1. Why does Scotland want independence?
Scotland and England united to form Great Britain in 1707, but the two nations retain numerous cultural and political differences. With about 5.5 million people, Scotland makes up about 8% of the UK’s population and economy. Many Scots see rule from London as a fundamental lack of self-determination. The distinction goes beyond kilts and bagpipes: Scotland has its own legal and educational systems, football league and banknotes. The Scottish National Party, which is at the forefront of the independence struggle, also wants to remove British nuclear weapons from a lake in the west of Scotland.
2. Haven’t We Been Here Before?
Yes. The SNP is a formidable electoral machine, winning 48 of Scotland’s 59 seats in the last general election in 2019. Polls pointed to a possible victory for the independence campaign ahead of the 2014 referendum, although there were strong warnings about the economic impact of a split – and the UK government’s refusal to allow an independent Scotland British pound as currency – helped to topple the electorate. In the eight years since the vote, polls showed Scottish voters were still roughly split in half, with the younger generation much more likely to vote for independence.
Mainly Brexit. While the UK as a whole voted to leave the European Union in 2016, Scottish voters wanted to stay with 62% to 38%. More than a decade of Conservative Party rule has further alienated Scots. The UK’s messy separation from the bloc has sparked grievances, hitting the Scottish fishing industry particularly hard. SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon, who heads Scotland’s semi-autonomous government, says the split gives her new authority to raise the independence issue. The separatists believe independence from the UK could lead to a re-establishment of ties with the EU, although Scotland would have to apply to rejoin the bloc.
4. Where is the SNP?
Sturgeon escalated the conflict in June 2022 by moving forward with a plan to hold a referendum on a set date – October 19, 2023 – to speed up the process of getting necessary draft legislation tested by the Supreme Court. However, the UK’s highest judges ruled on 23 November that Scotland does not have the power to hold such a vote unilaterally. Sturgeon responded by repeating its plan B: if the UK continues to refuse to grant Scotland a so-called Section 30 order allowing a new referendum, the SNP will challenge the UK’s next general election on the sole issue of independence, although it is unclear is how that would happen. work. Many activists in the SNP are calling for Scotland to hold a second referendum whether or not London approves one, though Sturgeon says any vote must be legal. The Scottish leader is determined not to follow the path of Catalan separatists, who held an illegal – and violent – vote to leave Spain in 2017. The government of Madrid temporarily took control of the region and the Catalan leaders were later imprisoned.
5. Is there a way to another referendum?
Not really. The UK government has repeatedly refused to allow another vote, saying the last one was a one-off. The British government can just say ‘no’ for as long as it likes. The next UK general election, due in January 2025 at the latest, could break the deadlock. The SNP is the third largest party in Westminster and, in the event that no party wins a majority of seats in parliament, it could agree to support a government led by the Labor Party, for example, in exchange for a path to a new independence mood. A compromise could include setting a benchmark for what needs to be achieved to allow for a second referendum, as opinion polls show more than 50% support for independence over 12 months. However, the Labor Party is also against a referendum and agreeing to a referendum would be a gamble with the future integrity of the UK.
6. How would Scottish independence work?
That’s the big question. The latest referendum forced politicians on both sides of the border to try and map out what a self-contained Scotland would look like. The biggest post-Brexit challenge is how to deal with the prospect of a hard border between Scotland and England – with border control infrastructure and document checks – and how long it could be before an independent Scotland rejoins the EU. The Scottish Government has published a series of policy documents explaining how an independent nation would work, including setting up its own central bank. The Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh, known as Holyrood, was re-established in 1999, with the British government relinquishing oversight over policy areas such as transport and health. Sturgeon and her allies seek full autonomy to control the economy and foreign policy and rejoin the EU.
7. Can Scotland afford to be independent?
It is difficult. According to government data, government spending per person in Scotland in 2020/21 was 11% higher than the UK average, and the Institute for Fiscal Studies reported that 67% of everyday spending in Scotland is funded by a so-called block grant from England. The Conservative Party claims that increases in government spending will bolster Scotland’s case for remaining within the union. Scotland’s government deficit was 12.3% of gross domestic product in the 2021-2022 financial year. That said, the country benefits from North Sea oil and gas reserves as well as vast fishing waters, and has a rich history of innovation and financial services. Scotland is also a magnet for tourism and Scotch whiskey is by far the largest food and drink exporter in the UK.
• Blog ‘What Scotland Thinks’ by John Curtice, Professor of Politics at Strathclyde University.
• How Scotland is taking its independence struggle to the British Supreme Court.
• A New York Times report on Sturgeon’s referendum plans.
• ‘How Scots Invented the Modern World’, a book by Arthur Herman, former professor of history at Georgetown University.
–With help from Alastair Reed.
More stories like this are available at bloomberg.com