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To Be Free or Not to Be Free? That is Almost the Question

As the Scottish referndum for indenpendence fast approaches, Cameron Rogers asses the arguments for both Scotland’s secession and remaining with the United Kingdom.

"Trust us!" - First Minister Alex Salmond with Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon  source

“Trust us!” – First Minister Alex Salmond with Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon
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With the referendum on Scottish independence set for the 18th of September this year, talk of independence and the terms of separation are getting very serious. Alex Salmond has often assured his citizens that voting ‘yes’ in the referendum is the next step in Scotland’s evolution as a nation. He likens the situtation to a teenage boy, growing up and leaving home to brave the outside world, in which he is to flourish. Salmond has certainly got some big names speaking for his cause, like Sean Connery, who is bravely championing the cause from his home in the Bahamas. Yet the SNP has also lost the crucial support of Donald Trump and has some equally influential figures campaigning against.

As someone who was educated and raised in Edinburgh, I wouldn’t be keen for Scotland to leave the UK. It is often hard for me to see the potential benefits of an independent Scotland, especially given the vague rehtoric  Salmond spouts on specific issues such as currency, NATO and EU membership and Scotland’s next source of promised economic growth will be. However, both sides of the should still be looked at and I shall play a sort of devil’s advocate and examine both points of view. From an economic to political perspective, I will cover as many issues as I can to see whether Scotland should be an independent state.

SCOTTISH ACTOR SEAN CONNERY AT CANNES.

Sean Connery – A champion of the independence cause all the way from his home in the Bahamas.
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Freedom!

There is no denying that the Scots are a proud people. They often commically reference their historical conflict with ‘ye olde enemy’ the English, yet this mentality is the basis for the first argument in favour of independence. The Scots distinguishing themselves from the English surely implies some sort of right to self-determination. The SNP see their conflict between the centralised power of Westminster, and greater autonomy for Scotland. There have been many policies to come out of Westminster that have had a direct impact on Scotland, which the people themselves did not agree with. An example would be the nuclear armed submarines from the US and Britain in Scottish lochs. This was strongly opposed by the SNP at the start of the independence campaign, and Salmond continues to be adamant on ridding Scotland of ‘Trident’. The ability for Scotland to control its own decisions increases the legitimacy of their policies, as they were made within a Scottish parliament by a Scottish party. This would be particularly interesting even, when it comes to Scotland’s foreign policy, and whether it would try to assert itself as an influential power, or take a more ‘Scandinavian’ approach to international affairs, letting powers such as the US and Britain lead the way.

Scotland could assert that their economy would survive without the support of Britain, something often denied in the British media. North Sea Oil would be the main focus point for the potential prosperity of the Scottish economy. With an estimated 24 billion barrels to be extracted from the area, and more money to be made from the gas resources in the area, this would certainly fuel some growth. Asides from North Sea Oil, renewable energy is also a large industry in Scotland – much to Donald Trumps dislike – with 25% of Europe’s offshore wind farm, and 10% of Europe’s wave energy based in Scotland. One third of Scotland’s energy needs are generated from renewable energy sources, showing that the Scottish renewable energy sector is booming and immensly helpful. Asides from the energy, Scotland generates huge amounts of money and employment from the tourism, food and drink industries – which have a turnover of around £12bn a year – and have a hugely active life sciences sector. The creative industries sector and manufacturing industry also have turnovers of around £4.8bn and £14.7bn respectfully. This evidence does show that Scotland could very well have not only a thriving economy, but could also have the potential for its economy to grow substantially.

 

Alternative energies could help an independent Scotland prosper.  source

Renewable energies could help an independent Scotland prosper.
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Another argument that has come up very frequently in the talks is that independence could see a “cultural dawn” within Scotland. This has been pushed particularly by pro-independence organisation National Collective. They were founded by a small amount of artists in Edinburgh 2011, and have grown to encourage the notion that an independent Scotland would not just see a mass cultural revival, but also open the door for young aspiring Scottish artists, writers and musicians to help create the face of a “new nation.” This group may, on face value, just appear like a bunch of egotistical hipsters, they shouldn’t be underestimated as an influential voice. In fact, Andrew Whitaker, Scottish Political Correspondent for The Scotsman calling them, “the most significant cultural voice to emerge in the referendum debate so far.” This “cultural dawn” is a very significant point to make. In the likes of India, Malaysia and Australia, the cultural expansion that occurred within the nation-states as a result of independence was staggering. This then had an effect on not just helping artistic voices in the nation, but also changed the way the nation is viewed abroad. For example, Bollywood is actually the largest film industry in the world, ahead of the United State’s prized Hollywood.

So, there are in fact some very valid and broad claims for an independent Scotland. Along side the points I have already made, there are so many more claims that can be made for independence such as ridding the country of the bedroom tax, control over the direction the Scottish economy could take or a chance to steer away from the mass business control of London. Yet the opposing sides argument’s are just as, if not more compelling, and they really throw the prospect of independence into question.

Better Together?

The most compelling argument against the ‘Yes’ vote, is rather predictably, the state of the Scottish economy after independence. Aside from the previously mentioned economic advantages of independence, there are three very important factors which damage the claim for a booming Scottish economy.

The first is that many firms and businesses would be reluctant to invest in Scotland, despite its economic potential. The main reason for this is that an independent Scotland would essentially break one of the strongest economic unions in the world. Breaking this union, as stated by David Gibbons-Wood, an economics lecturer at Robert Gordon University would, “be against the interest of consumers and against the economic consensus of the last 60 years.” Seeing as the economic heart of the UK is London (which generates around 22% of the UK’s GDP), investors would be more inclined to stick with the booming capital, rather than take a risk investing in Scotland. Essentially, the move would be a dangerous gamble for both Scotland and investors.

Generating 22% of the UK's GDP, investors may be reluctant to leave London's booming City for risky Scottish endevours. source

Generating 22% of the UK’s GDP, investors may be reluctant to leave London’s booming City for risky Scottish endevours.
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The second factor is the lack of faith many Scottish companies have in the economic potential of an independent Scotland. Even the Royal Bank of Scotland, one of Scotland’s biggest bank, have suggested that they would move their headquarters to London if the referendum produced a ‘Yes’ majority. Lloyds Banking Group, the Rosyth dock owners Babcock International Group, and oil companies BP and Shell (both of which have stakes in North Sea Oil) have also expressed concerns of Scotland ‘drifting away’ as a result of independence. This is a huge blow to Salmond’s economic assurances, as much as he may boast about the potential of the Scottish economy, he cannot assure the people that companies will also be on board with the idea when many are in fact extremely sceptic.

The third, and final blow to the argument that Scotland could have a strong economy is the fact that Scotland is carrying a huge a £12 billion deficit. This statistic is only predicted to worsen as the country’s share in North Sea Oil revenues fell by 41.5% in 2012-13, cutting those revenues by £4.5 billion from the previous year. This problem was further highlighted by the Treasury, who said that the financial year’s oil tax receipts are 24% lower than last year’s, which predicts that Scotalnd’s share will fall even further. This all implies that may be a greater overall public spending deficit. This not only creates a stronger deficit problem, but also shines a bright light on the fact that Scotland cannot rely so heavily on North Sea Oil to keep their economy afloat, as it could potentially create more problems than it could solve.

The economic problem is concern enough for Salmond’s SNP, but what should be more of a concern for the Scottish people, is Alex Salmond’s vagueness when it comes to Scotland’s position within supranational bodies and other organisations. Firstly, there is no guarantee of Scotland being able to join the EU.  Though many countries such as France and even Britain would back an independent Scotland to be part of the EU, there is one country that would never let Scotland become part of the union: Spain. They have fears that Catalonia will ‘do a Scotland’ and gun for independence if the referendum in Scotland produces a ‘Yes’ vote. Scotland joining the EU will be seen as inspiration for Catalonia to achieve similar goals, therefore even if Scotland try to join the EU they will be vetoed by Spain, who will be protecting their own interests. Secondly, NATO membership is also a very grey area. The military alliance has clearly state it would only accept Scotland’s membership if a deal is made with the UK for basing Trident in Scottish terrirtory. This is perhaps a reason why Salmond’s anti-nuclear weapons agenda has altered slightly.

"Not a Chance, Salmond!" Spain would likely try to veto Scottish entry into the EU to disuade simmilar action from Catolonia.  source

“Not a Chance, Salmond!” Spain would likely try to veto Scottish entry into the EU to disuade simmilar action from Catolonia.
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Then there is of course the question over what currency independent Scotland would have. Salmond has no guarantee -and most likely will continue not to have one – that Scotland will be able to keep the pound. Even if Scotland did keep the pound, the Bank of England could carry on with a single overall monetary policy, which would continue to mitigate Scottish sovereignty. There is also a danger that the pound could end up in a Euro crisis situation if there was a shared currency, which could be very detrimental for Scotland. There have of course been suggestions that Scotland should join the Euro itself, a suggestion which can be easily laughed off looking at the current state of the currency. The only way a shared currency could work, as former UK chancellor Alistair Darling stated if for an, “increased political and economic union,” which would make the whole point of independence redundant. Scotland, in the end would have to make its own currency, which would be a long, tiresome, and potentially disastrous process.

There are of course many other unanswered or unanswerable questions. What will Scotland’s relationship with the UK be? Who will their main trading partners be? Will they want to be an influential power? Could they even be an influential power? But, putting all unanswered questions aside, there is one argument that still remains against independence, and that is for the moment, the majority of the Scottish people just don’t want it. The latest polls reported by The Scotsman on the 15th of April, which has seen a surge in favour for independence, shows 37% of people would vote ‘yes’ compared to 47% for against. There has never been a time where the ‘yes; vote outweighs the ‘no’ vote, and it will most likely remain that way, considering the concerns for stability in the nation if it were to become independent. Although the vote is still very open to go either way, it will just have to come down to the 18th of September, until then it is still unpredictable what the outcome could be.

A Middle Ground?

Merely looking at the evidence provided, the prospect of an independent Scotland just doesn’t bring a strong enough case to the table. Of course, there is a chance that if Scotland did become independent it would thrive, yet that chance is slim, and it is becoming slimmer and slimmer as more evidence evidence emmerges. The risk is just too high for Scotland to go alone. The logical conclusion is for the country to stay in the Union, where at least it knows it has more of an assurance of financial stability and global influence. There is still, however an alternative. There is no denying that the UK is very London-centric, and Westminster does retain arguably too much power. If the Scottish Parliament was granted more autonomy, perhaps that could be seen as a middle ground to independence, satisfying the ‘no’ voters, and some strands of the ‘yes’ voters. Although the SNP does find itself in somewhat of a Catch-22. If the Scottish population does not vote ‘Yes’ the SNP are finished. They will have not achieved  their main goal in the near future. If the population do decide to give independence a shot, the likelihood of Scotland suffering economically will result in the public resenting the SNP for false promises, particularly Alex Salmond. So one has to hope, that when the referendum comes around, that the Scottish people look to ‘ye olde enemy’ as an ally within a strong union, not as a restriction on their nations potential.

 

About Cameron Rogers

Cameron Rogers is Head of the Asian Affairs Desk at the International Citizen. He is studying International Politics at Kings College London, and will spend time studying at Keio University, Yonsei University and the University of Hong Kong in Japan, South Korea and Hong Kong respectively.
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