By: Dominic Sanfilippo – Staff Writer
On Sept. 18, Scotland will hold a national referendum comprised of six words: “Should Scotland be an independent country?” If a majority of Scots vote no, Scotland will remain tied to the larger United Kingdom along with England, Northern Ireland and Wales.
However, if more than 50 percent of Scots vote yes, then the British parliament and Scotland will begin negotiations and set a timeline for Scotland to devolve from the U.K. and venture forth as an independent nation.
Past generations of Scottish activists have attempted campaigns for independence with varying degrees of success. In 1999, the Scottish parliament was created, giving Scots some degree of autonomy.
However, when the Scottish National Party gained control of the Scottish parliament in 2011, popular opinion correctly anticipated that their first minister, Alex Salmond, and the rest of the largely nationalistic SNP would call for an independence referendum to be held soon after.
In “Scotland Decides,” the Scottish government’s 670-page document about the referendum and its blueprint for a new, independent Scotland, Salmond calls the vote “a rare and precious moment in the history of Scotland—a once in a generation opportunity to chart a better way.”
“Scotland Decides” outlines all of the factors of Scottish life that would be affected—and, Salmond’s camp argues, improved—with a yes vote, addressing everything from pensions to national sports teams.
However, there is a large counter-movement of Scots and Britons who think a yes vote would destroy centuries of mutual cooperation and success between Scotland, England and the larger U.K.
In an Aug. 25 televised and widely viewed debate between Salmond and Alistair Darling, a British member of parliament and head of the campaign for a no vote, Darling said the “basic difference between Alex Salmond and me is this: my first priority is to build a better and fairer society, his first priority is to create a separate state no matter what the risks and the cost.”
Darling’s campaign, called the Better Together coalition argues that, with all questions of Scottish pride aside, the deep roots that bind the region together would be irrevocably damaged if Scotland were to leave the U.K.
Many no supporters cite the tough logistical questions that an independent Scotland would have to face as a reason for their position
“Harry Potter” author, Scottish resident and no advocate J.K. Rowling told the The Daily Telegraph that independence supporters were guilty of the “minimization and even denial of risks” associated with independence.
One major area of tension between the two sides is the potential fate of the pound sterling, the cornerstone of the British economy.
Salmond and the Scots contend that an independent Scotland would still use the pound in a currency union with Westminster Abbey. However, a united front of English leaders–from David Cameron, the Prime Minister of England and the head of the Conservative Party, to Ed Miliband, the British parliament’s opposition leader of the more progressive Labour Party–has been adamant that parliament would reject the Scots’ use of the pound.
The many various responses to the Scottish question will coalesce into a single vote expected to draw over 80 percent of registered voters in what many social commentators have described as one of the most significant democratic events in recent Western history.
In recent months, the no voters have held a lead; however, the latest government poll showed yes edging ahead for the first time with a 51-49 percent split. This lead reversal has encouraged independence supporters and has increased the attention surrounding the vote.
The aftermath and fallout from the Scottish question will not be isolated to Britain.
Many predict that the final result, whether yes or no, has the potential to motivate independence-minded regions in other countries to follow Scotland.
“The referendum has a wider significance outside of the U.K.,” said Dr. Marybeth Carlson, the director of the University of Dayton’s International Studies program. “Independence movements in Spain, in Belgium, in France and possibly Italy are following the Scottish referendum very closely. Victory for the independence side in Scotland might spur other European governments to transfer some political powers to local areas in efforts to undercut the growth of such movements.”
As the vote draws near, London locals are increasingly acknowledging that the British landscape, which seemed unchangeable, could shift into something new and strange.
On Sept. 10, the headline of the London Evening Standard blared, “FINAL PLEA TO ‘HEADS, HEARTS AND SOULS’ OF SCOTS,” and YES and NO signs were taped up throughout London subway stations.
“Britain would lose something of its essence if Scotland were independent,” a University College London student said of the situation.