The Republic of Scotland? Commonwealth of Scotland? We may be closer than many think. As reported in The Economist here and here;
AFTER three hundred years of union, Scots are to be given the chance to vote for independence. The offer of a legally-binding referendum, probably in 2014, ...Having spent a fair bit of time in the UK and with their military - some thoughts from a friendly outsider.
Polls suggest that Scots are keener on more power than on outright independence. Give them three options, and the unionist vote could split, possibly producing a plurality for independence. Whatever the result of the vote, Scotland would surely end up with more powers. The SNP would have delivered something to its nationalist supporters.
A simple question also makes for straightforward campaigning. The Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat parties would have to explain why union is good for Scotland—something they have so far done poorly, which is one reason they are in headlong retreat north of the border. The SNP, for its part, would have to explain the problem to which independence is the solution—which they haven’t done either. And if the Scots turn down independence, they can later be asked if they want more devolution.
Mr Cameron’s question, then, is the right one. And he should have a say on the referendum’s terms. Divorces affect both partners. Scottish independence would have mighty consequences for Britain, raising questions from how to settle the two nations’ fiscal accounts to where the Royal Navy’s nuclear submarines should be parked, if not in Scotland’s deep lochs.
Canada has a sensible model for moving towards independence: its government has passed a law which sets various conditions on any future referendum on Quebec’s independence, including that the question should be a clear one. If most Scots wish to leave Britain, so be it. But it must be a clean divorce, not a long, finger-pointing row that hurts everyone.
When you are in Scotland - you see a lot more Scottish flags than you do English flags in England. You see very few Union Jacks.
Scots are much more nationalistic than the English. So much so, that the last time I was there (visiting the family Clan's castle, natch) the Edinburgh paper was talking about how the "Muslim terrorist problem" was mostly and English issue as the vast majority of British Muslims were in England - and very few in Scotland. Not something you would see on the front page of the self-hating English press.
On balance - not much downside - but there is a lot of political funny stuff going on that, frankly, I will let the Scots work out.
You know me - I am a firm believer that words mean things, even more so that history means even more.
What is significant about 2014? It is the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn. Interesting.
The British government wants independent oversight of the poll and dislikes Mr Salmond’s idea of votes for 16- and 17-year-old Scots (seen as gung-ho about a split). For a heady day or so, aides to Mr Cameron talked about forcing the Scottish government to hold a referendum within 18 months, before Mr Salmond retaliated with his own date, accusing Mr Cameron of “almost Thatcheresque” conduct (a grave charge north of the border). Westminster teasing about a “neverendum” aside, Mr Salmond will probably pick the date. Everything else is up for grabs.History - just when you think some things are all figured out.
Mr Salmond is on soothing form. He denies “any thought” of hijacking the Bannockburn anniversary. He insists, with a straight face, that his referendum is being delayed almost three years merely to ensure it is well-organised. The SNP, he says, is considering a multi-option referendum because it cannot ignore a big section of public opinion, not because it wants a fallback if Scots reject independence.
Mr Salmond confirms that Britain’s submarine-based nuclear deterrent would have to leave its current home in the deep waters of a Scottish loch. Scotland would leave NATO but would retain an army of perhaps 8,000-12,000 men, a navy and an air force. Scottish warplanes could have served in Libya. But Scotland would have shunned the “illegal” invasion of Iraq.
An independent Scotland would be a co-operative neighbour, Mr Salmond repeatedly says. Queen Elizabeth II would remain Scotland’s monarch. He would accept a stability pact as a basis for sharing the pound with the British. Asked if he would accept binding debt and deficit rules, he ducks the question. With its oil wealth, Scotland will be a better credit risk than England, he beams.
Once voters choose independence, the Scottish government will be an easy negotiator with “few red lines”, predicts the first minister. The friendship between the Scots and English will be “re-invigorated”. But until then, no meddling in Scotland’s vote. The warning is clear. Mr Salmond faces a tough battle. He intends to pick the ground on which he fights it.
As for me? Most of my blood comes from the losing end of various Scottish uprisings and clearings. Whatever the Scotts wish to do - I wish they well, they always treated me very well.