Scottish independence: fact or fantasy?

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It would be strange, almost unreal, to wake up one morning and find that the United Kingdom as we currently know does not to exist anymore. But, with the Scottish National Party in possession of most of the seats in the Scottish Parliament, and with their promise of a referendum on independence, that abnormal morning seems no longer the stuff of fantasy.

An independent Scotland would have dramatic consequences for the rest of the UK. Political and economic issues aside, it also raises cultural questions too. For one it would necessitate a fundamental re-evaluation of what what being “British” means. Can we, or should we, still call ourselves British without Scotland? Another issue would be what to do with the Union Flag. The Union Flag was made by merging the English and Scottish flag together, without Scotland in the UK, the Union Flag would have to go. The question then is do we use the English flag or make an entirely new flag to represent what’s left of the UK? Some English people support Scottish independence, because we give Scotland £31 billion a year, which in turn is used to fund the NHS and higher education in Scotland. Only about 1/3rd of Scot’s apparently support Scottish independence, partially because they would lose that £31 billion, and also they rightly question if Scotland can economically support itself without England. They only voted SNP because they disliked the Tories, the Lib Dems and Labour. Who could blame them really?

At any rate, the matter of independence will be decided by referendum. SNP leader Alex Salmond has indicated that he would wait until the latter half of the his term before holding a referendum, thereby tactically waiting until the economic climate in Europe has improved. Salmond will also be taking advise from like-minded allies across the Atlantic Ocean. Parti Quebecois, a political party in Canada which has tried and so far failed on two referendums for Quebecois independence, has been offering advise to Salmond. Their key recommendation is: “Be careful with the timing and keep an eye out for rule-bending rivals.”

This piece of advise exposes two major problems with referendums. One is timing. The result of a referendum often depends on the public mood. The “mood” of the public is a very capricious and slippery thing. It can be altered by superficial things such as the result of a football match or the release of a Hollywood blockbuster. It can also be manipulated by the media and savvy, well organised and funded pressure groups. Switzerland is a country which frequently uses referendums, and you do get the occasional weird result. In 2009 the Swiss voted in a law which bans the further construction of minarets. Were minarets a major problem in Switzerland? Not really, there were only two of them! It just so happened that 57% of the Swiss electorate were Islamophobic. The lesson to be learnt is that most people vote with their instincts and not their minds.

As for the rule-bending rivals? Possibly one of the major determinants of whom wins a referendum is whom shouts the loudest, and which side shouts the loudest often depends on who’s got the most cash. Parti Quebecois blame losing their referendum on independence on the Canadian federal government unfairly funding the “no” campaign. The current British Government, dominated by the Conservatives, or to give them their full name the Conservative and Unionist Party, could mobilise their well organised and funded campaign machine to “steer” the opinions of the Scottish people towards the parties interest.

Partially for this reason, I would place a cautious bet that Scotland will vote “no” on their referendum on independence. However, if Scotland suddenly win the Rugby Union world cup and by shocking coincidence Braveheart II comes out, then we could wake up that one morning and find that the United Kingdom we all know and are familiar with no longer exists.

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