ministers have identified three broad options, reports the BBC: To legislate to allow the Scottish Parliament to hold a referendum; to call the referendum themselves; or do nothing, “leaving the issue to be determined following a possible legal challenge to the Scottish Government’s plans by an aggrieved citizen.”
Options two and three are unattractive for obvious reasons. Calling for a referendum that most Scots believe should be their right to do would be playing into the hands of separationists; doing nothing could be called a dereliction of duty, which would make the UK government look bad.
This leaves option one, which is not without it’s own caveat. Amending the 1998 Scotland Act to allow the Scottish government to hold a referendum would need permission from the Scottish government. This would likely not be forthcoming, given the SNP believes they don’t need the permission.
It’s difficult to predict how this will end. The current financial crisis could lead Scots to consider secession as in their best interests, as could a wrong move by Cameron. Alternatively, as the poll numbers show, the SNP could lose popularity, possibly leading Unionists to gain ground. At this point, it doesn’t look like the issue will be resolved anytime soon.
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