The pros and cons of Scottish independence

The rejection of Scottish independence ended one debate but sparked new questions about the devolution of power in the UK

LAST UPDATED AT 15:41 ON Thu 2 Oct 2014

The referendum is over and voters have rejected Scottish independence, but the question is far from settled. While both sides insisted that the question would not be reopened for a generation, the question of Scotland's position within the UK – and indeed England's – has not yet been laid to rest.

Whether through increased devolution, wholesale reform or another referendum on Scottish independence in years to come, it is clear that the UK constitution is in for substantial change.

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.

Why did each side agree to the Union?

The English were keen to make sure Scotland didn't choose a different monarch from 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.

Was the referendum result a surprise?

The No campaign was sitting on a clear lead until the last few weeks of the campaign, when the race suddenly tightened. The Yes campaign took the lead for the first time two weeks before the vote, and although subsequent polls put the No vote back in front, they all showed the narrowest of margins. Nevertheless, bookmakers had installed the No campaign as a clear favourite and British financial markets appeared relatively confident that independence would be rejected.

What question were voters asked at the referendum?

There was one question with a yes or no answer: "Should Scotland be an independent country?"

Why was the vote held on 18 September?

The all-important date was chosen – after much deliberation – by Alex Salmond, the leader of the Scottish National Party. 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 have been hoping Scottish republicanism would be stirred by commemorations of Robert the Bruce's famous victory over the English army.

What side were politicians backing?

It won't surprise you to learn that the SNP wanted independence. The Scottish Greens also wanted to break free from the UK. Labour, the Tories and the Liberal Democrats all wanted to maintain the Union (although the Scottish-born Labour MP for Leeds East, George Mudie, had said he would vote Yes if he were eligible to take part).

What about foreign politicians?

Barack Obama was the most high-profile foreign leader to enter the fray, saying that the United States wanted to see the UK remaining "strong, robust and united". While Obama went out of his way to say that the decision was up to Scottish voters, he left no doubt about his position. "I would say that the United Kingdom has been an extraordinary partner to us," he said. "From the outside at least, it looks like things have worked pretty well, and we obviously have a deep interest in making sure that one of the closest allies that we will ever have remains a strong, robust, united and effective partner."

Many European leaders, particularly those facing separatist movements within their own countries, were openly hostile towards Scottish independence. With one eye on Catalan nationalists, the Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy insisted that an independent Scotland could not expect automatic membership of the EU. "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," he said. "That is good for Scottish citizens to know and for all EU citizens to know."

And what about celebrities?

Prominent Scots turned out on both sides of the debate. Sean Connery, perhaps the most celebrated supporter of independence, said: "As a Scot and as someone with a lifelong love for both Scotland and the arts, I believe the opportunity of independence is too good to miss." On the unionist side, JK Rowling donated £1m to Better Together. "This separation will not be quick and clean," she said. "It will take microsurgery to disentangle three centuries of close interdependence, after which we will have to deal with three bitter neighbours." An announcement from Andy Murrary that "No campaign negativity" had "totally swayed" his view became the most retweeted tweet on referendum day, with more than 18,000 people sharing his message with their own followers.

What was the immediate effect of the no vote?

"This referendum may have ended one debate in Scotland – for now. It has, however, lit the touchpaper on the explosive question of where power lies in the UK," says the BBC's Nick Robinson. Labour, the Conservatives and the Lib Dems have all pledged to devolve more powers to Scotland and the focus has now turned to potentially major changes to the UK's constitutional structure. Cameron today committed himself to offering Scotland new powers, but made clear that this would depend on the next general election and a settlement that would exclude Scottish MPs from voting on many issues confined to England. Robinson suggests that this would create two classes of MP with the possibility of a government having a majority to pass certain laws but not others.

The pros and cons of Scottish independence 

Below is a summary of the questions asked during the Scottish independence referendum campaign – and which would have to be revisited in any future debate about Scotland's position in the union.

Would an independent Scotland keep the Queen?

At least in the short term, the Queen would remain Scotland's head of state, as she is in Canada, Australia and New Zealand. 

However, many Scottish nationalists are also republican, so it is possible that a future independent Scotland would also vote to end the monarch's reign as head of state. Before the referendum, the Daily Mail suggested that, in the event of Scottish independence, the Queen would forced to appoint a Governor-General to represent her north of the new international border. 

Would Scots retain British citizenship after a Yes vote?

Precise citizenship laws would need to be negotiated, but precedent suggests that most Scots would lose their British citizenship in the event of independence. "Citizens of newly independent countries do not in fact retain citizenship of the country from which they have become independent, with the exception of a small number of potential dual citizens who qualify under the citizenship laws of both countries," writes immigration barrister Colin Yeo. Scots born to British parents (ie those from what remained of the UK), or who were born in England, Wales or Northern Ireland would probably qualify for British citizenship, but others would not. Likewise, it is probable that Britons born in Scotland or to Scottish parents could apply for citizenship of an independent Scotland.

Would an independent Scotland keep the pound?

Alex Salmond was "pilloried" for the assumption that Scotland would be allowed to keep sterling, and currency became one of the most divisive issues of the campaign. Westminster insisted that an independent Scotland would not be allowed to join a formal currency union, and that if it decided to use sterling unilaterally it would have no control over the currency. This is an issue that would have to be resolved before any future campaign for Scottish independence.

What about the euro?

The currency issue was further complicated by the desire for a newly independent Scotland to join the EU, but opt out of the Euro. Salmond had said there was "no prospect" of Scotland joining the Euro, but experts believed that it may have been 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 that was never resolved was how much of the UK's £1 trillion national debt that will be inherited by Scotland. Before the vote, the Treasury said that it would stand behind all existing UK Government debt, regardless of how it might be shared between an independent Scotland and the rump UK, but that guarantee may not apply if the issue was resurrected.

How would an independent Scotland defend itself?

Scotland's defence policy would probably involve a modestly sized military force that would largely operate within international alliances. It would "not attempt to have full-spectrum capability", according to the Scotsman. With an annual defence budget of £2.5 billion, Scotland would have a total of 20,000 military personnel. Its army would be made up of 3,500 regular and 1,200 reserve personnel and the country would have four frigate warships and 16 Typhoon jets. Former Nato Secretary General and British Defence Secretary Lord Robertson had criticised the size of its proposed defence force, telling the Scotsman: "to pretend Scotland would be defended is a dangerous fiction." Nationalists have accused Lord Robertson of scaremongering and dismissed his comments as unionist propaganda. 

What else would change in an independent Scotland?

Under an SNP government, an independent Scotland would almost certainly take a step to the left, especially in social policy. The party's White Paper set 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 would be threatened by Scottish independence, according to the BBC's Andrew Marr. In an interview with Salmond before the referendum, 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'."

For a balanced, in-depth discussion of the historical context of the current debate about Scottish independence, read The Week's ebook, Independence for Scotland?, available now from Amazon.

 

More on the Scottish independence campaign:

Scottish independence: five key questions for TV debateWhat would it cost to divide the UK?Standard Life warns it could quit an independent ScotlandCameron and Salmond to hold rival North Sea oil meetingsDavid Bowie spots the danger: Scots' Yes vote gathers strengthBoE's Mark Carney wades into Scottish independence debateSalmond: end of Scottish pound would cost UK £500mScottish independence: Osborne rules out currency union

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Disqus - noscript

To those who wish for a "YES" vote next September, let me make a suggestion from south of the border.

Why not have every Scottish cinema arrange to offer a special season of stirring Scottish movies - like "Braveheart" "Highlander" "Rob Roy" "Brave" etc., etc,... for 6 months or so leading up to the vote...???

You got a problem? Sounds like you're spitting the dummy out ...

I'm sure there'll be plenty of patriotic feeling as it is. Especially with the commonwealth games happening.

I'd rather see every theatre, lecture hall, arena etc in the country rented out and hosting a debate on independence. Each event can have a panel made of of Yes Scotland, Better Together and local politicians split 50/50. Plus a key note speech from a high profile YES and NO advocate. Have an extensive Q&A.

Everyone should have the chance to take part in this debate and it should be based on intellectual thought.

Not a very well researched article and it's fairly one sided towards NO. You don't even get the spending figures right but I suppose when you use the Torygraph as source what can one expect.

Stupid comment.

The last paragraph says it all realy.
Why should Scots feel bad the so called democratic defesit that SOME English feel because of devolution when Scotland had NO voice for 300 years?
Also it's an English problem not a Scottish one.
remember the "feable 50"?

"Torylaugh" - not "Torygraph"!

LOL

I wish the question would be this simple in my native Province of Quebec. "Should Quebec become an independent country?" But don't bet on it!

At the risk of chucking some history into the equation....
Scotland did not become part of he United Kingdom; England and Scotland formed the United Kingdom.
It is - to say the least - highly questionable to assert that Scotland gets more out of the Union than she puts in. The Barnett Formula does not give Scotland a higher share of public spending, just a higher share of certain parts (about half) of public sending, however she gets very little from the other half. The south-east, OTH, does very well indeed in the way of public spending that does not have a Barnett dimension - Channel Tunnel, Thames Barrier, renovating the underground, the M25 to name but a few....the oil revenues have been spent on projects that have benefited the whole country from Watford in the north to Guildford in the south. and a disproportionate share of 'national' government departments which helps to fuel escalating property prices.
Scotland has no clout at all in the EU.
Defence...Scotland's defence needs are trivial compared to the share of Scottish revenue spent on UK vanity armament programmes and foreign intervention.

It is the ignorance of those 'south of the border' that makes independence more appealing day by day. It is often like talking to an American when you talk to an English person. So full of propaganda it renders them politically mute. They resort to the nonsense you have just read from the ironically named TruthBeatsLies. What has happened to Portsmouth ? Royal naval vessels will be built in Scotland. If Scotland becomes independent, this will mean that they will be built in a foreign country. Is this good for Scotland ? Is it good for the remnants of the UK ? Independence is not about patriotism. It is political (shameful that this has to be pointed out). The majority of the population of Scotland are lowlanders.

Unfortunately, very few people (anywhere in the world) have the knowledge to make such a decision on the future of a nation. We are misinformed, ill-informed, and disinformed, and we make our decision based on this 'information'. If the politicians are unable to provide us with accurate information on what independence means, then what chance does the plebeian have ? Alas, our ignorant masses will have their say next year. Heads or tails.

Brotherhood?

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