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Experts: intense Scottish referendum debate already changed country’s future

10:28 | 02.09.2014 | Analytic


2 September 2014. PenzaNews. Alex Salmond, Prime Minister of Scotland and the leader of the country’s National Party who advocates the state’s independence from the United Kingdom, has defeated his opponent Alistair Darling, former British minister and the leader of “Better Together” movement, in a debate on the oncoming referendum on Scottish independence.

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Alex Salmond was deemed the winner of the debate by about 71% of the viewers, according to the flash Guiardian/ICM poll that took place mere moments after the broadcast.

The opponents discussed several crucial issues that may influence the fate of the country, such as economical and military security, taxes, currency and welfare issues.

The debate, which took place in the midnight on August 26, were the last ones before the Scottish referendum which will take place on September 18, 2014.

This topic has been causing heated discussions for many years, and the tensions only increased through the last few years. Only during this summer, several notable figures, such as Barack Obama, the President of the United States, Tony Abbott, the Prime Minister of Australia, Li Keqiang, the Premier of the State Council of China, and Pope Francis of the Catholic Church, spoke against the independence movement.

According to John Curtice, pollster, political analyst and professor at the University of Strathclyde, the world leaders chose to side with the No campaign because the separation of one of the leading Western powers would be unpleasant for the rest of the world.

“The vast bulk of the international community does not want Scotland to leave,” the analyst stressed.

The Great Britain will also suffered from such events, said the expert. It will be a major blow to the UK’s public image, while, on the contrary, staying together will improve Westminster’s international standing.

Moving on to the topic of public mood, John Curtice pointed out that most Scottish citizens already made up their minds, and listed several numbers from preliminary statistic data.

According to the analyst, the independence cause is more favored by men, those who are not too well off, and people who were born in Scotland, and opposed mostly by women, prosperous citizens and individuals born in England or Wales.

John Curtice stressed that the undecided will make up their minds basing on the development of the financial issue.

“The issue that persuades people to vote either Yes or No is their view of the economics of independence. There are still more pessimists than optimists on that subject,” the analyst said in an interview to PenzaNews agency.

At the same time, Roddy Thomson, communications department manager at “Yes Scotland” political movement, highlighted the fact that the situation slowly changes in favor of the Yes campaign.

“We have been truly humbled by the strength of an organic, grassroots movement that the same polls show nudges undecided voters towards Yes by a ratio of two-to-one at least,” the expert said.

Speaking of the world leaders’ opinion on the referendum, he noted that even though they are against the independence cause, they are ready to accept the results of the vote.

“World leaders including Pope Francis have spoken in intelligent, nuanced terms that recognize this is a decision for the sovereign people of Scotland. Barack Obama himself stressed this point,” Roddy Thomson added.

According to him, the results of the future referendum may be very much unpredictable.

“Tracking the main polls produced over the last year shows the gap between Yes sand No, which stood at closer to 25 percent, under 10 percent,” the expert clarified.

At the same time, Roddy Thomson added that most of the companies who took the polls in question earlier predicted the loss for the Scottish National Party in the country’s parliamentary election, which turned out to be a surprise victory for Alex Salmond’s party.

Michael Granados, spokesperson for the Scottish Democratic Alliance, also found the pre-referendum atmosphere very tense.

According to him, the stance taken by most newspapers and TV channels in the region only affirms this opinion.

“The UK National and Scottish media is almost universally and inexplicably anti-independence,” the expert stressed.

From his point of view, this, along with the statements from the world leaders, are the parts of a large soft pressure campaign against Scotland, which goes against the official stated non-interference position of the UK government.

“One of Westminster’s deepest fears is that the break up of the United Kingdom will result in the loss of it's prestige on the world stage. This is a reasonable fear in that the present United Kingdom probable doesn’t deserve a seat on the UN Security Council and would be hard pressed to retain it,” Michael Granados noted.

At the same time, according to the analyst, the decades of debate made the Scottish people to become more and more interested in the principles of democracy of their country.

“In much of the world, particularly the wider UK and the US, the nature of democracy is considered a largely settled matter. What we are discovering in the course of the referendum is a realization that what passes for democracy isn’t really good enough,” he said.

In the expert’s opinion, Scotland will eventually become independent regardless of the results of the oncoming referendum, unless the UK undertakes series of radical and fundamental reforms.

However, Malcolm Chalmers, research director for UK Defense Policy Studies at the Royal United Service Institute, found the overall political stance of the Scottish people rather stable.

“I think the debate has not fundamentally changed over the last year,” the expert said.

According to him, the most troubling issues for the citizens remained the same – currency, salaries, pensions and welfare state.

“Many issues out there, but I think the most important issues will be about people’s individual welfare,” Malcolm Chalmers stressed.

From his point of view, it is the financial issue that defines the shape of both Yes and No camps: the prosperous will favor status quo, while those who earn less will be more likely to take the risk.

Dwelling on the worldwide reaction to the referendum, the analyst suggested that many countries, especially in Europe, side with the UK, one of the more stable and active members of the international community, and thus will breathe a sigh of relief if the nationalist movement fails.

“I think if Scotland remains in the union, it will reflect to the UK’s credit that it has been able to handle a very difficult secession issue in a democratic and entirely peaceful fashion. There are not many countries that have been able to do that: many countries have separatism problems, and all too often they end up in violence,” Malcolm Chalmers said.

At the same time, according to him, a successful referendum will begin the detailed and long secession talks that will lead to Scotland becoming a respectable member of the international community; however, the Great Britain will end up more focused on its internal issues and will be more likely to leave the European Union.

“This is a difficult moment for the United Kingdom. It would be a great shame if Scotland left the union, because not only had the union been good for Scotland, it also contributed a lot to the United Kingdom. The United Kingdom would be poorer without Scotland,” the analyst stated.

At the same time, Michael Keating, professor and political researcher at the University of Aberdeen, highlighted the fact that the Scottish independence cause may also endanger the integrity of many European countries.

“The nationalist movements in Spain and other countries would see this as a precedent,” he stressed.

According to the analyst, the political campaign is notable in that both Yes and No advocates focused on the economy and welfare issues after the potential secession from the UK and spoke very little on nationality.

“There have been very few questions about identity, politics or who is Scottish,” the researcher said.

In conclusion, he expressed his opinion, that the 40 years of the debate before the referendum already laid the basis for a new chapter in now politically active Scotland’s history, regardless of the results of the future vote.

“Scotland has already changed, because there has been huge popular mobilization around the issue. Scottish society has been politicized, and there is an expectation on the part of the public that things will change,” Michael Keating summed up.

The question on whether Scotland should remain with the Great Britain has been discussed since the very beginning of the country’s alliance with England in 1707.

The political debate over the Scottish independence began only in 1930s, when the Scottish National Party was founded.

Currently, Scotland, which has its own Parliament, executive bodies, state church and court system, is the most autonomous member of the United Kingdom. 

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