Scottish referendum: ‘Keep calm and carry on’

Scottish referendum: ‘Keep calm and carry on’

The Scottish referendum for independence on September 18th has led Westminster to promise greater decision-making power to Scotland if they vote no. Scottish independence could set a precedent for other separatist movements.

The independence debate in Scotland is vibrant, and the split between the pro-independence Yes-campaign and the unionist no-voters is incredibly tight. But even though predictions are inconclusive, the Yes-campaign has enjoyed a recent surge in polls that is still going strong. With only one day until the vote, it is very possible that this referendum won’t be as favorable to the UK as the one in the Malvinas.

So it is important to think about what will happen if Scotland votes to become independent on September 18th. The immediate situation will be undeniably tense, and we may witness some clashes on the streets. This will be further coupled by panicky reactions from markets and investors; the pound will likely drop, and some businesses and banks will shift operations to south of the border. At the same time, Scotland will benefit from gaining control over its taxes, natural resources, and a wave of patriotic spending.

Scotland Independence Referendum Explained

Video content courtesy of The Three Minute Post.

Nevertheless, it will be in this setting that Scotland will have to begin negotiating the terms of its independence with Westminster. The Scottish National Party plans to declare official independence in 2016, but considering the many technical details that have to be arranged with the ‘remaining’ UK – including the use of armed forces, government buildings, and even the BBC – this date may be pushed back to 2018 or even later.

This is especially true in light of the hard bargaining that David Cameron and the rest of the unionist “Better Together” campaign have used to dissuade voters from voting ‘Yes’.  While they have recently promised extensive devolution to Scotland in the case of a ‘no‘ vote, they have also been quick to threaten political stubbornness if Scotland declares independence. Most notably, they claim they will refuse Scotland to use the pound, something that could greatly harm the new Scottish economy.

But such campaign “promises” can quickly be revoked after the referendum, whereby it will be in Westminster’s national interest to maximize stability. Just because Scotland declares political independence does not mean that it is completely separated from the UK economically, and the logical thing to do would be to calm markets as much as possible. Nobody wants a failed state on their border, especially when you’re trapped on the same island.

As such, rejecting a currency union with Scotland is unfavorable as it would only fuel market instability and cause fluctuations in the exchange rate. This is especially true as Scotland has threatened to negate its share of the UK’s debt if it doesn’t get access to the Bank of England. In light of this, it is unlikely that a market-sensitive Westminster would add a currency break-up to the already broken up political union.

But on top these ‘domestic’ negotiations, Scotland will also have to carve out a role for itself in the global arena. One concern is the fate of the Trident nuclear deterrent currently stationed outside Glasgow. The independence movement has declared it will move the warheads south to England instead of paying the costs of maintaining them, which could pose problems for regional security in the North Sea.

But while this may irk some of its allies in NATO, the threat of an increasingly aggressive Russia will mean that it is unlikely that the Alliance will want to risk any unnecessary division. As such, Scotland’s role in NATO may change, but it certainly will not be forced to leave.

As for the UN, there is little reason to believe that Scotland would not be accepted within days of independence, just like South Sudan was after it declared independence in 2011. The main difference is that Scotland will no longer be a part of the Security Council and will have to accept less decision-making power. On the other hand, the UK could easily maintain its seat on the Council, much like Russia did after the breakup of the Soviet Union.

There has also been a lot of confusion over Scotland’s EU membership. Technically Scotland has already been an EU member for over 40 years, only that this has been as part of the UK.

What happens after it declares independence? The situation is unprecedented, and analysts disagree over how Scotland could be legally granted membership. The two options are either through Article 48 (a ‘fast-track’ alternative requiring the drafting of new legislation) or through the slower, traditional Article 49.

But this could be a mere technicality as Scotland already fulfills entry requirements demanded by the EU, and it is in the EU’s interest to keep Scotland as close as possible.

This isn’t only because Scotland has significant natural resources such as oil and fish, but there is also the inherent value of keeping the EU together. In fact, a bigger threat to the EU will be if the rest of the UK decides to exit. Scotland has traditionally been more pro-EU than the rest of the UK, and without the support of Scots in a possible UK referendum on leaving the EU in 2017, the outcome is more likely to be in favor of leaving.

At the same time, separatist movements around the globe will take note of Scotland’s success, and their efforts to copy Scotland will strengthen. But Scotland’s situation is different to these other movements for one important reason: Scotland actually secured approval for their referendum from Westminster. Until these other movements gain the same amount of legitimacy, it is hard to imagine other national breakups will be allowed to happen anytime soon.

All in all, Scottish independence, for all the uncertainties involved, won’t necessarily be as dramatic as the no-campaign is currently envisioning. Yes, there will be economic hardships in Scotland itself, and yes the UK will go down on a number of global rankings.

But the best course of action for all the parties involved will be to minimize change and make the best of the new political situation. After all, the main motivation for the independence movement has been to achieve a stronger democracy for Scotland, not to break up the pound or other existing political structures. If everyone just keeps calm and carries on — the unofficial motto for the UK –, there is no reason why an independent Scotland can’t find its own peaceful place in the world.

Categories: Europe, Politics

About Author

Karl Sorri

Karl has gained global experience working at the Transparency International Secretariat in Berlin, the Political/Economic Section of the U.S. Embassy in Helsinki, and as a freelance journalist. Karl holds an MA in Politics from the University of Glasgow and an MSc in International Relations from the London School of Economics.