With only a few days left before the referendum, all heads have turned to Scotland and the possibility of it becoming, once and for all, separate from the rest of the UK. The two opposing campaigns are almost neck and neck, and the result of the vote seems too close to call. There is sound reasoning behind both the ‘YES’ campaign, and the ‘Better Together’ campaign, so is it fair to suggest that those who would have Scotland an independent country are basing their support on a romantic ideal?
To look at this impartially, it’s impossible to argue that romanticism does not play a role in the call for Scottish independence. 2014 is a hugely significant choice for a referendum date, falling 700 years after the Scottish victory over the English at Bannockburn. Alex Salmond called 2014 the ‘Year of Homecoming.’ History and patriotism are inherent in the ‘YES’ campaign but that is not necessarily a bad thing. If there was no sentimentality behind the campaign, the referendum might not be happening at all. Speculation aside, the independence movement advanced in strides with devolution, and increased the legitimacy of those at the forefront. In 2011, the Scottish National Party won a resounding victory, forming a single party Scottish Parliament for the first time since the devolved elections began in 1999. The SNP can not only claim a mandate to govern, but also the support of the people needed to begin the process of making Scotland an independent country. However, in the general elections in 2010, less than 20 percent of Scots voted for the SNP with over 75 percent voting for parties vocally opposed to independence.
Many Scottish nationalists argue that the English domination over its socio-political systems has infantilised the country. Westminster is too distant to make important decisions affecting Scottish affairs; today, Scotland is governed by a Conservative-led administration with only one MP in Scotland. On the other hand, Scotland has provided a large share of Westminster’s key figures over the last few years – Gordon Brown, Tony Blair and Alistair Darling are included in the number of Scottish-born or educated ministers.
The most controversial point focuses around currency. There seem to be three main possibilities for an independent Scotland – to join the pound, the euro, or to create its own currency. An independent Scottish pound seems improbable – borrowing costs would be minimal due to the small Scottish bond market and overseas business would be damaged by the shift. SNP enthusiasm for joining the euro has dimmed since the idea was first proposed, but remaining with the pound would mean that Scotland would have to put up with interest rate decisions taken by the Bank of England and intended to benefit the English economy. This suggestion seems as unpalatable as accepting political decisions made from London, but the alternatives are not appealing.
The union between England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales has been beneficial to all parties. As part of the UK’s sixty million people, Scotland’s five million strong population are represented at the world’s major diplomatic tables in a way they could not immediately expect as a separate country and Scottish businesses benefit from the stability of being part of a larger entity in trade. However, present political arrangements within the UK might make the transition to independence easier and more desirable, especially considering the appetite for it in Scotland. As yet, it’s too close to call – we’ll just have to wait and see.