Scotland the Free?

Dr Rob Manwaring discusses Scotland's upcoming  referendum on independence.
Dr Rob Manwaring discusses Scotland’s upcoming referendum on independence.

Nearly 14,000 South Australians will be taking a keen interest on the events that take place on September 18. This is the date that Scotland is holding a referendum on independence, and more than just the thousands of Australians who were born in Scotland will be keen to see what happens.

The campaign between the ‘yes’ and ‘no’ groups is heating up. So far there have been two televised debates between Alex Salmond, the First Minister (and leader of the Scottish National Party SNP), and Alistair Darling, the former Labour treasurer, who leads the ‘Better Together’ campaign. Darling is widely seen to have won the first round with the ‘No’ vote increasing, but Salmond bested his rival by 71 per cent in the poll that followed the second debate on August 25.

So, will Scotland break free? The polls would suggest not. Despite a recent upswing for the ‘yes’ campaign, the polls only indicate between 32 and 42 per cent of Scots favour breaking the Union.

But, the ‘yes’ campaign’ is gaining momentum for a number of reasons. The recent Commonwealth Games, Edinburgh Festival and hosting the Ryder Cup all give Scots a healthy glow. Second, Salmond has been a tireless and effective performer. Indeed, the SNP’s electoral fortunes have improved dramatically since Salmond returned to lead the party after the lacklustre John Swinney.

Salmond has also been helped by a generally complacent Westminster, with David Cameron, and others assuming that Scots were happy as they were. Darling also has the harder task in campaigning to maintain the status quo.

Finally, the SNP has been helped by the dollop of austerity policies that have blighted Scotland. Coalition Treasurer George Osborn’s visit to Scotland did very little than bolster the “yes” campaign.

Even if the SNP force a ‘yes’ result, there are huge sticking points. The debate is focussed on Scotland’s currency and Salmond’s claim that there is ‘no plan B’ except to keep sterling. Yet, all the major parties in Westminster have ruled out a currency union, although critics see this is posture-politics. Darling taunts that Scotland will be forced to join the Euro, but even Scotland gaining EU membership is contested.

Elsewhere other issues remain hotly contested, not least Salmond’s pledge to remove nuclear weapons from Scotland. There are also widely disputed claims too about North Sea oil and gas. The ‘no’ campaign argue the Scottish government has over-estimated by 60 per cent how much energy is left. Salmond’s hope to make Scotland a Celtic Norway might yet be unfulfilled.

The debate has also taken a few odd turns, not least when an audience member on BBC’s Q and Q asked if an Independent Scotland would mean that finding Aliens was more likely. It might not be alien life, but Scotland might just be taking a small step into the unknown.

Dr Rob Manwaring is a lecturer in Politics in the School of Social and Policy Studies at Flinders University.

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