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British politicians and experts continue to discuss possibility of Scottish independence

11:58 | 02.08.2013 | Analytic


2 August 2013. PenzaNews. Scottish independence would inevitably damage the UK’s international reputation. This is the conclusion of a report by Foreign Affairs Committee, House of Commons, titled Foreign policy considerations for the UK and Scotland in the event of Scotland becoming an independent country.

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“It is difficult to measure the impact on the remainder of the UK’s international standing and influence in the event of Scotland becoming an independent country but we conclude that some degree of reputational damage is inevitable. We recommend that ahead of the referendum, the FCO (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) does more, when appropriate, to engage with international partners in order to highlight the UK’s commitment to a consensual and broad-based engagement on the Scottish referendum, with a view to minimising the risk of damage to the UK’s reputation,” the document says.

According to the report, an independent Scotland would face a number of legal and economic difficulties.

There is an overwhelming body of evidence that the remainder of the UK would be considered by the international community to be the continuing state and that it would inherit the vast majority of the UK’s treaty obligations, while Scotland would essentially start afresh at an international level, losing many of the benefits that derive from being part of the UK, which include the EU, UN, NATO and the World Bank membership.

However, representatives of the ruling Scottish National Party (SNP) are optimistic about the prospects for an independent Scotland. According to SNP leader Alex Salmond, independence would facilitate effective tax, antitrust and immigration policies in Scotland, while oil deposits and developed production will contribute to the economic prosperity of the country.

Matt Qvortrup, an internationally recognized expert on referendums, author of soon-to-be-released book Referendums on Ethnic Conflict, believes that the consequences of independence are not clear.

“In all likelihood, the consequences will be minimal. Scotland is roughly the size of Denmark and would probably do no worse than this country on the international scene,” he said in an interview with news agency “PenzaNews.”

However, commenting on the possible outcome of the vote, the analyst noted that the Yes Scotland campaign initiated by the pro-independence nationalists is in trouble.

“While Alex Salmond is personally popular, he has not managed to find a strong argument. It is unlikely that he will win. The arguments have been diffuse, and they have been weak and vague. And, as Yes Scotland has failed to present a strong case for independence, Better Together has not been forced to spell out a vision,” the expert said.

In his opinion, Better Together campaign has not been impressive either – they have just relied on the mistakes of their opponents.

“Given the lack of a clear message from Yes Scotland, Better Together has not had to do anything,” the analyst stressed.

According to him, it is almost impossible to win in a referendum, if you are not ahead when you start the campaign.

“It is almost certain that Scotland will not be independent. The polls do not show appetite for independence, and there is no strong case for it. It is likely that Scotland will be given more powers, but it is an open question how much power will be transferred to Scotland. My guess is that Scotland will be allowed to raise its own taxes, but that is a guess,” Matt Qvortrup added.

Commenting on the political situation in the country, Peter Lynch, Senior Lecturer in Division of History and Politics, University of Stirling, noted that the Yes campaign faces major challenges in getting its message across because the bulk of the media supports the UK position.

“Despite that, Yes Scotland has some positive messages that resonate with voters – not least the political differences between Scotland and the UK run by the Conservatives, which links with both policies and values in the minds of a lot of people in Scotland,” he emphasized.

According to the expert, message of Better Together so far has been to emphasize the problems independence would create for Scotland, leading it to be dubbed “Project Fear.”

The expert did not predict the outcome of the vote, but suggested that the referendum result is likely to be much closer than the current polls indicate.

“A ‘Yes’ vote is certainly possible and there is some movement in that direction. If there is a ‘No’ vote in 2014, the question is how big it is and how it is interpreted. If it is close to 50/50 but a ‘No’, then that is a huge challenge for the pro-Union parties as it shows a lot of people are so unhappy with the UK they want to exit. If there is a convincing ‘No’ vote, then it might be that “no means no” and the UK parties leave devolution as it is but change the funding system for Scotland. Each of these would be deeply unpopular in Scotland. The independence issue polarizes politics quite markedly in Scotland and that effect may last long after the referendum,” Peter Lynch said.

Eilidh Whiteford, Scottish National Party Member of Parliament, described the prospect of Scottish independence as promising.

“The first important element of independence is control over Scotland’s financial resources. Full control over our own finances would allow the Scottish Government to continue pursuing socially progressive policies, which are threatened by cuts from Westminster. The other significant benefit of independence would be the ability to articulate Scotland’s views on a world stage. At the moment, Scotland relies on the United Kingdom Government to articulate its interests. In a parliament where Scottish MPs make up just 10% of the total, Scotland’s distinctive interests – which are not always the same as those of the UK – are subsumed, and frequently ignored,” she said.

Asked about the possible negative consequences, the politician noted that every nation faces trying times, and Scotland would be no different.

“Nobody can predict the future with any great certainty, but that applies just as much for the UK as it does Scotland. Nobody campaigning for a ‘Yes’ vote claims that independence is an immediate panacea for all the nation’s ills. It is, however, a significant step in the right direction. Or, to put it another way, dozens of nations have achieved independence from the UK in the past century; and none of them, thus far, have offered to give it up,” Eilidh Whiteford reminded.

In her opinion, Britain is trying to persuade Scotland to remain part of the UK because it relies heavily on Scotland’s tax contribution.

“Last year, with 8.4% of the UK’s population, Scotland contributed 9.9% of the UK Government’s non-debt income. That is a significant amount, and Westminster – logically – is reluctant to lose access to this resource. For years, the unionist parties have claimed that Scotland is not wealthy enough for independence; that argument has been dropped, as everyone realises it is patently untrue,” she noted.

Eilidh Whiteford expressed confidence that the Scots would choose independence.

“Every day, the benefits become clearer, and every day, another scare story is proven false. The more engaged people are with the debate, the more confident they become. Many currently considering a ‘No’ vote do so because they have not got the relevant information, or they are scared. As those fears evaporate, I can see the proportion of ‘Yes’ voters to ‘No’ increasing rapidly,” the politician said.

Jim McGovern, Labour Member of the UK Parliament, took the opposite view. He believes that Scotland is stronger in being a part of the UK and the UK is stronger in having Scotland a part of it.

“After building over 300 years history together there exist between all countries in the UK strong social, economic, security and cultural bonds which if removed would be a great loss. I have taken part in many Better Together campaign events that have been a great success. We have knocked thousands of doors across Scotland and the overwhelming number of people that I have spoken to say they will be voting ‘No’ to independence,” the politician said.

He believes that this is because people recognise the shared institutions and the currency of the UK Pound, which are the positive benefits of being part of a United Kingdom.

“While I cannot speak for the UK Government I believe that the rest of the UK recognises Scotland’s right to determine its own future and is happy to listen and participate in the debates we are having,” Jim McGovern added.

In turn, Christian Allard, Scottish National Party Member of Parliament, stressed that the recent Westminster austerity agenda is not popular in Scotland and equates to more people considering voting ‘Yes’ because of it.

“With independence, the people who care most about Scotland, the people who live in Scotland, will be taking the decisions about our future. It is difficult to see any negative consequences with the way present and past governments in London have squandered the income from our natural resources and made the UK one of the most unfair and unequal societies in Western Europe,” the politician explained.

According to him, Yes Scotland is very positive and heading the largest grass-roots movement ever seen in Scotland, while Better Together is running one of the most negative campaigns.

Commenting on Westminster Government claim that Scots would face roaming charges when south of the border, he said it is “a typical example of the negative campaign run by the “No camp;” not only one the Conservative MSPs as called the claim “a bit silly”, but also with the announcement of new EU rules forcing down roaming charges across the EU, the paper published by the UK Government is factually incorrect.”

Christian Allard believes that only a ‘Yes’ vote will bring greater power back to Scotland.

“As a Member of the Scottish Parliament who was not born in Scotland, I am very proud and delighted to be part of a grass-roots movement working towards a better future for our children and grandchildren. We have launched the French for Yes group last month reflecting on the fact that many people from different nationalities will vote. I look forward for our nation to regain its rightful place among all the other countries of the world,” he said.

John Lamont, Scottish Conservative Party politician, member of the Scottish Parliament, suggested that co-operation across borders is essential in the modern world.

“Scotland being part of the UK means we draw together our resources and work together with our closest neighbours as part of one, unified country. Within Britain, we have considerable influence internationally whether that be in the EU, as a permanent member of the UN Security Council or as a member of the G8,” the politician explained.

Moreover, he pointed out to a number of unanswered questions that surround independence.

“What conditions would be attached to our accession into the EU? What currency would we use and on what basis? How would our businesses adapt to divided regulatory and tax regimes?” John Lamont wondered.

He also added that the vast majority of opinion polls have shown Better Together increase its lead over Yes Scotland over the past year.

“Even Scottish Nationalists are now speaking out about the lack of coherent arguments being put forward by Yes Scotland and its failure to engage beyond its core vote,” the deputy noted.

“The UK Government has produced a number of highly detailed papers outlining the areas in which Scotland benefits from being part of the UK. The Scottish nationalists have failed to provide anything close to this level of detail so far. The UK Government’s document addressed – clearly and accurately – the full situation over mobile phone roaming fees. It shows a great deal of weakness in Yes Scotland’s arguments when they feel the need to consistently dismiss factual analysis as ‘scaremongering’,” he said.

In his opinion, dividing the UK is likely to leave all parts worse off. People across Britain do however accept that this is primarily a decision for the Scottish people to make, he stressed.

“Under the UK Government’s 2012 Scotland Act, a considerable batch of new powers over taxation, borrowing and other areas will be devolved to the Scottish Parliament between now and 2016. The Scottish Parliament was only created in 1999, and it is worth noting the considerable powers over important issues like health, education and policing which it already has.
Many people would prefer that their politicians focused more on these matters rather than engaging in constitutional debates,” John Lamont concluded.

Scotland became part of the United Kingdom in 1707. To date, it has the greatest degree of autonomy of the countries included in the UK: it has its own Parliament, Scots Law and the Church of Scotland.

The Scottish Government intends to hold a referendum on the issue of independence from the United Kingdom on 18 September 2014.

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