About Scotland …

I have never been to Scotland, unfortunately, although I would love to. Given the sympathy that many people around the world, including myself, feel for the people of that country, having an opinion regarding the recent independence referendum and the future of Scotland is not unusual. A well-written article by John Cassidy in The New Yorker (http://www.newyorker.com/news/john-cassidy/britain-survives-alex-salmond-resigns) has managed to provide an insight people would find useful. I would like to write my opinion here, with the hope it will be judged worth reading. I have kept the points expressed herein as brief as possible without losing their integrity, but the result has been understandably quite lengthy.

1) A difference of 10% between the two ballot options cannot be attributable to any single cause. This should make us wary of any simplistic analysis of the Scottish issue regardless of source and viewpoint.

2) Since its formation and increasingly over the past few decades, the Scottish national movement has shown considerable success due to its adaptability; the results of the referendum are bound to be deeply examined by the supporters of Scottish independence and it is unlikely the unionists will be able to successfully raise the sentimental factor in the future against a potentially more rationally founded independence movement. The supporters of Scottish independence have indicated that the issue will be raised again within a generation (i.e. 15 years in their opinion); the fact that they comfortably surpassed the 40% threshold I had arbitrarily considered as enough to legitimise rasing the question again in the future is in their favour.

3) The vote pattern per age group might give insights on the future course of the independence movement, especially if there is a big disparity between young and old voters.

4) The voting trends of the Scots in the parliamentary elections (both for the UK and the Scottish parliament) have to be taken into account. The Scottish National Party cannot remain a single-issue party while claiming a majority in Scotland and hence the responsibility of government. Therefore, its policies should need to focus more on the desires of the electorate on a much broader range of issues, something that might spell a threat to the established British parties, more especially Labour, which are not going to remain unresponsive of course.

5) This spells a grave threat to the SNP itself. As it expands more and more into dealing with everyday political issues, far from its original scope of promoting Scottish nationhood, it would be dealing with established parties with experienced political personnel in their own conceptual territory. Whereupon I should add that the SNP will most probably start facing a tired electorate due to its continuous administration of Scotland, already in its seventh year.

6) Another major factor pointing against independence is the depletion of the North Sea hydrocarbon reserves, making the viability of an independent Scotland less certain in the future. Let it also be added, though, that the possible increased unemployment due to the eventual slump in the North Sea oil and gas business might prove difficult to attribute either to the Scottish or the British government and its effect for or against independence cannot be predicted today.

7) The issue of the Head of State is a major one and the effect of Elizabeth II in favour of preserving the union is important in the sentimental aspect, but it has reached the limits of its usefulness. As Elizabeth II has become less active and visible publicly, the affection of the people, especially the young, towards her is bound to diminish, at least as a factor affecting politics. A change of Sovereign might prove detrimental to the unionists in the longer term, especially if some Commonwealth realms (such as Jamaica and Barbados) become republics shortly after that change.

8) The European Union and its current status and institutional framework played a significant role in the outcome of the referendum; whereas the unionists successfully focused on the shortcomings of European integration, as Europe moves forward with establishing better institutions this factor could well turn against the unionists, especially if the Eurozone manages to establish better financial oversight. A visible improvement in the economy of the Eurozone and especially of its periphery would seriously weaken the arguments against Scottish independence. Incidentally, the threat by the UK government that an independent Scotland would not be able to use the UK pound (effectively that it would be forced not to use it) cannot pass the test of truth, but the analysis thereupon will be a bit too lengthy to be included here.

9) The European Union did not wish to see an independent Scotland and treated Scottish independence at best as a bothersome eventuality, but mostly as a cataclysmic event. The EU has been formed as a co-operation of governments and acts so as to conserve the status quo of statehood in Europe. No change thereupon is foreseen as long as a critical mass of the electorates across the EU do not actively support a move towards federation. Therefore, the road of Scotland towards independence ends in Edinburgh only after passing through a number of ballots across Europe over many years at best.

10) A secession of the UK from the EU might trigger a new independence referendum in Scotland early, especially if the Scottish people will have voted against secession. A base for British business within the EU might also prove useful and the business community cannot be counted upon as reliable allies by the unionists at all in such a case.

11) A comparison of the Treaty of the European Union with the US Constitution is interesting, with the first having lengthy provisions allowing secession and not providing a single word for secession of a region from a country while remaining within the EU. Completely on the contrary, the US Constitution, although barring secession from the US, does allow and sets a course for secession of parts of states to form other states within the USA (Maine and West Virginia being such examples).

12) At least some of the nations either left without a national state over the previous centuries or never having possessed one before the age of European nationalism in the 19th century will press hard to achieve sovereignty and it appears that they might be successful first in seceding from existing small states created as buffers between old established powers, such as Belgium, rather than within larger powerful and well-functioning states with established identities. The present establishments in Europe have shown, as in numerous other cases, that their allegiance lies with the existing states. For the time being, the politicians in power will not work, in both country and European level, to accommodate these moves towards nationhood. The cataclysmic event they fear is bound to happen and the institutions to deal with it successfully are not there.

Stamatios Koutsoukos

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