Scotland to vote on independence
Catherine Owers | Tuesday, September 16, 2014
On Thursday, the citizens of Scotland will decide by referendum if they want to be independent from the United Kingdom. According to the BBC, 4.2 million people have registered to vote, which is 97 percent of eligible Scottish voters.
Professor Tanisha Fazal, associate professor of political science and peace studies, said Scotland has several reasons to desire independence from the United Kingdom [UK].
“For the Scots, there are I think a few reasons to consider independence,” she said. “There’s national pride and self-determination. There’s also a political reason — my understanding is that the Scots in general tend to skew more left than the British. And also, there’s a potential economic reason because the Scots view an independent Scotland as economically viable, in part because they believe they would be able to exploit the oil fields in the North Sea.”
Those who oppose Scottish independence are also influenced by economics, Fazal said.
“Well, there are strong economic reasons against independence, as well,” Fazal said. “We see this particularly in the way the British response has played out, where the British are saying the Scots won’t be able to use the pound. The most recent reports I’ve seen suggest that the British are saying, ‘If you secede, if you vote for independence, there’s no coming back.’”
Fazal said Scottish independence could have some deleterious effects on the British economy.
“The British are very much opposed to Scottish independence,” she said. “They really don’t want this to happen. And so they are doing everything they can, within the bounds of law, to prevent this from happening.”
The projected outcome of the vote is uncertain, Fazal said.
“I think it’s really up in the air what’s going to happen,” she said. “And one of the ways we know it’s up in the air is because both sides are fighting this so hard right now.”
If the referendum passes, the next steps for a formal process of separation are unclear, Fazal said.
“The British constitution is sort of an odd beast, and it’s not clear to me that there are provisions in there for secession, even though some constitutions have that,” she said.
If Scotland does become an independent nation, Fazal said, there is no guarantee of membership in the European Union [EU] or United Nations [UN].
“The EU has sent mixed signals about whether it would admit Scotland, and if Scotland were not part of the EU then that would certainly diminish the economic benefits of independence,” she said. “If Scotland really wanted to become a member of the club of states, then they would have to apply to the United Nations for membership. And it is actually the United Nations Security Council that has to approve membership. But of course the UK has a veto on the Security Council, so unless the Scots were able to persuade the British that they should become an independent state, it’s hard for me to see how Scotland could actually become a full member of the United Nations.
“Taiwan also can’t become a member of the United Nations because of a Chinese veto. In the case of Kosovo, we would anticipate Russian and Chinese vetos. And Palestine, which also recently applied unsuccessfully for membership in the United Nations, would be vetoed by the U.S.”
Membership in the United Nations carries symbolic and diplomatic value, Fazal said.
“It can also offer some economic benefits, in that it gives them access to some affiliated agencies,” Fazal said. “And it’s the stamp of approval, that you’re a member of the club of states. And it gives access to all kinds of benefits I would imagine the Scots would want.”
If the referendum passes, Fazal said, groups in Wales and Northern Ireland could also be looking to become independent from the United Kingdom.
“What some of the literature on secessionism tells us is that when you have a country that has multiple possible secessionist groups within it, or even multiple active secessionist groups within it, those are the countries that are going to push back the hardest against secessionism, precisely because they fear the risk of a precedent being set, and the whole country falling apart at the seams,” she said.
Fazal said the issue of Scottish independence has significance for many other international groups.
“One interesting feature of this particular case is that there are all these secessionist groups around the world, including in Europe, that are waiting with bated breath to see what the Scots are going to do,” she said. “For example, the Catalonians in Spain and the Flemish in Belgium are watching this very closely because they have their own independence movements. They’re actually very much hoping that the Scots are going to set a precedent in becoming independent.”
Scottish independence could have both positive and negative consequences for Europe, Fazal said.
“There are arguments, particularly in the European context, that one could make either way,” she said. “The EU has eroded national sovereignty for a lot of European states, such that having these smaller, sub-national groups split off and become their own independent states, if they could plug into institutions like the European Union, then that helps them a great deal economically.
“And it actually might improve governance for individual citizens. One of the complaints people make about the EU is that it’s very undemocratic; it has what’s called a democratic deficit. And having more power devolved to these smaller states might or might not remedy that, I’m not sure. A lot of these benefits really would hinge on EU membership for the secessionist regions, that lie within the European Union.”
Fazal said an independent Scotland would be unlikely to create a foreign policy different from the United Kingdom’s.
“One change might be that the Scots might support other secessionist regions, so maybe they would be more sympathetic to the Kurds than the current British administration is,” she said. “But in general, I don’t see them developing foreign policy interests that are diametrically opposed to the British.”
Adam Haydel, a junior studying abroad in London, said the vote on Scottish independence is receiving widespread media coverage.
“If something about Iraq or Syria isn’t on the front page of the papers, the referendum is,” he said.
Public opinion on the issue is broad, with economics a primary concern, Haydel said.
“I think people don’t really believe that Scotland could thrive being independent since they would not be allowed to keep the pound and only have oil reserves for 10 years or so,” Haydel said. “Also they would have to figure out a way to raise money, taxes, since their budget is given to them by Parliament in London.”
Haydel said he thinks the separation will not be contentious if the referendum passes.
Jack LeClair, a junior also studying abroad in London, also said public opinion on the referendum varies.
“I think that some Scottish people want independence because there is a widespread lack of trust in Westminster,” LeClair said. “And Scottish people feel that a Conservative party whom they didn’t vote for should not determine how to rule over them.
“In Scotland, the majority of seats in Westminster are Labour and then Liberal Democrat. Thus, they feel that the Conservative party, who holds most of the power in the Conservative/ Liberal Democrat coalition do not represent their interests properly. . . In Scotland in particular, there is zero apathy about the referendum, and voter turnout is expected to be extraordinarily high and people generally have extremely strong convictions towards one side or the other.”
LeClair said many English citizens do not seem to have as strong opinions on the issue.
“One potential reason for people caring about the vote is that the political landscape will be swung towards the Conservative party since most of the constituencies in Scotland are Labour,” he said. “Despite this, Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron has come out in support on maintaining Scotland as a member of the United Kingdom and the leaders of the Labour and Liberal Democrat parties, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg have also supported ‘No.’”
“In fact, this week, in the wake of the polls favorable to the ‘Yes’ vote, all three of these men left London for Prime Minister Questions, which is a big deal, to go campaign in Scotland in favor of ‘No.’ Also, a previous Labour Prime Minister, Gordon Brown has come out to support the ‘No’ vote.”