Educate Yourself: Scottish Referendum 2014
Augustus York is TOP’s second featured columnist. His upcoming series, in which he will collaborate with Jack Seurat, will be titled “Educate Yourself”. He can be contacted at [email protected] for inquiries and suggestions.
September 18 is an important date to many of those living in Scotland, a date on which the 300-year-old union between England and Scotland may finally be brought to an end.
Scottish independence has been a pressing and divisive issue since it was first brought up in 1853 by the National Association for the Vindication of Scottish Rights, a branch of the Scottish Conservative Party. The organization soon garnered support from all over Scotland, including the originally-opposed Liberal Party, and the general support of the populace for “home rule” (a notion first introduced to Parliament by William Gladstone for an independent Ireland) grew as well. Yet, any hope for Scottish independence was shot down when the Irish Home Rule Bill was defeated in the House of Commons in 1885.
And yet, the Scots did not relent. A second Irish home rule bill was introduced to Parliament in 1914 in an attempt to overcome the defeat of 1885. The Scots built on the growing nationalist sentiments with a home rule proposition of their own, introduced to Parliament that same year. Unfortunately for the Scots, trouble was brewing in Europe, and the Scottish independence bill was put on hold as Parliament focused on necessary emergency measures brought about due to the War.
The Irish War for Independence began in 1919, yet Scotland remained neutral when it came to central rule of the British Government. But the news of the revolution had a profound effect on the Scottish populace, and in 1930 a “Scottish Covenant” with over 2 million signatures was sent to the British government advocating for home rule. This was largely ignored by major British political parties.
Support for Scottish independence returned to a largely subdued state once again until the famous “Winds of Change” speech by Harold Macmillan in 1960. This speech marked the rapid decolonization of former British colonies and the end of the historical British Empire. British superiority was under intense question already, especially after its humiliation at the hands of the Egyptians during the Suez Crisis of 1956, and the popular Scottish Union Party rapidly lost support, eventually suffering a historical defeat at the hands of the Scottish National Party (SNP) in 1967.
Now in power, the SNP took radical steps to decentralize the British government and eventually move towards Scottish independence. The then-recent discovery of oil deposits in the North Sea helped bolster the SNP’s position in the context that, with an independent government, Scotland would be able to access the vast oil deposits normally extracted by the British government to help bolster the de-industrialization of the Scottish economy. This campaign, coined “It’s Scotland’s Oil”, helped secure a 30% majority among the Scottish population and handed 11 MP seats to the SNP. In 1974, the SNP continued to push for the formation of a Scottish Assembly, an independent governing body for Scotland, and a referendum date was set due to a slight majority brought on by Labor Party members in favor of decentralization. Public opinion at the time showed a 52% approval by the Scottish population, and a 40% turnout and majority vote were all that was needed for the referendum to pass.
Yet, on election day, only 32% of the electorate showed support for the referendum (when a 40% qualifier was needed) despite the 51% popular support for the Scottish Assembly. The Scotland Act of 1978 was repealed by Parliament in 1979 by a vote of 301 to 206, effectively ending the SNP era. Later, the reasons for the drastic drop in support would become evident. A massive slander campaign against the SNP by the then-leading Conservative party as well as a general miscommunication about the referendum were attributed the be the reasons of the failure of the referendum, and only became evident in 2005 after slander campaign plan documents were released to the public due to the 2000 Freedom of Information Act.
After the defeat of the SNP at the hands of the Conservative Party in 1979, the still-devoted members compiled a Campaign for Scottish Assembly, which eventually pushed a Claim of Right in 1989, thus ushering in the Scottish Constitutional Convention. This convention pushed for a home-rule form of governance (devolution), though the Conservative Party remained uncooperative and the SNP withdrew support of the Convention when it became plain that complete Scottish independence was not an option to be discussed. The Labor Party won the 1997 general elections in England, and agreed to the terms set forth by the Convention. After a successful referendum in which 74% of Scots approved the move, the Scotland Act of 1998 passed, establishing a Scottish Parliament and legislature. The Scottish Parliament met for the first time since 1707, and elected the Scottish Labor Party representative First Minister of Scotland, with the newly restored SNP forming primary opposition.
In its 2007 manifesto for Scottish Parliament elections, the SNP promised to hold a Scottish Independence referendum by 2010. After winning the elections, SNP took steps towards independence once again with the announcement of the 2009 Referendum Bill. The Bill would detail a referendum to be held before 2010, but was defeated in Scottish Parliament by a coalition of minority parties. All hopes were utterly smashed for Scottish Independence, and the SNP began to lose favor once again with the Scottish populace.
But, in a surprising turn of events, the SNP were able to establish a majority in Scottish Parliament during the 2011 elections, and they once again pushed for a referendum to be held in 2014. In 2012, the Westminster government granted the Scottish Parliament express powers to hold a referendum, declaring that doing so would be “fair, legal, and decisive”. In 2013, the Scottish Parliament, led by an SNP majority, passed the Referendum Bill, and the bill was approved by Westminster later that month, leading up to the referendum taking place in only a week and a half.
The Pros and Cons of Scottish Independence
The support for Scottish independence is led by the SNP, but is also backed by the Socialist Party, the Green Party, and Solidarity, together holding a 55% majority in Scottish Parliament. All three parties have launched massive campaigns to spread awareness as well as support of Scottish independence, arguing many points in favor of an autonomous Scotland.
The most important point all three parties are pushing is the right of self-government. Scots will finally have a say in what policies and changes the government makes, and they will finally have power to make a change to the country in which they live.
Another important point they are pushing is the disarmament of nuclear weapons stored on Scottish territory. The storage of these weapons has been a huge topic in the independence debate, and the SNP argues that the £25 billion that are spent on the upkeep of these irrelevant weapons could easily be used to fund a better public education system or extended welfare programs.
The “It’s Scotland’s Oil” campaigned used so effectively by the SNP in the 1970’s is still a huge issue, with supporting parties arguing that Scotland is currently sitting on top of £4 trillion of natural gas and crude oil, which could easily be used to fix prevalent deficiencies in the current Scottish economy.
Another major point that the support argues is that an independent Scotland would finally allow Scottish cultural to flourish, which had been previously subdued by the British government as well as the full participation of the Scottish government in international organizations such as the European Union and NATO, where currently they are only involved through the UK government and not their own.
Yet, there are opposition parties in the Scottish Parliament and populace as well, including cadet branches of the Labor Party, the Conservative Party, and the up and coming UKIP. Each have launched counter-campaigns against Scottish independence, and are in heavy media competition with the independence supporters.
Opposition argues that the culture and historical ties between the two nations are too great. Popular culture is static all over the British Isles, and that ties the two culture groups together, so does the Union of Crowns, the official merging of the two kingdoms of England and Scotland following the death of Elizabeth Tudor.
Opposition also argues that Scotland is more financially stable remaining part of the UK as opposed to becoming independent. They argue that, with the current levels of Scottish public spending on welfare programs and the like, the treasury will plummet into the red if the government didn’t raise taxes, both the problem and solution presenting extreme difficulties to the Scottish economy and populace.
Another major argument is that if Scotland became independent, they would have less influence in international affairs, especially in the European Union where their status as a small member state would leave them helpless in the face of demands of larger, more economically self-sufficient European powers such as Germany and France.
Finally, major arguments arise on how Scotland would be treated by the European Union if independence should be established. England would be less likely to accept a monetary union with an independent Scotland, and the conversion of Scotland to the Euro may cause capital flight.
Other issues that may be affected by Scottish independence, but do not necessarily pertain to the support or opposition groups of independence include the balance of power in the House of Commons. If Scotland secedes, the 40 safe Labour seats currently held will be lost, reducing their share of parliament from 39% to 35.5% and increasing the Tories share to a near majority at 49%. But if Scotland should choose to remain in the Union, the probability of a Labor majority at the next GE remains, with an almost definite majority, should UKIP not perform.
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