The pros and cons of Scottish independence: referendum countdown
Next month's referendum will deliver a verdict on Scottish independence. Here are the pros and cons of going it alone
Postal voting begins today in Scotland's referendum, a day after the second of two televised debates on the pros and cons of Scottish independence.
As voters north of the border prepare to decide whether to strike off on their own or remain within the United Kingdom, we answer the key social, political and economic questions about what Scottish independence would entail – and the issues it would raise for the UK, Scotland, the EU 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 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.
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?"
Who won the TV debates on Scottish independence?
Most commentators chalked up the two televised debates as a score draw. Alistair Darling, leader of the pro-Union Better Together campaign, was widely regarded as the victor in the first debate, during which his focus on detail of which currency an independent Scotland would use and whether it would remain within the EU (see below) appeared to have SNP leader Alex Salmond struggling for convincing answers. But after the second contest, Salmond emerged the clear winner in post-debate polling. Darling was criticised for getting bogged down in detail while attempting to re-run the earlier debate, while Salmond's more combative approach paid dividends. Nevertheless, it is not clear whether either debate changed any minds.
Why is the referendum being held on 18 September?
The all-important date was chosen – after much deliberation – by 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.
When will we know the result?
The polls close at 10pm on 18 September and the count will begin immediately, but Elections Scotland is decidedly cagey about when the result will be announced. "Factors such as geography, weather or road conditions are outwith the control of the COs [counting officers] and CCO [the chief counting officer]," it says. "It should be clear from this analysis that there can be no firm prediction of a time when the result will be known." Some of the highland and island constituencies in particular may take some time to collect all their ballot boxes and confirm their results, especially if the contest is close. The national outcome will not be announced until all 32 local counts have confirmed their results, which may mean that no declaration is made until the following morning.
Who is eligible to vote?
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. Labour, the Tories and the Liberal Democrats all want to maintain the Union (although the Scottish-born Labour MP for Leeds East, George Mudie, has said he would vote Yes if he were eligible to take part).
What about foreign politicians?
Barack Obama is the most high-profile foreign leader to have entered 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, are openly hostile towards Scottish independence. With one eye on Catalan nationalists, the Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy has 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 have 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 has 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."
Would an independent Scotland keep the Queen?
At least in the short term, the Queen would remain Scotland's head of state. "The Scottish Government’s proposal is that the Queen remains head of state in Scotland, in the same way as she is currently head of state in independent nations such as Canada, Australia and New Zealand, says Yes Scotland. "This would be the position for as long as the people of Scotland wished our country to remain a monarchy." However, many Scottish nationalists are also republican, and the Daily Telegraph reports comments by a minister that have been interpreted as a suggestion that a Yes vote would soon be followed by referendum on the monarchy. 'Kenny MacAskill, the Scottish Justice Minister, 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," the paper reports. Meanwhile, the Daily Mail suggests that, in the event of Scottish independence, the Queen may be forced to appoint a Governor-General to represent her north of the new international border.
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 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”. Alex Salmond has said that he may not agree to taking on Scotland's share of the national debt if Scotland was not allowed joint control of the pound. The Treasury has said it will stand behind all existing UK Government debt, regardless of how it might be shared between an independent Scotland and the rump UK after this September's referendum. The pledge is "aimed at removing the risk of default from any debt-sharing dispute between Scotland and the rest of the UK," the BBC reports. Doubts about who would be responsible for servicing the debt could have led to increased borrowing costs as the referendum approached.
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". Labour, the Conservatives and the Lib Dems have all pledged to devolve more powers to Scotland if the country votes to remain within the Union, in an option often referred to as Devo-Max.
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.
Scottish independence: Scots feel more British
As the referendum on Scottish independence draws closer, there has been a significant decline in the number of people north of the border who identify as Scottish, according to a new study.
The annual Scottish Social Attitudes survey found that the number of Scots describing themselves as "Scottish" fell from 75 per cent in 2011 to 65 per cent now, The Independent reports. Meanwhile, the number of those who identify as "British" rose from 15 per cent to 23 per cent over the same period.
In another blow to the independence campaign, when respondents were asked to rank their Scottishness against their Britishness, only 26 per cent said they were "more Scottish than British".
That is the lowest figure returned in the 32 years the survey has been run; in 1992, it stood at 40 per cent.
The most popular response was "equally Scottish and British", with 32% responding this way.
The research, which was conducted before Alex Salmond and Alistair Darling's televised debate, also found a growing gender divide on the issue of Scottish independence. Just 27 per cent of women now plan to vote for independence, compared with 39 per cent of men. The gap between the sexes' voting intention has doubled over the last 12 months.
In happier news for the independence campaign, nearly half of Scots surveyed – 47 per cent – believe that independence will increase the sense of pride they feel in their country, the BBC reports.
Just 6 per cent say they will feel less proud, and 40 per cent think it will make no difference.
On the central issue of independence, 25 per cent said they would vote Yes and 43 per cent No. But with 29 per cent saying they are undecided, the referendum on 18 September remains in play.
More on Scottish independence:
Scottish independence: five key questions for TV debate What would it cost to divide the UK? Standard Life warns it could quit an independent Scotland Cameron and Salmond to hold rival North Sea oil meetings David Bowie spots the danger: Scots' Yes vote gathers strength BoE's Mark Carney wades into Scottish independence debate Salmond: end of Scottish pound would cost UK £500m Scottish independence: Osborne rules out currency union