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Debate: Scottish independence

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Should Scotland become an independent nation?

Background and context

Following the election of the New Labour government into power in the UK in 1997, referendum on the devolution of power in both Scotland and Wales were held, resulting in victories for the ‘Yes’ camps. This resulted in the formation of the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly for the first time in centuries. There are those who argue that devolution will eventually strengthen the UK as a whole, whilst there are others who are convinced that it will trigger off a series of developments that will eventually lead to Scotland and possibly Wales as well declaring independence from England.

Contents

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Independent identity? Do the Scottish have an independent identity?

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Yes

There are many things that Scotland retains, which are distinct from England, and which can be argued as important factors that favor an independent Scotland:

  • A unique, distinguished history, which included independence from England: Historically, it previously existed as an independent and sovereign nation until the signing of the Treaty of Union in 1707.
  • Geographic distinctions:
  • Distinct culture:
  • Separate state functions:...
    • Separate legal:...
    • Separate banking system:...
    • Separate education system:...
  • A dialect that is unique from England's:
  • These all contribute to a general Scottish identity that is distinct from England: The vast majority of Scottish describe themselves as Scottish, rather than British.
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No

Argument that many countries in the world have strong regional differences that have not justified separatism: Many of the differences between Scotland and England are typical of any nation in the world, with the exception of the smallest, i.e. it is not unusual for parts of countries to have strong regional identities. This is true even for the different regions in England itself (e.g. London, Newcastle, etc.). These differences on the whole are unlikely to lead to the fragmentation of the UK, and will instead serve to strengthen the fabric of British society, which is becoming increasingly multi-racial anyway.

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Representation: Is Scotland insufficiently represented in the UK?

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Yes

The difference in voting patterns between the Scots and the English unfortunately mean that the latter have more say than the former regarding the formation of British governments in general elections. For e.g., in the 1992 general elections, even though a majority of Scottish voters voted for the Labour Party, due to the voting patterns elsewhere in the UK, especially in England, the Conservative Party eventually retained power instead. Independence would enable the creation of a more representative democracy for Scotland.

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No

Argument that Scotland receives sufficient proportional representation in the UK voting system: It would be illogical to suggest that any one region ought to determine the identity and composition of the government decisively after any elections. There are fewer parliamentary constituencies in Scotland simply because it is smaller than England geographically and has fewer residents than England. The electoral system in place in the UK is representative of the UK electorate as a whole.

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National defense: Would independence better uphold Scotland's national security interests?

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Yes

Assertion that many principal Scottish interests are not upheld in the current arrangement: At present, certain matters (e.g. defense and foreign affairs) are still decided for Scotland by the UK Parliament in Westminster, London. Some of the decisions taken at Westminster are not always in Scotland’s best interests. However, even if all Scottish MPs were to vote against such measures, it is unlikely that they will influence the eventual outcome of the results as Scottish MPs are outnumbered by English MPs at Westminster. More importantly, many MPs (including Scottish MPs) tend to vote according to the line which their political parties have taken, and are not necessarily motivated entirely by concern for the regions they represent.

Some sources argue that it may no longer be very valuable in today's Europe to maintain "economies of scale" in larger unions for the sake of pooling resources for funding a stronger military. Indeed, the value of military force within Europe appears to be devalued, as national military expenditures are at historic lows. This contention devalues the supposed national-defense interests of Scotland remaining part of the UK.

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No

Argument that the 1997 devolution of power to Scotland has given them sufficient power and control to exercise their interests: The devolution of power and the establishment of the Scottish Parliament which took place in 1997 afforded the residents of Scotland the opportunity to elect their own Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs) to legislate on a range of matters concerning them. Power has thus been shifted by a considerable degree from Westminster to Holyrood (where the Scottish Parliament is located).

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Viability: Would Scotland be a viable state?

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Yes

Scotland has all the trappings of an independent nation – it now has its own Parliament and Executive. It also has its own legal system and courts too.

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No

The Scottish Parliament is more of a regional assembly than a national legislature. It is ultimately still subject to the powers of the UK Parliament. Furthermore, the court of final authority for both Scotland and England is the same, i.e. the House of Lords.

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Economic: Would an independent Scotland economically benefit?

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Yes

  • The British are not really subsidizing the Scottish. Oxford Economics releases from time to time, data on 'subsidisation'. Subsidisation is simply determined by the amount of tax raised and government expenditure spent in a given region, in Scotland this is actually quite close to zero (and is incomparable to regions of England, Wales and Northern Ireland). This does not include numerous other revenue streams from the Scottish territory, such as taxes on oil. In any case, it is the South East that 'subsidises' the rest of the UK. [...] Although it is reported that this subsidization does occur, this can only be identified by what the London-based (which is not a simplistic anti-English slur) Treasury calls 'identifiable expenditure'. "Unidentifiable expenditure" includes, for example, the olympics development in London (approx £10billion, half the annual Scottish Government's budget). Although Scotland may benefit from some of this 'unidentifiable expenditure' there is an assumption that expenditure spent on central government, by-and-large based in London, is as mutually beneficial to Scotland (and Wales, North West, Cumbria, etc) and the South East (the additional benefits of being the centre of government activity in the UK is assumed to be zero - which can reasonably be doubted by any impartial observor). In short, outside the South East - Scotland (including its territory) constitute one of the most productive regions of the country. In some ways, Scotland subsidises England by permitting significant operations to be commenced on its behalf in London and not in Edinburgh or Glasgow."

An independent Scotland may benefit economically from the reduced English exploitation of Scottish natural resources, which may be disproportionately used for the benefit of England: Scotland has 70% of Europe’s energy reserves, primarily in the form of oil that is found in the North Sea. Profits from the extraction of such oil, for e.g., are largely channeled to England. Therefore, Scotland might actually enjoy more robust economic growth if its sheds itself of England's dependence on Scottish natural resources.

Scotland may not be hindered by its relatively small size in order to exist as an independent nation. There are many other countries in Europe and the rest of the world that manage to sustain impressive rates of economic growth besides defending itself from potential and actual threats to its territory (e.g. Luxembourg, Singapore etc.).

It also seems unlikely that an independent Scotland will not be a member of NATO and/or form a military alliance with England.

Independence will better enable Scotland to specialize, which is very important in the free-market world:

  • England may benefit from its reduced subsidization of Scotland, and greater potential to specialize its own economy: Anatole Kaletsky, Times Online, 4/26/07 - "As for the English economy, it would almost certainly enjoy a modest gain if Scotland departed, since the Scottish subsidies would vanish and England’s economic specialisation would modestly increase."
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No

Argument that and independent Scotland would lose the benefits of UK subsidies: Scotland does receives subsidies and development aid from the UK government annually to boost its economic growth. Scotland receives more from the UK government than it gives to it. The income derived from oil reserves alone would be insufficient to maintain Scotland’s present rate of growth, much less propel it to greater heights.

As part of the larger UK, Scotland would be able to better protect its interests from an increasingly federalizing EU: Scotland is far better disposed in safeguarding its economic interests and territorial sovereignty by remaining a part of the UK, which is larger in size. Crucially, the continued development of the European Union (EU) into a quasi-political union may eventually reduce the autonomy of its Member States. There may come the day when individual Member States will be pressured to lose their identity as national entities in order to be a part of a "United States of Europe". If Scotland wishes to maintain a strong identity outside of such a "United States of Europe", it may be better off as part of a stronger UK, which may be more capable of fending off such calls for a federalized EU.

The economic effects of independence would be "impossible" to predict, making it a poor point to use in favor of independence: Anatole Kaletsky, Times Online, 4/26/07 - "The honest answer to all questions about whether Scotland would gain or lose revenues from independence is that predictions on this are impossible and don’t matter very much. Impossible because the sums flowing into and out of Scotland vary widely from year to year and depend on unpredictable factors such as oil prices and relative wages in the private and public sectors."

The economic impact would be "irrelevant": Anatole Kaletsky, Times Online, 4/26/07 - "[The economic effects would be] Irrelevant because the sums involved – a net inflow this year of about £3 billion annually, roughly matched by similar outflows in the 1980s when North Sea output was near its peak and public sector wages were lower – are far too small to affect the balance between the immense historical arguments on both sides of the independence debate."

By remaining part of the UK, Scotland may benefit from "economies of scale" accompanying this union:

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Regional effects: Would independence have positive regional effects?

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Yes

There is no evidence to support the thesis that Independence for Scotland would cause European instability. The Republic of Ireland is a clear example of this; it's coming into being did not create this type of instability.

Likewise, the burgeoning number of former Soviet states (or territories siezed by them) that have achieved independence has not caused any domino effect of instability elsewhere. In the countries and "regions" listed opposite, there have been, to varying degrees, support for and pressures for, variously, increasing devolution and independence. Some have sought this through exclusively peaceful and political methods; others have resorted to violence; Scotland seeking or indeed achieving independence would have absolutely no bearing on changing any of this.


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No

Could spark sessions and instability in other parts of Europe: Anatole Kaletsky, Times Online, 4/26/07 - "For Europe the contagion effects of the first peaceful break-up of an advanced democratic country would be felt in many regions whose secessionist tendencies have historically been much stronger than Scotland’s:"

  • Catalonia[1]
  • Basque Country[2]
  • Corsica[3]
  • Wallonia[4]
  • Parts of Northern Italy[5]
  • Maybe even Bavaria[6]

See also

External links and resources

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