Devolution for Scotland and the British Crown

This October, London handed the Scottish Parliament the authority to hold a referendum on independence. The public will be asked to answer this question: Should Scotland remain part of the United Kingdom, or leave it?

Nikolai Malishevski | 10.11.2012 | 00:00
Article from Strategic Culture Foundation
 

The date of the referendum coincides with the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn, when the Scots, dealing a crushing defeat to the English, regained independence. According to the British Minister of State for Scotland David Mundell, “the will of a nation will come to pass in autumn 2014″.

For several years; nationalists from the Scottish National Party (SNP) have played up the subject of a referendum on secession from the United Kingdom. The SNP, based on the economic success of Ireland and Iceland, had planned to hold it back in 2008, but this was prevented by the economic crisis. The subject of a referendum cropped up again in May 2011, following the election victory of the SNP, which allowed the nationalists to form an essentially one-party government. The Prime Minister of Scotland, Alex Salmond immediately vowed to hold a referendum on independence from England, and on 25th May, 2012 announced the launch of the “Yes” campaign, designed to persuade the Scots to vote for secession.

The Scots themselves actually spoke out about independence years ago, when a referendum was held on the restoration of the powers of the Scottish Parliament, which then elected the SNP by an absolute majority vote. If the initiators of the referendum win, by 2016 Scotland will become a fully independent country, after more than 300-years of being part of the United Kingdom.

In addition to internal reasons (oil and gas) and external (due to the economic crisis in 2008, it was not possible to hold a referendum on independence, at that time, but the coming to power of the nationalists has cleared the way and it has become an additional incentive for this referendum – saying that small states are better at coping with the crisis than large ones), we can distinguish two groups of factors that are pushing the Scots towards independence.

Political factors. Commentators and reporters, referring to the polls from several years have noted that most Scots are unhappy with London`s foreign policy, UK participation in the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, have made the country a target for international terrorism, as well as the costly maintenance of the status of a great power with the modernization program of the country’s nuclear arsenal. That is why the nationalists are in favor of an independent Scotland, that will remain a member of the EU, but not part of NATO, and the removal from their territory of the British Trident nuclear missiles and nuclear submarines based on the west coast of Scotland.

Economic factors. Besides the hope of exporting whiskey and worries over constant migration to Britain (especially young people), the population of Scotland has been steadily declining, the key motivation in the desire for independence are the oil and gas fields of the North Sea. Scotland possesses, on the adjacent shelf, oil and gas reserves which are among the largest in the EU. It subsidizes the regions of Great Britain, because the oil and gas revenues (about 20 billion dollars a year) go directly to London. Not surprisingly, the current Scottish nationalism blossomed under the slogan It’s Scotland`s oil. According to the pro-independence estimates, revenues from natural resources should be more than 10% of GDP and an independent Scotland will allow the local economy to develop dynamically.

According to sociological research, the number of people in Scotland wanting independence and those wanting to remain part of the United Kingdom is almost the same- about 40%. And the latter even a couple of per cent higher!, However, provided that their standard of living rises, the number of supporters of independence increases immediately by half – to two-thirds of Scots.

Also the attitude of the English to this subject is far from clear. On the one hand, part of the British perception is that separatism is a bad thing, as Britain could collapse (cease to exist as a state) in the coming years. Even high-ranking officials openly admit this. For example, in December 201, the former Cabinet Secretary Gus O’Donnell said in an interview with The Daily Telegraph: In the next few years we will be faced with enormous challenges, for example will we be able to keep our kingdom united.

There are reasons for this pessimism. There are separatist tendencies in Northern Ireland (Ulster), Wales, the Isle of Man and even Cornwall is demanding autonomy, home of the legendary King Arthur, and very rich in tin. Living in those areas are the descendants of the Celts (and not Anglo-Saxons) and since the 1990`s they have been like minded with Scotland on the issue of independence. Many economic problems exist; I will mention only a few of the most important ones: in terms of external debt (over $9.8 trillion) Britain is second in the world. British debt exceeds 18 times that of Greece, and the external debt exceeds 435 % of GDP, there is a huge $42-billion hole in the budget, forcing cuts in military spending, which if the trend continues, means the army will cease to exist by 2020 (stated Commander John Muxworthy, founder and head of UK National Defense Association ), high unemployment (over 8%), sales of infrastructure to foreigners (Chinese and Indians) and the disappearance of entire industries (such as the automotive industry) which were always considered a symbol of British power …

However, opinion polls show more English support Scottish separation than oppose it (about 40 percent in favor and 30% against). Firstly, many Britons believe that it will have a positive impact on the economy, not only in Scotland but also in other parts of the United Kingdom. At one time, in 1707, Scotland wanted to join England voluntarily in exchange for economic benefits, such as access to the market in England and its colonies, and political benefits, such as autonomy. To this day Scotland is autonomous within the UK – with its own Parliament, church and the legal system, which provides impressive social benefits, especially for the young and the elderly. For example, education in Scottish universities is free for local residents, while an English student has to pay about 9000 pounds per year for it. In general, on social spending, the Scots receive more per year than residents of England (about 1,600 pounds per person annually). The payment comes from the state budget, from the British taxpayers account.

At the same time, even in the case of Scotland gaining the status of an independent state, the British Queen Elizabeth II would still be the Head of State (as for other Commonwealth countries such as Australia, Canada, etc.). The chief separatist, Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond and his deputy Nicola Sturgeon, emphasize that this is not a break with the UK, but separation from it, because we will still have a lot in common, but independence would allow the Scots to make their own decisions in the fields of politics and economics. In addition in London retains enough controls, if not to block the will of the Scottish nation (or to disrupt the referendum or question its results), then to use it to maximum advantage. At the same time “reining in” especially zealous separatists economically.

For a start we can actualize the following questions. When and how will a separate Scotland be able to pay 287 billion of the current debt to the UK? How and who will invest in the economy of an independent Scotland? Will any domestic investors become international? What will happen to taxes, customs duties and the currency, especially in the event of Scotland becoming a member of the EU and the conversion of pounds to Euros? .. And finally, the most serious trump card to play – the use of separatism against the separatists themselves. Oil, which is a key factor in Scottish separatism, is abundant in northern Orkney and the Shetland Islands, which were once part of Norway. Their people do not like the Scots and openly express their wish for their own independence. Or even to remain in the UK, if it will be profitable for them.

The centuries-old colonial experience shows that the British Crown, when she could not stop the process, sought to lead it, and direct this energy to their advantage. In principle, this scenario is possible today. Inside the United Kingdom a sovereign Scotland could be used to solve economic problems. Beyond this – the Anglo-Saxon path of fragmentation can be seen in the European Union, the Balkans, Eurasia, and even Canada, where this autumn the Quebec party won the election, and advocated the creation of a sovereign state separate from Canada, which is a member of the British Commonwealth…

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