What if Scotland became independent?

Scotland - England Border

Scotland - England Border by monkeyatlarge on Twitter

What if Scotland became independent?With Salmond and Cameron fighting over the referendum on Scottish independence, the possibility of the two countries separating has never seemed so real. Now more than ever, one question is left to answer, if it was the case, what would happen?

“We need to hold a referendum on Scottish independence as soon as possible”. It was not Alex Salmond, the Scottish First Minister, who said those words, but the British Prime Minister, David Cameron. He announced a few weeks ago that he intended to hold a referendum in 2012, going against the Scottish National Party’s (SNP) plans to do it in 2014 or 2015. The SNP and the Conservative-Liberal Democratic coalition government in London are since then at odds over the timing of a referendum on i n dependence , what questions should be included in the ballot and who should be allowed to vote.

Scottish independence is a complex matter. It has been 305 years since Scotland and England signed the Act of Union Treaty, yet it has never seemed more likely that the two countries will separate. A recent YouGov poll showed that while 61% of the Scots where opposing independence, 39% were in favour of it. It might not seem like much, but it is a rise of 10 points in ten years. In Scotland, the SNP is hoping for more and more people to join the cause if they wait until 2014 to hold any referendum. Meanwhile in London, Westminster strategy is taking the opposite road, with Cameron insisting on holding a referendum as soon as possible. “Let’s get this over with, so we can maintain our country’s cohesion” he declared last week in the Touse of Commons.

Though David Cameron and Alex Salmond are expected to meet next week to talk about those issues, the ongoing battle is unlikely to find an answer soon. The media have been focusing on the issue of the referendum, but a greater question remains: what will happen if Scotland becomes independent ? Here are some answers on what might happen if the country decided to break the Union Treaty.

1 – What will happen to the Scottish economy?

Scotland’s economy has performed well in recent years, with consistent economic growth, a growing  population and relatively low unemployment rates. Edinburg is the fifth European financial centre and Scottish GDP per capita is the largest of any part of the United Kingdom af ter London. Opponents of independence argue that Scotland is economically stronger as a part of the UK economy. On the other hand, pro independence partisans are arguing that if countries such as Malta, Norway or Denmark can be prosperous, so could Scotland. Especially since the land posses oil and gas: according to the UK government, only half of the reserves of oil in the North Sea have been extracted so far, which means that there is still enough to support a population of just five million people.

Yet, the biggest issue an independent Scotland would face is money. It is now receiving money from the British government, and if Scots were to quit the United Kingdom, pro-unionists argue that the country would have a huge deficit between 6 billion and 11 billion pounds. But the main choice Scottish people would have to make is about keeping the British Pound, introduce the Euro, or create their own currency. Helped by the strong anti-EU feelings of British people, Westminster is explaining that Scotland would have to reapply to the European Union. Worse, the count ry would be forced to join the Eurozone, which is undergoing its biggest crisis ever. Alex Salmond argues that Scots could choose to keep the pound, but opponents are explaining that if it was to happen Scotland would have no power over the Bank of England.

2 – What about the role of Scotland on the international scene?

As the British newspaper The Independent points out in an online article, “many English people perceive Scots as as nation of sponging whingers”. Using that argument, the SNP argues that the relationship between the UK and Scotland would change very little and might even improve. The newspaper adds that “Independence would force Scots to stop blaming the English for all their ills and put a stop to southern resentment at « carrying » Scotland”. Also, « culturally, there would be little change as the Queen would remain as monarch, just as she does in other members of the Commonwealth, while Scotland has always had its own legal, educational and religious institutions ».

But for most, the future of an independent Scotland is firmly tied to the European Union. They argue that, as a member state of the EU, Scotland would have a bigger role in international affairs than now. Unionists warned that an independent Scotland might not be able to join the EU, but it seems very unlikely to happen. Overall, all agree on the fact that many countries share overseas embassies and there is no reason why Scotland and England couldn’t continue toco-operate.

3 – What would happen to the rest of the UK?

With only 5 million people, Scotland accounts for only 8% of the UK total population. England will always be the dominant force in the British Isles, but as The Independent explains, “without Scots revenues, it will have to adjust to a diminished role on the world stage”. The newspaper adds that it would mean having to find a new base for the Trident fleet, currently located in Scotland. The SNP has already said that it would remove it, and that it would prevent Scottish troops taking part in any future illegal wars. On their website, the independence advocates explains that “Scotland would continue to have a conventional military defence that would work alongside English forces in the mutual defence of the British Isles”.

But what British leaders fear the most is that other areas follow the Scottish example if it is a success. « It could hasten calls for Wales or Northern Ireland to seek self-determination of their own. » And what would bethe United Kingdom without Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales? Just England.

Fabien Jannic