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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3 thoughts on “Scotland the Free?

  1. Your summary misses out one of the most significant things about this debate compared to any other recent political event in the UK – that of the groundswell of interest at a grassroots level. The deadline to register to vote was 2nd September and people were queuing up to vote right up until the doors closed; registration officers report huge numbers of last minute applications, with staff working till midnight day after day to process the papers. People are predicting a turnout of over 80% compared to the usual 35% or so. The mainstream media who are almost exclusively opposed to a Yes vote (apart from the weekly Sunday Herald) and so have concentrated on those points you raise – the pound and oil, and are portraying this as SNP versus the Better Together/No campaign. But the real debate is completely apolitical and taking place in church halls, village meetings, at workplaces, in the pub, across family kitchen tables, on the internet, via social media. Those discussions have been about social democracy, self-determination, confidence, future possibilities, what the true values of the country are. I haven’t seen political engagement like this ever before.

  2. Being an ex-pat Scot (I was born in Edinburgh in 1954)who has lived in Australia since I was 5 years old, I am very interested in this history changing event. We were in Scotland in August this year visiting family, and the number of Scots I spoke to who do not support independence certainly outweight those who do. However in a clever move, I assume to garner an emotive vote, Salmond has reduced the voting age for this referendum to 16 years old. The romantic notion of independence will appeal to the younger people without thought of the long term financial implications. Scotland only has a population of about 5 million people and many of its heavy and big industries no longer exist. One of the newspapers I read whilst there stated that if the yes vote goes ahead, almost overnight in excess of two hundred million pounds will disappear from the Scottish economy because of the impact on trans-border companies. This will have a profound effect on future employment and prospects. In neighbouring Ireland they are bemoaning the fact that due to their small and damaged economy many young people are leaving its shores to seek a better future elsewhere. Voting is also being restricted to only those who live permanently in Scotland, so ex-pats have no say, and even those who now live permanently in England are not allowed to vote……… Prior to the Union with England almost 600 years ago the Scottish economy was unstable at the best of times. When we left, Scotland was still in severe post war financial problems (as was the rest of the UK). The economy is certainly more robust now, but there is a chance that if the yes vote goes ahead the financial woes would return. Scots are proud and determined and will always differentiate themselves from the English, but we need the strength of the Union if we are to survive stronly in the future. Independence would be a good thing if there was a viable alternative guaranteed to sustain Scotland indefinately into the future, but there is not sufficient long term strength without dramatic changes and right now I do not think Scotland has the resources.

  3. Justin – fair point about the grassroots engagement (in mitigation, I was drafting this for indaily and had a very limited word count!). What strikes me is that I drafted this a couple of weeks ago, and the poll at the weekend – which gives the ‘yes’ campaign a slim lead for the very first time – is perhaps a real game-changer. This is now way too close to call.

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