Stunning developments over the weekend have made Scottish independence — which is set for a Sept. 18 vote — a very real possibility.
The Scots will vote next Thursday on whether they will seek independence from England, Wales, and Northern Ireland. New polls showing a recent shift in public opinion has suddenly made independence much more plausible.
And if Scotland does vote for independence, it could be the start of a domino effect for similar situations throughout Europe, analysts say.
Other areas have been seeking to hold independence referendums — Spain, for example, is worried that Scotland’s situation could embolden separatists in the Catalonia region, though a tentatively scheduled referendum set for Nov. 9 in Catalonia has been ruled unconstitutional by Spanish courts.
Geopolitical expert Ian Bremmer, the president of Eurasia Group, said Monday he doesn’t expect Scots to end up voting for independence. But if they pull off a shocker, there could be many reverberating effects from the vote — one being that other separatist-fuelled areas will be encouraged.
“If it does happen, this European ‘contagion’ risk that you mention is very real,” Bremmer, told Business Insider on Monday.
“Other countries will look very closely at how European institutions and member states would manage it. In Spain, Prime Minister Rajoy and the Constitutional Court have both ruled out a similar referendum for Catalonia. But a ‘yes’ in Scotland would make for a much noisier situation in Spain. After a ‘yes’ vote, Scotland would effectively become the pioneer, carving a path forward that Catalonia would try and follow.”
In addition to Catalonia, the Basque region of Spain also is home to a budding legion of separatists who want to vote for independence. Other, less mature independence movements that could grow include the Dutch-speaking Flanders region of Belgium, as well as Venice and other areas in northern Italy.
A “yes” vote in Scotland would likely lead to a tenuous, uncertain situation as it tries to regain membership into the European Union by the time it would become fully independent in March 2016. To get back into the EU would require a unanimous vote by current members, which may be impossible as countries like Spain and Belgium would want to use the situation as a deterrent to separatist movements in their own countries.
“That would be incredibly messy, precisely because countries like Spain and Belgium would have an incentive to bar Scottish membership given their own situations,” Bremmer said.
“We saw the same thing when Greece was on the ropes a few years ago: if Athens had moved for the Eurozone exit, members had strong incentives to make that a scorched path, an economically violent process that would keep others from following in Greece’s footsteps. Some EU members would surely make an example out of Scotland.”
Scottish independence would also lead to a host of other questions: Would it be able to still use the British pound, which fell to its lowest level in 10 months on news of the polls? Would it be able to stay a member of NATO?
All of those questions would have to be sorted out. But the biggest effect of Scottish independence, Bremmer said, could be the ultimate change of Britain’s political landscape. Currently, 40 of Scotland’s 59 members parliament come from the Labour party compared to just one from the conservative-leaning Tories.
As Bremmer explained, Scottish independence would “tilt the entire U.K. political spectrum to the right.” That would boost the odds of a conservative majority winning in 2015.
Ultimately, he said, it could be a “game-changer” for the chances of a referendum on an “in-or-out” referendum on the U.K.’s place in the E.U. Prime Minister David Cameron has proposed a referendum in 2017 if the conservative party wins an outright majority next year.
“If Scotland votes ‘yes,’ down the road would come the ultimate irony,” Bremmer said. “The U.K. would be more likely to pull out of the E.U., while Scotland clamors to get in.”
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