Scotland will vote on whether or not to become and independent nation, potentially severing a 307-year-old union with England, on Thursday, Sept. 18. Here’s what you need to know.
When did Scotland and England unite?
The Act of Union between Scotland and England was signed on Jan. 16, 1707. It came into effect on May 1 of that year, creating the United Kingdom of Britain. The Scottish Parliament was dissolved, and a single Parliament was created at Westminster in London.
Why did Scotland and England join in the first place?
Scotland and England have a complicated history, but the short answer is that Scotland needed an economic boost. The country’s finances were a mess after a failed attempt to establish a trading colony in Panama. This unsuccessful scheme “was conclusive evidence that Scotland’s future prosperity was best served by union,” The Guardian writes.
What are the opposing sides in the referendum?
There are two groups: The Yes campaign is in favour of independence. The official name for this campaign is Yes Scotland. The No campaign wants to keep the Union intact. The official name of this campaign is Better Together.
Who are the campaign leaders?
Alex Salmond is leading the Yes Scotland campaign, which supports independence. He is currently the leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP).
Alistair Darling is leading the Better Together campaign, which supports staying with the U.K. He was the British Chancellor from 2007 to 2010.
When is the referendum?
Sept. 18. That’s a Thursday.
What will the ballot say?
There is just one question: “Should Scotland be an independent country?” Voters will tick one box: Yes or No.
When did Scotland get the power to hold a referendum?
David Cameron signed an agreement in October 2012 ensuring that the Scottish parliament, known as Holyrood, could hold a referendum on independence. This is called the Edinburgh Agreement. This followed a majority win by the Scottish National Party in the 2011 parliamentary elections, indicating a growing desire for independence.
Who is eligible to vote?
For the most part, anyone over the age of 16 (the voting age was lowered from 18 for general elections) who lives in Scotland can vote. To vote, those who were not born in Scotland must be citizens of the EU or Commonwealth and currently living in Scotland. Members of the armed services who are now overseas but are registered to vote in Scotland can also cast a ballot.
Can Scottish people who are not living in Scotland vote?
No. The Scottish government decided it would less complicated if it were restricted to those living in Scotland. As a result, 800,000 Scots who live in other parts of the U.K. will not be allowed to vote, while 400,000 people from other parts of Britain who live in Scotland will be able to vote.
What is the main case for staying in the U.K.?
The Better Together campaign argues remaining a part of the U.K. gives Scotland “the best of both worlds.” The Scottish Parliament, re-established in 1999, can make local decisions about health, education, and transportation, while the small country of five million reaps the benefits of being a part of a larger economy. As part of the U.K., Scotland can easily trade across other parts of the U.K. and has access to more jobs. Scotland also has the protection of the U.K. armed forces and influence on the UN Security Council.
What is the main case for independence?
Those who support independence believe Scotland “would be richer” if it breaks from England.
Proponents of independence want Scotland to make its own decisions about how resources are controlled and money is invested. Rather than investing billion of pounds in nuclear weapons, for example, they would prefer it go to things like childcare or programs to retain talent and encourage young Scots to stay.
What does the data say?
“Figures produced by the Scottish government suggest an independent Scotland would be in better financial shape than the U.K. as a whole, with a 2017 budget deficit of between 1.6% and 2.4% of annual GDP, compared with a forecast deficit of 3.4% for the U.K. as a whole,” The Wall Street Journal said.
Those numbers are contradicted by stats from the The U.K. treasury, which say “each Scot will be £1,400 ($2,400) richer per year if Scotland stays in the union.”
What about currency?
This is a central focus of the debate. While Salmond believes it is possible for Scotland to share the pound after independence, Britain’s finance minister George Osborne has been clear that a currency union is not in the cards. An independent Scotland could join the euro, but it would first have to be accepted into the EU. Opponents are sceptical of Salmond’s stance that it will be easy to join the EU.
What do the polls say?
The most recent two polls give a very slight edge to the No campaign. But there’s no question that it’s going to be an incredibly close race.
What groups oppose Independence?
The three main political parties in London — Labour, the Tories, and the Liberal Democrats — are against independence. Leaving the U.K., they say, would have a huge cost for Scotland.
What happens if Scotland votes No?
That’s it for now, folks. Scotland and the U.K. will carry on as they have for the past 300 years. There won’t be another chance to vote on independence for another generation.
What happens if Scotland votes Yes?
If Scotland votes Yes to independence, the country will be in full control of its defence, tax revenue, fiscal and foreign policies, and immigration. Discussions will have to take place to transfer power over from Westminster to the Scottish Parliament.
When do polls open?
Polling stations open at 7 a.m. local time and are open until 10 p.m. The decision is expected to be announced Friday morning.
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