Scottish independence: key questions answered on the pros and cons
Spain casts doubt on Scottish EU membership as White Paper sets out road to independence
HOURS after Alex Salmond unveiled the SNP's roadmap for independence, the Spanish prime minister has placed a substantial obstacle in his path towards an independent Scotland.
The long-awaited White Paper was intended to answer the questions that critics have levelled at the pro-independence campaign, but last night Mariano Rajoy said that Scotland would leave the EU at the moment it cut ties with the UK.
"It's very clear to me, as it is for everybody else in the world, that a country that would obtain independence from the EU would remain out of the EU, and that is good for Scottish citizens to know and for all EU citizens to know," he said.
Rajoy is likely to have had one eye on his own back yard, The Guardian notes. "His intervention confirms long-held suspicions that the Madrid government will resist the Scottish government's plans because of its rejection of Catalonian independence, which has seen large marches in Barcelona in favour of secession," the paper notes.
An independent Scotland would need the support of all existing EU members to rejoin the organisation.
Opinion polls and experts continue to suggest a majority of Scots want to remain part of the United Kingdom, but the gap between the two sides has been narrowing.
As the referendum approaches, we answer the key questions about Scottish independence and the issues it raises for the UK, Scotland and the wider world.
When did Scotland become part of the UK?
The acts of union between Scotland and England were passed in 1706, taking effect on 1 May, 1707. On that day, the Parliament of Great Britain was formed and set up shop in the Palace of Westminster.
Why did each side agree to the Union?
The English were keen to make sure Scotland didn't choose a different monarch to the one sitting on the English throne. Meanwhile, the Scots were seriously "cash-strapped" after an "economically disastrous scheme to attempt to colonise the Isthmus of Panama in the late 1690s", says the Daily Telegraph.
What question will voters be asked at the referendum?
This bit is simple. There will be one question with a 'yes or no' answer: "Should Scotland be an independent country?"
Why is it being held on 18 September?
The all-important date was chosen – after much deliberation – by the Scottish National Party's leader Alex Salmond. The BBC says the chosen day took into account factors such as Scottish winter weather, the UK party conference season and public holidays. It notes that 2014 is the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314. Salmond may be hoping Scottish republicanism will be stirred by commemorations of Robert the Bruce's famous victory over the English army.
Who is eligible to vote?
The simple answer is everyone over the age of 16 who lives in Scotland. That means the 800,000 Scots who live in other parts of the UK won't be able to vote, and the 400,000 people from elsewhere in Britain who live in Scotland will. All the main players agree this is "the fairest way" to do things, the BBC says.
Who are the politicians backing?
It won't surprise you to learn that the SNP wants independence. The Scottish Greens also want to break free from the UK as does independent MSP Margo MacDonald. Labour, the Tories and the Liberal Democrats all want to maintain the Union.
Would an independent Scotland keep the pound?
Alex Salmond was "pilloried" for the assumption - stated in the White Paper - that Scotland will be allowed to keep sterling. Salmond says David Cameron would be "in breach of undertakings to the Scottish people" if he refuses to allow an independent Scotland to join a sterling currency union, the Guardian reports. But the Chancellor, George Osborne, has made it clear that it is "highly unlikely" that Scotland will be allowed to keep using the currency after independence. Former prime minister Gordon Brown has also said that Scotland "could not force the UK into a currency union against its will".
What about the euro?
The currency issue is further complicated by the desire for a newly independent Scotland to join the EU, but opt out of the Euro. Salmond says there's "no prospect" of Scotland joining the Euro, but experts believe it may be forced to use the European currency. Professor Jo Murkens, an expert on Scottish independence and European constitutional law, told the Scottish Express: "Every new applicant state has to commit themselves in law to adopting the euro. There have been no opt-outs. It is a condition of membership."
How would the UK's national debt be shared?
Another thorny issue raised by the separation of the two countries is the amount of the UK's £1 trillion national debt that will be inherited by Scotland. The White Paper says Scotland will likely take on a share amounting to between £100bn and £130bn. As a proportion of GDP – gross domestic product, which is boosted in Scotland due to income from North Sea oil – the document says this is “less than the debt of the rest of the UK expressed in the same terms”.
How would Scottish independence affect UK defence policy?
The SNP has previously said it wants Britain's nuclear submarines – currently stationed at the Faslane Naval Base – out of Scotland as soon as the ink drys on the charter of independence. The White Paper softens that position by saying the Scottish government will want Trident out of Scotland by 2020. And rather than a concrete deadline, 2020 is an 'aim and intention', indicating the SNP is willing to compromise further, The Guardian says. Salmond also appeared to "soften" his hardline stance on nuclear-armed vessels using Scottish waters and ports. He said Navy ships from Britain and other Nato countries would still be able to use them under a "don't ask, don't tell" policy similar to that operated by Denmark and Norway. Not surprisingly, the UK government called the shift in position a "major dilution" of the SNP's pledge to create a nuclear-free Scotland.
What else will change in an independent Scotland?
The White Paper sets out a broad range of social and political changes, including:
- Thirty hours of childcare per week in term time for all three and four-year-olds, as well as vulnerable two-year-olds.
Housing benefit reforms, described by critics as the "bedroom tax", to be abolished, and a halt to the rollout of Universal Credit.
Basic rate tax allowances and tax credits to rise at least in line with inflation.
A "triple-locked" pension system designed to guarantee income keeps pace with the cost of living
Minimum wage to "rise alongside the cost of living".
But what of the bigger picture? The concept of Great Britain is threatened by Scottish independence, according to the BBC's Andrew Marr. In a recent interview with Salmond, he suggested independence would mean the end of Great Britain. Salmond hit back, saying: "The state we currently live in is not Great Britain, it's the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. 'Britain' won't disappear as a geographical expression any more than 'Scandinavia'."
What happens if it's a yes vote?
Alex Salmond and the SNP will hold a very large party. After that, a constitutional settlement will need to be drawn up and that could take some time, says the BBC. It will lay out the terms of independence and resolve some of the questions mentioned above. Salmond has said he wants to declare Independence Day in March 2016 and hold elections to an independent Scottish parliament in May.
And if it's a no vote?
Salmond has described the referendum as a once-in-a-generation event. It seems everyone involved in the process wants to abide by the referee's decision and avoid the prospect of what long-suffering residents of Quebec call the "neverendum".
Will Salmond's political career be over if it's a no vote?
"Don't bet on it," says his biographer David Torrance in the Daily Telegraph. A yes vote of between 35 and 40 per cent of the vote would allow Salmond to "point to progress" and hang on as the SNP's leader. The Telegraph points out that "more powers will still be on their way north", even if independence is rejected on 18 September. The Scotland Act, signed into law last year, will allow MSPs to set income tax rates and let the Scottish Parliament borrow more money. If the no vote does prevail it "raises the prospect of prolonged bartering between Holyrood and Westminster", the paper says. Indeed the Scottish Liberal Democrats have already called on the SNP to "embrace devolution" if the country rejects independence rather than acting like "reluctant bystanders" in any talks.
The pros and cons of Scottish independence
- Britishness is dying. Scotland has its own parliament, its own laws and legal system. National feeling and self-confidence are high. It is time to take the next step.
- Semi-independence is unsatisfactory. Fiscal powers and economic control remain at Westminster. Independence will allow Scotland to cut business taxes (like Ireland) to promote economic growth.
- Other small countries like Norway and the Republic of Ireland are more successful and more dynamic. An independent Scotland will have the tools to match them.
- Independence would give Scotland clout where it matters: a seat at the UN and in the EU Council of Ministers. Scottish interests, eg. fisheries and agriculture, are poorly served in Brussels by UK ministers.
- Relations between Scots and English are deteriorating. Independence would free Scotland from dependency and England from resentment. An amicable no-faults divorce is better than a bickering marriage.
- The Union has served both countries well for 300 years. Devolution is a young experiment, and it is too soon to judge it.
- There is a gap between public spending in Scotland (£40bn) and revenue raised there (£27bn). A Scottish government would have to choose between higher taxes and cuts in public services.
- Scotland has more influence in Brussels as part of the UK than it could have as an independent state.
- The integrated British economy is more capable than an independent Scotland would be of meeting the challenges of globalisation. Likewise, having independent defence and security structures would overstrain Scotland's resources.
- Scots should recognise that devolution has put England at a disadvantage, and should press for reforms to the way Westminster works. Satisfying English grievances would put the marriage back on an even keel. Divorce is unnecessary and would be painful.