Should Scotland Secede? A Look At The Issue of Independence For Scotland



Click here for Part 1 of Article-3’s examination of the main parties in the Independence Referendum.

Tomorrow, Scotland may have the most influential impact on the British Isles since the independence of India in 1947 as the roughly 5 million Scots will cast their ballots on the matter of independence from the United Kingdom.

Here’s a closer look at five of the reasons that are shaping how the Scottish are casting their ballots:

1. Self-determination.

The UK created a Scottish parliament and devolved some powers to Scotland in 1999, hoping that self-government over areas such as health, education, and housing would quell Scottish citizens concerns about Westminster not heeding their needs. On the contrary, that small measure of self-control has fed the flames, shown the Scottish that they can manage themselves, and trained a class of politicians chomping at the bit to have more powers over their constituents’ lives (as well as their own), without interference from any government in London.

This certainly has a strong appeal, and a basis in international law; the right of self-determination has been repeatedly reinforced as a norm of international law since the rapid and widespread of decolonization following World War Two, even recently employed (deceptively and self-servingly) by Russia’s Putin as a pretext for seizing Crimea. The argument for self-control, however, seems inherently contradictory to one of the second great issues for Scottish independence, the question of the European Union.

2. Membership in the EU.

Scotland as a whole is fully in favor of the EU project, with the exception of joining the single currency, and binding themselves to the fiscal discipline required by Berlin (more on the currency issue later). Scotland, politically, is slightly left of center and can see the appeal of a common market with her like minded brethren in the EU. While an independent Scotland would need to apply for membership in the EU, it is likely that they should be able to fully join the regional bloc within a few years’ span, if that remains their desire, as stated in the SNP’s white paper on independence:

“In the EU, an independent Scotland will be able to engage early and directly across the range of the Union’s activities, ensuring Scottish interests are considered. Scottish governments will be able to promote our priorities in a system based on consensus and alliance building, where Scotland’s votes will bring direct influence with the Commission and within the Council of Ministers. Being at the top table will transform Scotland’s place in Europe.”

Scotland’s government ignores the fact that their nation of almost 5.3 million Scots won’t pack the same punch as 64.1 million British citizens in an EU where political clout places a premium on national population at its own peril. The United Kingdom, as currently constituted, is the 3rd largest state in the Union by population. As a separate entity, Scotland would drop from 3rd to 20th, to put it in terms of American states, that would be like a population a drop from New York to Wisconsin.

Furthermore, a vote to undo Scotland’s 307 year union with England jeopardizes the rest of the United Kingdom’s position in the European Union, as the Conservative government has pledged to hold a referendum on whether or not the UK will remain in the EU if it is returned to government in the next general (national) election. Losing 5 million votes heavily tilted towards the Labour party and closer EU ties would likely return the Tories to government in the general election and might be enough to tilt the scales in the subsequent referendum. Scotland could find itself an applicant into a European Union as the remainder of the UK exits it, leaving it without an ally that shares a common culture, (despite England’s center-right tendencies) and a common language.

3. Currency.

Regardless of whether the UK remains in the EU or not, the matter of currency is one that will need to be addressed. Only 4% of Scottish voters support the joining the Euro, while almost 60% want to retain the pound sterling in some form. All three major political parties in Westminster have ruled out a currency union with a sovereign nation after independence, particularly a nation which has expressly stated that it will shun austerity and consistently increase government spending. Last week, Mr. Salmond threatened the UK that without Scotland being allowed to use the pound sterling, it would walk away from its share of the UK’s national debt. On whether or not the UK could enforce the debt, Salmond is reported to have said “What are they going to do – invade?”

Mr. Salmond has also raised the possibility of “adaptive sterlingization“, using the pound without a currency union, despite not having any influence over the Bank of England, which would continue to set monetary policy for the UK. Sterlingization would likely drive many financial institutions out of Scotland and south to London. Without a central bank to serve as the lender of last resort, Scotland would need to maintain extremely tight fiscal discipline over its cash reserves, unless it received a constant windfall in revenues, which brings us to the next major topic of debate, the North Sea oil reserves.

4. Oil.

The Scottish Government estimates that the offshore oil and gas reserves in Scotland have a wholesale value of £1.5 trillion, and that by using that wealth, Scotland can create a sovereign wealth fund in the model of Norway and other petroleum-rich states. While Mr. Salmond’s career prior to being First Minister of Scotland was as an oil-industry economist, the figures delivered by his government on Scottish futures have been shrilly decried from Westminster as being overly optimistic, with the Office for Budget Responsibility revising that number to £61.6bn (slightly more than 40% of Salmond’s figure) between 2014 and 2040.

Most forecasts show that an independent Scotland would require that supply of oil to establish and operate its planned social programs, giving itself a limited window of time to capitalize on oil prices before the reserves are drained or the cost of oil extraction exceeds the value of the oil.

5. Nuclear weapons.

Despite their willingness to ignore the carbon impact of petroleum so long as it funds their coffers, the Scottish state is aghast at the prospect of nuclear powered weapons, calling the placement of nuclear warheads on British Trident submarines, based in the Scottish deep-water harbour of HMNB Clyde, “an affront to basic decency with its indiscriminate and inhumane destructive power”.

Scotland’s government has repeatedly claimed that it will withdraw from NATO unless an arrangement can be made to ensure that Scotland will not ever house, on either a permanent or temporary basis, any nuclear weapons of any kind. That would leave the British isles without a suitable harbour for their submarines, and jeopardizes the government’s ability to maintain nuclear arms. The only alternative currently operational would be to expand the shared use of the United States’ Naval Submarine Base in Kings Bay Georgia, on the other side of the Atlantic from the home isles.

For many Scots and other Britons, their departure would be welcomed, but it would leave the UK without a nuclear deterrent and make the United States the de-facto sole nuclear power in NATO, a role that America is loathe to play. Despite the unlikelihood of them ever using nuclear weapons, without the unspoken military deterrent of her nuclear forces, the remaining UK and Scotland might be perceived as less powerful in the international community, a downsizing that few in either nation may be ready for.

On Thursday, Scotland votes with a wide array of economic, political and cultural issues at stake. No matter how the Scottish decide, the consequences will be felt around the globe, as international bodies, fellow separatist groups, and financial markets look on in anticipation. Personally, I hope that Scotland remains part of the United Kingdom, receiving greatly enhanced powers, in a federal state akin the Australia or the US.

However, that result may not be fast enough for many Scots who want their independence yesterday, if not sooner. Such impatience with Westminster is understandable, especially when a Conservative party is in government. The Economist correctly noted that the full name of the party, since 1912, is “The Conservative and Unionist Party”. Let us hope that the party remembers their full name and mission in the last few days of this campaign.


About Rob Sharp

Rob Sharp is an international law junkie with a particular interest in comparative law, sovereignty and state responses to terrorism. On the lighter side of things, Rob enjoys travel, college football, and reading. Rob has a B.A. in Political Science from the University of California at Berkeley and a JD from Notre Dame Law School. Rob returned to his birthplace of London in his second year to participate in NDLS’ Concannon Programme of International Law.
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