Scottish Independence Referendum

YES OR NO: DO WE STAY OR DO WE GO? A LOOK AT THE SCOTTISH INDEPENDENCE REFERENDUM

Emily Doucette, December 2014

In November of 2013, the Scottish Government passed the Scottish Independence Referendum Bill, a proposal that the independence would be voted on by a simple vote of yes or no, with a majority on either side determining the fate of the country’s independence. The vote was rather controversial and ground-breaking, and voter turnout skyrocketed as many had been awaiting this vote for decades. Though the vote resulted in a majority no vote, keeping Scotland as part of the United Kingdom, one of the most substantial outcomes of the vote was the turnout of eligible voters. With a voter turnout of 84.6%, more Scottish citizens voted in the referendum then the United States has seen in any presidential election since the mid 1800’s. The voter turnout being so high gained media attention for Scotland and the Referendum and raised concerns in how the independence of Scotland would affect the rest of the world. Along with unheard of voter turnout, the referendum brought with it questions of what possible consequences and changes each side of the vote would bring to the country, as well as brought with it a revival of national pride for Scotland.

The Scottish Independence Referendum was a way for Scottish citizens to finally have their voices heard and gave way to discussion of a particular topic in the history of citizenship, that topic being nationalism and a nationalist attitude among citizens within a country. It exemplified an outburst of pride within a country, an attribute of citizenship that has been somewhat lost through its history within many countries. As Richard Bellamy noted in his book Citizenship, interest in citizenship within not only the United States but other countries has never been higher [1], but does that mean that interest in voting and the idea of national pride has also never been higher?

The opportunity to vote on whether Scotland should be its own independent nation is a vote that has been in the making for decades. In 1707, the Act of Union joined the kingdom of Scotland with England and Wales, much to the disdain of Scottish citizens, as England and Wales were long time “enemies” of the Scottish people. [2] For nearly two and a half centuries, Scotland remained part of the United Kingdom, but slowly developed more of the ability to create state-based legislature through the Scottish Parliamentary. By 1999, Scotland’s government had in a sense devolved, and in doing so, this meant that a large majority of decisions in relation to Scottish laws and legislature were made and passed within the Scottish Parliamentary. [3] Throughout the next decade, the Scottish Nationalist Party determined that they would petition to hold a referendum in relation to Scotland’s Independence and its being a part of the United Kingdom. Many had doubts in the Party’s abilities, and saw no chance of them gaining a majority vote throughout Parliamentary, but in May of 2011, they gained the majority vote to begin work on a Referendum Bill. [4]

Come 2014, many citizens of Scotland were dissatisfied with the notion that they were not their own independent nation and were considered British citizens. Upon the Referendum Bill passing in October of 2011, Members of Scottish Parliamentary claimed that the people of the nation finally had the ability “to take control of the decisions that affect them most.” [5] The first option of the vote, a yes vote, called for Scotland becoming its own independent nation. Of the two choices, this came with the most substantial amount of change for the country. A “yes” vote meant that Scotland would no longer be a part of the United Nations, and that means that Scotland would be making decisions for itself, a large appeal for those campaigning for it. The question many asked was if Scotland is capable of handling independence, both financially as well as socially. In regards to the economy, there are numerous other small, independent countries throughout Europe such as Switzerland and Norway that prove as valid examples as to the ability of a small country to be independent and still have the means to be successful economically and continue to be financially stable. [6] Out of nearly all countries that are a part of the United Kingdom, Scotland is the most efficient, and would by far have the means of starting itself off sufficiently as an independent country, with years of excess taxes behind them to propel them into success. Scotland has the means to produce mass amounts of wind generated energy as well as wave power, claiming nearly 25% of the EUs energy source. [7] Another large discussion was currency. As part of the United Kingdom, Scotland’s currency and financial system is based on the pound, the currency of all countries included in the UK. Many feared the need for a new currency upon parting ways with the UK, but government officials claimed that such drastic measures would not be necessary. Simple agreements would be put into place to allow Scotland to continue in its use of the pound, and not force the country to reorganize its economic system. The final important question, though there are numerous others, that comes with Scotland becoming an independent nation is where does Scotland go from here? Scotland has the option to apply to become part of the European Union, like any other independent nation, but due to the circumstances, Scotland would have an expedited process, and would likely be part of the union prior to independence being established. [8]

Although the idea of independence may have seemed to be the ideal world for many Scottish citizens, the vote ultimately ended with a majority of the country voting no, and remaining as part of the United Kingdom. A “no” vote for the country entails its own list of consequences. So the question those around the world and the citizens of Scotland propose is what happens to the country now? Where does Scotland go from here? Although a fair majority of the power is in the more than capable hands of the Scottish Parliamentary, before the referendum even happened, it was a known agreement that upon voting no, the government would devolve even more, and it would allow for the Scottish Parliamentary to gain more independence in relation to taxes, spending, and welfare within Scotland. Prime Minister David Cameron spearheaded the nomination of Lord Smith of Kelvin to initiate the plan to gradually continue to devolve their government, showing that the United Kingdom had Scotland in its priorities. [9] A no vote within the country and staying in the United Kingdom calls for some changes. It calls for the UK to recognize Scotland more and to show more attempts at devolving their government, but in calling for this, other countries within the UK also see the need for a more devolved government, prompting the UK to start reevaluating the situation of government and country rights within the UK not only in Scotland but in all countries involved.

Both sides of the vote came with repercussions but also with a number of benefits as well. A substantial piece of information that tended to be dismissed and put aside in relation to the vote among those in Scotland was the significance of the vote on the rest of the world. The news and media surrounding the vote rarely showed what the impact around the world would be if Scotland were to vote “yes” or to vote “no.” A large portion of the United Kingdom’s nuclear weapons and necessities for nuclear warfare are located within Scotland. Many in the nationalist party within Scotland used nuclear freedom as one of their persuasion points in regards to a yes vote. They claimed that in order for Scotland to be on it’s on it needed to be able to defend itself and not have the United Kingdom using it for nuclear weapon storage. The problem with that is that “relocating the two facilities to England would have cost 2.5 billion to 4 billion pounds, according to a study by the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI).” [10] That nuclear base within Scotland would mean lots of money and lots of effort to remove and relocate, just what the UK did not want. Another large part of Scotland’s independence that raises concern is domestic and international business. London is currently the economic capital of the United Kingdom, and some fear that the breaking of Scotland could have caused for the collapse of certain financial markets and sectors to bring London’s economic trends down and remove it from the top rank. [11] Throughout the process, the United States backed Scotland in whatever choice they made, as Scotland is a large ally of the US and serves as a hub for us financially within the UK.

The voter turnout for the referendum took on a larger significance in terms of citizenship than any other part of the referendum. The voter turnout within Scotland was in the mid-eighties, and that number of eligible voters can only be recorded in current day elections in countries that have mandatory voting. The revival of country pride and a sense of nationalism within Scotland was something no other country has seen in recent years. Taking the United States for example, that form of outburst in national pride has not been noted in any form of voting or election since the early twentieth century. Citizenship and nationalistic pride has a long history within the United States just as much as it does within other countries, and the referendum sparked controversy and thoughts within other countries as this resurgence of pride was something all these countries hope to see as well within their own elections and voting. The discussion of mandatory voting as well as what the true meaning of citizenship has created an atmosphere for countries to begin thinking back in their history and looking at the very beginnings of citizenship and regaining that sense of nationalism.

The Scottish Independence Referendum that took place on the 18th of September 2014 and sent ripples through not only the UK, but nations worldwide. With a turnout of eligible voters the highest of what European nations have seen in centuries, the referendum sparked interest throughout the world and got governments to start thinking about their own nations. The Referendum had its own consequences depending on the way the vote ended, with a “yes” vote calling for the need to set up a new system and new government policies, while a “no” vote proceeded to call for more rights and a more devolved government from the United Kingdom. No matter what the consequences and benefits, Scotland voted to remain in the United Kingdom, and will proceed for centuries on reforming itself in an attempt to gain some form of independence for the nation.

Notes

[1] Bellamy, Richard, Citizenship: a Very Short Introduction, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008.
[2] Smith-Spark, Laura, Euan McKirdy, Susannah Cullinane, and Richard Greene. “Scotland’s Vote on Independence: What You Need to Know.” CNN. January 1, 1970, http://www.cnn.com/2014/09/09/world/europe/scottish-referendum-explainer/
[3] Ibid.
[4] Smith-Spark, Laura, “Scotland’s Vote on Independence.”
[5] Scottish Nationalist Party, “Together We Can Make Scotland Better.” About Us, http://www.snp.org/about-us
[6] Smith-Spark, Laura, “Scotland’s Vote on Independence.”
[7] Style, Geoff, “The Energy Implications of Scottish Independence.” Pacific Energy Development (PEDEVCO Corp.) Corporate Website, http://www.pacificenergydevelopment.com/corporate-blog/september-11th-2014
[8]”Answers.” Yes Scotland, January 1, 2014, http://www.yesscotland.net/thankyou.html
[9] Black, Andrew. “Scotland Votes ‘No’: What Happens Now?” BBC News, http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-scotland-scotland-politics-29252899
[10] Morley, Jefferson. 2014. Scottish vote preserves UK nuclear force. Arms Control Today 44, (8) (10): 5-6,http://search.proquest.com/docview/1612530871?accountid=29121
[11] Black,Andrew, “Scotland Votes ‘No’”, BBC News.

Further Reading

https://www.gov.uk/government/topical-events/scottish-independence-referendum
http://www.theguardian.com/politics/scottish-independence
http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/parliamentarybusiness/Bills/61076.aspx

Worcester State University Fall 2020