The End of the UK? – Scotland, Independence and the Disunited Kingdom


  10 DAYS FROM NOW SCOTLAND will vote on whether to end its 300-year Union with England. On the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn where Scotland’s army routed the English, this nation will decide the fate of the Union. A Union which has endured world wars, built and lost an empire and shared national tragedy and joy in equal measure. Scottish secession would be an emotional trauma for many in the United Kingdom but so far many in England have yet to wake up to this. The English complacency was yesterday rudely awakened when a poll showed that the majority of Scots actually favor independence for the first time. This has prompted widespread anxiety across the UK political parties as they face the real reality of Scottish secession. It was only a month ago that the pro-union campaign was 22 points ahead and many felt that the UK had been saved. How different the picture is now. There are so many unanswered questions to Scottish independence and it is almost absurd that answers to the position of the monarchy, Scotland’s membership of the European Union, its currency, security and the economic cost or gain of independence have not been been truly laid out in detail. The political implications of the secession are disastrous for all the main UK political parties. For David Cameron, the current UK Premier, he would be marked in history as the Prime Minister who lost Scotland. Many have predicted that a “Yes” vote would precipitate his resignation and throw the run-up to the May 2015 general election into turmoil. For Ed Miliband, the leader of the UK’s opposition Labour party, the loss of Scotland would deprive the Labour Party of the roughly 40 UK parliamentary seats in Scotland and thus make it a more difficult task to win a parliamentary majority in the more conservative-leaning England. What of the rest of the UK? Key military relationships with the EU and US would be harmed as the UK’s Trident nuclear submarines are housed in Scotland and the Scottish Government has pledged to remove nuclear weapons from Scottish soil thus putting UK’s position as a nuclear power in jeopardy. The UK’s position in NATO, the UN Security Council and the EU would be weakened further reinforcing a much repeated narrative of the global decline of England on the world stage. Alex Salmond, Scotland’s formidable First Minister, has batted away questions on these issues with bluster and nationalist rhetoric but the reality is that the future of an independent Scotland is an unknown unknown. It will be a journey that England and Scotland take together which will be painful and fraught with difficulty on both sides. If Scotland votes “No” to independence then the UK will still have changed forever. The royal, political, economic and social union between the two countries will have been fundamentally altered as further powers are devolved to the Scottish Government. This UK as an island nation with no written constitution will have to face fundamental questions over the role of the London parliament and English, Welsh and Northern Irish identities within it. Yesterday England finally woke up to the fact that after September 18th 2014, irrespective of the outcome, it will have to reshape its role both within the UK and around the world. Why should you care about a referendum of a country with a population the size of Minnesota?  The outcome will touch millions around the world as one of the G-7 powers is fundamentally altered. The US-UK ‘special’ relationship would of course be threatened. As the most famous of Scottish poets, Robert Burns, wrote “There is no such uncertainty as a sure thing.” The outcome of the referendum which was such a sure thing is now deeply uncertain. How right he proved to be.

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By Fred Spring
I argue that the UK’s status as a global power could be significantly affected by Scottish independence with major implications for the US, the EU and Commonwealth nations.

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Fred Spring received a BA in Philosophy and Russian from Oxford University and spent 9 months living in St. Petersburg and Kiev. He is currently a second year student at Harvard Business School. Fred has worked as a management consultant in London and as a civil servant in the UK Government working on youth social action. He is currently co-president of the HBS Government and Public Policy Club. Fred has a special interest in UK politics as well as in Russia and Eastern Europe.

  • Katie

    To me what has been most fascinating about the run-up to the referendum is the way the battlefronts of the campaign have shifted, both at the level of (trans?)national discourse, and in my own decision-making process.

    A bit of background: I was born and raised in the Scottish Highlands by parents who were born and raised in England. My primary national identity has always been ‘British’, and I have been uncomfortable to have been branded as either ‘Scottish’ of ‘English’. Which, you might well think, would place me firmly in the ‘No’ camp. And up until a few weeks ago it did. When asked my views I would parrot the standard ‘head’ arguments: together we are more than the sum of our parts, a yes vote is a vote for uncertainty as no-one knows what an independent Scotland would look like (currency? membership of the EU?), etc.

    My certainty was premised on an only vaguely examined belief that Scottish Independence was at best a defensive move, and at worst an attempt to formalise the somewhat petulant insistence that Scotland is bored of being patronised and treated like a junior partner by its southern neighbours, and wants to throw of the yoke of oppression by an England this is stereotyped by the current ruling cohort of braying ex-Etonians. And these ‘heart’ arguments didn’t feel the building blocks of a strong, self-confident independent state.

    Somehow over the past few weeks my reasoning has shifted. It’s not that the ‘head’ arguments have lost ground, but that the ‘heart’ arguments have gained it. Somehow, through the myriad articles that I’ve sifted through and the endless mostly rather sterile debates, a ‘Yes’ vote has come to seem like a vote for hope, rather than a snarl of childishness. And a ‘No’ vote has become a somewhat passive acceptance of a sterile status quo, rather than an economic no-brainer. What it means to me to be Scottish has shifted from a definition predicated on not-being-English to something more postive and internally determined. It has begun to occur to me that an assertion of independence could be the announcement that not only does Scotland think that it can do better than the political apathy and weary resignation to poverty and inequality that characterise the modern day UK, but that they are prepared to stand up and try to do something about it.

    What does this mean for my vote on the 18th? I don’t know yet. My altered understanding of the underpinnings of the conversation has hugely enhanced my respect for the Yes campaign, and for Yes voters. It hasn’t made me feel more Scottish, but it has made me want to. The question for me therefore becomes increasingly complex. Can ideology – a hope that a fresh start can be used to build something better – outweigh the uncertainty and likelihood economic turmoil? This is something I just can’t decide how I feel about; I, in common with many of my generation, associate activity and ideology with naivety and hopeless impracticality. And yet…

    Relatedly, how much would I be prepared to put my money where my mouth is? For me, voting Yes would bring with it the responsibility to play an active part in creating the Scotland that I would be voting for, which would mean getting off the fence and embracing being Scottish. Which is both terrifying and hugely exciting.

    If I were to vote today I’d still be a No voter. But on some level I’d be slightly ashamed of myself. A large part of me hopes that over the next week or so Scotland will be able to project a practical, positive image of what it would be like as an independent polity.

    (For anyone wanting to read more about identity issues in the Scotland I highly recommend, which gets to the heart of the issue and expresses much of what has been going through my head better than I could ever hope to.)

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