Scotland Considers Independence from the UK
As Scotland moves toward possible independence from the United Kingdom, Alma College professor Britt Cartrite predicts that the political landscape in Europe has been changed forever.
“The independence referendum is going to happen, and that has been a game-changer because it gives other independence movements legitimacy,” he says. “This spillover effect could reach Flanders, Catalonia or even Wales, which could lead to the breakup of the U.K. entirely.”
Cartrite, an associate professor of political science, estimates that only 35 to 40 percent of Scots support independence right now. Given this, he says the Scottish National Party (SNP) wants the referendum to be held in fall 2014. This would give the party, which has a government majority until 2016, time to make its case for independence.
“Other political parties in Scotland want to hold the referendum now because they know it will fail,” he says. “But 2014 marks the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn, a significant victory in the Wars of Scottish Independence. The SNP’s leader, Alex Salmond, is a very savvy politician, and he knows people will be emotional about Scottish history during this time of celebration.”
The SNP also put itself at an advantage by proposing the 2014 referendum date first, Cartrite says. Now, if the British Parliament tries to intervene and move the referendum to an earlier date, it risks coming off undemocratic and angering the Scots.
In addition to the referendum date, Scotland’s political parties also are debating the referendum’s wording. Cartrite says the SNP wants to include a “devo max” option on the ballot, which would make Scotland responsible for itself in every regard except foreign policy.
“Public opinion polls show that devo max is what most people would want,” he says. “It’s often assumed that those who oppose independence don’t value the importance of Scottish culture. They actually just fear the uncertainty that would come in the wake of such a significant change.”
Many Scots’ uncertainty involves the economy and military. Cartrite says keeping the British pound is a way to reduce some fear, but there are other issues that the SNP cannot control.
“As part of the U.K., Scotland has membership in the European Union, and the SNP wants to remain a part of it,” he says. “The EU won’t confirm whether an independent Scotland would be welcome, though.”
Cartrite, whose research background is in nationalism and ethnic politics, presented a paper on the impact of the referendum in Edinburgh this past September. It will be forthcoming this fall as a journal article and chapter in an edited volume.
In the meantime, he says Scotland’s independence referendum will continue to be an interesting movement to watch.
“Right now, it looks like the SNP will not succeed unless it can reduce uncertainty,” he says. “If the referendum is held in 2014, though, I think there’s a realistic possibility people would vote for independence. It’s getting too close to call.”
Posted: Fri, March 2nd, 2012 at 11:17AM