On Scottish Independence

Scottish flagTaking a break from theology with some thoughts on a recent issue in the news that’s got me intrigued. Apparently the most recent referendum to make Scotland fully independent has gained enough support in the polls that it might pass this time and thus remove one of the key members in the United Kingdom. Obviously, even if the referendum passes, there will still need many questions left to figure out:

  • Will Scotland still recognize the British monarchy as its head of state?
  • Will Scotland be treated as a commonwealth, a truly separate nation, or something new entirely?
  • What currency will Scotland adopt?
  • Will travel between the rest of Britain and Scotland require a passport?
  • Will Scotland develop a closer relationship to Europe than the United Kingdom which has historically held back from full integration into the EU?

Monarchy or Republic? While some I have discussed these questions with have automatically assumed an independent Scotland would become a republic, since republicanism and independence movements in the Commonwealth Nations tend to run hand and hand, with Scotland it’s not so simple. For one thing unlike most of the Commonwealth Nations that either border countries and areas where republicanism is more common like Canada and Australia, Scotland is still historically part of Europe and has had a monarchy about as long as England herself. It’s engrained in their DNA deeply. On top of this we tend to forget that Scotland has not simply been borrowing England’s monarchy for the past 300 years. On the contrary, Queen Elizabeth II is as much the Queen of Scots as she is the English monarch. In fact if anything it was Scotland that annexed England’s monarchy as James I of England was already James VI of Scotland years before he became King of England. Though some Scots had trouble embracing the Hanovers after they replaced the Scottish Stuarts, for most of its history Scotland has been as firm in its support of the British monarch as their kin down south. And after all, Balmoral in Scotland is the favorite summer estate of the royal family and the Prince Consort is also the Duke of Edinburgh. I think Scotland is more likely to retain the monarchy regardless of independence.

Commonwealth or Not? Obviously this is closely tied to the question of monarchy vs. republic. If it keeps its monarchy then Scotland would probably (whether officially or not) function similar to a commonwealth nation like Canada and Australia. The real question is if Scotland decides to breaks tides completely by becoming republic what type of relationship will Britain share with the first and only completely independent nation it shares a border with. For centuries the island has shared this common union and identity which has provided greater national security and autonomy from Europe and the wider world. Having to share the island and by extension common waters and resources will be a completely new situation for both parties. Even the presence of commonwealth nation with a monarchy would be a new situation.

Pound or Euro? Will Scotland retain the pound sterling, adopt the Euro, or develop its own currency? There would be merit in retaining the pound. Britain will obviously be Scotland’s biggest trading partner and their two economies will still be closely linked. On the other hand using the pound would leave Scotland partially dependent upon the strength of the British economy and possibly hamper the Scots’ efforts to build closer relationships with other countries. What’s more Britain would have a say on the matter of a monetary union with a foreign country and Sources say London is opposed to Scotland retaining the pound. Adopting the Euro would be another possibility that would link Scotland closer to the Continent, but again perhaps too close. Having just obtained independence Scotland might not be interested in economic policies that limit its economic autonomy. Recent crises in Greece and Spain and their effects on the whole EU wouldn’t be a good selling point either. Developing their own currency would be a powerful symbol of their new independence and certainly give them the potential for greater economic freedom. However, it would be a risky move for a newly independent country that would have to build up its economy overnight. America went through years of headache adopting its own currency and getting its economy off the ground. As a much smaller nation with less potential economic expansion Scotland would have an uphill battle insuring confidence in its markets. Whatever their decision developing an independent economy will be challenge for the new country.

Passports or Not? Currently you don’t need a passport to get from one member nation of the UK to another. The borders between Scotland and England are completely open. You can take a train all the way from London to Glasgow, but plane rides actually tend to be cheaper. If Scotland becomes independent then it changes the situation. Britain has never shared a border with either another commonwealth nation or an autonomous republic. Either instance presences new diplomatic complications. If Ireland offers any precedent, then perhaps Scotland will become part of the Common Travel Area (CTA), a zone consisting of all the British Isles in which travel is permitted between independent nations without travelers requires to carry a passport, though some identification or proof of nationality may be required. Air and sea travel between these nations may be more restrictive. This seems like the most likely policy going forward since geographically Scotland already lies in the CTA.

EU or Not? What Scotland’s relationship to the rest of Europe will be is up in the air. Once again going back to the Irish example greater integration into the EU could lead to greater prosperity and international respect. On the other hand Scotland has historically shared the same suspicions of the EU as their Southern brethren in England. Undoing centuries of island-like autonomy from the Continent would be difficult, though as stated earlier the EU might be a potential leverage point against overbearing British influence.

Who’s a Citizen? Under the current system, being a citizen from any part of the UK currently living in Scotland means you’re treated the same as someone born as citizen in Scotland. You can vote for or run for Scottish Parliament and have the same rights. All you have to be is a citizen of the UK in general. This means that people who are not Scottish by birth or descent are also voting for the referendum for independence and most polls show they are generally opposed. Close to 8% of Scotland’s current population is identified as non-Scottish or “Other British”. If independence happens it’s questionable what will happen to this group. Will they be given Scottish citizenship? Will they have to give up British citizenship? Be given a choice? Allowed dual citizenship? What’s more there are a large number of Scots living in other parts of Britain, who purely because of their address are not voting on the referendum. Though I could not find any clear figures on this number, it is well-known that a number of persons born in Scotland do live in England, Wales, or Northern Ireland. What will happen to these groups after independence?

There are many pros and cons to independence as there always are in any situation. Here’s just a few I’ve identified.

Pros

  • Open Destiny. Scotland can make its own destiny now, have total self-determination, and perhaps rediscover its pre-union heritage. Perhaps more people will learn Scottish Gaelic or other native Celtic dialects. It’s hard to say how religion might be altered by this development. Scotland has both a strong Catholic and Protestant history. While today the official church is Presbyterian, in the absence of the union with England, the country might have gone either way (Catholic or Presbyterian). Of course like most of the Europe Scotland has become more secular in recent years and over a third of the population reports having no religion. It’s hard to say how if at all independence will change these developments.
  • Political Power. It will mean greater power to local politicians and movements. Scottish Parliament is considerably more liberal than British Parliament. The largest political party in Scottish Parliament is the Scottish National Party (and consequentially the main force behind the independence movement). This party is liberal and social democrat in its ideology. The next largest block is held by the Scottish Labour Party, which like its counterpart in England is centrist. The Conservatives form a distant third in MPs, a remarkable difference from London where the Conservatives have a slight majority and the Prime Minister. Many of Cameron’s calls for cutting back on social programs do not meet with current popular opinion in Scotland. Under independence the more liberal Scots would become more empowered in overall national politics.
  • Independence encourages enterprise. Both out of necessity and a greater sense of possibility, new native businesses and ventures will appear, hopefully aiding Scotland’s developing economy. This would also hopefully provide jobs and opportunities for the Scots. The Scottish National Party has been eying oil and gas reserves in North Sea, falling within Scotland’s waters.
  • Freedom of Diplomacy. Though the Scottish Parliament has allowed Scotland greater self-determination in matters of domestic policy, Scotland’s foreign policy has always been dependent on British foreign policy. Britain’s relationship to the rest of the world is Scotland’s relationship. This would change once Scotland became independent and give them a higher level of sovereignty they’ve not had since the Union. The Scots are known to be generally in favor of nuclear disarmament and would now have the power to make their home nuclear free.

Cons

  • Divided is weaker. However the Union has affected English and Scottish aspirations, it’s generally understood that together as one both nations are stronger. Indeed it was not long after the Union that Britain became a world power and remained so for centuries. Even more so, the Union of the entire island made Britain more stable and secure. Before it foreign enemies usually tried to play one kingdom against the other. While Britain has little to fear from the rest of Europe now, the division will certainly result in two nations militarily, economic, and diplomatically weaker. Whether independence is in the greater interest of Scotland it’s clearly not in England’s interest. The loss in population and tax revenue will be great as will be the removal of resources and shrinking of their economy. Its status within the European Community and greater world will be diminished. Not to mention the possible ripple effects the loss of Scotland could have on the rest of the Britain and the Commonwealth. Cameron’s government will probably fall as he has the misfortune of being remembered as the Prime Minister who saw over a third of Britain’s land and one tenth of its entire population disappear overnight. While there’s probably not enough interest in independence within Wales or Northern Ireland to catch fire even in the event of Scotland’s departure, the effects on the Commonwealth could be much greater. Republican movements in Australia and New Zealand might see a rise in support, especially if Scotland were to become a republic itself. While Canada as a whole seems less likely to break away from the UK entirely, it might find its own internal matter of Quebec Independence gain new ground. It might even have effects on the rest of the Europe. The Basques in Northeast Spain have been bidding for independence for ages. Would seeing the Scots succeed embolden them even more? Italy has also seen separatist movements in Sardinia and Venice. Considering Italy as modern nation, is even younger than Britain could this have ripples on them as well?
  • Sustainability. There is a question as to whether Scotland can maintain its current standard of living and comfort as a separate nation. Because England has a larger population and economy, Scotland benefits from the higher revenues from taxes and larger government programs. We’ve already established that Scotland would be weaker economically, at least in the short run. There would almost certainly need to be cuts in government spending as well perhaps equally unpopular changes in taxation practices. Independence takes sacrifices.
  • British flagCommon History. Even before the Union these lands shared much in common culturally and socially. They’ve share over 300 years as a common nation and that’s a long time. On top of this many of their people are related now due to centuries of cross-migration and marriage. Families with members on both sides would suddenly find themselves in different countries. My own family (on both sides) has strong ties to both England and Scotland.

I will keep my eyes and ears open over the next few days in anticipation. Perhaps as an American I should care little over the outcome of this referendum. Still being a hopeless “Britophine” I am I can’t help but take an interest. And this is not just any nation. Our relationship with Britain is older and stronger than that of any other nation. Our relationship has not always been friendly, but it has still always been strong and remains deep. In any case as an American from a country still so young in the eyes of the world, I can’t help but be humbled by the possibility of a nation older than my own splitting apart. Now that I’ve said my peace on the matter, it’s your turn. I’ve uploaded a poll on the question of Scottish independence. Let me know what you think about. Enjoy!

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3 Responses to On Scottish Independence

  1. George Kinser says:

    Catch a few episodes of Outlander on STARZ. The tensions with British rule go far back.

  2. Chris Eyre says:

    I liked your post in general terms, but for one or two points. Firstly, via the border between NI and Eire, the UK has had a land border with another nation since the creation of the Irish Free State in 1922. You may feel that’s too odd a border to mention? Secondly, the Conservatives are actually a distant fourth in number of Westminster MPs after the Liberal Democrats, who hold 11 seats there to the Tories 1; the Conservatives are indeed third in the Scottish Parliament. I think that’s worth mentioning…

    Happily, the vote was not for independence, but the dust will not settle for quite a while due to the promises of additional devolved powers made by the three main party leaders in Westminster and the further linking of that with promises of some kind of devolution to the English regions.

    I say “happily” as the repercussions of a complete split would have been considerable (and financially pretty negative for, IMHO, both parties) and the infighting over the details would have been protracted. Now, if there were ever a clear view of the details of how a split would actually take place, my Scots half might actually win over my English half (i.e. mother over father). Or I might actually think it worth moving a few miles north and being present in the attempt to create a communitarian paradise (which is what I think the ScotNats and Labour would tend towards); I’d be giving up on trying to work towards something a bit more like that in the UK, but there might actually be a chance of it in Scotland, assuming that the finances permitted that, which I suspect they wouldn’t.

    • Philip Brooks says:

      Thanks for the correction. In my head I meant “Great” Britain which would include only England, Scotland, and Wales, but you’re right that the UK has shared a border with Ireland. It took me a second to figure out what you meant by conservatives being fourth in number of Westminster MPs, but I’m guessing you’re referring to the fact that the Conservative Party only has one MP in British Parliament from Scotland, which you’re right is worthy mentioning. There’s is definitely a strong political and ideological disconnect between the two parliaments right now.

      One thing I forgot to say in the blog is that I do think the English and the Scottish are two very different people and cultures, but in someway I think that’s what makes the union so great. I think in a lot of ways the complement each other.

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