Later this year a referendum concerning the independence of Scotland will take place. The Scottish referendum has the ability to dramatically alter the landscape of Britain and Scotland, but will this change be for the better. LS Debate asks, would Scotland benefit from independence?
Fourth Year English
It may seem strange that someone who is actually against Scottish independence is writing this side of the debate. Although it is all too easy to dismiss Alex Salmond and his supporters as naïve patriotic fools marching on a jingoistic whim, perhaps his claims and aims deserve a closer look. Salmond may be the cannon fodder of social networking memes, the New Statesman’s latest cartoon or the punch line to a bad joke, but Scotland’s First Minister led his party to a landslide victory in the 2011 election as the Scottish National Party (SNP) swept through the polls. The movement for Scottish independence is gaining support every day; there must be a reason for this.
The idea of Scottish independence gained momentum before anyone (particularly) in England had any chance to catch on. Cameron’s voice was lost in the winds of change, as Scots realised that it would be possible to create a government that wasn’t constantly distracted by the cloying Etonians of Westminster.
We’ve had a history of not treating Scotland right. England hasn’t gone out of its way to make things difficult between the two nations, but it hasn’t done anything to imply it appreciates and values the blue and white nation either. David Cameron is quoted as saying that “today our economy is heavily reliant on just a few industries and a few regions – particularly London and the South East”. This illustrates the frustratingly dire expansion of private enterprise outside a small pocket of England. It seems crude to mention that Scotland is sitting on its own source of profit – a £1.5 trillion oil and gas reserve ready to support its citizens with a concrete platform of economic viability. Although we rank amongst the highest performers on a global scale, Britain is currently the fourth most unequal country in the developed world. With complete control over this profitable source of income; an independent Scotland could see large economic and social benefits.
Not only the brainchild of fervent SNP supporters, the referendum has rallied cross-party support from Labour and Green MPs in its fight. An independent Scotland could be a place of ecological forwardness, gender equality and ethical purpose. Some may argue that these visions are based on altruism, but the ideological impetus of Scotland’s Yes campaign shows a country fraught with the values of austerity Britain. Regardless of the referendum’s result, we need to realise that these failures are very much apparent in Britain as a whole. It should not take Scottish independence to instigate an updated social policy that is befitting of the concerns of a British citizen in 2014.
If we do get the chance to maintain our union with Scotland, our England-centric government needs to assess what exactly has gone wrong. An entire country has observed the momentum of independence, all thanks to the inability to provide a secure and respectful platform of cooperation in Britain. However, the only way we’ll get a firm answer for Britain’s next plan of action is to look to next year’s general election; whether or not we will progress with Scotland, however, is another question.
Fourth Year English
Scotland’s First Minister, Alex Salmond, has said himself that the issue is not whether Scotland could be independent, but whether those benefits outweigh the benefits of it remaining in the union. Likewise the issue is not whether Scotland would benefit from independence, but whether those benefits outweigh the benefits of it remaining in the union.
Polling has repeatedly shown that the economy is the biggest factor affecting swing voters’ decisions on independence, so it seems like the most important issue to focus on. The debate over whether Scotland could keep the Sterling if a Yes vote won out in September is currently raging. Indeed, it is the Yes campaign’s biggest hurdle. After a united front from all three big parties, led by Osborne’s recent speech in Edinburgh denying the possibility of a shared currency, Salmond’s claims that Scotland could keep the pound now stand on shaky ground.
At a recent talk on the EU and Scotland held in Edinburgh it emerged that Scotland’s most realistic option would be adoption of the Euro (if not immediately), meaning their entry into a far more unstable currency zone. The recklessness of not having considered a viable plan B speaks to similar dismissiveness throughout the Yes campaign, which has failed to consider the options if they are unable to make good on their promises for Scotland’s future.
Beyond the Sterling, the economic issue of independence is further problematised by statements from oil companies expressing doubt over their involvement in the North Sea if the Yes vote wins out. Similarly, retailers in Scotland and the rest of the union have indicated overwhelming opposition to independence, especially in light of the fact that Scotland’s largest market is the rest of the UK. If this trade broke down – even partially – Scotland would have to turn to the rest of Europe to make it up, when the European market is already saturated.
Alex Salmond has claimed that the No campaign has no plans for Scotland beyond keeping the situation the same, however this is completely untrue. The Lib Dems have just set up a commission with Menzies Campbell at the head which seems set to offer Scotland a form of Devo Plus and the leader of the Scottish Labour Party, Johann Lamont, has set up a Devolution Commission to examine ways in which the Scottish Government can add to its devolved powers. A pressing concern for Salmond should be the coming election in 2016; should a No vote win out, the SNP will have two years left in power in a situation they have so far made no public plans for. The implicit message of the Yes campaign is that there is no valuable future for Scotland inside the union, so to expect the continuing support of their country in the event of a No vote is a little foolish.
When it comes to independence there are just too many unknown elements; any benefits are at this point only hypothetical; but the security of Scotland’s future seems far more certain within the union.