“Tell our enemies that they may take our lives but they will never take our freedom!”
Prior to September 18, 2014, these words from the film Braveheart defined most people’s notions of Scottish sense of independence from England. Unfortunately for fans of drama, Scotland’s most recent move to separate from England was decided through the democratic process of voting, rather than battle, and the English did not “take” Scottish freedom; the Scots voted to decline it.
On September 18 2014, the country voted to remain a part of the United Kingdom, by a vote of 55% yay to 45% nay. The decision of the popular vote upholds a 307-year-old agreement between Scotland and England, Northern Ireland, and Wales to join as the sovereign state of the United Kingdom.
However, after three centuries of this “forced marriage,” social, political, and economic divides between Scotland and its English sibling have spurred tension, which sparked a movement for independence and the referendum. Now, as Scotland poises itself to enjoy another three centuries of tension, the question is: what’s gained and lost in denying independence, and what’s on the horizon for Scotland?
The primary source of tension is the political disagreement between Scotland and England, the focal point of which is Prime Minister David Cameron. The issue that the majority of Scots have with Cameron is that he contradicts the political values and ideas present in Scotland, even though, as prime minister, his duty is to represent the whole state. Cameron is a member of the conservative party, going against the political views of Scotland’s primarily liberal demographic.
In his tenure as Prime Minister, Cameron has repeatedly passed reforms and laws that tend to favor the rich and conservative citizens (“the one percent” in American terms). He has taken actions such as cutting benefits for the working class, capping income tax maximum at a higher salary, making stricter immigration laws, and scrapping a human rights act, among other right-leaning actions, all of which disrespect and ignore the political wishes of the Scots.
Many Scots also feel that Scotland has been politically taken advantage of, such as in the case of the United Kingdom’s nuclear missiles and submarines, which
have been housed in Northern Scotland for the past 40 years. The consensus among Scots is to maintain peace, thus making these housed weapons extremely unpopular.
A 2013 position paper, published by the Scottish government, stated, “We believe that nuclear weapons have no place in Scotland,” and called for “the speediest safe removal of weapons of mass destruction.”
Moreover, Scots even disagree with the efficacy of the type of weapon the United Kingdom chose to house in Scotland, believing they would not protect the country in the event of a conventional conflict.
“The U.K.’s wasting money on Trident [U.K. nuclear program] has left Scotland with totally unsuitable conventional defense capabilities – particularly maritime protection,” wrote Keith Brown, a minister in the Scottish government. “With independence we can invest in defense and security forces which reflect our needs in the 21st century.”
The Yes Scotland campaign revealed the economic expense of the missiles: a price of about £250 million a year. The Scots are the sole funders of maintaining these weapons, despite the fact that they are meant to protect the whole of the United Kingdom.
Despite disagreeing with Cameron, Scotland does hold some influence in the decision- making in the UK Parliament. Scotland currently holds 59 seats out of 650 in the House of Commons (number of seats is determined by population).
The two liberal parties, the Liberal Democrats and the Labour Party, hold 58 of Scotland’s
59 seats. As put by Juliet Lapidos of The New York Times, “In American terms, Scotland is a bit like California, roughly 1/10 the size of the country (in terms of voting power) and solidly left-wing.” This group of liberals combats Cameron’s conservative conduct in parliament, but their influence is limited.
Still, despite Cameron’s apparent political nuttiness in the minds of the Scots, Scotland seems to hold a bearable political presence in the United Kingdom: not quite enough to make the primarily liberal majority happy, but enough to not mandate secession.
Though many Scots envisioned a politically independent Scotland, the troubling specter of unsteady economics arises as a consequence of independence. Many doubted that Scotland would be able to support itself economically without the crutch of the United Kingdom. The solution, as determined by the pro-separationists, was oil.
The Scottish quest to control Scottish oil has dated back to the 1970s when large amounts of oil in the North Sea were discovered. The Scottish National Party, the largest nationalist party in the United Kingdom, publicized the slogan “It’s Scotland’s Oil” in order to take advantage of profits and establish an economic base for an independent Scotland.
Today, Alex Salmond, the First Minister of Scotland and leader of the independence movement, compares an independent Scotland to Norway, a nation that has built its tremendously wealthy economy on its oil reservoirs.
So why do some pro-unificationists still fear economic troubles from Scottish independence? Primarily, because there isn’t all that much oil left.
John McLaren, an energy economist with Fiscal Affairs, said, “The early to mid-1980s was when Scotland would have done extremely well if it had had all the oil, but there’s no prospect of it getting to anything like what it was in the past.”
The movement for an energy industry lives on in Scotland, in the form of clean and renewable energy. Ironically, this push could not have been made without a “no” vote.
According to Bloomberg, “by choosing to remain tethered to the U.K., Scotland removed a major question mark underpinning 14 billion pounds ($23 billion) of investment and 12,000 jobs in renewable energy.”
The majority of Scots felt that, although independence for Scotland would have been politically wise, the economic consequences of a “yay” referendum would outweigh the overall benefits. As of now, remaining a part of the United Kingdom can advance Scotland to a higher political and economic level. If political tensions grow intolerable at some point in the future, another referendum may be in order, but for now, Scotland will have to endure a few more centuries of political neglect and economic security.