1. Why does Scotland want independence?
Scotland and England united to form Great Britain in 1707, but the two nations retain a host of cultural and political differences. With around 5.5 million people, Scotland accounts for around 8% of the UK’s population and economy. Many Scots see London rule as a fundamental lack of self-determination. The accolades go beyond kilts and bagpipes: Scotland has its own legal and education systems, football league and banknotes. The Scottish National Party, which is spearheading the independence campaign, also wants to remove Britain’s nuclear weapons from a high seas loch in the west of Scotland.
2. Haven’t we been here before?
Yes. The SNP are a formidable electoral machine, winning 48 of Scotland’s 59 seats in the last general election in 2019. Polls indicated a possible victory for the independence campaign ahead of the 2014 referendum, although Stark warnings about the economic impact of a split – and the UK government’s refusal to allow an independent Scotland to continue to use the pound sterling as its currency – helped sway the electorate. In the eight years since the vote, polls have shown Scottish voters are still roughly split between the two, 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 62% to 38%. More than a decade of Conservative Party rule, along with the privileged and gaffe-prone nature of Prime Minister Boris Johnson – who steps down on September 6, 2022 – has further alienated Scots. The UK’s messy divorce from the bloc has fueled grievances, hitting Scotland’s fishing industry particularly hard. SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon, who heads Scotland’s semi-autonomous government, says the break gives her new authority to raise the question of independence again. Separatists believe independence from the UK could lead to a reestablishment of ties with the EU, although Scotland should apply to join the bloc.
4. Where does that leave the SNP?
Sturgeon escalated the conflict in June 2022 by pursuing a plan to hold a referendum on a fixed date – October 19, 2023 – speeding up the process of testing the necessary bill by the UK Supreme Court. He should reign around October and Sturgeon should fail. If the UK continues to refuse to grant Scotland a so-called Article 30 order allowing another referendum, the SNP has pledged to fight the next UK general election on the sole issue of the independence, although it is unclear how this would work. Many SNP activists have campaigned for Scotland to hold a second referendum whether London approves one or not, although Sturgeon says any vote must be legal. The Scottish leader appears determined not to follow the path taken by Catalan separatists, who staged an illegal – and violent – vote on leaving Spain in 2017. The government in Madrid has temporarily taken control of the region and the Catalan leaders were subsequently imprisoned.
5. Is there a path to another referendum?
Not really. The UK government has repeatedly refused to allow another vote, saying the latest was a once-in-a-generation event. The UK government can just say ‘no’ for as long as they want. The next British general elections, due to be held no later than January 2025, could break the deadlock. The SNP are the third largest party in Westminster and in the event that neither party wins a majority of seats in Parliament they could agree to support a government led by, say, Labor in return for a path to another vote of independence. A compromise could include establishing a benchmark for what needs to be achieved for a second referendum to take place, such as opinion polls showing support for independence above 50% for more than 12 months, for example. Labour, however, also opposes a referendum and agreeing to one would be gambling with the future integrity of the UK.
6. How would Scottish independence work?
That’s the big question. The latest referendum has forced politicians on both sides of the border to try to work out what a self-governing Scotland would look like. The biggest post-Brexit challenge is how to deal with the prospect of a hard border between Scotland and England – complete with border control infrastructure and documentary checks – as well as how long it will take for a Independent Scotland to join the EU. In June, the Scottish government began publishing a series of policy documents outlining how an independent nation would work. Edinburgh’s Scottish Parliament, known as Holyrood, was restored in 1999 as the British government gave up oversight of policy areas such as transport and health. Sturgeon and his allies seek full autonomy to control the economy and foreign policy and join the EU.
7. Can Scotland afford to be independent?
It’s delicate. Public spending per person in Scotland was 11% above the UK average in 2020/21, according to government data, and the Institute for Fiscal Studies reported that 67% of daily spending in Scotland is funded by self- saying block grant from England. The Conservative Party says increased public spending due to the Covid pandemic strengthens the case for keeping Scotland in the union. That said, the nation benefits from both North Sea oil and gas reserves and 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 UK’s biggest food and drink export.
• “What Scotland Thinks” blog by John Curtice, professor of politics at the University of Strathclyde.
• How Scotland takes its fight for independence to the UK’s highest court.
• A New York Times report on Sturgeon’s referendum plans.
• “How the Scots Invented the Modern World”, a book by Arthur Herman, former professor of history at Georgetown University.
More stories like this are available at bloomberg.com