With just over a month to go until the Referendum on Scottish independence, what further controversies lie in store for this bitter rivalry between the pro-Scottish independence Yes campaign and the pro-union Better Together campaign?
The 307-year-old political union between England (and Wales) and Scotland has existed since 1 May, 1706 after ratification by each of the separate English and Scottish Parliaments. On 18 September, 2014 a national referendum will be held in Scotland to determine the future of this union. Voters will be asked to answer either Yes or No to the question: “Should Scotland be an independent country?”
“Aye we can!”
The Yes campaign for Scottish independence is led by the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP), but includes other smaller parties such as the Greens and the Scottish Socialist Party. In the 2003 elections for the Scottish Parliament, the SNP won only 17.3 percent of the national vote. In May 2011, the SNP gained outright control of the Scottish devolved government after a remarkable electoral victory. The policies of Margaret Thatcher’s conservative government from 1979 to 1990 left many Scots bitter, believing the government was centred on the business and political elites in London. Policies such as the closing of many heavy industries and the poll tax, to name but two, revived a fiery animosity among Scots towards Westminster – in particular the working class – and the Conservative Party have suffered electorally in Scotland ever since. The supposed betrayal many working class Scots felt at the transformation of the Labour party into the revamped New Labour, focused on a change of the party’s priorities from those of the working class to white collar professionals. However, despite the popular support of the SNP, most Scots actually oppose their separatist ideas. A combined average of around 35% in recent polls is said to be the figure of those citizens in favour of independence.
Unions Aren’t Forever?
On the other side of the battle is former Chancellor Alastair Darling’s pro-union Better Together campaign. Both campaigns have attracted support from various high-profile figures throughout the UK. For example, 007 himself and proud Scotsman, Sean Connery has come out in support of the Yes Campaign, believing the opportunity of independence is too good to miss. Conversely J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter book series, the best-selling book series in history, donated £1 million to the Better Together anti-independence campaign, much to the displeasure of many of her more nationalistic twitter followers (there’s a publishable example below but for the uncensored list, look here).
The confusion many voters in Scotland are experiencing is related to the completely conflicting views of both campaigns on the major issues of this debate. This may be the reason for the relatively large numbers of Scots, averaging percentage wise in the early twenties, who have stated in recent polls that they are undecided as to how they will vote on 18 September 2014.
Pound Sterling in Sterling?
The question is, what are the major issues involved in Scotland’s bid for independence? One of the central issues is what the currency of the country would be if Scotland gained independence. The SNP and many other advocates of Scottish independence, hope to maintain the Pound Sterling in a sort of quasi-currency union between the potentially new found Scottish state and the rest of the UK that it would leave behind. However, the UK government does not quite share the same view; the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, and the Liberal Democrat Treasury Chief Secretary, Danny Alexander, have announced that ‘‘There will not be a currency union in the event of independence. The only way to keep the UK pound is to stay in the UK. Walking out of the UK means walking out of the UK pound.” This announcement comes in response to damaging comments made by an anonymous minister, quoted as suggesting that it would be necessary for the UK to maintain a currency union with Scotland. It was suggested by the SNP that currency union was essential as “Scotland is the rest of the UK’s second biggest trading partner, and not sharing Sterling would cost businesses south of the border an extra £500 million in transaction costs.’‘ However, the lack of a ‘Currency Plan B’ from the SNP has left many Scots nervous to take the leap of faith towards independence. With many countries within the Eurozone such as Spain, Portugal and Italy still licking their wounds from the aftermath of the current EU banking crisis, the prospect of opting for the euro has left many in Scotland apprehensive.
Keep the Queen?
The next big issue is what would become of the monarch, Queen Elizabeth II? Well, there seems to be much confusion among the SNP on precisely this issue. Alex Salmond’s official stance is that the monarchy would automatically be retained. However Kenny MacAskill, the Scottish Justice Minister, recently said “it will be for the people of Scotland to decide” on the Queen’s role if they vote to leave the United Kingdom in September this year. This marks a conflict both within the SNP and the Yes campaigners, many of whom are avid republicans. In addition, according to polls, the majority of Scots are supporters of retaining the Queen as the Head of State.
A Scottish Broadcasting Corporation?
Another contentious issue is that of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). The BBC is one of the great British institutions, which unifies families all over the UK. In fact it was a Scot, Lord Reith, who established it as a public service broadcaster. In its recent manifesto for independence, Your Scotland, Your Future, the SNP suggests the BBC would continue to exist in Scotland, but under Scottish control:
“BBC Scotland’s services would continue with the same staff and assets, but with a management that would be charged with responsibility for reflecting Scottish life, culture and interests. [But] it wouldn’t operate in a vacuum – far from it, in fact.
“We will be able to access programmes from around the globe, just as we do now, including the BBC, ITV and the many cable and satellite channels, meaning Scottish viewers will continue to receive popular programmes such as EastEnders, the X-Factor and Strictly Come Dancing. These programmes are all available in Ireland, for example.”
However – as with the currency issue – the BBC, the government and many pro-union supporters have stated there will be no chance the BBC can split. It’s take it or leave it. There is also the added complication of how the BBC’s assets would be divided between the new independent Scotland and the rest of the UK, the funding of this new Scottish broadcasting service and how Scots will be able to have access to all the BBC’s channels and programmes.
“They may take our lives, but they’ll never take our freedom!”
If we look at nationalism in Scotland from a general point of view it seems that many Scots believe they have a generally distinct, unique ethnicity and identity from their English (and Welsh) neighbours. In a 2009 poll carried out by What Scotland Thinks, 57% of those questioned described themselves as either “More Scottish than British” or “Scottish not British”. A further 29% described themselves as “Equally British and Scottish”. In fact, for the SNP and many other Scots, the goal of this referendum is to create a socialist independent Scottish State that is neutral, much like the Republic of Ireland. In this new state there will be heavy taxes on businesses and the richest in society. However, this idea fails to take into consideration the fact that many of these companies and people will simply pack their bags and move south and is itself a paradox, as many leading Scottish capitalists actually fund the SNP. It also means the removal of British nuclear weapons from its territory by 2020 should it gain independence, much to the despair of the Ministry of Defense, which would have to locate all of the current generation of the UK’s nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them.
“…the SNP has played this debate is much like a divorce in which one partner wants freedom from the other, but also wants the house, the kids and even the cat.”
The latest polling data shows the Yes campaign trailing the pro-union Better Together by about six per cent. Whatever the result on 18 September, there is no doubt changes will be made. It can be argued that the way the SNP has played this debate is much like a divorce in which one partner wants freedom from the other, but also wants the house, the kids and even the cat. Alex Salmond has presented himself as the Champion of the underdog, with populist policies to give the impression he is “every Scot’s best mate”. He has tried to lure the younger generation of Scots – who will shape the new Scotland – to his side by lowering the voting age of the referendum to 16. There also appears to be evidence, sometimes, of the SNP using resentment to mobilize the Scots, manipulating the Scottish identity to get Scots to don the blue and white warrior face paint and run down George Street in Edinburgh, High Street in Glasgow or Union Street in Aberdeen, shouting “Freedom!”
This resentment takes the form of condemning the centrality of the Westminster Parliament and its power over Scotland, in a kind of England vs. Scotland grudge match. When Scottish tennis player Andy Murray won Wimbledon last year in front of both Salmond and David Cameron, the former brandished a Scottish national flag (the Saltire) behind the back of an unsuspecting Cameron to affirm that it had been a Scottish and not a British triumph, even if the player himself didn't fully appreciate the gesture.
Perhaps it really is the time for Scotland to break away from the union and become independent. It seems that the majority of Scots are in favour of the principle. However, the disillusion that the SNP and the Yes campaign have generated surrounding the idea of an independent Scotland has alienated and confused many normal citizens of the country. The fact the SNP and the Yes campaign want independence for Scotland from the United Kingdom, while maintaining many of the UK’s fundamental institutions, does nothing but discredit what otherwise could be described as a unique opportunity for Scots to the have the final say on all matters relating to their country, as a sovereign state. Devolution was the catalyst and only the Scots can decide the final outcome of this process towards complete autonomy for the country.
By Patrick Ferrity